Why is it important to reduce gluten in tarts and pies?

Can you make an amazing gluten-free pie crust that mimics a classic buttery flaky pie crust? A lot of people will tell you yes but not without a lot of different specialty ingredients. There's a certain kind of magic that happens in a traditional pie crust that's all because of the gluten, and it takes a lot more ingredients than you might think to recreate it. I've tried. And tried and tried. And in the past nine years of being gluten-free and trying, I've failed.

Until now. Because I finally had a revelation: The best gluten-free pie crusts don't try to mimic the real thing. Instead, they have their own delicate texture and flavor all their own.

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That's when I created this sweet, buttery pastry dough, rich with the flavor of oat flour and blissfully free of hard-to-find specialty ingredients and tricky steps. I love this dough because it can work just as well when baked as cookies, pie crusts, sweet tart shells, and as the base of bar cookies. And it's much less finicky to work with than most gluten-free doughs I've tried.

Now that I have a batch of this stuff in my freezer, I can whip up pumpkin pie, sugar cookies, and maple-pecan sticky bars all through the holiday season. And I'm already thinking about what to do with the dough year-round, too.

Photo by Chelsea Kyle, Food Styling by Anna Stockwell

I can trace the inspiration for this dough to a recipe I came across a few years ago. It was a recipe for wheat-free sugar cookies in Alice Medrich's book Chewy, Gooey, Crispy, Crunchy Melt-In-Your-Mouth Cookies. I was astounded by the simplicity of her recipe, and her claim that it could be used as the base for bar cookies as well as a number of cut out or slice and bake cookies. I trust Alice implicitly, so I gave it a go. The cookies were delicious, and got me hooked on baking with oat flour. She also introduced me to the practice of putting a bit of cream cheese into gluten-free dough, which helps act as a binder in place of the gluten protein, and omits the need for any added gums since cream cheese already has those in it. It's a very clever trick, and saves you from having to hunt down xanthan gum, guar gum, ground flax, chia, psyllium, and all those other gluten-free additives that make recipes sound like science projects.

After making my first batch of cookies with Alice's dough, I started wondering what else I could do with it, which led very quickly to pie. It tasted good, but it was hard to get that dough into a pie plate. So I started working on making it stronger by adding an egg (the protein firms it up) and playing with fat-to-flour ratios. Now, I've finally got a dough that works all the ways I want it to. The only tricky part is picking what to bake with it.

Photo by Chelsea Kyle, Food Styling by Anna Stockwell

To make gluten-free pies and tarts:

No, this dough does not make a pie crust like a traditional pie crust. What it does make is a softer, sweeter pie crust that's buttery and crumbly and tender, yet strong enough to hold together when you take a slice out of the pie. The top edge has a satisfying crunch, and it's flavorful and rich and especially good with pumpkin pie. Use parchment paper and plenty of gluten-free flour when rolling it out, and don't worry about blind bakingjust skip that step and chill your formed crust in the freezer for 10 or 15 minutes before filling and baking. Pies made with this crust are best the day they're baked, since the crust softens as it sits.

Photo by Chelsea Kyle, Food Styling by Anna Stockwell

To make gluten-free cookies:

This dough makes sugar cookies that might rival your favorite gluten-full holiday cut-out cookiescrisp, crumbly, and just plain delicious. Cut the dough into fun shapes and let the kids decorate it with your favorite icing. Or make sandwich cookies by filling them with jam or melted chocolate. Or stir spices or citrus zest into the dough to infuse the cookies with new flavor. For Thanksgiving, I add a little nutmeg and cinnamon to the dough, cut it into leaf shapes, then sprinkle them with granulated sugar before baking.

Photo by Chelsea Kyle, Food Styling by Anna Stockwell

To make gluten-free bar cookies:

I got the whole office hooked on maple-pecan sticky bars while testing how this dough works as a base for bar cookies. [Ed. note: This is no exaggeration.] Just press the dough into the base of a baking pan, bake it until golden-brown, then top with your filling of choice and bake until set. Those pecan bars are amazing with this dough, but you could also try lemon bars, Linzer bars, or anything you like.

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Photo by Chelsea Kyle, Food Styling by Anna Stockwell

Gluten-Free Multi-Purpose Sweet Pastry Dough

Anna Stockwell