Gluten-free goodies often get a bad rep, but just because something is gluten-free doesn’t mean it’s flavor-free. Gluten-free flour can be used to make all of your favorite sweet treats, from cookies to cakes to pies. Although the process can seem a little intimidating at first, especially if you’ve always stuck with pre-bought crusts, making a deliciously golden, buttery, and flaky pie crust with absolutely zero gluten is not only possible, it’s easy!
To make your pie crust, you’ll need five ingredients total:
- 2 C all-purpose gluten-free flour
- 1/2 tsp. baking powder
- 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
- 8 tbsp. cold, unsalted butter (one whole stick)
- 1/2-1 C ice water
In addition to these five ingredients, you’ll also need the following materials:
- Rolling pin
- Large mixing bowl
- Measuring cup
- Butter knife
- Small dish for butter chunks
- Saran wrap
Picking out the right gluten-free flour
The foundation of all great desserts, flour, is where our gluten substitutions come into play. Gluten-free flours come in many forms: almond flour, sorghum flour, arrowroot flour, oat flour, corn, chickpea, coconut…you get the point. Each flour brings a specific taste to your dishes and desserts; some are nutty, some are sweet, some are strongly flavored while others are mild. If you’ve already perused your fair share of gluten-free flours, choose your favorite and carry on.
For those new to the gluten-free game, I recommend getting an all-purpose gluten-free flour blend. I’ve had great luck with Namaste, Cup for Cup, and Red Mill brands. The most important ingredient to look for in your gluten-free flour blend is xanthan gum.
Xanthan gum, a food additive made from fermented corn sugar broken down by a plant bacteria called Xanthomonas campestris, helps baked goods hold together and develop elasticity — a job normally reserved for the gluten found in wheat-based flour. Without this crucial ingredient, gluten-free baked goods can come out crumbly, flat, and all-around not great.
No matter the type of gluten-free flour or flour blend you end up using for your pie crusts, always double-check for xanthan gum. Although this recipe uses a flour blend recipe with xanthan gum, you can always add it in as its own ingredient exactly as you would baking powder or salt.
The secret trick to making the butteriest, flakiest pie crust: keepin’ it cool
Just like with “regular” pie dough, the key is to keep everything as cold as possible. I like to chop my stick of butter into small tablespoon-sized chunks and return to the fridge for at least 5 minutes to re-cool. I also place a few ice cubes in my measuring cup of water prior to using it so the water can get extra icy cold. Finally, I use a fork to do most of my mixing to avoid the heat of my hands from warming up the cold ingredients.
This might be purely in my head, but I always double-check to make sure the heat isn’t blasting through the kitchen while I’m making the dough. Call me crazy, but I think keeping the external environment as cool as possible (turning on a fan, turning off the heat) can keep your ingredients cold and your final product delicate and flaky.
With your butter cut, water iced, heat turned off, and materials ready, you’re set to begin the dough-making process:
1. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together your flour, baking powder, and salt. If you’re using gluten-free flour with no xanthan gum, this would be when you add your xanthan gum powder.
2. Add your cold butter chunks to the flour and toss using a fork. Once the butter chunks are all covered, take your hands and pinch each chunk into two or three smaller chunks. Make sure to do this step quickly, and avoid spending too much time handling any one chunk of butter. Even a few extra seconds in your hands can start the melting process – so squeeze and move on!
3. Slowly add ice water to your mixture half a cup at a time, using your fork to distribute the water over all of the dry ingredients. Add the rest of your water, and use your fork to gently mix the ingredients together until the dough begins to stick to itself. Once the dough is sticky, take your hands and quickly form into a ball. Take any loose dry flour from the bottom of the bowl and incorporate it into the dough mass. Add extra flour if the dough is too sticky to manipulate.
4. On a lightly floured surface and using a well-floured rolling pin, roll your dough into a large rectangle approximately ½ – 1” thick. Carefully lift one side of the rectangle and fold it over the other half lengthwise. Repeat widthwise to create a small square of dough.
5. Roll the dough into a large rectangle again. Repeat step #4 2-3 more times. This creates your pie crust’s flaky layers that hold deliciously golden bursts of buttery flavor, but only if the butter remains chilled so it can melt in the oven — so be sure to finish this step quickly and with as little butter chunk-handling as possible.
6. Fold your dough into a small square and wrap with saran wrap. Set in the freezer for at least 30 minutes to chill. (This is an excellent time to prepare fillings, clean some dishes, or squeeze in another episode of The Office. But maybe that’s just how it goes in my kitchen.)
7. After your pie dough has chilled, remove from the freezer and unwrap onto a lightly floured surface. Using a well-floured rolling pin, roll your dough into one large as-circular-as-possible shape. Smush uneven edges together and re-roll to create as uniform of an edge as you can. Your final circle of dough should be approximately 1/8” thick.
8. Starting from either edge of your dough, gently wrap the dough around the rolling pin and begin rolling the opposite direction from where you started. You want to wrap your pie dough around the rolling pin enough to quickly lift and transfer it to your pie dish, but you also want it loose enough that unrolling into the dish won’t be a hassle. If you drop the crust (on the counter), re-roll and try again.
9. You should have 2-3” of excess dough around the edge of your pie dish. Trim the edges so roughly ½ – 1” of dough is hanging over, tucking the excess dough underneath itself and gently pressing into the rim of the dish. The dough shouldn’t be pulled taut across the pie dish; there should be enough slack to allow it to flex as needed while it’s baking.
10. Use a fork, your fingers, or the divots of your pie dish’s rim to arrange the crust edge into a fluted, lined, or another decorative pattern. This step can be completely catered to your own personal tastes — since I was going to bake a celestial-themed cranberry and peach pie, I decided to do a subtly spooky spiked edge (say that five times fast).
If your pie filling doesn’t require a blind bake, you’re free to begin the next step in your pie recipe with your beautiful, gluten-free crust. If you’re making a custard, no-bake, or some other moisture-filled pie, continue reading for how to blind bake your crust.
11. Preheat your oven to 325º F.
12. Place a piece of parchment paper over your crust in the dish. Add pie weights to the parchment paper: these can be actual pie weights, dried beans, or dried lentils.
13. Bake your weighted pie crust for approximately 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and set aside, carefully removing your parchment paper and pie weights. Set paper aside.
14. Use a fork to prick holes along the bottom of your crust before returning to the oven for an additional 6-8 minutes, or until the crust’s edges are golden brown. If your crust needs to be completely baked, keep in the oven until the bottom of the crust is golden brown as well.
15. Once your pie crust is as baked as your recipe requires, continue with your filling recipe.
Note: This recipe makes one single crust with a little extra for a cut-out crust design (pictured below) or latticework. For a double-crust pie recipe, simply multiply each ingredient by two:
- 4 C all-purpose gluten-free flour
- 1 tsp. baking powder
- 1 tsp. kosher salt
- 16 tbsp. cold, unsalted butter (two whole sticks)
- 1-2 C ice water
For a double-crust recipe, split the dough into two equal sections after completing step #3. You’ll follow steps #4-7 for each half of the dough. Use the technique in step #8 to both roll your bottom crust into your pie dish and roll your top crust over your filling. Rather than tucking and pinching as described in step #9, simply trim the excess crust and pinch the bottom and top crusts together into a decorative edge. Voila! Double the gluten-free goodness.