8/28/13 NOTE: I’ve rewritten this post and the instructions in order to address the questions and challenges readers have had with gluten-free pie dough over the years.
This post is dedicated to my friend Kate McDermott, the Queen of Pie.
As I’ve traveled this road called “gluten intolerance,” I’ve run across many gluten-free baking “holy grails.” One of them is a good, flaky pie crust. Somehow, pie crust has gotten a bad rap in the gluten-free world. From my research, I think this is mostly due to the fact that gluten-free flours act a bit differently from wheat flour. So, if you are someone who made wheat pie crusts before and is now making gluten-free pie crusts, you need to let go of some of your assumptions about how pie crust dough behaves in different circumstances. Once you do this, your pie crusts will be golden and flaky and delicious!
First and foremost piece of advice: do not be intimidated! Gluten-free pie crust is actually easy and fun to make, and you can be playful with it. It is also quite forgiving and you can fix any flubs you make along the way. The main thing you need is patience and a little time. That said, the making of pie crust is a skill that you get better at the more you do it. Remember: pie crust making is pastry making. The first time you do it, it probably won’t be perfect. The more you do it, the more experience you get, and the better your crusts will be.
Most recipes for wheat pie crust recommend using dough that is as cold as possible (sometimes even almost frozen) in order to keep the fat (usually butter, shortening, or lard) in solid bits throughout the dough. I have found that gluten-free pie crust dough needs to be not quite as cold (but not warm) as a wheat crust allows in order to roll properly. I have found that a dough temperature of 65 to 67 degrees F/18 degrees C to 19 degrees C is optimal for rolling my gluten-free pie crust dough. The warmer or colder your dough is than that, the more difficulty you will have with rolling it. If the dough seems too sticky and floppy, it’s too warm. If it’s too stiff and breaks immediately, it’s too cold. (use an instant read thermometer to take readings–so easy!)
Note: I give you the optimal temperature for pie crust dough in case you’re having trouble telling by feel. Optimally, you should be able to get to the point where you can tell by how the dough looks and feels.
Pie crust making, as is true of all pastry making, requires some care to be taken in order to be done well. Be gentle when rolling out the dough. You do need to work quickly so the dough doesn’t warm up too much, but I have found that working with care always produces a better result. Don’t work so quickly that it makes you sloppy. Slow and steady like a snail versus fast and jerky . An additional tip: don’t use much pressure on the dough as you roll it. Be light as a butterfly. If the dough starts cracking, slow down and use an even lighter touch with your dough. It takes patience, but your result will be worth it. Think snail and butterfly. This mantra will help. (or at least it will make you giggle)
OK, let’s get started! This will be fun!
Gluten-Free Pie Crust (makes a double crust for a 9 inch pie)
Special Equipment Needed
-9 inch glass or ceramic pie pan (I’ve found that glass and ceramic create slightly more flaky crusts than do metal pie pans. But metal is fine if that’s all you have.)
2 1/3 cups (350g) Jeanne’s Gluten-Free All-Purpose Flour Mix
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup (8 oz; 230 g; 2 sticks) unsalted butter, cold and cut into pieces (you can also use lard or shortening or butter replacer). Note that if you use a butter replacer, you will probably need less water than with the other fat options because of the amount of water in most butter replacers.
1 tablespoon vinegar (I use apple cider vinegar)
1-7 tablespoons cold water
extra tapioca flour for rolling out
1 egg beaten with 1 tablespoon of water for an egg wash (optimal)
Extra granulated sugar for sprinkling top (optional)
To make the crust:
Temperature is important, so work quickly. Place flour, sugar, and salt into a large bowl. Mix together with a spoon until combined. Add butter pieces to the dry ingredients mixture. With fingers, start rubbing together the butter and the dry ingredients. This will take a bit of time but you want to work as quickly as you can to make sure the butter doesn’t get warm and start to melt into the dough. Do this until the resulting mixture looks like wet sand mixed with different-sized pebbles. I like to do this by hand to get a feel for the dough, although you may also do this initial cutting of the fat into the dry ingredients with a pastry blender or by pulsing the ingredients in a food processor:
Add the vinegar and rub into the mixture. Add water a tablespoon at a time, rubbing into the mixture. You want to add just enough to create a dough that holds together well, but isn’t wet. The less water=the more flaky crust.
Divide the dough into two fairly equal pieces, shape into disks, and wrap each disk separately in plastic wrap. Refrigerate the disks for 20-ish minutes (or until the disks are cool and nicely firm but not rock hard) If you store the dough longer and they become rock hard, you will need to leave them out on the counter to warm up to optimal rolling temperature (but no warmer) before rolling.
NOTE: if your kitchen isn’t too hot, you can roll out your first crust right away. Just put the other piece in the fridge to chill while you roll out the first piece. My kitchen in Seattle rarely gets too hot, so I always roll the first piece right away. This is always the easiest dough to roll–it is probably at the right temperature. Note that the optimal pie crust dough temperature is 65 to 67 degrees F/18 degrees C to 19 degrees C.
Prepare your rolling surface. Sprinkle tapioca flour over your rolling surface. Also sprinkle flour over your rolling pin. When the disks are chilled to 65 degrees F to 67 degrees F/18 degrees C to 19 degrees C, remove the first disk of dough from the fridge and place on your prepared rolling surface and sprinkle top of dough with tapioca flour. A key to successfully rolling out gluten-free pie dough is to go slow. And use a light touch. If your dough starts cracking, slow down and don’t press so hard with your rolling pin. With your rolling pin, carefully and patiently roll out the dough into a 12″ circle (it should be at least 3″ larger than the top of your pie pan). If the dough sticks to the rolling pin, add more tapioca flour.
NOTE: the dough should be cool but not too cold. It should roll fairly easily and should not break while you’re rolling it. If it does break a little bit, don’t worry–breaks are easily fixed by smoothing the dough over the breaks. If it seems too cold and you’re really having to work hard to roll it and it’s breaking a lot, step back and let it warm up a little bit before you continue. Alternately, if the dough is floppy and seems to be “sweating,” it is too warm and should be refrigerated for a while longer to cool it down. The photo below is how the dough will behave at the optimal rolling temperature:
In the next step, you are going to roll the dough around the rolling pin in order to transport it to the pie pan. In order to do this, sprinkle tapioca flour over the entire surface of the pie crust dough. Now, put the rolling pin on top of one side of the dough. Wrap the dough around the roller until you’ve gotten all of the dough onto the pin. If it’s at the right temperature, the dough should roll easily around the pin without any breaking.
NOTE: again, if the dough breaks a lot while you’re rolling it around the pin, it’s a bit too cold. Step away and let the dough warm up a bit before proceeding
Unwrap the dough from your rolling pin onto the pie pan so the pan is covered evenly. Now carefully press your dough into place. Proceed slowly, starting with the middle bottom of the pie pan and working out to bottom corners and then up the sides
Place your pie pan with the bottom crust dough in place into the refrigerator while you roll out the top dough.
Preheat your oven to the temperature required for your chosen pie filling.
Roll out the top dough the same way you rolled out the bottom dough.
Carefully press top and bottom crust dough together at the rim to form a seal. You can create a decorative edge by pinching the dough together with your thumb and forefinger of one hand and the forefinger of the other hand. Or, you can carefully press down along the rim with the tines of a fork. Be sure you’ve created a good seal–any unsealed portion will leak filling all over your oven floor during the baking process
Now make slashes in the top crust dough to create air vents for steam to escape during the baking process. I usually do two levels of them–the top row alternating with the middle row–to make it decorative.
If you are so inclined, roll out some of the leftover scrap dough and cut out cute designs to put on the top of pie. For example, for an apple pie, I cut out an apple with a leaf:
Also, if you want a little bit of a glaze on top of your pie, I recommend using some beaten egg to brush on the top and then sprinkle with granulated sugar. It will create the effect of the top photo of this post.
Now your pie is ready for the oven! Your baking time and temperature will depend on your filling.