I was sick. So I made a chicken pot pie.
Now, this might not sound like the most logical course of events, but let me explain. Becoming an adult does not remove the desire to be comforted when you're ill. (Although it does seem to decrease the odds of that desire being fulfilled. Oh well. Moving on.) So, once the illness fades and you're left with more of a memory of that illness and it's accompanying comfort-desire, but you're now in a position to meet your own needs again without complaining (and assuming that you're human and thus need to eat), it is only logical that making comfort foods feels like the right act to bridge the abyss between sick and well. And what, pray tell, screams louder of comfort than a homemade chicken pot pie?
Well, actually, having now made one, I can say definitively that while the scent, flavor, and experience of eating chicken pot pie is quite comforting, the actual making-from-complete-scratch of it is NOT. It was an in-and-out-of-the-kitchen-all-day process for me, with a big burst of intense activity near the finish line, and the end result being a delicious, but hour-late, dinner. And that was starting with already-roasted chicken from the previous night's dinner.
What was I thinking? Obviously, I was not as well as I thought. Surely only a feverish woman would have the lack of clarity to read a recipe that clearly states it's a long, involved process - hence no one making it anymore - and decide that it would be fun to "throw one together" for dinner. To begin with, there was the issue of chicken stock - I had none, so first had to make a mock one with the giblets I had thankfully saved the night before. Then there was the part about having to cook the vegetables before mixing them into the sauce. And the sauce itself? It was, of course, based on a roux, something I had no prior experience with using gluten-free flours. Oh, and I needed something to cover the whole lot with. I wanted a pastry crust, but not one like my most recent attempt, which was closer to a mock whole wheat crust. (Which has it's uses, but not, I decided, on top of my idealized chicken pot pie.) I wanted it to be lightly golden brown, with the flaky layers I associate with the pie crusts I used to make, pre-gluten-free. I didn't know how to make that happen. So you might say there was a bit for me to contend with.
But you know what? It was worth every effort. Firstly, because dinner that night (and the next) was just what I was hoping for: pure, old-fashioned comfort food that really tasted good. (The roux worked perfectly, by the way, with a 1:1 substitution of my all-purpose gf mix.) Secondly, and more importantly, because somewhere in the hectic-ness of the day, I managed to perform a magic trick. A very important magic trick.
I made the gluten-free pie crust of my dreams.
Honestly, this thing was the stuff of fantasies - really buttery, layer-upon-layer of pie crust fantasies. (What? You don't have such thoughts about pie crust? Who are you?) Well, if you're anything like me, this next photo is going to be food porn for you. Go ahead, ogle it for a good long while. I won't tell.
Do you see? Do you see? Those layers! Those flaky pockets of buttery joy! That beautiful white-into-bronze color! Would you ever in a million years look at that and believe it was gluten-free? Neither would I. And if I hadn't made it myself, I'd assume it was a hoax.
Instead, I'm here to shout from the rooftops (do we have roofs in cyberspace?) that this crust is the real deal. Tender and flaky, and delicious to boot. And it's easy to make (although the method is unusual), and even the ingredients are just basic pantry items for a gluten-free baker. I don't know what made me decide that cream cheese was the missing ingredient in all my other gf crusts, but for some reason I clung to that thought until I could find a good cream cheese pastry recipe to convert. I didn't have to look long - it was sitting on the bookshelf, in Rose Levy Beranbaum's The Pie and Pastry Bible. The only change I would make - and really, I'm just being nit-picky here, because this recipe is close to perfect - would be to leave out the vinegar she calls for. The reasoning being that there is no gluten in my version that needs tenderizing (vinegar's purpose in the original recipe), and it lends the crust just a hint of tang that I think in a sweet application would be a bit odd. On pot pie, though, it was fabulous. Literally, the crowning glory. It was so good, I'm still dreaming about it.
So, needless to say, I may be on a pie-baking kick for a while. I've got lots of frozen fruit stashed away that Josh has been urging me to use up, plus I have only begun to explore the world of savory pies. And then there are quiches. And tarts. And crostatas. Oh my. I can't wait.
Best-Ever Gluten-Free Pie Crust
Adapted from The Pie and Pastry Bible
Yields enough for a 9-inch pie shell, or a 9 1/2- or 10-by 1-inch tart shell
6 Tbsp/90 grams unsalted butter, cold
1 cup/134 grams gf pastry flour mix (recipe follows)
1/2 tsp xanthan gum
1/8 tsp salt (for savory recipes, use 1 1/2 times the salt)
1/8 tsp baking powder
1/4 cup (2.25 ounces) cream cheese, cold
2 1/2 Tbsp ice water
Cut the butter into small (about 3/4-inch) cubes. Wrap it in plastic wrap and freeze it until frozen solid, at least 30 minutes. Place the flour, xanthan gum, salt, and baking powder in a reclosable gallon-size freezer bag and freeze for at least 30 minutes.
Place the flour mixture in a food processor with the metal blade and process for a few seconds to combine. (Depending on the size of your food processor, you may need to make the recipe in two batches if you decide to double it.) Set the bag aside.
Cut the cream cheese into 3 or 4 pieces and add it to the flour. Process for about 20 seconds or until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Add the frozen butter cubes and pulse until none of the butter is larger than the size of a pea. (Toss with a fork to see it better.) Remove the cover and add the water. Pulse until most of the butter is reduced to the size of small peas. The mixture will be in particles and will not hold together. Spoon it into the plastic bag. (If you double the recipe for a double-crust pie, it is easiest to divide the mixture in half at this point.)
Holding both ends of the bag opening with your fingers, knead the mixture by alternately pressing it, from the outside of the bag, with the knuckles and heels of your hands until the mixture holds together in one piece.
Wrap the dough with plastic wrap, flatten it into a disc (or discs) and refrigerate for at least 45 minutes, preferably overnight.
Refrigerated, up to 2 days; frozen, up to 3 months.
To roll out:
Place the disc of cold dough on a large piece of parchment paper. Dust lightly with gf flour (I used sweet rice flour, since it's so fine), and gently roll out into a circle with a diameter of about 11-12 inches. If you find the dough to be too sticky, cover it with another piece of parchment and roll it out that way. If it cracks a bit, just press it together with your fingertips - don't worry, this dough can handle a bit of wrangling! When it's the right size, pick it up, parchment and all, and invert it into your pie plate (or over your pot pie, as the case may be), then peel off the parchment and gently ease the dough into place. Again, any cracks or breaks can be pushed back together. This dough tastes really good by itself, so when you trim the edges, you may want to save those scraps and bake them off for a little snack. Treat yourself.
Fill and bake according to directions for whatever recipe you're following (I usually bake at 350º for tarts, galettes, and other single-crust items, and 425º for double-crust pies), covering crust with foil midway through baking if it looks like it's getting too dark, too quickly.
Tara's Gluten-Free Pastry Flour Mix
2 parts white rice flour, as finely-milled as you can get (I use Bob's Red Mill)
2/3 part potato starch
1/3 part tapioca starch
Blend well with a whisk, in whatever quantity is right for you, and store in a cool, dry place or refrigerate it.
Posted by Tara Barker at 8:38 PM