Fall is the official start of pie season in our house. Do you associate pie with fall? I have always associated the two because of Thanksgiving. While I love having the classic, summery pies on my roster- strawberry rhubarb, cherry and (of course) Maine blueberry- I’m not much of an oven cooker in the summer. It’s just too hot! Suffice to say, pie crust isn’t happening in my kitchen that often from May-August. Now that the weather has cooled and the mornings are darker and cooler, turning on the oven is something I intuitively yearn for. It doesn’t actually heat the house, but the tick of our oven and the smell of deliciousness adds a cozy warmth to the atmosphere. (I’ve never been to Scandinavia but I wonder if this is what they refer to as hygge?) Since it’s officially pie season and it’s my first fall as a person with celiac, I’ve been perfecting my gluten free shortcrust pastry.
Problems with Gluten Free Pie Crust
In mid summer I attempted my first gluten free shortcrust pastry which resulted in lots of crumbs and tears. It’s no secret that shifting to a gluten free life has been an incredibly difficult transition for me. I still miss the stretch of gluten dough, and am storing the shattered pieces of my bakery owning dreams in a little box in my top drawer. My first gluten free shortcrust pastry trial was terrible. The biggest problem I had was when it came time to roll out the dough and then lift it into a pie pan. First of all, after I began to roll out the dough it would begin to crack and crumble. It was impossible to roll out and then flip over and roll again. Anytime I attempted to lift the partially rolled out slab, it would break into pieces. Without gluten, there is little to no strengthening qualities that bonds the dough together to stop this from happening. While I could piece it back together on the counterop, it proved impossible to put back together whilst in the pie pan. This was when the tears started to flow out of uncontrollable frustration and resentment and anger and unfairness and… you know. Everything. I threw that crust away and tried again the next day with better results.
My second pie crust came out better, but still not great. I used a blend of brown rice flour and tapioca starch, with a small percentage of almond flour (a mistake, in hindsight). I also used an egg as a liquid and binder. Having emotionally prepared myself for previous gluten free pastry problems, I paid closer attention to ratio, texture and temperature. This time I was actually able to lift the rolled out dough up and into the pan with only a little bit of breakage. I had a bit of trouble shaping pretty, pleated edges (they came out a bit jagged and uneven), but the dough itself held together. It also baked and browned fine, however, the texture was very delicate and it crumbled at the slightest touch. Cutting it into slices was not ideal, and the crust would immediately dissolve in your mouth with every bite. Not terrible, but not what I was going for.
Following what I considered to be two failed trials, I decided to research and came across a helpful bit of information. If you’ve been baking gluten free for some time, you’ve probably come across xanthan gum. Xanthan gum is an ingredient used in small amounts to add strength and minor elasticity to dough where gluten is not present. It gives gluten free dough more structure. Because of the chemical process that xanthan gum goes through, and because I’m still in the healing stages of my celiac diagnosis, I’ve been avoiding it. This has been good for my gut, but obviously challenging for my baking journey. While researching about it, I read that xanthan gum is a polysaccharide. A quick Google search gave me a variety of other foods that contain high amounts of polysaccharides: Chia seeds and potato starch-both commonly used in gluten free doughs. Fun fact: dates work too! I was excited to see dates, because they have a naturally sweet flavor and I knew they would work perfectly when blended up into a shortcrust pastry. I immediately got to work and made the best gluten free shortcrust pastry I’ve made thus far. I had little to no trouble rolling this out, or lifting it into the pie pan. (However, see note about rolling on parchment paper!) This gluten free shortcrust pastry is easy to work with, delicious, and has a great texture after baking. For this recipe I’ll be using potato starch to give the shortcrust pastry the extra structure it needs.
Gluten Free Shortcrust Pastry Ingredients
Brown Rice Flour– This brand is hands down a game changer. It is the only brand I can fine that is “superfine”, which means it doesn’t leave your baked goods with a grainy texture.
Tapioca starch– Since this is a gluten free shortcrust pastry, I use a little bit of tapioca starch to give the pastry a bit of texture and “bounce”, instead of just crumbling and dissolving in your mouth.
Butter– My gluten free shortcrust pastry is based on the classic 3-2-1 ratio, so butter is necessary. I have not tried this recipe with a vegan butter, though I assume it will work just as well!
Egg– I prefer to use eggs as part of my liquid because it acts as a binder and the fat from the egg yolk makes for a richer crust.
Potato starch– Again, since there is no gluten in this shortcrust pastry we need something to give it a bit more stretch to avoid the frustratingly cracking and fragility of the dough. Polysaccharides give non-gluten pastries a lot more structure. Potato starch is high in polysaccharides and is easy to find in the baking aisle with many gluten free flours. Xanthan gum is a common polysaccharide used in many gluten free products, though as I mentioned above I’m not currently using xanthan gum in my cooking.
Sugar– Not necessary, but I like to add just 1-2 tablespoons to my shortcrust pastry dough if I know I’ll be using it for a dessert.
Salt– Necessary, just a pinch, but makes a big difference in flavor.
Gluten Free Shortcrust Pastry
- 1 1/2 Cups Brown rice flour
- 1/4 Cup Tapioca Starch
- 1/2 Cup Potato Starch
- 1/2 Tsp Salt
- 8 oz Butter (1 cup, or 2 sticks)
- 1 Egg
- 3-4 Tbsp Cold water
- 1-2 Tbsp Sugar (optional)
To Make the Shortcrust Pastry Dough
- In a large bowl, or food processor, measure out the brown rice flour, tapioca starch, potato starch, salt, and sugar.
- Using a knife, cut the butter in small-ish pieces into the flour.
- If you're using a food processor, pulse about 20-30 seconds until the butter is coarsely chopped into pea-sized pieces. Alternatively, without a food processor, you can use your fingers to break up the butter into small, pea-sized pieces. The end result should be course and crumbly, without any large pieces of butter.
- Use a spoon to mix in the egg and cold water. Once the mixture begins to form together, use your hands to help it come together into a ball of dough, with no dry spots. The dough should not be dry or crumbly at all, and should resemble the texture of play-doh.
- Divide the dough into two even pieces and form a ball with each. Then press and flatten each ball into a round, disc shape.
- Wrap each ball in plastic wrap or a recycled plastic bag and place in the fridge for a minimum of two hours before use.
To use the dough
- Remove the pastry dough from the fridge and allow it to sit on the counter about 20 minutes to warm up. I have found that dough temperature is key to successfully rolling out gluten free crust. You want it to be pliable, but not so warm that it's "melting" in your hands or on the countertop. I find that if it's too cold when you roll it out, it cracks more.
- Roll the dough out on top of a sheet of baking parchment because it makes the dough much easier to lift off the counter without breaking. Dust a generous amount of brown rice flour onto a large piece of parchment paper, and place the pastry dough on it, then sprinkle additional flour on top of the pastry dough. I like to use a lot of flour, because if the dough sticks to the countertop it will tear very easily when you try to flip into into a pie dish. Using a lot of flour prevents this.
- Use a rolling pin to roll out the dough. I like to roll it following the direction of the numbers on a clock, so it stays as round and even as possible. If the dough begins to crack along the edges or in the middle, gently press it back together. If the dough begins to stick to the rolling pin, dust with more flour.
- To get the pastry crust into a pie dish, lift the entire parchment paper and flip upside down onto the pie dish. Peel the parchment paper away, and gently lift the hangover edges of the dough so that they sit nicely into the bottom of the pan. Some edges may break off. Press the dough (gently) into the pan all around so it fits nicely, and break off any excess dough around the edges. Use your fingers to press and shape the dough into your pan.
- You can use the pie crust immediately, or place in the freezer for later use.