It must be fall, because all I want to do is bake.
I never used to think that making pie was easy. You have to work quickly so everything stays cold, and there are just so many steps between crust and filling, making and baking. And those intricate, beautiful, lattice-woven crusts? No, thank you.
The saying easy as pie actually refers to eating pie, not making it (same goes for “piece of cake” apparently). But over the years, I have discovered there’s a real peace in making pie. Once you have your routine figured out, there’s something pleasurable to the process. It’s almost as if time slows down, even if you’re moving quickly. The tactility — blending butter cubes into flour, rolling out the dough, flipping it into a pie pan — is almost like digging your fingers down into the sand on a beach, or making mud pies as a kid.
Making pies, for me, started as a way to process (or put off, depending on how you look at it) emotions and to, for just a little while, not be sad but instead intently focused on something else. The first pie I ever made was back in 2011. It was right after I graduated from college, moved to Atlanta, and just after my grandfather passed away.
It was simple — if I remember right, the dough was just flour, salt, butter. I didn’t have a pastry blender and I only had a mini 3-cup food processor, so I had to cut the butter into the dough in batches. I was so excited, that I literally sat in front of the oven in our tiny, corner galley kitchen and watched as the pie baked.
Making pie taught me to slow down and to problem solve (ahem, mini food processor).
A few months after that first pie, our next door neighbor passed away suddenly. She was a wonderful woman who looked after Craig when he first moved to Atlanta, traded carrots and onions from her CSA share with us, and bonded (surprisingly) with our less-than-social cat, Quigley. She was beloved by many who lived in our apartment complex, and I baked another pie in her honor to share at the memorial we held in the community center.
The first time I made this particular pie crust was a few years later. It was wrapped around thinly sliced, juicy Georgia peaches drenched in a locally-made margarita jelly and dusted with lime zest. Craig told me it tasted like pie crust he had as a kid. I literally jumped for joy. (His mother was, after all, an award-winning pie maker.)
This pie crust is pretty much no-fail. I’ve used many variations of flours — sometimes my own combinations, sometimes a pre-made gluten-free baking mix. It always works (some blends just need more or less water, as different flours require different amounts of hydration).
I’ve used it to make savory galettes and mini pot pies. I’ve substituted shortening for some of the butter. When making savory dough, I’ve substituted cornmeal for some of the flour and lard for some of the butter. It’s easy to put together, easy to roll out. It really is easy as pie.
How to Make Gluten-Free Pie Crust
The two most important parts of making pie crust are to start with cold ingredients (and tools), and to work quickly so everything stays cold. (It helps if you have a fridge/freezer wide enough to accommodate a sheet tray or pie pan in case things need to chill out for a few minutes in between steps.)
To prepare, set up your mise-en-place. Get all of your ingredients prepped and ready, and have all the tools you’ll need throughout the process handy. There are two ways to prep the crust: by hand, using a pastry blender and wooden spoon, or in the food processor.
Measure out all of your ingredients. In a large bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients (flour, cornstarch, salt) and place the bowl in the fridge to chill. (If you’re using the food processor, pulse the dry ingredients together to aerate, then put the bowl, blade, and ingredients all together in the fridge to chill before adding the wet ingredients.)
Beat the egg and put in the fridge to chill. Chill the vinegar/vodka, too. Dice the butter and keep in the fridge until you need it.
Once everything is chilled, cut the butter into the flour. I used to use a food processor for this, but now I prefer doing it by hand to make sure the butter is the right size. Work the butter into the flour until it’s the size of small peas. (If you use a food processor, pulse the butter into the flour. Don’t run the blade or you’ll cut the butter too small.) You can place the mix back in the fridge to chill for a few more minutes if the butter is starting to soften.
Test the dough by squeezing it in your hand. If it sticks together, it’s ready. If not, add a bit more ice water, a tablespoon or so at a time, until the dough holds together. It’s going to be shaggy and there will be some crumbly bits in the bottom of the bowl. That’s good, as long as you can pull and press all the dough together. The flours will fully hydrate when you let it rest in the fridge.
Wrap the ball tightly in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes. (You can let it rest overnight. I often make the dough a day or two before I plan to roll it out and use it. If you do let it rest for a longer period of time, let it sit on your kitchen counter for 10-15 minutes before rolling so that it softens ever so slightly and isn’t too brittle.)
Once your dough has rested, you’re ready to roll! The beauty of this pie dough is that it’s an absolute joy to roll out. It’s easy to handle, as long as you keep a few things in mind: Your rolling surface should be clean, and dusted with flour. Your rolling pan should be dusted with flour too.
The ambient temperature of your work space is important too. If it’s warmer, you’ll need to work more quickly and you may need to put the dough back into the fridge for a few minutes throughout the process to keep the butter from melting.
If the dough is too cold and stiff, it will be more brittle and will break when rolling. If it’s too warm, the butter will soften and the dough will become sticky and more prone to breaking/ripping or sticking to the rolling pin.
The easiest way to roll out and transfer the dough is to lightly flour a piece of parchment paper, and roll the dough out on that. (You can also use a Silpat or silicone baking mat.) I don’t usually use a piece of paper on top, but you can add a top layer of parchment or even Saran Wrap to protect the dough from sticking to your rolling pin.
Roll your dough out, working your rolling pin from the center of the dough circle to the edges. Rotate your rolling pin or, if you’re rolling the dough out on a piece of parchment, it’s really easy to just spin the dough clock-wise, so that you can roll the dough out evenly. You want it to be thin, but not so thin that you can see through it.
Continue to sprinkle the top of your dough with flour as you roll it out. If any dough sticks to the rolling pin and gets pulled up, gently use your fingers to press the dough together.
The dough should be bigger than your actual pie dish. I’m terrible at rolling in perfect circles (as you can see…it’s more rectangular). It’s OK because you can fix the shape once you flip the dough into the dish, as long as what you’ve rolled out is bigger than what you’re baking in. (If you’re making a galette or open-faced pie, you can use a bench knife to trim the edges to the shape you want, or leave it rustic.) Once it’s rolled out like this, you can transfer it to a cutting board or an upside-down sheet pan and chill it in the fridge for a few minutes to firm up before transferring to the pie pan.
To transfer the dough to the pie plate, I gently roll the dough and the parchment paper around my rolling pin. I make sure the parchment provides a layer so the dough doesn’t end up wrapped around (and stuck to) itself. I also only roll about half of the dough around the rolling pin so that it’s easier to move. I support the part that’s hanging out with my arm as I move it and flip it into the dish.
Whoosh! Remove the top layer of parchment paper from your dough. This will work if your dough and the parchment were properly floured before rolling. If your dough is sticking to the parchment, work gently to separate them and use your fingers to gently pat the dough and repair any spots that might have torn.
Finish your edges. I like to crimp my crust because it looks pretty, and has the added benefit of hiding any imperfections or uneveness in the dough. To crimp, press the dough with your pointer finger on your right hand in between the middle finger and thumb of your left to create little ruffles. (If you’re adding a top layer of crust or doing lattice work, you might not want to crimp the edges. Wait until the top layer of dough is on the pie before finishing the edges.)
Your gluten-free pie crust is ready for filling! Once it’s rolled out and in the pan, you can keep it in the fridge until ready to use. If it’s going to be a day or two, press Saran Wrap on to the dough to prevent it from drying out. (I did that with this crust and kept it tightly wrapped in my fridge for two days before filling and baking it.) I have not yet tried prepping and freezing this dough, but I think it would work well. (I need to make some space in my freezer before filling it up with pie crusts!)
Now you’ve got your pretty gluten-free pie crust. What will you fill it with? Tell me!
It could be argued that there is an element of entertainment in every pie, as every pie is inherently a surprise by virtue of its crust.
— Janet Clarkson
Easy Gluten-Free Pie Crust
The vodka, too, helps with flakiness. It’s flavorless and the alcohol will bake off, but if you don’t have any on hand, you don’t need to rush to the store to restock the bar. Its absence won’t be missed.
This recipe makes enough for one pie crust.
200 grams gluten-free flour + more for rolling (see notes above)
125 grams (9 tablespoons) butter
1 tablespoon (10 grams) cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 large egg
1 teaspoon apple cider or champagne vinegar (or vodka)
1+ tablespoon ice water
Weigh/measure out your dry ingredients and whisk together in a large bowl, or pulse together in your food processor. Place everything in the fridge to chill while you prep the rest of the ingredients.
Cut the butter into small cubes. Place in the freezer to chill.
Whisk the egg with 1 tablespoon of ice water. Place in the fridge to chill, along with the vinegar.
Let everything chill for 10-15 minutes.
Add the butter cubes to the flour mix. Using a pastry blender, incorporate the butter into the flour, rotating the bowl as needed, until the butter is about the size of the small peas and fully mixed in with the flour. If you’re using a food processor, pulse the mix about 10 times until the butter is small and incorporated into the flour.
Add the whisked egg, vinegar and 1 tablespoon of ice water to the dough. If you’re working by hand, use a wooden spoon or silicone spoonula to mix the ingredients together. If you’re using the food processor, pulse until the dough is moistened and the liquids are incorporated.
Test the dough. Squeeze a bit between your fingers. If it stays put, it’s good to go. If it’s still a bit crumble, add more ice water (about 1 tablespoon at a time) until the dough just comes together.
Bring the dough together into a ball. Wrap tightly in plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes.
Prepare to roll out the dough: get a piece of parchment paper ready and sprinkle it with flour. Rub your rolling pin with flour, too.
Unwrap your chilled dough and flatten into a disk on the floured parchment. Dust with flour.
Roll out the dough until it’s about 1/8-inch thin. Dust the top of the dough with flour as needed to prevent sticking as you’re rolling it out.
If your dough softens as you’re rolling or becomes too sticky, transfer to a cutting board or upside-down sheet pan and let it chill again in the fridge.
To transfer the dough to the pie pan, gently roll the dough with the parchment paper over your rolling pin. Flip the dough and unroll into the pie dish. Gently lift the edges and then press the dough into the pie pan. Remove the parchment paper.
Using a bench knife, pastry knife or other sharp edge, trim the edges of your pie crust. Use a fork or your fingers to crimp or decorate the edges (unless you’re planning to add a top crust to the pie).
Fill the crust and follow instructions for baking. Enjoy!