A successful pie is a combination of three simple things: a homemade crust, a fresh filling, and a neat presentation. However, more often than not we can’t or do not want to find time and/or exert an effort to make one from scratch. Yet, a homemade pie can be an unforgettable experience with a potential of a heirloom recipe, a holiday tradition, or a bake sale star.
Flaky or crumbly, you want a crust that’s buttery and tender, yet strong enough to hold its shape when baked and sliced. It has a slight crunch to it and starts to crumble up and melt in your mouth as soon as you bite into it.
It’s definitely thicker than 1/8 of an inch, but hey, you can’t spoil a pie with too much of a good crust. Most people won’t complain. They simply won’t notice. Most people might say though that they couldn’t get enough of it.
One of the things you can do to obtain this quality crust it to make sure all ingredients (including the flours) are cold before you begin. Butter—especially. My crust uses a combination of frozen butter that I grate with a handheld grater and solid coconut oil that chips off easily with a fork or a knife. All through October, as I was baking pie after pie after pie perfecting my gluten-free five-flour crust, I bought two 4-stick packages of butter every time I shopped—one for the fridge and one for the freezer.
You can use cold butter—all or in part—but if you work it into the flour blend with your hands, their warmth will melt most of it by the time you are through with this step. To avoid this, use a pastry blender or a food processor. The bottom line is to create pockets of fat that’ll melt as the pie bakes, resulting in a delicious crust. Coconut oil is ideal for this purpose because it doesn’t melt as fast as regular butter; so, when I collect my dough into a ball, it’s all flecked with white.
Whipping up a gluten-free pie crust poses an added challenge as the absence of gluten in most alternative flours makes the dough less stretchy, thus less workable in terms of rolling it out, fitting it into a dish, or cutting out pretty designs in the top crust of a double-crust pie. To resolve this, purchase a pie bag or roll out your dough between two pieces of parchment paper. Acting quickly as you roll out is essential since as the dough starts to soften up, it becomes more susceptible to breakage. If that’s the case, collect it back into a ball and throw in the freezer until it hardens a little bit. Be sure to watch it. The freezing happens fast!
If the breakage is minor, patch it up and move on. Imperfections are not a failure when you work gluten free—it’s the norm. It’s a learning experience that takes you one step closer to success. You’ve got to find a way to work around them.
As soon as you make your crust and fit it into a plate, brush it with a slightly beaten egg to prevent it from becoming soggy. Then, refrigerate for about 30 minutes or freeze for 15. Chilling your crust numerous times in the process of putting it together—after you make it, after you egg it, after you fill it—will ensure that those tiny pieces of fat stay as solid and intact as possible.
Okay, now you are ready for a filling. Since you went through all this trouble of making a pie crust from scratch, I might as well push you one step further. You want your filling, which is especially true of fruit pies, to taste fresh, natural, real. One thing to accomplish that is to cut back on white sugar and spices. They are supposed to lace the fruit, not overpower it. Add ¼ to 1/3 cup less sugar than specified in the recipe you refer to and let natural sugars present in fresh fruit take up the slack. They caramelize beautifully once exposed to heat.
Also, hit a farm, a road stand, a farmer’s market and get your fruit as fresh and wholesome as possible. Believe me, it makes a huge difference.
Too much work? Not if you spread it over a couple of weeks leading up to the holiday. Pies are very forgiving in terms of making ahead. Crusts can be made and kept frozen for months until you are ready to fill. You can also assemble double-crust pies, such as apple, cherry, peach, etc., and freeze them until you are ready to bake. Or, make any pie and bake it in advance. You can freeze it for up to one month. Just thaw at room temperature when ready to serve. Here, your time deficit issue addressed!
Now, onto the presentation. So, you took the time and effort to make a great pie, now you want to show it off. You want pretty plates, dollops of whipped cream, scoops of vanilla ice cream, etc. What you don’t want is for them to accompany a shapeless pile of hot oozing fruit mixed in with bits and pieces of what once was a perfect crust. Then it’s a cobbler, it’s not a pie.
To steer clear of a mishap like this is simple. Cool your pie completely before slicing. The ideal scenario is to bake your pie a day or two before you intend to serve it, cool it on a wire rack completely and chill in the fridge overnight.
Voila, here’s your successful pie recipe.
Recipe for Olga’s Fresh Apple Pie *
For the crust:
1. 2/3 cup (100 g) white rice flour
2. 1/3 cup (35 g) tapioca starch
3. ½ cup (60 g) sorghum flour
4. ¼ cup (35g) potato starch
5. ¼ cup (30g) teff flour
6. ¼ cup (30g) oat flour
7. 2 teaspoons xanthan gum
8. ¾ teaspoon table salt
9. 2 tablespoons powdered sugar
10. ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
11. 1 stick (113 g) unsalted butter, cold, cut into small pieces
12. 5 tablespoons (70 g) solid coconut oil, cold, broken into small pieces
13. 1 large egg
14. ½ teaspoon apple cider vinegar
15. 2-3 tablespoons ice water
Makesone deep-dish 9-inch pie crust with some leftover dough for pie cookies **
For the filling:
1. 2 ¾ pounds Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, and cut into ¼-inch-thick slices
2. ¼ cup natural cane sugar
3. ¼ cup dark brown sugar
4. 1/8 teaspoon table salt
5. 2 tablespoons lemon juice
6. 2 tablespoons cornstarch
7. 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
8. ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
9. ¼ teaspoon ground cloves
12. 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
For the glaze:
1. 1 large egg, beaten
2. Coarse sugar, for sprinkling (optional)
1. To make the pie crust: In a medium-size bowl, whisk together flours until they become one. Add xanthan gum, salt, sugar, and cinnamon and whisk until incorporated. Transfer dry mixture to the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade, add both butters, and pulse until most of mixture resembles cornmeal with some larger pieces remaining. In a small bowl, whisk together egg, vinegar, and 2 tablespoons ice water. With processor running, add egg mixture through feed tube in a slow, steady stream, just until dough holds together without being wet or sticky. Shape dough into a ball, wrap in plastic, and refrigerate for 15 minutes. Take it out and roll out dough between two pieces of parchment paper into a 15-inch round about 1/8-inch thick. Carefully, lift top piece of parchment paper and turn dough upside down on top of pie plate; press into corners.
2. To make the filling: Peel and core apples; cut into ¼-inch-thick slices. Place slices in a very large bowl and sprinkle with lemon juice to prevent discoloration. In a small bowl, combine sugars, salt, cornstarch, and spices; toss with apple slices.
3. To assemble the pie: Transfer apple mixture to pastry-lined pie plate and dot with butter. Roll out remaining disk of dough in the same manner and fit it over apple mixture. Tuck edge of top pastry between edge of bottom pastry and rim of pan. Using your fingers, gently press both layers of pastry along the edge to seal, and crimp as desired. Brush surface with the beaten egg and sprinkle generously with coarse sugar. Cut several vents in the top to allow steam to escape. Freeze until firm, about 30 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit, with the rack in the lower third. Place pie on a baking sheet and bake until crust is golden brown and filling is bubbly, 1 hour to 1 hour and 10 minutes, rotating pie as needed. Cover edges loosely with foil if they are browning too quickly. Cool on a wire rack. Serve warm or cold.
1. * developed at an altitude of 4500 feet above sea level
2. ** Since the pie pastry recipe above is for a single deep-dish 9-inch pie, you’ll have to double it to yield a double-crust pie. However, a double batch will yield 3 regular size 9-inch pie crusts.
3. If you don’t have a food processor, use a pastry blender or your hands to work the butters into the flours.
4. As you are adding the egg mixture through the feed tube of a food processor, don’t hesitate to stop to feel the dough. If it is still too crumbly, add a bit more water. If you go too far, and the dough starts to feel sticky or wet, sprinkle in a bit of potato starch to dry it out. Since there’s no gluten, you can’t overwork the dough.