Homemade pie, from crust to filling, is regarded as the mark of an accomplished homemaker.
I’ve heard stories of people in my grandparent’s generation choosing their spouse primarily on their pie-making skills. Sounds antiquated, and a little shallow, but I think it might be a better benchmark than a witty facebook post or a stunning Match.com photo.
Pie crust can be a little daunting–too much water, and your crust is tough. Too little, and it is difficult to roll out. And then there’s the question of fat. Butter, shortening, lard, or a combination? There are only slight variations on pie crust recipes, and I’ve tried many of them.
I made a lard crust. It had a nice texture, but the flavor was less than memorable. For years, I’ve used Martha Stewart’s pate brisee, which is melt-in-your-mouth buttery, but is a little finicky to roll out. This year I tried America’s Test Kitchen’s famous vodka pie crust.
It uses half-water, half-vodka. The result is an ultra-moist dough that is smooth and supple to roll out (although a little sticky), but since the gluten in the flour (the protein that makes crust tough) forms in water, but not ethanol, you get the best of both worlds: a crust that is simple to work with and tender. If you’ve made a lot of pie crust, this method will seem borderline insane, but the cooked crust is flaky and flavorful.
Foolproof Pie Dough from America’s Test Kitchen
makes 2 nine inch pie shells (or one double-crust)
1/4 cup chilled vodka
1/4 cup chilled water
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (12.5 oz), reserve 1 cup flour
1 tsp fine salt
2 T sugar
12 T cold unsalted butter (1 1/2 sticks) cut into slices
1/2 cup chilled vegetable shortening, cut into four pieces
Put a spray bottle filled with the vodka and water in the freezer to chill.
Put 1 1/2 cups of flour into a food processor. Add the salt and sugar, and process until combined. Add the butter and shortening, and pulse until flour and fat are completely combined, pulsing about 15-20 times (it will resemble cottage cheese. This is way more than typical, don’t get nervous.) Scrape down the sides and distribute the dough evenly.
Add in the remaining cup of flour, and pulse quickly 6-8 times to incorporate. Scrape into a medium-sized bowl.
A spray bottle allows you to evenly wet your dough (see Harold Mcgee’s Thanksgiving tip #9.) Spray the surface of the dough well, then gently fold with a spatula. Continue spraying and folding until no liquid remains.
Divide the dough into two balls, place on plastic wrap, squish into a disk, cover with wrap and refrigerate for at least an hour, or up to two days.
When ready to roll out, sprinkle rolling surface, rolling pin, and dough generously with flour, or alternatively roll out between two sheets of wax paper (it still helps to sprinkle dough and paper with a bit of flour).
Enjoy! We’re having pumpkin and caramel apple pie for Thanksgiving. I already made and rolled out my crusts, and they are in my freezer. I’ll pull them out and fill them just prior to baking.