Tips for Creating Flaky Gluten-Free Pie Crusts - dummies

Tips for Creating Flaky Gluten-Free Pie Crusts

By Jean McFadden Layton, Linda Larsen

With a few tricks, you can make flaky gluten-free pie crusts with ease. Pie crust is all about the fat and the flour. Pie crust doesn’t need much leavening; what you want is tender flakiness. You create this by the way in which you combine the ingredients and by the ratios of fat to flour to liquid.

Building a tasty gluten-free pie crust structure

When bakers make wheat pie crusts, they battle gluten. When pie crust has too much of that stretchy and pliable protein, it becomes tough and doughy, not flaky and tender. So, just as with quick breads, you’re ahead of the game when making pie crust with gluten-free flours.

A combination of flours is the best way to get a tender and flaky pie crust that holds together when you cut it and that doesn’t crumble or taste gritty. Here are the ingredients to use when making a gluten-free pie crust:

  • Cold butter or fat: For best results, make sure that the fat you use is very cold. The fat has to keep its shape as you blend it with the flour. Then, when the crust bakes, the layers of fat melt, creating the flaky layers you want in your pie crust.

  • Cold liquid: Because the fat needs to be cold, the liquid should be cold too! Most pie crust recipes use cold water. To make sure it stays cold, fill a small bowl with cold water and add ice. Then measure the water for the crust directly from the bowl of ice water.

  • Cream cheese: This ingredient used to be very popular in pie crust recipes. It helps make the crust very tender. To use it, blend together the cream cheese and butter or other fat and then add the flours. With a cream cheese pie crust, you don’t need any added liquid.

  • Eggs: Eggs can help keep the flour moist and hold the pie crust structure together. If you’re avoiding eggs, try using a vegan egg replacer.

  • Leaf lard: Leaf lard is pork fat, but it’s a special type that’s more expensive (and more difficult to find) than ordinary lard. Leaf lard really makes your pie crusts flaky because it resists blending with the flour. The lard stays in nice layers, creating beautiful flaky layers in the finished crust.

  • Superfine flours: Ordinary gluten-free flours, such as rice flour, tend to be gritty. You want a very fine flour so it blends well with the fat. If you can’t find superfine flours, grind any type of gluten-free flour in a coffee grinder until it’s powdery.

  • Xanthan or guar gum: Some pie crust dough recipes do add these gums to help build structure and prevent the crumblies. But if you’re sensitive to these ingredients, use flaxseed or chia seed slurries instead.

When you’re making a gluten-free pie crust, follow these tips for making and handling the dough for best results:

  • Try using a food processor instead of making the dough by hand. This machine mixes the ingredients very quickly, which is the best way to keep the ingredients cold.

  • Combine the flour and fat until the fat is the size of small peas. The fat should be visible in the flour. This keeps the pie crust tender and helps build the layers.

  • Check the dough consistency several times while you mix it. Remember, these flours need a lot of liquid. You may need to add more water to make a dough that holds together. But don’t add too much water! The dough should be crumbly but hold together when pressed.

  • Handle the dough as little as possible to help keep it cold.

  • Let the dough rest before you roll it out. This gives the flour time to absorb the liquid so the pie crust won’t be crumbly or gritty.

  • Use waxed paper or parchment paper to roll out the dough. Gluten-free doughs are usually stickier than wheat doughs. These papers make it easier to handle the dough.

  • Bake the pie crust at a high temperature. You want the crust to bake really quickly so the fat melts and the structure sets at about the same time. This preserves those flaky layers you’ve worked so hard to build.

Getting a flaky or mealy texture in gluten-free pie crusts

People use lots of words to describe pie crust. The most common are “flaky” and “mealy.” But what do they mean? Do you sometimes want a flaky crust or a mealy crust? Here’s how:

  • You make flaky pie crusts with larger pieces of fat. These larger pieces leave larger holes when the fat melts, creating more layers. When your fork hits those layers as you eat the pie, they break apart, creating the flaky sensation.

  • You make mealy pie crusts with smaller pieces of fat. For a mealy crust, cut the fat into the flour until the pieces of fat are small. This makes a dough that’s denser, with fewer layers.

So would you ever want a mealy pie crust? Surprisingly, yes! If you’re making a fruit pie or a pie with a wet filling, a mealy bottom crust is the way to go. It absorbs less moisture from the filling as the pie bakes and won’t crumble or fall apart.