(We’re thrilled that this recipe is being featured at Oprah.com’s roundup of holiday recipes for 2009. For more of our featured posts, visit Oprah.com today.)
I love making pie.
There’s no need to tell you more about this. I’ve written about pie so many times before on this site. Each year, I’ve created a pie crust that has come closer to my Platonic ideal of pie crust, the flaky butter wonder of a crust that holds pumpkin filling or summer blackberries or raspberries right off the vine. No one has complained. No one could tell these pies were gluten-free, really. But I wanted more.
In the past few months, while working on recipes for our cookbook, Danny and I felt like we cracked the code. These days, we feel we’re making real pie.
It feels good under my hands.
If you’re growing serious about gluten-free baking (or baking of any kind), you must buy a food scale and start baking by weight. Please do.
This pie you see before you? We put it together by ounces (or grams), not by carefully scooping and leveling off with a knife. It’s so much more precise this way. When I give a recipe in cups, you might substitute brown rice flour for sorghum. Did you know that brown rice flour weighs more than sorghum? (158 grams to 127 grams.) Your pie crust will be denser than mine. You’ll blame the recipe.
That’s why the recipe you’ll see below gives the measurement in ounces for each flour. If you’re going to substitute flours, just use the same amount of ounces. That way, you can adapt this recipe, easily. Whatever combination of flours you use (or even a mix, which is fine!), just make sure you sift in a total of 16 ounces. You won’t have exactly the same pie, but you’ll have some mighty fine pie.
One important step, something that slows me down and forces me to focus on the process, is to mix all the flours together before I add anything else. See all those different colors? Those flours have different textures. Do you want one bite of your pie to be a lump of teff, and another to taste like potato starch?
Mix them until they are one flour. (This is fun. I promise. There’s a kind of magic to this, watching the individual flours disappear into the greater whole.)
Now, no one will ever solve the “what fats make the best pie crust” debate. All butter? All Crisco? All lard? All oil?
In this house, we have switched, after nearly a lifetime of all butter. It’s half leaf lard, half butter. The flake, the taste. With this crust, and this combination, it is hard to go wrong.
Leaf lard, however, is vastly different than the lard you buy packaged in the grocery store. It’s slowly rendered fat from around the kidneys on the pig. It’s high in everything that is good in lard, particularly the taste.
If you can’t find any near you, buy some fat from a pig farmer at your local farmers’ market. If you want to learn how to render your own lard, check out this post from Ashley at Not Without Salt. Beautiful.
My dear friend Tita taught me a good trick for pie, something she learned because she didn’t plan ahead. Making a pie one day, she realized that all her butter was in the freezer. So, she pulled out a stick and grated the frozen butter into the dough. Worked like a charm. The butter just kind of melted into the flour, in a good way.
We’ve done this with every pie since. Most of the time, I use a Microplaner, so the butter is super fine. But it clumps up a bit. Here, we used the regular grater. And it worked out just fine.
So much of making pie is by sensory experience. The lard and butter should be cold, the water should be cold, and the dough should feel good in your hands.
After I add the cold lard and butter into the dough, I work it all together with my fingers, sifting and feeling, rubbing and letting it fall back into the bowl, until it feels done. Until the flours and fats have mingled, and it all feels like a sandy beach after a light rain.
I love this part.
Now here, recently, I have changed my mind. For my entire life, I have made pie dough entirely by hand. But through a fluke happening, when a dough felt too dry, I turned on the Cuisinart food processor. I’m convinced.
Tonight, I read a comment on the NY Times Dining blog, about Julia Child’s conversion to the Cuisinart: “Julia comments that both her editor, Judith Jones, and her colleague, Simca, each bought a food processor immediately after seeing one in action and quotes Judith as saying ‘If only for the pie dough…it’s worth the price to me.’
And so, after sifting and slowly watching the dough turn sandy, I move it all into the food processor, where I whirl it up and drizzle in the liquids. The dough is always more complete this way.
The finished dough looks like this. Not too dry or flaky. Moist without being wet. If you put your finger in it, there will be an indentation, but your finger will not come out sticky. Just right.
I love crimping pie dough. It’s one of my favorite forms of meditation.
These days, it is easier and easier for me to remember: none of this has to be perfect.
If the pie dough falls apart, just stitch the dough back together in the pie pan with your fingers. There’s no gluten in it. You can’t overwork it.
If the dough isn’t entirely what you want, you can make another pie.
If all gets a little burnt, or the bottom crust falls apart, chances are that people will still eat it.
This is all about the process and sharing it together.
Gluten-Free Pie Crust
plus a recipe for Cranberry Pie, from the wonderful Kate McDermott
Danny and I both feel privileged to know Kate McDermott. Wonderfully wise and kind, Kate also has the hands for making pie. Her Art of the Pie class offers her wealth of experience and gentle nudgings on how to make world-class pie. Everyone who takes it loves that afternoon and carries away the memory of making the best pie of their lives.
If you can eat gluten, sign up for one of her classes, right now.
Kate and her husband, Jon Rowley (one of our favorite people, especially for Little Bean), came over to our home this summer to work on gluten-free pie crust. You see, Kate can’t eat gluten. Or dairy. She teaches other people how to make pies, but she can’t eat them anymore. We’ve been determined to come up with pie crust that would make Kate happy. We’ve been happy with it, then happier every time we make it.
I’m humbled to report that Kate, (and Jon) last night enjoyed this gluten-free, dairy-free pumpkin pie we made them. Tonight, Jon wrote about that top photograph, on Flickr: “I had a piece. Excellent.” That’s high praise from Jon.
Instead of making you wait for our cookbook, we want to share this today. (However, you should understand that we’ll never be done tweaking. It’s yours to play with now.)
Gluten-Free Pie Crust
1 1/4 cup (5 ounces) almond flour (this is not the same as almond meal)
2/3 cup (2 ounces) gluten-free oat flour
2/3 cup (2 ounces) tapioca flour
1/2 cup (2 ounces) teff flour
1/2 cup (3 ounces) potato starch
1/4 cup (2 ounces) sweet rice flour
2 teaspoons xanthan gum
1/4 teaspoon guar gum
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
5 tablespoons butter, cold (or non-dairy butter sticks)
4 tablespoons leaf lard, cold (see note below)
1 large egg
6 to 8 tablespoons ice-cold water
4 cups fresh cranberries
1 1/4 cups sugar
2 to 3 teaspoons arrowroot powder
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
3 tablespoons cold unsalted butter
Mixing the dry ingredients. In a large bowl, mix the almond flour, oat flour, tapioca flour, teff flour, and potato starch. I use a whisk here, and slow down as I mix them, repeatedly, until they have become one flour. Add the xanthan and guar gums and the salt. Mix well.
Adding the fats. Add small pieces of the ice-cold butter to the flour mixture, not much bigger than a pea. (Or, if you’d like to do as you see in the photos above, freeze your butter beforehand, then grate the frozen butter into the flours. Move quickly.) Afterward, add the leaf lard in small portions, of equal size.
Making the sandy dough. Use your hands to scoop up the flours and mix in the fats. Go slowly. Rub your hands together. Feel the fats work into the flours with your fingers. I like to lift and rub, scoop and let them all fall through my fingers. You’ll know when you are done. You’ll feel done. The flours will look sandy now.
Finishing the dough. Combine the egg with 3 tablespoons of the water and whisk them together. Here’s where you can go two ways. If you want to do everything by hand, then do so. Add the eggy water to the dough. Work the dough together with your hands, or a rubber spatula, or whatever feels right. When the dough feels coherent, stop.
Or, you can do what I have reluctantly realized makes gluten-free pie dough even better than making it by hand: finish it in the food processor. Move the sandy dough to the food processor and turn it on. As the dough is running around and around, drizzle in the eggy water. Stop to feel the dough. If it still feels dry and not quite there, then drizzle in a bit more water. If you go too far, and the dough begins to feel sticky or wet, sprinkle in a bit of potato starch to dry it out. Again, after you make pies for awhile, you’ll know this by feel alone.
Making the crust. Wrap the pie dough in plastic wrap (or in a bowl) and let it rest in the refrigerator for 15 minutes or so. Take it out and roll out the dough between two pieces of parchment paper. This means you won’t work any extra flour into the dough. Roll it out as thin as you can. Thinner. Thinner. Come on, you can do it thinner still. Carefully, lift the top piece of parchment paper and turn the dough upside down on the top of a pie plate. Rearrange until it is flat.
If the dough breaks, don’t despair. Simply lift pieces of the dough off the counter and meld it with the rest of the dough. Remember, there’s no gluten, so you can’t overwork the dough. Play with it, like you’re a kid again. Place the pie dough in the pie plate and crimp. When you have a pie dough fully built, you are ready to make pie.
Put the pie pan in the refrigerator while you preheat the oven to 325° and make the filling.
Making the cranberry filling. Put 3 cups of the cranberries in the food processor and pulse until they are coarsely chopped. Transfer them to a bowl. Add the remaining cup of cranberries. Pour in the sugar and cornstarch. Stir. Toss in the nutmeg and salt. Stir. Taste to make sure the filling matches your expectations of tartness and sweetness.
Bring the pie pan out from the refrigerator. Fill the pie pan with the cranberry filling. Put several pats of butter over the top.
Roll out the remaining pie dough between two pieces of parchment paper. Remove the top layer and lay the pie dough over the cranberries. Pinch the edges of the two doughs together, then crimp the pie dough.
Brush with an egg wash, if you want a golden crust. Make a few small slits in the top crust.
Bake until the crust is golden brown and the cranberries starting to bubble out of the slits on top, about 40 minutes. Remove from the oven and let the pie cool.
Please eat pie.
Makes 1 pie, with enough crust for bottom and top.
Some good sources for leaf lard:
— your local butcher
— a pig farmer at your farmers’ market
— Dietrichs Meats, a Pennsylvania Dutch butchers that sell products online