Last week I made an apple pie and posted on Facebook about the new pastry recipe I used from America’s Test Kitchen that uses vodka. After many questions and funny comments (my cousin Jen was loving the idea of vodka ala mode) I decided to use the new recipe again and share my thoughts here.
I love America’s Test Kitchen (and Cook’s Illustrated magazine from ATK as well). They work a recipe from all angles testing theories, using science and making “the best” version of a given recipe. I like the recipes because they are written for the home cook and the results can be replicated fairly easily…well most of the time.
Let me start by saying that making pie is not my favorite thing to do. It’s fussy, messy and sometimes aggravating when your pastry doesn’t cooperate or the filling doesn’t set properly. Practice makes perfect as we all know, and I have been making pies for over 20 years. I am no slouch in the pastry department, but still in all, I’d rather create a cake or a batch of cookies than a pie….and yet…..there is nothing quite like a great pie is there?
Fruit pies are the way to serve summer on a plate. The pure essence of a fruit cooked down to jammy perfection inside a flaky, buttery crust, there is just nothing like it! So while pie making isn’t my favorite hobby, it is something I do often enough because I LOVE pie!
My traditional pie crust from Betty Crocker is Crisco, flour, salt, sugar and water. I usually mix butter and Crisco to get the buttery flavor, make sure everything is cold… yada yada…. I have cut pastry using a pastry blender, using my fingers and using my Cuisinart.
I remember seeing Jacques Pepin demonstrating a rustic tart on his show one time and there were large chunks of butter in his dough which he said was desirable. I’ve tried that too with limited success.
What I want you to understand is that in 20 + years, I have made many different pie crust recipes with differing success and then last week I was watching America’s Test Kitchen and had an epiphany about pastry dough! Vodka!
The recipe has several steps that are different than the typical crust, but each step really adds to the ease of rolling the crust and to the flaky results in the end.
The first step is to combine most of the dry ingredients in the food processor, add chilled butter and Crisco and really cut the fat into the flour until it seems almost over-processed. and then sprinkle over the final cup of flour and pulse it a few times to get the familiar crumbly texture. and then for the liquid you add 1/4 cup of chilled water and 1/4 cup of chilled Vodka.
Why vodka you ask? Well so did I and here is the explanation from the America’s Test Kitchen website:
“We’ve recently found a secret ingredient for foolproof pie dough: vodka. How can high-test alcohol make pie dough flaky? Eighty-proof vodka consists of 60 percent water and 40 percent ethanol. While gluten forms readily in water, it does not form in ethanol. Thus, the recipe for foolproof pie dough, which contains 4 tablespoons each of cold water and vodka, gets the benefits of 8 tablespoons of liquid (supple, easy-to-roll dough) but actually has the equivalent of about 6 1/2 tablespoons of water—an amount that limits gluten formation and ensures tenderness. As for the alcohol? It vaporizes in the oven.”
When it’s time to roll this dough, it’s almost like a short crust, or cookie doughish. You need to use copious flour to roll it out, and I like to flip it after it’s been rolled a bit to ensure it doesn’t stick, but it is a breeze to roll out. (I like my silicone rolling mat from Pampered Chef, but if you roll on your counter, have at it… just use enough flour!) The dough is a bit tender so when you put it in the pie pan, make sure you “drape” it in by lifting the edges and allowing it to settle into the pan vs. trying to push down in the bottom of the pan to make it fit which will inevitably tear the dough!
Then just fill and top with another crust. This was the only thing I found a bit challenging as the crusts didn’t want to pinch together. A bit of water on the edge made it easier.
ATK recommends using a lattice crust for juicy fruit pies to encourage evaporation of liquid and proper thickening, but I used a small cookie cutter instead. Worked just fine. I put the top crust on, then used the cookie cutter to pop out the shapes.
Another trick that I really like from ATK is to preheat the oven to 500º, yes 500º folks, with a cookie sheet on the bottom rack in the oven getting screaming hot. Put the pie on said cookie sheet and bake for 30 minutes and then turn down the temp. to finish the baking. The bottom crusts on my pies have been so crisp and they hold up even the next day (if there is any left over!).
And here, my friends is the PERFECT crust on my cherry pie. Note the flaky crust and the beautiful filling! The blueberry one…well it was one of those frustrating fillings that ended up a bit soupy.. tasty, but not picture perfect (even after following ATK recipe that included a grated apple and precooking some of the berries) ..oh well, must need to practice more! Let’s see…apple pie season is here, and then there is pumpkin….
Here is the recipe for “Foolproof Pie Crust” from ATK website:
Foolproof Pie Dough
from the Episode: The Best Blueberry Pie
Vodka is essential to the texture of the crust and imparts no flavor—do not substitute. This dough will be moister and more supple than most standard pie doughs and will require more flour to roll out (up to 1/4 cup).
For one 9-inch Double-Crust Pie
2 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour (12 1/2 ounces)
1 teaspoon table salt
2 tablespoons sugar
12 tablespoons cold unsalted butter (1 1/2 sticks), cut into 1/4-inch slices
1/2 cup chilled solid vegetable shortening , cut into 4 pieces
1/4 cup vodka , cold
1/4 cup cold water
1. Process 1 1/2 cups flour, salt, and sugar in food processor until combined, about 2 one-second pulses. Add butter and shortening and process until homogenous dough just starts 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 processor blade. Add remaining cup 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.
2. 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-inch disk. Wrap each in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 45 minutes or up to 2 days.
Here is the link to America’s Test Kitchens website. Some of their recipes are for members only and there is a nominal charge for a year membership, but this recipe is free, you just need to set up an account and sign in.