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Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Of Pies and Their Crusts

Sugar-free strawberry pie with gluten-free pie crust
It's been a while since I've blogged on food and baking and recipes thereof.

Last night, I experimented with a sugar-free strawberry pie with a gluten-free crust. It was a birthday surprise for a clergy colleague who turned 81 years young on Monday (but you'd probably guess he's at least 10 years younger). I made it for our clergy gathering this morning, amidst a rousing version of "Happy Birthday to you" and much frivolity.

I was pleased to receive accolades for my efforts, but then again, I think it was more the spirit of the celebration and the gratitude for a wee bite to eat.

Pie crusts, in my experience, are not as easy as they look. Oh, you can make them LOOK good, but the taste. Ah, there's the proof of experience in the flour and lard and the butter and a deft hand with a cold marble rolling pin and equally cold marble surface on which to roll out your dough.

Gluten-free pie crusts present yet another challenge but well worth the effort if you have loved ones with an intolerance to gluten.

Yes, I said lard AND butter. Leaf lard is preferable and much, much better for you than Crisco or other lards. It's made from "rendering" hog fat in very high temperatures until the impurities (called "cracklings") float to the top and are removed. The result is a white and creamy non-hydrogenated block of perfection with zero trans-fat that has a mildly neutral taste. One pound equals about one cup of lard.

And, it makes the BEST flaky pie crust you'll ever eat. It's the only thing my grandmother used and she made the BEST pies. Evah.

Oh, and did I mention the butter. Absolutely. I mean, hey, if you're going to sin, why not sin boldly?

The trick is to keep everything COLD. The lard AND the butter. Indeed, I just take the butter and lard out of the freezer and use a cheese grater to grate it into the flour. 

ICE COLD is really the only way to work with the stuff. Even then, it's a challenge. The finished dough should be rounded in a ball, wrapped in plastic wrap, and kept in the refrigerator for at least 20 minutes before you try to work with it.

It becomes even more of a challenge when you try to make a gluten-free dough. The one advantage is that if the dough tears when you roll it out, you can just rework it without any concern about making it rough. It's gluten-free.

Now, I have used King Arthur Gluten-free Flour and it works just fine. Just substitute it for the flour in your favorite recipe and follow the instructions on the back of the package.

Last night, I experimented with a gluten-free recipe that I think is even better than the box of flour. But, that's just my particular taste. Or, maybe it's just because anything that takes this kind of preparation HAS to taste better. Right?

Whether you use your own recipe with King Arthur gluten-free flour or the one below, there are a few other tricks I've learned.

The first is to invest in a food processor, if you don't already own one. It really does make a difference in the finished product and is so much easier to work with.

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. It's great fun to play with, but the food processor will ensure a much better mixture of the flour, the lard and the butter.

The second is to weigh the ingredients. Really. On a food scale. This is especially important if you substitute flours. For example, brown rice flour is heavier than sorghum although they measure out the same.  If you just use the standard measure, your crust will come out tough. If you WEIGH the ingredients, you'll get a much better finished product.

Here's a trick I learned from my grandmother about measuring lard. I use the displaced water method of measuring lard. Example: If you need one cup of lard, use a 2 cup measure and fill with one cup of water, add lard, keeping the lard below the waterline. When the waterline reaches the 2 cup mark, you then have 1 cup of lard and 1 cup of water.

Just pour off the water and the lard is ready to use. I like to use cold or frozen lard for this method of measuring. If you don't want to go through the bother, then know that about 1 pound of lard equals one cup. But, when I do this, I feel the spirit of Julia Child in my kitchen. And, she's smiling.

The third is to roll out the dough on parchment paper. This is helpful with all doughs but it's especially important with gluten-free dough. It's so much easier to roll out a THIN crust and then transfer it to the pie plate. Really. There's nothing more frustrating than rolling out the dough to perfection, only to have it stick to the surface or tear when you're making the transfer.

So, here's the recipe. You can get most of these ingredients in the supermarket or in your local natural food store. Failing that, you can order them online. I've added links where you can order the various ingredients listed. If you have someone in your family who is gluten-free and you like to make pies, having these items in your pantry shelves will be worth the investment.

This recipe makes 1 pie, with enough crust for bottom and top.
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
Whisk the dry ingredients. In a large bowl, whisk together the almond flour, oat flour, tapioca flour, teff flour, and potato starch. Slow down as you add each flour and whisk 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, 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. Lift and rub the flour and fats, scoop and let them all fall through your fingers - just like you did when you were a kid. Don't worry. No one will yell at you, but d'on't play too long at it. You don't want the natural heat from your hands to melt the leaf lard and butter. 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 come to realize 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. Separate the dough into two balls, wrap the pie dough in plastic wrap (or in a bowl) and let it rest in the refrigerator for at least 20 minutes.

Take one ball out of the refrigerator 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 with the other roll of dough while you preheat the oven to 325° and make the filling of your choice.

I made Strawberry Pie filling but substituted sugar for "Splenda for Baking". It comes in a big bag so you don't have to stand there and open all those silly yellow packets.  You can do the same for apple, peach or whatever kind of pie you choose or suits your fancy.

When your filling is ready, bring the pie pan out from the refrigerator. Fill the pie pan with the 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 filling. Pinch the edges of the two doughs together, then crimp the pie dough. Or, you may prefer to use a lattice top. Your call.

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 filling starts to bubble out of the slits on top or around the sides, about 30-40 minutes. Remove from the oven and let the pie cool.

Don't worry if the coloring isn't exactly even - a little browner in some spots than others. It won't affect the taste. Trust me on this. And besides, your family or guests will know it's not store-bought.

You may eat this pie whether you are gluten tolerant or not. You won't miss the gluten. At. All. Promise.

As Julia Child used to say, "Bon appetit!"


Metella said...

Thank you for this recipe! I will definitely try this crust soon.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Yay. Warning: It is not for the faint of heart, but I promise, if you have courage, you will be richly rewarded. It may become the only thing you use.

it's margaret said...

I have been experimenting with sugar-free pies too --the first was a blackberry --but it didn't set (I guess the sugar does do some thing! besides make it extra sweet) so I made another pie with blackberries and blueberries with tapioca. That was good --and it set just fine.

And we sinned --boldly --butter, yes.

But I have ALWAYS been terrified of pie crusts --let's just say I come from a family without a pie tradition --sadly... so I buy the prefab ones and unroll them... perhaps I should just take a lesson ...or get my pie-crust-brave panties on....

Thanks for the inspiration!

susankay said...

xxx --sorry just trying to get googlw to love me

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Margaret - When you start talking about the sugar-free filling, you are definitely talking adding tapioca. Even for apple pie. No question. Even if you don't use the gluten free pie crust, do use Leaf Lard and butter. COLD. It really does make all the difference in the world.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Okay, Susankay.

Will said...

Thank you for posting this. We no longer have a pie making tradition in my family because my mother gave up when she could not make a piecrust that she felt was as good as she remembered her mother's. I suspect that lard was involved. Now that the folly of trans-fats has been exposed, I am willing to try lard in the knowledge that I can understand where it comes from (ie a naturally occuring part of God's creation in the pig) and that it should be done in the spirit of hospitality by sharing the pie with as many people as possible.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Hey, Will - just remember to use leaf lard. Frozen leaf lard. As I say to my friends, just have a small piece and share it with your friends. Maybe you can restart an old family tradition. Good luck!

Matthew said...

A woman after my own (or my grandmothers) heart. Yes you must use lard and everything must be ice cold. Those are the secrets and to let the pastry rest. I wondered one thing though: my grandmother often blind baked her pastry in the oven partially (with a layer of beans and aluminum foil on top to keep it in place. Is there something about this filling or the cooking time that does not require that step?
Matthew p.s. I am sure I would not miss the gluten but I am sticking with flour (fewer ingredients) but I always use lard and everything is ice cold.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Matthew - You're right about letting the dough "rest" - if it's NOT gluten free. the reason for putting it in the refrigerator for 20 minutes is not so much to let it "rest" as to let it get cold.

As for the bead/beans/small pebbles - I do that when I'm making a single-crust pie. Helps to keep down the "bubbles" from forming. In my experience with two-crust pies, if you use an egg wash, you don't need the beads or beans or small pebbles around the crust.

Brother David said...

I am the pie crust tradition in my family. Pie is rare in Mexico. A friend taught me when we lived in Seattle. And I use lard. And all of my ingredients are COLD. I too do the freezing and grating method. Someday I shall buy a food processor.

Partially baking the crust for a single crust pie, such as a pecan pie, also ensures that the crust fully bakes. Otherwise you run the risk of the ingredients giving you a soggy bottom. No one likes a soggy bottom!