Sunday, September 12, 2010

A No-Fail Gluten Free Pie (Part I, The Crust)

Perhaps the question that I am most asked at Fall gluten free vendor fairs, apart from questions about our products, is “How do you make a pie crust?” Yesterday was no exception at the Amherst, MA Atkins Farm Country Market’s Food Allergy and Awareness Sampling Fair. As always, I found myself saying “I only wish tasty gluten free breads were as easy as pie crust.” Before I knew it, the customer had pulled out a pen and a tiny spiral notebook and had me repeating the steps.

Truth be told, I have a LONG history with pie crust. I remember coming home in 2nd grade and telling my dad (he was the principal baker and cook in my family) that I needed to bring a cherry pie for a PTA Cake Walk fundraiser the next day. (I guess I’m dating myself here since I haven’t heard of one of those in over 50 years.)

“Sure, you can bring a cherry pie, and I’ll tell you how to make it.” I was stunned. Me, make a pie? I was eight years old, and that was they very first thing I ever baked. I was one proud 2nd grader when I took the pie to school the next day and announced that I had made it all by myself.

So, you think I’d be an expert at pie crust after starting out so young? Well, believe me, I was not a prodigy. Fast forward to our first winter in Vermont in 1992. We had just moved to Vermont from New York City, and we had enrolled Alex in a wonderful country preschool in Marlboro, VT. Very quickly, I learned that fundraising is an important part of country preschools, and we had a very small window in the Fall to attempt to unload the pockets of leaf-peepers travelling through our beautiful state. The Annual Columbus Day Cider Sale was a Meetinghouse School Tradition. It was a family event where we set up tents and pressed cider the old-fashioned way on the side of Route 9 (the major easy-west highway in southern Vermont.) We sold the cider and as many baked goods as the dozen or so parents could possibly bake.

It was because of the Cider Sale that I found myself at Andrea’s house with a half-dozen of so other moms in a marathon baking session in which our goal was to produce 55 apple pies during the three hours our kids were in school. Our directives were to show up and bring a rolling pin and a pastry cutter, if we had one. Hey, I’m on top of this, I thought. At least know what a pastry cutter is, since I had inherited a pastry cutter from my dad (and it probably was the same one I used for my first cherry pie.) Andrea, as accomplished a task master as one could imagine, demonstrated how to mix the dough and roll out the crust. In seconds she had whipped up the dough, rolled out a perfect crust, and filled the shell with apple slices. That looked really easy so I rolled up my sleeves and went to work. Actually, it wasn’t so easy. I rolled the dough, it sprang back like a rubber band. I mashed it down again, and it coated my rolling pin like a “pig-in-a-blanket.” I scraped it off and started again. At that point, Andrea came over and took over my crust saying, “You can’t keep rolling it; it will make it tough.” I was given the task of filling the pie shells with apple slices. Man did I feel like a “flatlander.” I had failed at the most basic task of making a country apple pie.

Then one day, someone told me how to make a fool-proof pie crust. The directions were so simple, I could actually remember them:
1 C flour
1/3 C salted butter
Up to 1/3 C cold water, as needed.

With that recipe, I started making pecan pies that became legendary among my friends and family. When we gave up gluten, we weren’t about to give up holiday pecan pies, so I decided to see how fool-proof the pie crust recipe was, and I was amazed at how I could make it with most any gluten free flour blend. And, it didn’t require the use of xanthan gum, which I really dislike. Made only with brown rice flour, it makes a tasty, delicate crust. Made with a blend of 1/3 rice, 1/3 cornstarch, and 1/3 tapioca flours, it is a bit more flexible for topped pies, like fruit-based pies.

There is one secret to this recipe, and it is an important one: although your mom (or in my case, my dad) may have taught you to roll out pie crust between two sheets of wax paper, USE PLASTIC WRAP INSTEAD. Gluten free pie dough is tender, and the plastic wrap gives you the flexibility to carefully peel it away.

Gluten free or not, my pecan pie is in high demand, just as always.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

I would like to try this grain free...hmm..maybe it will work! Thanks!