Why It Works
- Xanthan gum helps bind the dough, so it's easier to handle and shape.
- A blitz-style ratio of dry ingredients to butter creates a dough that's pliable and rich.
- One round of folding provides eight major layers with minimal fuss.
- Refrigerating the dough ensures the butter is cold, preserving its flakes in the oven.
I've said before that gluten is like the Force, an element that permeates a dough and binds it all together. Sure, it can be corrupted into something wickedly tough, but when used for good, it makes doughs supple and strong. Given the power of that "force," it's tempting to think that a gluten-free dough is inherently disadvantaged. But if my old-fashioned flaky pie dough is a Jedi knight, then the gluten-free version is Han Solo: scrappy, resourceful, and easy to freeze.
First, a quick recap on the role of gluten in a traditional pie crust. Gluten is a protein matrix that forms when two proteins, gliadin and glutenin, are mixed together with water. It's what gives bread or pastry its structure. American pie crusts get their uniquely flaky texture via layers of gluten-strengthened dough, separated by layers of fat and steam. Some gluten in a pie crust is a good thing, but too much can turn it tough, and too little can cause it to crumble. So how do you make a great, flaky pie crust with enough structure to stand up to the oven, but without any gluten at all?
Well, gluten isn't the only "force" in the galaxy. Where sheer tenacity makes Han Solo a force to contend with, my pie dough draws on the strength of xanthan gum, a by-product of bacterial fermentation. Though slimy in its natural state, when it's dried and ground into a powder, xanthan can serve as a binder in gluten-free doughs.
Like any force, it can be abused. Too much xanthan makes pie crust gummy and gross, but just the right amount will dramatically improve the strength and plasticity of a gluten-free dough. That means it won't crumble apart in your hands, making it suitable for even a lattice-top pie.
Along with xanthan, I use the same gluten-free flours found in my angel food cake—white rice flour, cornstarch, tapioca starch, and coconut flour. Though the proportions are different, the overall logic is the same: a diversified blend lets me tap into the strengths of each flour while avoiding their respective weaknesses (more on that here).
Thanks to white rice flour, cornstarch, and tapioca, the overall mix has a relatively neutral flavor profile, but with a touch of coconut flour to evoke the toasty flavors wheat flour develops in the oven. Together, these flours and starches are about as absorbent as all-purpose flour, so the blend hydrates in a similar way, allowing me to use the same proportion of butter and water found in my "regular" crust.
That's important, because a rich, well-hydrated dough isn't thirsty enough to soak up moisture from the filling, a quality that keeps the under-crust crisp despite all kinds of juicy fruits piled on top—no par-baking needed. It's golden brown and crisp on the very bottom, neither soggy nor mushy but baked through and through.
The technique is identical to the one for my gluten-based dough, with the butter cubed and roughly mashed in, then kneaded up with a bit of water. It's rolled and folded the same way, too. You may notice the dough cracks along each crease; don't worry, she'll hold together.
After that, the dough is divided in half, for two pies or one double-crusted affair. It's important to remember that rolling is about gently encouraging the dough to spread out, not steamrolling it across the counter. Take your time, and use a light touch with the pin and a heavy hand with cornstarch as you roll.
Gluten-free dough has inherently less elastic structure than standard dough, which makes picking it up in one piece difficult (unless you use, you know, the force). But that's okay. Some of the best things in the universe are, like the Millennium Falcon, cobbled together in patchwork pieces. Xanthan provides enough strength to make the dough easy to handle in sections, while butter ensures that each piece melds seamlessly into the next.
After rolling the second piece, chill the dough for two hours. Not to relax the gluten, of course, but to restore the butter's plasticity. This makes the dough much easier to handle, whether you need to cover the whole pie in a solid sheet or cut individual strips for lattice.
Once you've laid down all the vertical columns of dough, per the directions in my Lattice 101 lesson, weaving is more about lifting the strips than folding them back. You can do it all by yourself, cradling each strip of dough in your palm and letting its length rest on your arm, or with a helper so you can hold each strip with both hands.
Alternatively, there's nothing wrong with using shorter strips of dough, because either way, lattice is only the illusion of weaving. There's no such thing as a "cheat." Each row can be made up of short strips tucked under the adjacent columns; no harm, no foul.
You can give it an egg wash or leave it unvarnished, because the dough bakes up beautifully golden and crisp regardless. It's the perfect foundation for my ultimate cherry pie, but you'll find that it easily adapts to your favorite family recipes as well. You won't even have to tell them it's gluten-free, because it's just a darn good crust. No disclaimers required.
4 ounces white rice flour (3/4 cup; 113g)
2 1/2 ounces cornstarch (1/2 cup; 70g), plus more for dusting
1 1/2 ounces tapioca flour (1/3 cup; 42g)
1 ounce coconut flour (1/4 cup; 28g)
1/2 ounce sugar (1 tablespoon; 15g)
1 1/4 teaspoons (5g) Diamond Crystal kosher salt; for table salt, use half as much by volume or use the same weight
1/2 teaspoon xanthan gum
8 ounces unsalted butter (2 sticks; 225g), cold
4 ounces cold water (1/2 cup; 115g)
For the Dough: Whisk white rice flour, cornstarch, tapioca flour, coconut flour, sugar, salt, and xanthan gum together in a medium bowl. Cut butter into 1/2-inch cubes and toss with flour mixture to break up the pieces. With your fingertips, smash each cube into a thin sheet—that's it! Stir in water, then knead dough against the sides of the bowl until it comes together in a shaggy ball.
Make the Layers: On a very generously dusted work surface, gently roll dough into a roughly 10- by 15-inch rectangle, sprinkling more cornstarch above and below to prevent sticking. Don't be shy! Fold the 10-inch sides to the center, then close the newly formed packet like a book. Fold in half once more, bringing the short sides together to create a thick block. The dough will crack along the creases, but that's just fine. Divide in half with a sharp knife or bench scraper. If dough is very soft or if you are working in a hot kitchen, refrigerate for 15 minutes before continuing.
For Single-Crusted Pies: Using as much cornstarch as needed, gently roll one piece into a 12-inch circle. Slide an offset spatula underneath it to loosen, then divide into quarters. Transfer to the pie plate one at a time, folding the top edge of each piece over to create a thick border that sits atop the rim of the pan. Press and pinch dough together along the seams to form a unified whole. Repeat with remaining dough. Wrap with plastic and refrigerate at least 2 hours and up to overnight. Use as directed in your favorite recipe.
For a Double-Crusted Pie: Shape one piece of dough according to the directions above. For a solid top crust, roll remaining dough the same way, or roll into a 9- by 15-inch rectangle for a lattice-top pie. Divide into manageable pieces and transfer to a baking sheet or parchment-lined cutting board. (The parchment will prevent dough from absorbing any savory odors from the board.) Wrap both portions in plastic and refrigerate at least 2 hours and up to overnight. Use as directed in your favorite recipe.
Compared to stoneware or heavy enameled ceramic, tempered-glass pie plates conduct heat quickly and evenly, so the crust bakes up light and crisp, never greasy or soft.
|Nutrition Facts (per serving)|
|Servings: 16 to 20|
|Amount per serving|
|% Daily Value*|
|Total Fat 10g||12%|
|Saturated Fat 6g||29%|
|Total Carbohydrate 13g||5%|
|Dietary Fiber 0g||1%|
|Total Sugars 1g|
|Vitamin C 0mg||0%|
|*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.|