Pastry making is in my blood. Every fall, no matter what piss poor financial state we were in, my mother would make at least 50 pies in a weekend. Then, they’d go into the freezer, so they could be given away to all our family friends. Mostly pumpkin pies (to my horror), but a couple of fruit pies, too (to my delight). My mother was not a good cook, but she was a magnificent pie maker. That flaky crust!
In my adult life, I’ve experimented with various combinations of fat content for my pies and I settled on the classic French pâte brisée just before going vegan. That meant I did more experimenting, but I still landed on using all non-dairy margarine rather than vegetable shortening or a mixture of the both. I want flaky, buttery pastry – not dry, weird, mealy something or other.
My local grocery store (which is the best and one of the only things I’ll miss when I move on from Montreal) had sour cherries for sale. I jumped at the chance to make a cherry filling from scratch because I have never, ever seen fresh sour cherries before. For those not in the know, those are the kind used for canned cherry filling. They’re smaller and brighter than the sweet kind you’ll usually see. If you can’t find sour cherries and you still want to make homemade filling, this recipe here looks just fine. I might just brighten it up with a little cranberry juice, but that’s just an idea that’s floating by in my head. If you don’t want to make the filling, just buy a can – it’s delicious and you know it.
I don’t have a cherry pitter, so I used a cleaned up bobby pin. Just insert until you feel the pit and pull it out. I spent about 20 minutes pitting the four cups for this recipe, so use your judgement when making the decision. I’m always looking for a challenge, but you don’t have to!
Makes one 8 or 9 inch pie
4 cups pitted and cleaned sour cherries
1 cup granulated sugar
1/4 maple syrup (or 1/4 cup more sugar)
1/2 teaspoon high quality vanilla extract
2 tablespoons tapioca starch + 3 tablespoons cold water, well mixed
After you’ve cleaned and pitted your cherries, heat them in a medium saucepan over medium heat until they start to release their juices. Add the sugar, maple syrup, vanilla and starch mixture and stir to combine. Bring to a boil, while stirring and then reduce the heat to low and allow to simmer, stirring occasionally until it has thickened. Set aside to cool.
Makes one 8 or 9 inch pie
2 1/2 cups all purpose gluten-free flour mix (I use this one; brown rice or sorghum flour is less gritty than white rice flour), chilled
1/8 teaspoon xanthan gum (in addition to what’s in the flour mix)
1 cup + 1 tablespoon non-dairy margarine, frozen
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
~ 5 tablespoon ice cold water, make sure there are no ice crystals in the water
Non-dairy milk, for brushing the top
Coarse sugar, to sprinkle on top (optional)
Using a food processor or high powered blender, pulse your flour mixture and xanthan gum several times. Add the sugar and salt and pulse to combine. Using the grater attachment, grate the non-dairy margarine into the flour. Take the mixture and place it in the freezer to get cold again, for about 15 minutes. Drop the cold mixture into a large mixing bowl and using a fork or a pastry cutter, incorporate the margarine into the flour. Usually recipes will indicate you should do this until it resembles oatmeal, in my experience with gluten-free flour, you should stop short of that. Let’s say really chunky oatmeal? You should still see the grated strands of margarine in there. Next, add the cold water one tablespoon at a time, until the dough comes together easily, stopping before it feels wet or sticky. Divide the dough in two, form into disks, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate to let the moisture redistribute. It should take about an hour in the fridge, but you can speed that up in the freezer.
Preheat oven to 350 F. Roll out the dough between sheets of wax paper or parchment paper, about 1/8 inch thick, to the appropriate size. Place in the pie dish and pinch the edges so they do not hang over very much. Place the dough in the freezer while you roll out the top. If you want to cut out designs, do that at this point. Add the pie filling to the pie dish and cover with the dough. Cut the overhang with scissors, so about a half an inch hangs over. Pinch the edges tightly into whatever shape you like. If you haven’t cut out designs, make sure to cut air holes with a knife on the top (or poke a fork throughout). Brush with soy milk and sprinkle with coarse sugar. Bake for 1 hour and 5 minutes, until the pie crust achieves the most heavenly shade of golden-brown you’ve ever seen.
– Grind your flour mixture in a food processor or high powered blender before using. I’ve seen recipes kicking around calling for expensive superfine flours, so why not just pulse your own and see how that works for you.
– The quality and texture of gluten-free flour mixtures varies widely and I cannot tell you if yours is going to work in pastry. I can tell you that the one I use has not failed me yet and I will never be changing it. Counter-intuitively, brown rice flour is far less gritty than white rice flour, so I really don’t recommend using white rice flour for baking. For me, I don’t want things that resembles the non-vegan and non-gluten free product, I want them to be equal or better. (Ahem, I’m looking at you, vanilla cupcakes.)
– Using half non-dairy margarine and half vegetable shortening will lead to a chewier, softer pastry. If that’s what you want, do that! If you want especially crispy, keep it all butter.
– Cold, cold, cold. Yep. Just like in regular pastry making, keep everything cold by chilling between steps. I guess that means you shouldn’t make the pie your only focus because there’s a lot of waiting involved. Handle the dough as little as you can because your hands are very warm and start to melt the fat before it’s ready to melt. Sometimes I even throw my utensils in the freezer.
– A little extra xanthan gum and fat goes a long way to making this more delicious.
– Be patient with yourself. Pastry is a hard thing to master, never mind when you’re working gluten-free. Keep practising.
– Keep it cold. Seriously. Until you’re experienced, don’t try making fancy designs. Fussing with patterns and pretty fluted edges can ruin the pastry, especially if you’re not used to how it should feel.