Vodka in pie crust? Sounds crazy, but it’s actually the exact opposite of crazy. This recipe is simply genius. There is a science behind this I swear. Vodka is mostly alcohol and very little water. Water is usually what is used to make pie crust. So by replacing half the water with alcohol there is significantly less water being worked into the dough. NOW, you are probably wondering why does it matter how much water there is in the dough? I’ll tell you why- water = gluten formation. Gluten is the result of the protein in flour coming across water. If gluten is worked too much with excessive handling it makes for tough dough. This is okay for things like yeast breads where you want the gluten formation to make the chewy bread. With pie crust you want the dough to come out tender. So really to achieve this without vodka you need to be careful with how much you handle the dough, which is very hard with pie crust. By adding the vodka, you still can’t knead the heck out of it, but it certainly allows for an almost fool-proof flaky pie crust. AND the alcohol burns off in the oven so there is no remnant of the vodka in the dough when all is said and done.
So, now that you know about how important it is to avoid excessive handling of pie crust, you need to know one more very important thing about making pie crust. Unlike yeast doughs which thrive from warm environments, pie dough wants to be cold. That means you should try and keep your ingredients as cold as possible. So, don’t cut your butter and leave it on the counter. And don’t use room temperature water. There is science behind this as well. The pie fats are scattered around the dough in pieces. When the cold butter hits the hot oven it creates steam within the pie crust. That steam is what creates the flaky layers of pie crust. The same principle is applied with pastries such as danishes and croissants. They are flaky because of the cold layers of fat. So be aware of the temperature of your ingredients!
Back to the whole vodka in pie crust thing. If that really bothers you, then tune in two Thursday’s from now when I give you a classic pie crust tutorial.
Let’s Begin! First thing is first- measure out 1/4 cup water and 1/4 cup vodka and place it in the fridge/freezer until you are ready for it.
Now you need to cut your fats. This particular recipe calls for butter and shortening. I usually cut the butter into 4 lengthwise pieces and then cut across, making little cubes.
I just kind of cut the shortening into similar size pieces as the butter.
Throw your fat cubes (haha) together on a plate or in a bowl and slide it into the fridge/freezer.
Don’t put it in the freezer if this is going to be a long process for you because you don’t want the butter to freeze.
(I forgot to take a picture of this so you will just have to use your imagination. I have faith that you can picture cubes of butter on a plate.)
Next step is the flour mixture. For this recipe you need 2 1/2 cups flour, 2 Tb sugar and 1 tsp salt. Mix that together in a medium sized bowl.
Take all but 1 cup of the flour mixture and dump it into the food processor fitted with the steel blade.
If the mixture isn’t already whirred, spin it in the food processor a couple seconds to distribute the salt and sugar.
Dump the chilled fat cubes into the food processor.
Place the lid on the food processer and continually process for about 15 second or until all the flour is coated with fat and no dry pieces remain.
It’ll look a little clumpy like this.
Now take the remaining flour and dump it into the food processer and pulse 4 to 6 times to distribute the leftover flour.
Dump the mixture back into the bowl that the flour was in.
It should look like this, with clumps distributed throughout the dry mixture.
Get the 1/2 cup liquid and sprinkle it around the mixture and begin to fold the dough to completely moisten it.
You may or may not need more liquid, it all depends on the moisture in the air really.
So, if it seems like it’s just not coming together, add another splash of water and continue to fold.
When you have moistened the dough enough it will look like this. Just beginning to come together and holding shape, but not sticky from excess water.
You should be able to easily clump a piece with your hand and it should hold shape. If it kind of crumbles apart, add more water!
Honestly I urge you to err on the side of more moisture than less. You can’t add more moisture when you start to roll out your dough and it cracks into dry pieces, but!
You can add more flour if it’s slightly sticky.
Pie dough is really all about practice. The more you do it, the better you will have a feel for the dough.
This probably took me less than 15 minutes to throw together.
Anyways! Now divide the dough in two. You can do this visually by dumping it onto the counter and making it into two balls, or you can do what I do and weigh them out : )
You can’t get more accurate than that.
Make the dough into a ball and flatten it into a disc. This picture is what the dough looks like before the ball.
I gather it into a semi-ball form on the plastic wrap and then pick it up and shape it with my hands.
Then I place it back onto the plastic wrap and make a disc.
Don’t worry about those slight cracks, they will fix themselves when you roll it out. Plus! This is a homemade pie crust, it’s not going to look perfect like the ones from the box.
Those are gross anyways.
Once you have the disc, just wrap it tightly in plastic wrap and place it in the fridge for at least 45 minutes or up to 2 days. You can also freeze it.
And it’s ready to be rolled out into pie when you are!
Let’s just take a minute to thank Cook’s Illustrated for another ingenius recipe….
I don’t know what I would do without their incredible kitchen experiments.
- 2½ cups (12.5 oz) all purpose flour
- 1 tsp table salt
- 2 Tb sugar
- 12 Tb (1½ sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into cubes
- ½ cup cold shortening, cut into ¼" slices
- ¼ cup vodka, cold
- ¼ cup water, cold
- Process 1½ cups flour, salt, sugar in food processer until combined, about two 1 second pulses. Add butter and shortening and process until homogeneous dough just startes to collect in uneven clumps, about 15 seconds (dough will resemble cottage cheese curds and there should be no uncoated flour). Scrape bowl with rubber spatula and redistribute dough evenly around food processor blade.
- Add remaining cup of flour and pulse until mixture is evenly distributed around bowl and mass of dough has been broken up, 4 to 6 quick pulses. Empty mixture into medium bowl.
- Sprinkle vodka and water over mixture. With rubber spatula, use folding motion to mix, pressing down on dough until dough is slightly tacky and sticks together. Divide dough into two even balls and flatten each into 4" disc. Wrap each in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 45 minutes or up to 2 days.