I’m not much of a pie fan, but I thought I would tackle pies for the month of October and learn to do them right. Or at the very least, gluten free. After many a long afternoon stretched into evening, I soon remembered why I’m not a pie fan – they take entirely too long. No wonder frozen pie crusts are so ubiquitous, considering a proper crust can easily take two hours, what with prep and kneading and chilling and rolling and chilling and blind baking.
That said, if you love pie, it’s worth the effort. A flaky, buttery homemade crust is worth a hundred frozen pillsbury ones, if only because they don’t leave that waxy aftertaste in your mouth. And I bet your homemade gluten free crust is going to be cheaper than the store variety.
Making it taste better is a little more of a challenge. I made four pies this month – one every weekend – and it took me until the last to get a crust I was remotely satisfied with. The first was carefully eaten around in favor of the apples instead. The second I did gluten-tastic because I was away from home and it was just easier. The third, actually, was quite good, but more of an oreo-cookie type crust. For the last one, I decided to try the recipe I’d used the first time, but with a few tweaks.
And lo and behold, it worked. Well enough that even coworkers who are typically gluten-free averse were proclaiming their like for this crust. I’ll chalk that up to a victory.
I started with this recipe from Gluten Free Girl. The first time through I botched it a little because I was out of tapioca flour and had regular rice flour on hand, not sticky white. That could have been enough for the crumbling texture that ensued, but I think part of it was also the butter. Perhaps if I’d had leaf lard…
Anyway, this is my version sans leaf lard which ended up working just well and holding up spectacularly for a gf crust. Also, I found this tremendous recipe for the pumpkin filling that has blown my mind regarding what pumpkin pie can taste like. It is super full of spices and well-cooked, which really mellows out that sometimes overwhelming pumpkin flavor.
But first, you gotta make the crust. There are several key ingredients in this crust that are non-negotiable in making a good, flaky crust: the tapioca flour, the sweet rice flour, the xanthan gum, and the loads of butter. Most everything else is somewhat negotiable. Almond flour is better than almond meal mostly because it doesn’t include flakes of the almond skin, which will darken your crust and give it a nuttier flavor. Although this works out all right in more substantial pies, like pumpkin, you would want to go for the flour for other, lighter fruits, like peach or strawberry. Teff gives the crust a little more substance as well.
The tapioca and the sweet rice flours are sticky and help the xanthan gum keep the crust from crumbling. And butter – omg butter. Just like in regular crust, the butter will form little golden pockets of goodness that keep the crust from becoming a brick of ick. Don’t skimp on the butter.
Gluten Free Pie Crust
This makes one pie shell – if you want to use this crust for a pie with a top, like apple or most fruit pies, just double the recipe.
2.5 oz almond flour (preferable to almond meal)
1 oz gluten-free oat flour
1 oz tapioca flour
1 oz teff flour
1.5 oz potato starch (or equal amounts tapioca, if you happen to be out)
1 oz sweet rice flour (NOT regular rice flour – sweet is stickier)
1.5 tsp xanthan gum
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
8 tbsp (one stick) butter, VERY cold, if not frozen
1 egg, preferably small
3 to 4 tbsp ice-cold water
Mix together all of your dry ingredients until they’re thoroughly incorporated. Then cut in your butter, keeping everything as chill as possible. I usually cut 1/3 of the butter at a time, keeping the rest in the freezer. I also live in the desert where it’s quite warm, so you probably wouldn’t have to do this in the winter in, say, Nebraska. Just make sure the butter isn’t remotely melty.
At this point you can either knead the butter into the dough until the mixture is “sandy”, or you can take your handy-dandy food processor, throw it in there, and process it for a few seconds. Just be careful you don’t turn it into a streaky mess. It’s okay for there to also still be chunks of butter visible. In fact, this is prefered. Just get it mostly incorporated.
Once you’re satisfied with your buttery mix, whisk the egg in a small bowl with two to three tbsp of cold water, then add that to your dry goods. Mix, mix, mix, adding more cold water as needed until the dough comes together easily, or can be pressed into a ball. Then press it into a ball, dump it onto a waiting square of plastic wrap, and pull up the edges of the plastic tight to keep it together. At this point it’s okay if it seems a little dry still in places – the moisture will continue to permeate while it rests.
Now, of course, it has to rest. I usually just stick it in the fridge still balled up, but some people prefer to press theirs into a rounded disk first. Either way, let it sit in a cold place – i.e., the fridge – for a good hour.
After said hour, take your ball of dough out and grab a rolling pin (or wine bottle). If you’ve got a favorite way of rolling out your dough, go ahead and do that. I personally like to keep the plastic wrap on top of the dough and rest it on a square of parchment paper, then roll it out from the middle. You’ll want it to be about 1/8th of an inch thick, or wide enough to fit your pie pan and still have an extra inch or so.
Once it’s rolled out, transfer it to the pie pan, either by dumping it in – if you rolled it out on parchment paper – or folding it into fourths and then unfolding it in the pan. Whichever. If it breaks, smooth over the cracks. It’s all cool.
Fold the dough overhanging the rim of the pan back up, creating a ridge all around. You can texturize this so it doesn’t look so lumpy by pressing your index finger in at intervals, or use a fork.
Now, you put it back in the fridge to rest again and get your pumpkin on. If you’re using real pumpkins (not the large carving ones, but pie or sugar pumpkins), then you’ll need to cook and prep them. I end up using this how-to almost every year for prepping pie pumpkins. It’s wonderfully thorough.
At this point you can be done with the crust – you can definitely freeze it as is for a couple of days. But I would suggest taking the extra time to blind bake (i.e. pre-bake) your crust. It helps preserve the crust’s integrity and stops it from becoming soppy from whatever filling you used.
Once your pie has been pre-baked, let it cool and turn to your filling! Depending on the filling, you might want to have started on it during one of the (many) down periods of the crust making experience. For pumpkin, unless you’re using cans, I’d suggest starting during the first resting period, so you don’t heat up the house with the oven while trying to keep your butter cold.
This year I perused the internet and found a filling recipe that went above and beyond my pumpkin pie experiences: Spicy Pumpkin Pie from Cook’s Illustrated.
Spicy Pumpkin Pie Filling
2 cups (16 oz) plain pumpkin puree, canned or fresh
1 cup packed dark brown sugar
2 tsp ground ginger
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp fresh grated nutmeg
¼ tsp ground cloves
½ tsp salt
2/3 cup heavy cream
2/3 cup milk
4 large eggs
The key here is to mix together the first seven ingredients really really well, then cook it on the stove until it starts to bubble and darken. This tamps down on the severe pumpkin flavor and mellows it into a range of deliciousness. If you’re blindbaking, start this process right as the pie goes into the oven. Then when it comes out, add the heavy cream and milk to the pumpkin mixture. Stir and cook until it begins to spit. Mix up your eggs really well (you can go down to 3 eggs if 4 seems too many), add to your pumpkin mix, stir that until well incorporated, and pour into your crust.
With your oven at 400 degrees, bake your pie until filling is puffed, dry-looking, and lightly cracked around edges, and center wiggles like gelatin when pie is gently shaken – about 25 minutes. Let it cool for about an hour before digging in – it will need that extra time to finish setting.