October 21, 2007
I have been looking forward to the arrival of the Seckel pears at our vegetable market. Picked just before they are totally ripe, so that you can allow them to develop to their peak flavor on your counter. Seckel pears are little gems of sweetness that are decadent enough on their own to be served as a dessert. However, since I had brought home several pints of Seckel pears, I wanted to do something different with them.
I settled on an upside down pear and vanilla pancake recipe from Epicurious.com, that I altered to be gluten free. I used ground Plantago (psyllium) seeds as my binding agent. Yes, you were thinking correctly, it is the same ingredient that allows Metamucil to do it's work. Some varieties of plantago are the weeds you try so hard to remove from your yard and are also beloved by some species of Lepidoptera larvae. It was believed to have been brought to the Americas by the Spanish and spread either through the sand used for ballast or from the soles of their boots.
Plantago seeds contain fiber, protein and triglycerides. Some people can have an allergic or asthmatic reaction to consuming plantago (psyllium seeds). If you decide you would like to use psyllium on a regular basis and take certain herbal supplements, vitamins or medications you should be aware that there might be some interactions, so make sure to check with your personal physician before using it.
Ground Plantago seeds make a wonderfully gooey gel. You can use it to bind together gluten free baked goods and at the same time increase the amount of fiber the baked good contains. Chef Bo Friberg notes that psyllium can be used as a vegetable based stabilizer for sorbets in his book, The Professional Pastry Chef. Would it work also work for gluten free baking? It was time for some kitchen chemistry.
In this recipe, I used 2 teaspoons of ground Plantago seeds soaked in 1 1/2 teaspoons of water to see if it had enough strength to hold the pancake together. As you can see from the above slice of pear upside down pancake, the gel held the pancake together and allowed me to remove a slice without crumbling.
To use Plantago seeds as a stabilizer you will need to grind them in either a spice or coffee grinder. They have an extremely hard outer shell which proved to be too hard for my small mortar and pestle. I purchased my Plantago seeds from Native Seeds/SEARCH.
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 Tb agave syrup
1/2 cup soured lite coconut milk*
2 large eggs, beaten
2 tsp ground psyllium (plantago) seeds, allowed to gel in the water
1 1/2 tsp water
4 Tb melted butter or coconut oil
1/3 cup brown rice flour
1/3 cup sweet rice flour
1/3 cup arrowroot starch
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
5 ripe Seckel pears, peeled and sliced thin
Turbinado sugar to cover bottom of pan
1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit and line a 10 inch pie pan with parchment paper.
2. Sprinkle just enough Turbinado sugar over the bottom of the parchment paper to cover it. Cover the Turbinado sugar with the thinly sliced Seckel pears and arrange in a circular or another pleasing pattern.
3. In a large bowl, dump in the first seven ingredients and stir together.
4. In a small bowl, dump in the flours, salt, baking powder and baking soda then stir together.
5. Slowly add the dry ingredients into the large bowl of liquid ingredients. Take care not to stir too much, only stir until it is just blended and stop. Pour the pancake batter over the Seckel pears in the pie pan.
6. Bake for 15 minutes at 400 degrees Fahrenheit, then reduce the heat to 350 degrees and bake 10 minutes more or until the center is firm when touched. Remove from the oven and allow to cool.
7. Place your serving dish upside down on the pie pan. Holding both dishes tightly, flip them over so that the pie pan is now laying upside down on the serving dish. Remove the pie pan and set aside. Slowly peel the parchment paper off the pancake. Serve with warm maple syrup.
What did my family think of the upside down pear pancake? It was a hit with all of us. The kids liked it best when it was served with warm maple syrup. This recipe is a keeper.
*Note: To sour coconut milk, add 1 Tb of vinegar to 1 cup of coconut milk. For this recipe, you add 1 1/2 tsp vinegar to 1/2 cup coconut milk in order to sour it.