Is it possible to make a healthy crust?

There is a whole class of foods that I am avoiding in my crusade to be ‘healthy’, and sadly it’s one of the most important food groups to me. I’m talking about pies, quiches, and other delicious foods delivered in a flaky and tender pastry crust. I’ve learned to fear the use of white flour and rebel against the large amounts of fat, which both make a crust so wonderfully good.

Is it possible to find crust alternatives which also taste like something other than cardboard?

I’ve been following the healthy crust quest of Helen from Food Stories as she experiments with vegetable-based crusts, one using carrots and another using beets. It can be difficult to formulate a crust when omitting oil, but it’s not impossible. I’m eager to see what she tries next.

Recently, I made a quiche using a polenta crust and found that this worked well. My instructions for how to make polenta will give you the basic info on making the polenta. To boost it with more flavor, you can add herbs, grated parmesan or even use a vegetable broth as the liquid when preparing the polenta.

Once the polenta begins to cool and set, use your hands to press it into a pie plate or tart pan. Create a crust that is at least 1/4″ thick. I pre-bake the crust for about 10 minutes before filling with my quiche ingredients. Proceed with baking the quiche as normal.

The crust remains firm and holds the ingredients well. As the quiche cools, you can easily remove it if using a tart pan with a removable bottom.

You can also use mashed potatoes in a similar way, however I suspect it won’t create a strong crust that that will hold its shape. But, it does offer another alternative :-)

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  • Helen July 18, 2008, 10:45 am

    Allen it’s brilliant! It looks really crust-like, I can’t believe how well it held together. Looks really satisfying too. Polenta eh? It’s versatile that’s for sure. This is a great alternative – let the healthy crust making continue!

  • kat July 18, 2008, 3:04 pm

    Great idea to use polenta! I bet it adds a good flavor as well.

  • Ben July 18, 2008, 3:14 pm

    Hey Allen, this healthier version looks really good. I have been trying to eat healthier too, but sometimes it is so hard, I understand your struggle when it comes to this.

    Keep smiling my friend :)

  • Peter G July 18, 2008, 4:56 pm

    More on the “famous pie crust quest of 2008″…gee you were quick to respond to Helen’s call. Very ingenious Allen…will def have to look into it.

  • Manggy July 18, 2008, 8:05 pm

    Awesome solution, Allen! It looks perfect and sturdy from here!

    I peeked in an old fat-free baking book and their SOP for pie crust is to use finely ground muesli. I’ll have to see what they used to bind it together. (hmmm… fat-free yogurt? hahaha.)

  • Christie @ fig & cherry July 18, 2008, 8:44 pm

    Absolutely delicious. I love polenta – such a great idea for crust. Your combo of broccoli and flaked almonds is great too.

  • Allen July 18, 2008, 9:39 pm

    Helen: Give it a shot — I need to pick up some carrots to try out the crust you’ve been working on!

    Kat: Thanks!

    Ben: Haha — I’m getting better at the eating healthy thing. It’s just takes a few weeks to get my mind fully changed over ;-)

    Peter G: Haha — I’ve been thinking about writing this post then when I saw Helen’s latest post I knew I had to get it written.

    Manggy: Muesli? Hmmm, I’m curious what they bound it together with too.

    Christie: Well, the reason I didn’t post this when I made it was mostly due to the quiche itself. I started off with chicken and broccolini but then went crazy in cleaning out my refrigerator. The end result was a kind of yucky quiche that I didn’t care for. However, I did enjoy the crust :-)

  • cookinpanda July 19, 2008, 9:28 am

    This is a wonderful idea that I am definitely going to try.

    I have been struggling with this concept for a long time– and in general, my complete lack of baking skills prevents me from finding any solution. I’ve always shied away from baking at all because the amount of butter generally required really puts me off. (Instead, I look at OTHER people’s delicious creations on their blogs…)

    Do you have any ideas on how to make a pie crust for fruit filling that is healthier than the usual?

  • Allen July 19, 2008, 11:49 am

    Cookingpanda: Unfortunately, I don’t have a good recipe for a pie crust and have resorted to making desserts like rhubarb crisp where a crust isn’t necessary and a sprinkling of a wholegrain topping is used instead. I’ve been meaning to play around with crust creations and am feeling inspired by Helen, so maybe I’ll have some ideas to share soon :-)

  • cookinpanda July 20, 2008, 10:14 am

    Great, I can’t wait to hear about your ideas!

  • White On Rice Couple July 20, 2008, 5:09 pm

    Very smart and cool Allen. I never thought there could be this possibly

  • Kevin July 21, 2008, 4:56 pm

    I like the sound of a polenta crust and that quiche looks good!

  • [eatingclub] vancouver || js July 22, 2008, 12:13 am

    I love the idea of a polenta crust. That is inspired! So many delicious possibilities. . .

  • SteamyKitchen July 22, 2008, 9:11 am

    Yes. I have to eat healthier too. I should just make myself write a healthy Asian cookbook. Then I would be forced to make and eat healthy foods!

  • katiez July 22, 2008, 1:30 pm

    I’ve always made my crusts with brown rice (too lazy to learn how to make pastry) These looks like a great alternative, too!
    I’ve made polenta pizza… why not?

  • Gayle July 30, 2009, 9:00 pm

    does anyone have a recipe for polenta crusted gorgonzola cheescake?
    it is seved as an appetizer and to die for!!

  • allan October 19, 2009, 11:38 am

    hi everyone

    I’ve been on a health drive recently and pies and quiches are always the thing that tempt me the most. I too came up with a similar idea that worked very well – I made some pastry using half polenta flour, half wholewheat flour mixed with grated carrot and a touch of olive oil. It worked really well, far better than I expected.

    Something else worth experimenting with is mixing grated carrots into an omelette mix. It fills out the omelette immensely, making it more like a tortilla, and with the right added ingredients (take your pick from whatever you might normally put with an omelette), you have something that is a lot more filling.

  • bakingbarb March 25, 2010, 10:49 am

    I’ve been looking for alternative pie crusts and thankfully you’ve’ given me one.
    Ironically when I was young my Grandma made cornmeal mush, always saving the leftovers to fry. As a child I wouldn’t eat the stuff, now I love it. Grandma always knew best!

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