“Pie”, is for me, another example of how our common language divides us. Say “pie” to a North American and they probably imagine a blueberry pie a la mode, cherry pie, pecan pie, pumpkin pie…all delicious. Offer a “pie” to a person of the British persuasion however and they start salivating over the thought of steak and ale pie, perhaps chicken and mushroom pie, or ham and egg. Usually served hot with gravy rather than cold with ice cream.
In short, pie conjures up completely different visions depending upon your geographic location and history. What I think we may all be able to agree on, is that all such pies can be amazing delicious, and quite hard to recreate gluten free! Read on for a salutary tale on the pitfalls, and a recipe for small sweet pastry cases.
Gluten free pastry is a real challenge. I make a mouth wateringly delicious, crumbly, butter-rich shortbread style pastry for sweet treats such as jam tarts and mince pies. (See, another version of pie!) It is difficult to work with however, and as it is crumbly it lends itself best to small treats rather than a large structure that would have to hold its shape. This is a diplomatic way of saying that it explodes into powdery puffs once baked if you try to make a full size heavy duty pie!
Savoury pastry can be a bit easier, and I do have a recipe that I will share soon, mainly based on buckwheat flour. It holds its shape, doesn’t stick to the pie dish, and tastes amazing. The only issue is that it is hellishly difficult to work, sticking with glee to all manner of surfaces and prone to tearing when, weeping, you try to peel it off the work surface.
In short, some way to go. So when I read about a recipe for an “artisan” gluten free pastry crust for large sweet pies I was all enthusiasm. The enthusiasm waned somewhat when I contemplated the list of ingredients, the vast majority of which are not easily available in the UK. Undaunted, I sourced these all online, although in perhaps larger quantities than I would ideally have liked (there is 10kg of brown rice flour in my kitchen), and set to work.
Initial impressions were very favourable. The pastry rolled out with such ease I should have been suspicious. It settled neatly, without tearing, into the pie dish. When baked, it removed easily from the dish, and seemed quite robust.
However, at a certain point you want your pastry to stop being robust and start being edible! I had decided on a traditional American blueberry pie for this attempt, and the aroma of the blueberries rising from the slits on the pie lid promised something delightful. Having waited for the pie to cool however, accessing that blueberry goodness proved nigh on impossible as the crust took its dedication to protecting the ingredients to giddy heights.
The only way I can think of to describe the pastry accurately is to compare it to leather. When I attempted to slice the pie the crust resisted in the way I imagine a football would if you tried to slice that; giving way slightly but not actually allowing you to cut through. I was having to press the knife down hard, leaving the blueberry filling in imminent danger of spurting out the sides instead.
Eventually I gave up and committed an act of violence; stabbing the pie downwards and hoping to be able to draw the knife through the crust. The crust still refused to slice, instead preferring to tear and even then only with the application of so much force the filling went everywhere. I considered sharing the photos that resulted; a sadly deflated football looking pie crust with the rich purple blueberry filling spilling uncontained all over the plate, however they are simply too depressing. Suffice to say, it tasted fairly depressing too, not repulsive as such, just highly unappetising.
A lesson has been learnt however, which is that expensive and difficult to find ingredients are not always the best, or indeed necessary. Which is frankly a relief! That pie crust cost over £11, yes, over eleven British coins of the realm, and that leaves out all the left over flours from around the world currently languishing in the Emporium kitchens.
Determined to enjoy the seasonal blueberries nonetheless, I quickly whipped up some small and medium size blueberry pies instead, using my tried and tested old recipe. And because I was on a pastry roll, some of my favourite raspberry mini jam tarts too, perfect to savour whilst watching Wimbledon. (Well done by the way Mr Murray.)
The recipe for the sweet pastry is below, but please do let this be the starting block for your own experimentation. And note that it comes with a warning that it may not be robust enough for a large pie!
(If you want to make a large pie, I would suggest my Advanced Gluten Free Sweet Pastry Recipe here.)
Mini and Medium Blueberry Pies Recipe – Gluten Free
• 400g fresh blueberries
• 1 cup white sugar
• Juice of 1 lemon
• 2 tsp cornflour, mixed with cold water to form a paste
Gluten Free Pastry
• 275g gluten free plain flour. Dove’s Farm Organic is a good buy.
• 4 tbsp icing sugar
• 1 egg, mixed with 1 tbsp water
• 100g cold unsalted butter
• ½ tsp xanthum gum if you have it. (Not essential, but it helps.)
1. Place the flour and xanthum gum if using into a bowl. Dice the butter and rub it into the flour until it resembles breadcrumbs.
2. Make a well in the centre of the mixture and pour in the egg and water mix, and the icing sugar. Use a knife to cut the mixture together until it forms a dough. If it looks a little too wet, add more flour and a touch of icing sugar until it looks right.
3. Wrap the dough tightly in clingfilm and refrigerate for about 30 minutes. This makes it easier to work.
4. Whilst the dough chills, place blueberries, sugar, lemon juice, and cornflour in a pan over a low heat. Stir occasionally until the sugar has turned to liquid. Keep over a low heat until the blueberries are soft and all the liquid has turned a lovely shade of bluey-purple. Take off the heat once ready.
5. Preheat oven to 160C if fan assisted, 180 if not.
6. Remove the dough from the fridge, I tend to remove just enough to work with at a time to keep it chilled.
7. Place between two sheets of clingfilm and roll out. You don’t want it so thin it’s transparent, but neither do you want it so thick it will overpower any other taste. Use your judgement!
8. Cut out circles with a cookie cutter if you have one that fits, and gently press the circles into your baking trays. For the mini tarts and pies I use, unsurprisingly, a mini tart and pie tray, and for the larger pies I used a muffin tray. Both work well, and you could also use Yorkshire pudding trays or cupcake trays. Basically, use what you have and don’t go buying anything new just for this recipe!
9. Leave a bit of overhang over the edges of the tray holes to seal the lids on. Fill the pies about ¾ full with the blueberry mixture.
10. Cut out pie lids and gently press the sides of the pastry together to seal. Dust with sugar and poke a few holes for the steam to escape.
11. Cook for about 10 minutes for the small pies, and 14 – 16 for the medium pies.
12. Allow to cool if you want the insides to hold their shape, or just dig straight in, it’s up to you! Delicious with either heavy cream or ice cream.
You can use the same pastry recipe to make jam tarts, instead of filling with blueberries and covering with a lid, simply press the case into place, spoon in some of your favourite jam, and bake until bubbling and golden.
I’m going to keep going with my experiments in pie making, there will be the perfect formula for a sweet gluten free pastry that is crumbly and rich, yet sturdy and made from ingredients you don’t have to Google! (And there is – you can find it here.)
Wondering who I can persuade to purchase 10kg of brown rice flour, Halo from the Halo Baking Emporium and Chocolaterie in Moseley, Birmingham UK.