Finding gluten-free ways to hold a pie together

January 15, 2013|By CHRIS COPLEY |
  • Pies typically have a pastry crust, but not these. The apple pie, left, has a walnut crust. The bacon-onion-pepper quiche, center, has a rice crust. And a sweet potato top crust covers the chicken-and-root-veggie pot pie at right.
By Kevin G. Gilbert/Staff Photographer

I am a changed man. A more open-minded man. Fifteen months ago, I had a conversion experience.

Just before the big Halloween snow in 2011, my wife, Yolanda, told me she was going to eat a gluten-free, grain-free diet for 30 days. When I heard these words, I kept my face placid, but inside, my food-loving heart of hearts was doing an imitation of "The Scream."

You see, we generally eat as a family, and when two of the kids went vegetarian, we all ate vegetarian, by and large. That was OK — food was still flavorful. And when my youngest child went vegan, we all ate vegan, mostly. Even that was OK — still lots of flavor, to my surprise.

I like foods with flavor, and I had an attitude about gluten-free cooking — that it was the death of flavorful foods. Something like eating cardboard and paste.

Of course, I was wrong.

Flavor without flour? Yes.

The kids are out of the house now, so it's just me and Yolanda eating dinner. And neither of us has an allergy to gluten. But when she read a book about the Paleolithic Diet — a plan based on eating mostly meat, vegetables, fruits and nuts like our ancestors did before they learned to farm — she wanted to try it.

Some foods were prohibited, including wheat, barley, rice, oats — all grains. No barley meant no beer. And no wheat meant no flour, no bread, no pasta, no cookies, no pizza ...

I was a little shell-shocked. Wheat flour is in so many products. How can you eat without grains?

Well, I underestimated things. We cooked more at home from scratch, and we had plenty of foods with lots of variety and flavor. I actually enjoyed the dietary experiment. After the 30 days concluded, we continued to eat mostly without grains. Occasionally we ate rice. Occasionally we ate oats. Occasionally I drank a beer. But we avoided wheat, the grain with the most gluten.

And to my surprise, without even trying, I dropped 15 pounds. So I am a convert. Mostly, I don't miss the wheat.

But sometimes I do. How can I make a pizza without a nice, doughy crust? How can you bake crunchy cookies that have rich flavor? How can you make crackers that go with wine and cheese?

And what can you put under a pie to hold it together?

Pie 'R' shared

Our family had a strict division of labor when it came to pie making. My wife or one of my daughters made the dough and I rolled it out, lined the pie pan and fluted the rim. It was a delightful family tradition.

Well, those days are gone. Yes, we do use some gluten-free flours — coconut flour, almond flour or rice flour, for instance — but I wanted to see what sort of alternative pie crusts I could find.

So I went looking for alternatives to make a pie crust. I found a lot of ideas. For savory pies, I found recipes for crusts made from mashed potatoes; sweet potatoes; shredded onion and raw potato; and shredded spinach, cheese and cauliflower. For sweet pies, I found pie crusts made from nuts; gluten-free cookies; and oats and apple juice.

So I took some recipes home and tweaked them. I swapped out a bag of frozen veggies for produced I sauteed at home. I swapped out wheat flour and used coconut flour or rice flour as a thickener. I swapped one kind of meat for another. I reduced the salt and added more spice.

And I was pretty happy with the results. I will add more spices to the rice crust next time. I will add more coconut or almond flour to the sweet potato crust, so it rolls out more like a crust.

And if I'm making a pie to give to friends, I might replace gluten-free flour in these recipes with plain, old, all-purpose flour. No big deal.

All of which showed me that, yes, there are decent, gluten-free pie crusts, and they can have flavor.

Chicken-and-root-veggie pot pie


1/2 cup flour (see cook's note)

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

1 1/2 cup cooked, mashed, sweet potato

6 tablespoons

1 egg, beaten


3 tablespoons olive oil, divided

1 large carrot

1 medium turnip (see cook's note)

1 small kohlrabi (see cook's note)

1/2 medium yellow onion

1 teaspoon fresh rosemary

2 cups cubed, cooked chicken

2 tablespoons flour

1 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon fresh ground pepper

1/4 teaspoon chili powder, to taste

1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

1 cup cream (see cook's note)

1 cup chicken broth

Combine 1 cup flour, salt and nutmeg. Stir in remaining ingredients, blending well. Set aside.

Heat oven to 350 degrees.

Put 2 tablespoons olive oil in heavy frying pan over medium heat. Cut carrot, turnip and kohlrabi into 1/2-inch dice — should total about 2 cups — and put in pan. Cook for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Chop onions and add with rosemary to root vegetables in pan. Cook, stirring occasionally, until onions turn translucent. Add chicken to pan and mix thoroughly. Spoon vegetable-chicken mixture into a 10-inch pie pan.

Put remaining oil in a heavy saucepan over medium heat. Add 2 tablespoons flour, salt, pepper, chili powder and nutmeg. Gradually stir in cream and broth. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until thickened and bubbly.

Pour sauce over vegetable-chicken mixture. Spread sweet potato mixture over filling; leave a few holes for steam to escape.

Bake 40 minutes or until crust is lightly browned.

Serves 6.

Cook's note: Flour can be all-purpose wheat flour or an alternative flour made from rice. To make a stiffer top crust that can be rolled out, double the amount of flour and add 1 teaspoon baking powder, then refrigerate dough before rolling out to 1/4-inch thickness. For filling, could substitute other root vegetables such as potatoes for turnip and kohlrabi. Could substitute milk for cream.

— Adapted by Chris Copley, assistant Lifestyle editor

Apple-nut pie


2 1/2 cups walnuts

1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

2 tablespoons butter, melted


5 cups chopped apples, about 6 medium apples

2 tablespoons lemon juice

2 tablespoons cinnamon

1 teaspoon powdered ginger

1/2 teaspoon allspice

Pinch of salt

1/2 cup honey

1/3 cup apple cider

2 tablespoons flour

Blend walnuts and salt in a food processor until finely ground. Add butter and pulse until butter is thoroughly mixed. Turn nut mixture into a 9-inch tart pan or 10-inch pie pan. Use a wooden spoon or moistened fingers to smooth the batter firmly over the bottom and sides. Spread the batter thinner across the bottom and thicker around the sides. May chill crust while preparing filling.

Heat oven to 350 degrees.

Mix apples, lemon juice, cinnamon, ginger, allspice, salt and honey in large bowl. Set aside.

In small bowl mix, mix apple cider and flour. With a fork, whisk flour into cider mix and let stand for a few minutes to thicken. Pour onto apple mixture and combine well.

Bake one hour.

Cook's notes: Could add a topping of 3/4 cup of oats, 1/4 cup sugar, 1 teaspoon cinnamon and 1 stick butter for a crumb topping.

— Adapted by Chris Copley, assistant Lifestyle editor, and Yolanda DiFabio

Bacon-onion-pepper quiche with rice crust


2 1/2 cups cooked rice

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 teaspoons chopped, fresh rosemary

1 egg

Salt and pepper to taste


4 slices thick bacon

2 ripe sweet peppers, chopped

1 medium yellow onion, chopped

1 cup shredded cheese

4 eggs

2 cups heavy cream (see cook's note)

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

1 teaspoon nutmeg

Heat oven to 425 degrees.

Mix together rice, olive oil, rosemary, 1 egg, salt and pepper. With wooden spoon or moistened fingers, press rice into pie pan bottom and sides.

Fry bacon. When done, drain and finely chop bacon. Reserve bacon grease. Put chopped bacon in bottom of rice crust.

Put sweet peppers and onion in bacon grease, and saute for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Spread pepper and onion over bacon in crust, and top with cheese.

In a bowl, beat eggs. Add cream, salt, black pepper and nutmeg, and mix thoroughly. Pour egg mixture over cheese.

Set pie pan on baking sheet to catch drips and set in oven. Bake for 15 minutes, then reduce heat to 300 and bake for 30 minutes or until filling is set.

Cook's note: Could replace cream with milk.

— Adapted by Chris Copley, assistant Lifestyle editor

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