Gluten-free or not, baking is a science and ingredients are part of the formula. Pick the right ingredients for the job, and you can let them do all the work for you. Through trial and error, you’ll learn that some ingredients perform better than others.
To succeed in baking, there are five tips you need to arm yourself with: 1. You will gain kitchen confidence through constant practice and meditation over the baking process and outcome. 2. Like any other relationship, you want to get to know your ingredients by spending time with them. 3. Use as little gluten-free flour in a recipe as possible. 4. If you replace any ingredient in a recipe (for dietary or medical reasons, or personal preference), there will be a noticeable difference in taste, texture and appearance. 5. Be light-handed. You need to be almost weightless in your handling of the dough or batter. Heavy-handedness results in dense baked goods.
1. Find a Flour Replacement: I use Silvana’s Kitchen Gluten-Free All-Purpose Flour. Other blends contain added ingredients or quantity of the same ingredients. Of course, you can use your favorite homemade or store-bought blend, too, with slightly different results.
2. Try a Naturally Gluten-Free Flour Replacement:You can swap in some blanched almonds and hazelnuts, cornmeal or cocoa powder for some of the gluten-free flour blend. For more substitutions, see Gluten-Free 101.
3. Choose a Liquid for Browning: I use dairy-free store-bought or homemade almond milk orMalk Organics Maple Pecan or Unsweetened Cashew Milk for a neutral flavor. You could use other dairy-free milks. For more substitutions, see Gluten-Free 101.
4. Use Fat for Texture & Browning: Depending on the baked good and what I need it for, I either use dairy-free, non-hydrogenated all-vegetable shortening; buttery sticks or whipped buttery spread. For more substitutions, see Gluten-Free 101.
How to Measure Gluten-Free All-Purpose Flour
When I owned a gluten-full bakery, I used to weigh out everything. Yes, weight over volume is 100% more precise. But when I’m baking at home, I only break out my kitchen scale when I’m mixing up a big batch of flour blend or pancake mix. Here’s how I successfully measure flour by volume:
1. Start with a container filled with a gluten-free flour blend. 2. Fluff the flour: I just shake the container (with a sealed lid, of course). You could also use a whisk. 3. Take a measuring cup, and lightly scoop the flour—without packing—and making sure to add more than necessary. (Here’s the first place where light-handedness comes in.) If you’re nervous about this step, just spoon the flour into a measuring cup instead. 4. Level off extra flour using a butter knife.
How to Make Flaky Gluten-Free Pie Dough
There are different ways to make pie dough. I’ve used a food processor, stand mixer, a pastry cutter and my hands. This really depends on the dough. My go-to method remains my hands. Here’s the second place light-handedness comes in:
1. Put the flour blend in a large mixing bowl. Whisk in the other dry ingredients (this will depend on the recipe). 2. Add the solid fat (see above), which has been frozen and cut into small pieces. 3. Using your fingers, quickly rub-and-roll the fat into the flour, forming coarse crumbs. This step needs to happen fast so your fingers don’t start melting the fat, which would result in less flakiness. 4. Add the liquid (see above), and use a wooden spoon to beat until roughly combined. (It doesn’t have to be perfect.) 5. Dump the dough onto a piece of plastic wrap or press-n-seal (what I use). Wrap and press into a round disk. 6. Refrigerate the dough until slightly firm, about 20 minutes, or freeze for about 10 minutes before rolling out.
How to Roll Out Gluten-Free Pie Dough
The really great news about gluten-free pie dough is that since there’s no gluten, there is no reason to worry about overworking the dough. As with all pastry dough, what you don’t want to do is add too much extra flour into the recipe. This will result in a dough that may break or tear. Here’s my solution:
1. After chilling the dough, lay out a piece of parchment paper, then dust lightly with gluten-free flour blend. I literally throw the flour across the surface area as if I were skipping stones at the seashore. 2. Using a flour-dusted rolling pin, roll out the dough evenly into a 12-inch circle starting from the center and rotating as you go. If the dough is too cold to budge in any direction, just give it a few more minutes to get closer to room temperature. If the dough starts to stick to the parchment, use a long knife or offset spatula to release it and throw more flour underneath. 3. To transfer the dough onto a pie plate, gently place an upside-down pie plate on top of the rolled out dough. Slide your hand under the parchment paper and flip the dough—still on parchment—into the pie plate. Gently peel off the parchment paper. 4. Position the dough in the center of the pie plate and gently lift the dough so that it lines the bottom and sides. 5. Cut the excess dough with scissors to leave a ½-inch overhang. Using your fingers, roll the dough edge under and crimp with your fingers or decorate with the tines a fork. Prick the bottom of the pie shell with a fork; refrigerate for 15 minutes. 6. If you’re using a top crust, place it on the pie filling. Cut the excess dough and tuck it under the bottom dough edge. Crimp the top dough edge with your fingers or decorate with the tines a fork.
How to Bake a Gluten-Free Pie Crust
1. Prevent the edges from overbrowning by loosely covering them with aluminum foil. You can make an adjustable foil ring: Take a 10-inch (25-cm)-square piece of heavy-duty aluminum foil and fold in four, then cut out a quarter circle, leaving about a 2-inch (5-cm) perimeter. 2. Bake each pie crust separately when making more than one for the most even browning. If you’re short on time, stagger both pie crusts on the same oven rack. Halfway through baking, switch positions and rotate each pie crust a half turn.
MY CLASSIC GLUTEN-FREE PIE CRUST RECIPE The pie crust dough and baked, cooled pie crusts will keep, covered, for up to 2 days in the fridge or up to 3 months in the freezer. Here I use the food processor method.
Makes: 1 crust for a 9-inch pie (double the ingredients for a double crust)
1. In a food processor, pulse the flour with the salt. Add the chilled shortening or buttery sticks pieces and pulse until coarse crumbs form, about 5 seconds. Drizzle in the ice water and pulse just until the dough comes together. Wrap in plastic wrap; flatten to form a disk. Refrigerate until firm, about 15 minutes. 2. On a lightly floured work surface, roll out the dough into a 12-inch circle; transfer to a pie pan. Cut the excess dough to leave a ½-inch overhang. Using your fingers, roll the dough edge under and crimp. Prick the bottom of the pie shell with a fork; refrigerate for 15 minutes. 3. Preheat the oven to 400º. Line the shell with foil and dried beans; bake for 15 minutes. Remove the foil and beans, reduce the heat to 375º and bake for another 12 minutes.
TIP: Scatter chocolate chips over the bottom of the crust to make a sealed layer, which will prevent the crust from getting soggy.
This is the ultimate no-fuss crust. You can make your own gluten-free cookies (see my book, Cooking for Isaiah, for recipes) or save time with your favorite store-bought cookies. This crust can be made 1 day ahead and kept covered at room temperature. You can pick a cookie flavor that matches nicely with your filling. Here are just a handful of fun flavor combinations:
COOKIE CRUST / FILLING
1. Gluten-Free Vanilla Graham Cookies / Cheesecake Filling 2. Gluten-Free Chocolate Cookies / Pecan Pie Filling or Peanut Butter Filling 3. Gluten-Free Shortbread Cookies / Lemon Custard Filling 4. Gluten-Free Chocolate Chip Cookies / Chocolate Pudding Filling 5. Gluten-Free Snickerdoodle Cookies / Banana Cream Filling 6. Gluten-Free Gingersnap Cookies / Pumpkin Filling
Preheat the oven to 350°. In a small bowl, stir together the cookie crumbs and shortening until combined. Press onto the bottom and up the sides of a 9-inch pie pan; freeze until set, about 15 minutes. In a small bowl, beat the egg white with a fork and lightly brush on the pie shell. Bake for 10 minutes; let cool.
TIP: Brush the cookie crust with lightly beaten egg white to prevent it from getting soggy under the filling.
How to Make a Grain-Free Nut Crust
If you’re looking for a gluten-free and grain-free crust, this is the best option. Nuts add flavor, texture and healthy fat. This crust can be made 1 day ahead and kept covered at room temperature.
MY CLASSIC GRAIN-FREE NUT CRUST RECIPE The granulated sugar in the recipe helps to grind the nuts to a powdery texture.You can use blanched nuts or nuts with the skins still on. The main difference will be the color of the crust.
Makes: One 9-inch pie
6 ounces (about 1½ cups) chopped nuts, such as walnuts, macadamia nuts, almonds, hazelnuts, pecans, pine nuts (or a combination)
¼ cup sugar
¼ teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons shortening, whipped buttery spread or unflavored coconut oil, melted
Preheat the oven to 350°. In a food processor, pulse together the nuts, sugar and salt until finely ground. Add the melted shortening and pulse until just combined; freeze until set, about 15 minutes. Bake until golden around the edges, about 10 minutes; let cool.
TIP: Stir your favorite spices, shredded coconut or chopped chocolate into a nut crust for added flavor.