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The secret to gluten-free pie crust? The folks at Craft Kafe offer cooking tips

SCOTT KEELER | Times Gluten-free pumpkin pie made at Craft Kafe, 6653 Central Avenue, St. Petersburg.
Published Nov. 10, 2017

ST. PETERSBURG — They begin around 5 a.m. every day, pouring grains like brown rice, basmati and sorghum into a stone mill the size of a small table. It's the base for a gluten-free flour blend that is crucial to Craft Kafe's mission: to remain entirely gluten-free.

The cafe in west St. Petersburg, which serves coffee and dozens of gluten-free and sometimes vegan pastries plus lunch and dinner items, opened a couple years ago when Teddy Skiadiotis saw a need in the community for a place that did not dabble in any gluten. Owners Skiadiotis and Ed Briones are currently in the process of expanding, opening a second location in downtown St. Petersburg in the coming months.

I sat down with Briones and Skiadiotis at that location, still a work in progress but taking shape in the spot where the Patanegra tapas restaurant used to be, to talk about gluten-free baking. Specifically, pies. For the holidays, they make full-size versions of dutch apple, pecan and pumpkin.

My first question was pretty basic: How do you make everything taste so good, so gluteny?

Craft Kafe's quiche and many of their pastries taste like they're made with regular flour, those quiches sitting on a knockout flaky crust that does not resemble the often crumbly or tasteless qualities of gluten-free baked goods.

It all starts with that mill, and making their own base for what will become an otherwise traditional pate brisee crust, a basic pie crust made from flour and butter.

Briones, who has worked in the restaurant industry for more than two decades, makes it all sound relatively simple, but admits it takes a fair amount of technique to perfect. (Skiadiotis says he's being modest.) Still, the steps mirror that of making regular pie crust, and Briones' tips apply to either side of the gluten aisle:

• When you mix the butter into the flour, it should look like Parmesan cheese; larger chunks won't go over as well.

• A food processor is the best way to combine ingredients. Flour, butter, liquid; pulse a couple of times (don't let it run) until the butter looks like Parm, then pour the mixture onto a table and get to work kneading the dough.

• Use cornstarch when rolling out the dough, or handling it in any way. This is a great gluten-free alternative to flour, but also an ideal counter-topper when rolling out regular pie crust, too.

• Keeping everything cold is the most important thing. Freeze the dough after it's made and shaped into whatever pan you are using; freeze the tools beforehand.

Gluten-free or not, you have to have your head in the game when crafting crust. This is not the time for dilly dallying. There are pies to be made, and eaten.

Contact Michelle Stark at mstark@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8829. Follow @mstark17.

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