The Definitive Guide To Gluten Free Pie Crusts

For the past two months I have been on a quest. A quest to develop a really good gluten free pie crust that is easy to make and tastes great. A gluten free pie crust that is hard to mess up. A gluten free pie crust that is not finicky and temperamental. After numerous trials, I finally figured out gluten free pie crust! Along the way I learned a lot, and that’s what this post is all about.

What IS a pie crust?

Whenever I start developing a new recipe I start by looking at the basic, essential ingredients in the recipe, so let’s start there too. What makes a pie crust a pie crust, and not a cookie or a cake?

A pie crust has three essential ingredients: flour, fat, and a little bit of water. In some ways it is similar to a cookie, which is made of flour, fat, sugar and sometimes egg. Cookies and pie crust both contain very little water and in a low-water recipe the amount and type of other ingredients becomes much more important. There’s just less room for error.(1)

Flour

Let’s start off with flour. The chief struggle that I had with developing a really good gluten free pie crust was in choosing the flours to use. I tried everything from my all purpose gluten free flour mix, to a more simple mix of brown rice flour and cornstarch, and then finally ended up with a mix that is mainly cornstarch and tapioca starch with a relatively small amount of brown rice flour.

I don’t love using lots of starch flours in my baking, but it works. After I finalized my recipe I compared it to a few others and found that, for the most part, those recipes also use a good amount of starch. I’ve tried the recipe with a mixture of tapioca starch and cornstarch, and then with only cornstarch. Both seemed to work equally well. Later in this article i will refer to starch flours, and by that I mean any combination of tapioca starch and corn starch.

Fat

The second ingredient in a pie crust is fat, and you have a lot of choices as to which fat to use. Butter, shortening, and lard are all traditional options and you can use any one of these, or a combination. When choosing a fat, first of all consider what food allergies/intolerances that you need to work around. There are many allergen friendly options out there, such as Earth Balance Buttery Sticks, Spectrum Shortening, or animal lard that you render at home. As always, be sure to check the labels of the products that you buy and due your due diligence. Neither Crisco or Spectrum shortenings are labeled gluten free despite the fact that neither contain ingredients that would clearly contain wheat, barley or rye. You’ll have to make a judgment call as to whether that means those products are unsafe or not

The melting point of the fat should be your second consideration when choosing a fat. The fat that you work into the pie crust needs to stay solid until a certain point in the baking process if you are making a flaky, or partially flaky, crust. Butter and lard began to soften at a lower temperature than shortening. Therefore, if you choose to use butter or lard in your pastry you must be much more careful about keeping the ingredients, bowls, and rolling surfaces chilled as you work on the dough. Commercial shortenings, because they ate hydrogenated, are stable at higher temperatures and thus easier to work with for pastries. Since butter and lard are more flavorful, each baker has to decide for himself whether flavor or ease of use wins out.

By the way, if you’re don’t care whether your crust is flaky, then the temperature of the fat becomes much less important. If you’re happy with a non-flaky crust, then the only reason to chill the dough would be if that made the dough more workable.

Water

Water is the third ingredient in a pie crust amd my personal bugaboo when it comes to making a pie crust. It seems that every pie crust recipe I’ve ever read goes to great lengths to warn you not to use too much water. I’m sure I’m not the only one that has taken that warning to heart and then ruined a pie crust by not using enough water. I was very happy when I read in my copy of Joy of Cooking that it’s better for new pie bakers to err on the side of a bit too much water, rather than to little. After all, the reason that water is bad in traditional recipes is that it activates the gluten in the wheat flour. We don’t have to worry about that so we might as well make sure that our dough is easy to roll out. You don’t want it to be sticky, but it should be easily malleable.

The Pie Crust Ratio

A warning first: This section is somewhat technical. If you’re rather skip on over this part, just scroll down to the Frequently Asked Questions section.

Now that we’ve looked at all the ingredients individually, let’s take a second look at how they work together. The main ingredients, by weight, in my Easy Peasy Gluten Free Pie Crust are as follows:

250 g. starch flours
80 g. grain flour
192 g. shortening (or 226 g. butter)
113 g. water

These may seem like random numbers to you, but they actually match up very well with the 3-2-1 pie crust ratio that bakers have been using for centuries.

330 g. flour
220 g. fat
110 g. water

This amount of ingredients will make enough dough for two single-crust pies (think pumpkin pie) or one double crust pie (think apple pie). If you want more dough you can easily scale up the recipe using the basic ratio. My recipe uses 110 g. as the base unit and that is multiplied by 3, 2, and 1 to get the amounts, by weight, of each of the ingredients. To scale the recipe up, just increase the base unit from 110 grams to something more.

Tweaking the 3-2-1 Pie Crust Ratio for Gluten Free Pies

If you use the 3-2-1 ratio to develop or troubleshoot your own gluten free pie crust recipe, there is still some work to be done. As I mentioned above, gluten free pie crusts need a specific mix of gluten free flours. I’ve found that a mixture that is 75% starch flours and 25% grain flour, by weight, works very well. Another way of saying that is to use 3 parts starch flours and 1 part grain flour. If you can’t use brown rice flour, just subtitute another gluten free grain or bean flour that has a neutral flavor profile and absorbs liquids similarly (i.e. that means don’t use almond meal or coconut flour if you want to get the same results that I do!!!).

Here’s an example of the calculation:
330 g. total flour = (330 g.)(75%) starch flours + (330 g.)(25%) grain/bean flour
330 g. total flour = 247.5 g. starch flours + 82.5 g. grain/bean flour

You also need to calculate the amount of xanthan gum. This is pretty easy! Just divide the total weight of the flour (in grams) by 100 to determine the weight of the xanthan gum in grams. Round to the nearest gram.

330 g. total flour / 100 = 3.3 g. Xanthan gum

One teaspoon of xanthan gum weighs 3 grams, so I’ll need 1 tsp. of xanthan gum for this particular weight of flour.

This recipe also needs salt. If you are using volume measurements, then add 1 tsp. of salt for a double crust recipe. If you’re measuring by weight, add 10 to 12 grams of salt.

Frequently Asked Qustions About Gluten Free Pie Crusts

Is it worth it to make your own? For many years, I did not make my own pie crust. I was perfectly happy with the frozen gluten free pie crusts that I could get at the Whole Foods near my house. But, now that I’ve discovered how to make an easy gluten free pie crust, I’m definitely a convert to making my own crust. If you want to make a double-crusted pie, then making your own crust it really the only way to go. I’ve tried to make an apple pie by turning a Whole Foods crust upside down on top of the heap of apples, but that wasn’t pretty at all! Tasted good, but not pretty.

Should you use a mix or make the crust from scratch?
I would vote strongly for making your pie crust from scratch. Pie crust mixes are extremely expensive, and you don’t know what you’re getting (really) until you try it out. Some of the gluten free pie mixes that I researched cost $4.99 – and that’s just for a single crust. Making your own crust is much less expensive.

Another factor to consider is that you can’t judge how the pie crust will turn out just by reading the information on the box. If you make a pie crust from scratch, then you can use the ratio information earlier in this post to judge the quality of the recipe before you measure out an ounce of flour. When you buy a pie crust mix, you’re at the mercy of the manufacturer. I’m sure there must be some good gluten free pie crust mixes available, but I’m not willing to try them all to find the good ones now that I know how to make a great pie crust myself.

How hard is it to make a pie crust from scratch? Making a pie crust from scratch can be very hard or very easy. It really depends on the recipe that you’re using. A good recipe will handle nicely and not break all to pieces on you.

The kind of pie crust that you’re making is important too. If you want a flaky crust and want to use butter or a non-hydrogenated lard, then you have to take extra care to keep your ingredients, bowls, and cutting board chilled.

You do also have to plan to make a pie crust. The mixing up part does not take long, but the pie crust dough needs to be refrigerated for a minimum of two hours after it is mixed. You may also need to prebake your crust before you add the filling. Baking the pie can often take the greater part of an hour and you also need to plan to leave the pie out to cool for a few hours. This can quickly turn into an all day affair! (Or, without hyperbole 6+ hours.) I like to make a double or triple batch of pie crust dough and then separate the dough into single-crust sized portions before freezing. I put the pie crust into the refrigerator to thaw the day before I want to bake the pie, so that I can go straight to the rolling out the crust step the next day.

What are the steps in making a pie crust?
This seems like a good time to review the steps in making a pie crust. Growing up I never saw my mother or grandmother make a pie crust from scratch. They were both perfectly happy with store-bought crusts (and reasonably so since they generally only made single-crust pies) Since I didn’t have that visual reference point for pie making, the first hurdle in my pie baking experiments was to wrap my ahead around these steps was. For those of you who are beginning pie makers, here is a quick run-down of the steps.

1. Make the Dough
a. measure out the dry ingredients
b. cut in the fat
c. add the water and combine everything into a ball of dough

2. Refrigerate the Dough for at least two hours. This allows the flour to thoroughly absorb the water.

3. Roll out the bottom piecrust and place it in the pie pan.

4. Prebake the bottom crust, if called for in the pie recipe

5. Prepare the pie filling and add it on top of the bottom crust.

6. Roll out the top crust and place it on top of the pie filling.

7. Bake the pie.

8. Let the pie cool before cutting.

What special equipment do you need to make a pie crust?

Thankfully you do not need a lot of special equipment to make a good pie crust. You’ll probably already have most everything that you need.

Basic Pie Making Equipment:

1. a rolling pin – I have a very light-weight plastic rolling pin, but most any basic pin would work

2. a pie plate – I use a deep dish Pyrex pie pan, but I’ve also made good pies in the disposable pie tins you can buy at most any grocery

‘It Would Be Nice To Have’ Pie Making Equipment

1. a pastry mat with measurements – This is actually on my personal Amazon wish list, but I did see one for about half this price at Walmart yesterday. If you’ve not made pie crusts before this mat is useful because you can easily see when you’ve rolled out the pie crust to the correct size for your pan. You’ll also be able to tell how well you’re doing at rolling out a circle, rather than a square. And to top it off, having a silicone mat should make it much easier to get the top crust off the counter and on to the pie without tearing.

2. rolling pin rings – Rolling pin rings fit onto the ends of your rolling pin and help you to roll out your dough evenly so that it’s the same thickness at every point. While not an essential tool, I would very much like a set so that even my youngest helpers can roll out the dough.

Make Your Own Pie Crust

Are you all ready to make a gluten free pie crust? Great! Start with my Easy Peasy Gluten Free Pie Crust If you have questions about gluten free pie crusts that I haven’t answered, please do ask! You might also like to try this gluten free pumpkin pie recipe.

(1) For more on that read BakeWise: The Hows and Whys of Successful Baking with Over 200 Magnificent Recipes


Comments

  1. Jill Vanderweit says:

    Very informative – thank you!

  2. I may be missing something here, but the article above is completely useless for me. I am fairly knowledgeable, but I need actual flour types and exactly what you used in your recipe that was successful. If you are working towards getting me to pay for that recipe then just say so. As it is, I’m just really, really, frustrated and probably will ignore your posts from now on. I don’t have time to play bait and switch and click twenty times to get to what you want me to do.

    • Ooh, don’t be discouraged. This is a great article. I believe she gave flour and starch types. She prefers brown rice flour (1 part) and a mixture of cornstarch and tapioca starch (3 parts). But we aren’t bound to those. You can choose different flours if you want. I was very impressed with the article because it left so much open to my preferences and avoids. I think the most important information is the part that is giving everyone the most trouble: the ratios and measuring by weight instead of using cups. You need a little scale to do this. They are not too expensive and easy to get online. It’s a whole new way for many of us to bake. But, gluten-free baking is a new game.
      The whole article is on the theory and technique of making pie crusts. Knowing how it works helps us to know how to develop our own custom recipe. She gives her Easy Peasy Recipe link at the end.

    • Sylvia Oliva says:

      Specific ingredients are easily found. This is an informative tutorial of freely sharing experiences in the adventures of pie crust making. Rather than making the crust in robotoid manner, one can approach the task creatively with intelligence. Thank you.

  3. Where are the cup measurements for this recipe?

  4. Charlotte Moore says:

    My pea brain can’t comprehend all those ratios. I can do cups, teaspoon, etc. How do you figure it all out???

    • Charlotte Moore » If there’s something that you’d like me to explain more or differently, I’d be happy to do so. The science of baking is really very beautiful and intriguing but I was only able to appreciate that once I learned about ratios. For me that was the turning point in really being able to understand and predict how recipes would turn out, rather than just guessing blindly. And to see the patterns and ratios, you have to look at the weights. The volume measurements completely obscure the science of baking.

    • Sylvia Oliva says:

      One can acquire a nifty gram/pound scale at a nearest super store, inexpensively. Flours are not consistent by volume; that is why weight is best for measuring. Grams are easier to weigh than ounces. Thanks again.

  5. Oh, and cups and teaspoons would be so appreciated.

  6. Theresa Schaefer says:

    Unless you put cups or tsps. your recipes are useless to me. Thanks any way……………

  7. Laura Heffernan says:

    Will coconut oil work in the pie crust. It is about the only fat I can tolerate.

    • Laura Heffernan » You can use coconut oil. The tricky thing about coconut oil is that its melting point is lower than even that of butter, so you have to work even harder to keep it cold IF you want to try to do a flaky crust. Keeping it cold won’t matter at all if you are going for a tender crust. Both are very good; a flaky crust just has layers and a tender crust does not.

      The other thing to watch out for if you use coconut oil is that it seems to have a very short range of temperatures at which it is malleable. If you refrigerate it and take it down to 40degrees, then you’ll probably need to let it rise closer to room temperature before you roll it out. Otherwise the dough wont’s be malleable enough and will crack or shatter when you roll it out. In comparison, when the pie crust is made from shortening it is very malleable even when it’s been refrigerated at 40 degrees for 24 hours.

  8. I happen to love your articles. They are very informative and the more I’m learning the more it all makes sense. I too was very confused in the beginning, but once you start understanding how the different flours work or what they are used for it all starts coming together.

    As an American, I was so use to the cups & teaspoon measurements (we’re one of the few taught that way). But, even before I found your stuff, I had taken a couple of traditional baking classes and they explained the importance of using weights rather than cup measurements. I now love weighing all of my ingredients! They are much more consistent than before. I have even started converting other recipes from cups to grams myself.

    Thanks for all you’re doing!! Keep up the great work.

  9. Valerie T Swabb says:

    Thank you for the guide, and thank you for the link to your recipe! This guide is very useful in case someone doesn’t have the exact ingredients in the recipe, or cannot use some of them, this guide makes it much simpler to tweak what we do have available. THANKS!

  10. Sweetie, I thank you for all the work you do and for being willing to share with all of us out here. I am not usually into the gram thing (have a mental block against it), but I’m going to give it a good try (will have to dust off my scale lol). I have made a gf apple pie b4 & it turned out lovely, although the crust was more like shortbread (yum) and semi-crumbled…going to try your recipe for sure. I love Fall for the wonderful baking we can do & the abundance of “Fall” produce.
    Wishing you a most wonderful Thanksgiving…we already had ours up here, but nobody said we can’t celebrate it twice!!! Cheers & thanks again!

  11. I’m new here so I’m wondering if you have a list of grain flours and a list of starch flours. I have a hard time because of multiple allergies and celiac. I can eat coconut, brown rice, sorghum, almond, corn. I’m allergic to tapioca and potato so I’m not sure what mixtures to use. Haven’t experimented much. Made some almond flour muffins. Almost choked every time I tried to swallow. I appreciate the help. Thanks

    • I don’t think that I’ve written particularly on that. However John tells me that it’s one of the post ideas he sent me last week. Hopefully I’ll get to that soon!

  12. Mary Frances- THANK YOU so much for all the tips and experimentation. please don’t let the negative comments stop you from what you are currently doing. I can not express how much I appreciate the information I get from your explanation of previous trial and errors. I have found more information here, than i have from searching all over the internet, about the differences between flours. You really deserve credit for the approach you are taking to baking. You are truly a kitchen chemist!!

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