Pie crust can stump even the most confident baker. Then, when you add a gluten-free requirement, things get overwhelming pretty quickly. Thankfully, with the right flour blend and a few simple techniques, you'll quickly master a pie crust that's both delicious and easy to make.
The Best Flour and Starch for Gluten-Free Pie Crust
Although there are a bevy of gluten-free premixed flour blends and pie crust mixes on the market, I recommend using a blend of millet flour and tapioca starch. Gluten-free flour blends and mixes vary greatly from brand to brand. When you mix your own flour, you get the same results time after time. Plus, you can customize the mix to fit your needs.
The Key Ingredients in This Pie Crust Flour Blend
- Millet flour adds a delicate flavor and creamy yellow color to the crust, making the crust both tasty and beautiful. If you can't find millet flour, replace it with an equal amount of brown rice flour.
- Tapioca starch enhances the elasticity of the dough. Without gluten to hold everything together, gluten-free pie crust tends to crack when rolled. Tapioca starch creates an elastic dough that has a similar spring to those containing gluten.
- Xanthan gum helps hold the crust together. For a long time, I made gluten-free pie crust without xanthan gum. The crust was very difficult to roll out. Then I added xanthan gum to the recipe and everything changed. The crust rolled out beautifully and didn't break or crack when I moved it from the counter to the pan.
The most essential step in pie crust-making is cutting cold fat into the flour. When you do this, the flour coats the fat and creates small pockets of fat throughout the dough. During baking, those pockets of fat give off steam and leave behind a hollow space. Those tiny spaces are what make a flaky crust.
The Best Fat for Gluten-Free Pie Crust
From butter to solid vegetable shortening to lard, bakers are passionate about what fat works best in pie crust. Here's the thing: There's no right answer. The best fat to use depends on what type of pie crust you prefer.
- Butter makes a flavorful crust with a flaky-crispy texture.
- Shortening makes the flakiest pie crust and is easy to roll since shortening, unlike butter, doesn't get brittle when cold. On the other hand, shortening crusts tend to lack flavor. This isn't always a bad thing. If you want the flavor of your filling to take center stage, go with a shortening-based crust.
- Lard will also produce a flaky crust. It's an excellent choice for bakers who need to avoid both dairy and soy. Be sure to use leaf lard for the best results and flavor.
- Shortening-butter blend is the combination that gives you a crust with a great flavor and flaky texture.
Working the Fat into the Flour
If the fat is too warm when you mix the dough, the fat totally mixes into the dough, almost like a when you make cookie dough. When the fat incorporates fully into the flour, the crust bakes up dense and crumbly, instead of light and flaky. Once you've measured the flour and fat, chill them, along with the mixing bowl and water for at least 30 minutes. This step ensures that the fat stays cold while you mix the pie dough. Cold fat = flaky crust.
So how do you work the fat into the dough without warming it up? You have two choices.
- By hand: Use a pastry cutter or two knives to cut the cold fat into the dough. At first, it might seem like the pieces of butter or shortening just won't work into the dough. They will; it just takes a few minutes. You want small pieces of butter or shortening, no larger than the size of a green pea, throughout the dough.
- Food processor: A food processor makes quick work of cutting fat into flour. Place the dry ingredients in the bowl of a food processor and pulse a few times to combine. Then add the cold fat. Pulse in two- to four-second bursts until no large pieces of fat remain. As with cutting the fat in by hand, you don't want any pieces of fat larger than the size of a pea dotting the dough.
Adding Liquid to Gluten-Free Pie Crust
It's hard to know how much water a pie crust needs until you're mixing it. This can be frustrating. Slight differences in gluten-free flour and fat will affect how much water you'll use. One time you might need six tablespoons of water and another time, even with the exact same recipe, you might use seven or eight tablespoons.
Working in a Mixing Bowl
After cutting the fat into the flour, transfer the dough to a large mixing bowl before adding the water. This extra step is important. It's easy to add too much water to gluten-free pie dough when using a food processor. Gluten-free dough doesn't gather the same way wheat dough does. By the time it forms a ball, you've usually added too much water, and too much water makes for a heavy, tough pie crust. Stir in the water with a wooden spoon or rubber spatula.
So, What's Enough?
After adding the water, you want the dough to hold together when squeezed. I suggest starting by adding six tablespoons of water. If the dough looks dry or if there's dry flour clinging to the bottom of the bowl, add additional water one tablespoon at a time until the dough holds together.
The squish test: Even though I've made countless pie crusts, I still test the dough each time to ensure that I've added enough water. I pinch off a small piece of dough and squeeze it into a ball. Then, I squish it between my fingers. I'm looking for the dough to flatten, not crack.
After you've mixed the dough, chill it for at least 30 minutes. Even with careful handling, butter and shortening get warm during mixing. A rest in the refrigerator chills the fat and allows the dough to absorb the water, making the crust easier to roll.
Rolling Gluten-Free Pie Dough
Without gluten to hold everything together, gluten-free pie crust can be a little tricky to roll out. It's a lot more delicate and prone to cracking than wheat pie dough. Follow these two rules for rolling out gluten-free pie dough.
- Allow the dough to warm up a little. After all this talk of keeping ingredients cold, this advice sounds just plain wrong. Yet when a crust comes straight out of the refrigerator, the butter is cold and brittle. Allowing the crust to warm slightly (about 10 minutes in a 70°F kitchen) makes it much easier to roll out the crust without it ripping and cracking. If you're making a shortening-based crust, you can skip this step because shortening doesn't get brittle when cold the same way butter does.
- Roll the dough between two pieces of parchment paper. Instead of rolling the pie crust directly on the counter, roll it out between two floured (make sure it's gluten-free) pieces of parchment paper. I can't stress enough how much easier this is than trying to move a piece of gluten-free pie dough from the counter to the pie plate.
After rolling and placing the dough into the plate, chill the dough in the refrigerator for about 20 minutes while you preheat the oven. This chills the fat, which will have warmed up during rolling, and will increase the crust's flakiness.
Blind Baking Gluten-Free Pie Crust
Some pie recipes require you to "blind bake" the crust. This term simply means pre-baking the crust. Blind baking a crust prevents it from getting soggy; it isn't a step you want to skip.
- Preheat oven to 400°F.
- Press a piece of aluminum foil into the pie plate, directly covering the bottom and sides of the crust. (Cut the aluminum foil about 16 inches long.) Let the excess foil stick straight up out of the pan; don't tuck it under the pan.
- Fill the pan with dried beans. Pie weights tend to be too heavy for gluten-free crust and leave behind little indentations all over the bottom and sides of the crust.
- Bake for 15 minutes. This sets the crust. At this point it won't be fully baked.
- Remove the pan from the oven and lift the foil and beans out of the crust.
- Reduce the oven temperature to 375°F: For a partially baked crust, bake until the edges of the crust just begin to turn a light golden-brown, about 5 to 8 minutes. For a fully baked crust, bake until the crust is golden-brown, about 15 minutes.
Freezing Gluten-Free Pie Dough
Pie dough freezes really well. After mixing, if you're not ready to bake a pie, divide the dough in half and pat it into two flat, round disks. Wrap tightly with plastic wrap and then place the dough rounds into a zip-top freezer bag.
When you're ready to bake, remove the dough from the freezer and allow it to thaw overnight in the refrigerator. Pie dough keeps for about three months in the freezer. After three months, it tends to dry out and that makes the dough hard to work with.
How To Make a Gluten-Free Pie Crust
What You Need
2 1/2 cups millet flour
1/2 cup tapioca starch
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons xanthan gum
1/2 teaspoon fine salt
1 cup (8 ounces) unsalted butter, shortening, or leaf lard, cold and cut into 16 pieces
6 to 8 tablespoons cold water, divided
White rice flour, for rolling
Food processor instructions:
- Mix the dry ingredients: Combine the millet flour, tapioca starch, granulated sugar, xanthan gum, and salt in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the blade attachment. Pulse a few times to combine.
- Cut in the fat: Add the butter or fat pieces. Pulse in short bursts (about 3 seconds each) until no large pieces of butter remain. The mixture should look coarse, with pieces of fat no larger than a pea.
- Add the water by hand: Transfer the mixture into a large bowl. Add 6 tablespoons of the water. Stir with a wooden spoon until it just holds together. If the dough seems dry, add additional water 1 tablespoon at a time.
Mixing by hand instructions:
- Mix the dry ingredients: Whisk the millet flour, tapioca starch, granulated sugar, xanthan gum, and salt together in a large bowl.
- Cut in the fat: Cut in the fat with a pastry cutter until no large pieces of butter remain. The mixture should look coarse, with pieces of butter no larger than a pea.
- Add the water by hand: Add 6 tablespoons of the water. Stir with a wooden spoon until it just holds together. If the dough seems dry, add additional water 1 tablespoon at a time.
Rolling the crust:
- Chill the dough: Dust a work surface with white rice flour. Divide the dough in half and pat each half into a disk. Wrap each disk well with plastic wrap and chill for 2 hours.
- Bring the crust to room temperature: Remove the pie dough from the refrigerator and allow to sit out for about 10 minutes before rolling.
- Sandwich the dough between parchment paper: Place a 13x18-inch piece of parchment paper on a work surface and lightly dust with white rice flour. Place a piece of dough on the center of the parchment and sprinkle with a little more flour. Cover the dough with the second piece of parchment paper.
- Roll out the dough: Roll the dough from the center to edges, rotating the dough about a quarter of a turn after each roll. This keeps the dough round. Roll the crust about 2 inches larger than the bottom diameter of your pan. (For a 9-inch pie pan, roll the out into an 11-inch circle. This allows for enough dough to cover the sides of the pan.)
- Line the pie plate: Remove the top piece of parchment from the dough. Invert the pie plate onto the center of the dough. Slide your hand between the bottom sheet of parchment paper and your counter. Place your other hand firmly on the back of the pie plate. In one swift motion, flip the dough and plate. Gently press the dough into the edges of the plate and then slowly pull off the top piece of parchment.
- Repair and trim the dough: Repair any cracks. If any part of the dough cracked or ripped, gently press it back together. Trim the edges of the crust. Crimp the edges with a fork if desired. (This is for a single-crust pie. For a double-crust pie, see Recipe Notes below.)
- Chill the crust: Chill the crust for 15 minutes before baking.
- For double-crust pies: Roll the dough for the top crust as directed above. Fill the pie. Roll the bottom crust between two more pieces of parchment paper. Remove the top piece of parchment. Slide your hand between the bottom piece of parchment and the counter. In one swift motion, flip the crust onto the pie. Use the parchment to recenter the crust as needed. Gently pull off the piece of parchment. Trim the excess crust from the edges and fold the top crust under the bottom. Crimp the edges of the crust together with a fork or your fingers.