How to turn practically any grain into a pie crust

It's very easy and very cheesy

By Erin Jeanne McDowell

Published November 11, 2021 6:30PM (EST)

 (Mark Weinberg / Food52)
(Mark Weinberg / Food52)

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I first wrote about grain crusts in 2014. Back then, I was actively praising the concept of "easy" pie crusts. This recipe is incredibly easy. It requires less than 5 base ingredients, and no need to get out the rolling pin — it's pressed into the pie plate.

But it's more than the ease that keeps me coming back to these crusts over and over again. See, I first created this method back when I lived alone. I would cook large batches of grains, and sometimes I'd use some of these prepped ingredients to make a mini tart or pie crust for myself on the fly. Very quickly, I found that that these kinds of pie crusts are a wonderful way to remix leftovers, and are infinitely adaptable for all kinds of portion sizes and flavor pairing possibilities. They're also a wonderful way to bake a pie using whole grains, including grains that might be naturally gluten-free.

With all this said, here are the simple steps to make any grain into a pie crust, plus a few tips and ideas to get your creative juices flowing.

1. Pick a grain, any grain

Just about any cooked grain can be used in this recipe. Some of my favorites include rice (white, brown, and wild), quinoa, bulgur, and millet. This technique also works well with leftover cooked pasta: Small shapes like pastina, orzo, or even couscous all make delicious crusts. Start with fully cooked and cooled grains; this makes them tender and malleable enough to press in an even layer. You can season the grains with salt, and any other spices or seasonings you like.

2. Speaking of seasonings . . .

In the newest episode of Bake It Up a Notch, I focused on savory pies. Here are a few crust ideas that would pair well with everything from breakfast to dinner.

  • Quinoa + Parmesan + Smoked Paprika
  • Long Grain Rice + Cheddar + Black Pepper
  • Pastina + Pecorino + Italian Seasoning

3. Bind it up

Along with the seasonings, it's important to use a binder. I usually use a combination of egg white and grated cheese, which helps to hold the crust together, so it will evenly brown and crisp up like a good crust should. Don't do dairy? Never fear, you can skip the cheese entirely, as the protein of the egg white will be enough. Can't have eggs? No worries at all. An equivalent amount of flaxseed egg replacer works really well, too. Mix all the ingredients well to combine.

4. Grease it good — then press in

I grease the pie plate, tart pan, or baking dish, which I don't usually do when I'm working with flaky pie pastry. In the case of these twice-cooked grains, it ensures that the final crust doesn't stick to the pan, and you can remove nice, clean slices from the final pie. Pour the crust mixture into the center of the prepared pan. I use a lightly greased ¼ or ½ cup measure (or the bottom of a glass) to gently press the crust, first to flatten into an even layer, then eventually to press the mixture up the sides of the pan. I like to keep the bottom of the crust thinner, like a classic pie crust — but I typically leave the sides a little bit thicker, because I like that heft and textural contrast in the final slice.

5. Par-baking's the name of the game

Before adding a filling into the crust, it really helps to par-bake the crust. This cooks the egg and melts the cheese that helps set the structure of the crust. More importantly, it dries the mixture out, and the drier it is, the more evenly it will brown and become crisp during its final bake. I typically par-bake grain crusts at 375°F until the crust starts to brown lightly around the edges. Cool completely before adding your filling to the pie, and baking again.

6. Fill to your heart's content

How do I fill my grain crusts? Both sweet and savory fillings work well here. In my grain-crust heyday, I'd fill it with leftovers from my fridge — a scoop of stew, a pile of roasted vegetables, say — or I'd whip up a quiche custard. Savory purees also work wonderfully, as do meaty ragus. The possibilities are just about endless.

Recipes:


Erin Jeanne McDowell

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Baking Food Food52 Grains Pie Crust Pies Thanksgiving