Monday, November 21, 2011

Pie Crust Confidential

This was actually a comment on Sharon Astyk's post "Pie Crust Chronicles".  I claim that I only posted it because I love her, and while this is true, I love all of you as well!  No one should have to suffer through difficult crusts when there are tricks to be had.  So here you go, with a sincere hope for a happy thanksgiving with you and your family & friends:

Only because I love you, I will pass along my very best secret weapon for pie crust making--vodka.  No, not as in "drink it until you don't notice how bad the crust is", but as in an ingredient.  I actually got this from Cook's Illustrated (who certainly can err on the side of fetishizing things).  You see, the big tension with pie crusts is getting them to come out tender and flaky at the same time.  Flaky isn't too hard (non-fully-incorporated butter is the key), but tender is tricky, because the water wants to combine with the flour to make gluten, which makes things tough.  That's why all recipes say to add barely enough water to make it come together.  But then it's hard to roll out, and you end up overworking the dough, which makes--heyhey--gluten!  And you're right back to tough.

BUT, vodka doesn't make gluten when combined with flour!  Woo hoo!  So we keep some in our freezer (nice & cold), and substitute about half of the water for vodka in the recipe.  You can then add a reasonable amount of liquid, making the dough more workable (and less stress-inducing), and gives the cook more wiggle room on adding water, while maintaining tenderness.  The flavor bakes out, as does most of the alcohol (and really, we're talking 2-3 TBSP of vodka for an entire pie).  Works a treat!


  1. Aha! I agreed with your comment and added one more: I freeze my butter (as I always buy it in bulk when on sale), and recently learned THE best trick. Grate the frozen butter into the flour, and stir to incorporate (I usually use a fork for this) then add enough cold liquid to make it work. Do it, it will change your life. I promise.

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