Sunday, October 24, 2010

Vodka Pie Crust

Yesterday, I taught a pie making class for Ann Arbor Rec and Ed and several of my students had what I call "pie crust phobia" - they were scared of making pie because of the crust.   One woman wanted to make pie like her grandmama, but every time she rolled it out, it would crumble.   Another was from Puerto Rico and had never made a pie in her life because she heard it was difficult.   Pie has always been a passion of mine - I have loved making them since I was a girl and it saddens me that no one is making them any more.  I am thrilled that my good friend Ellen has gotten involved with Slow Food Huron Valley's Pie Lovers Unite, an annual celebration of pie.   If you'd like to impress others at your next potluck or surprise someone with a wonderful hostess gift, bring a pie!  Don't use the disposable aluminum pie pans that can be bought at the grocery store, they tend to burn.  Instead, stock up on pie pans.  I see tons of them all the time at the Ann Arbor Kiwanis Thrift Shop - they are usually no more than 50 cents.  Often they can be found at estate sales, too.   In the winter I shop estate sales for pie pans, vintage pyrex mixing bowls, and canning jars.  

My usual "go to" pie crust recipe is the one I like to call my Old Reliable Pie Crust, which is the same recipe I've been making since my 7th grade home economics class, and it's a good one straight from the familiar red gingham plaid Better Homes and Gardens cookbook.   However, it can be a challenge to roll out right if not enough water is added.   The challenge for new bakers is that water encourages gluten production, and if a crust gets manhandled when rolled out by making repairs or rerolling, it tends to get tough.     So, I started to experiment with a new technique that includes vodka popularized originally by Cooks Illustrated but now it's all over the food blogosphere.  By replacing some of the water with vodka, and goosing up the fat content with respect to flour, a novice baker is able to have a really wet dough with a soft consistency that is very forgiving.    Like many Cooks Illustrated recipes, their original is fraught with fussiness; it requires a food processor and lots of complicated instructions.   Any recipe that requires me to get my food processor out is what I consider an ordeal - not something I'd do unless I planned on spending the day in the kitchen.   

I wanted a recipe for my pie students that was easy and one that they could make on a weekday evening without lots of gadgets.  This recipe requires only a fork and a rolling pin.   If you have a bench scraper, it's nice to have to pick up and move the dough, but an egg turner would do in a pinch.  I've heard of people using a bottled water to roll out pie dough, so I guess you don't even need a rolling pin!  (However, rolling pins can often be found at estate sales)  The recipe uses both butter and shortening, although it could be used with all shortening or even lard.  No need for any fancy pastry flour.  The result is a light flaky crust and it's easy to roll out - it doesn't tend to form cracks.  Make sure to use lots of flour on the countertop and on the rolling pin - this dough has a very wet consistency.  If you need to pick it up and reroll it because you've made a mistake, have no fear, it will still come out great.   I prefer to use shortening in stick form - it makes it an easy job to cut it into small pieces.   Use the cheapest vodka you can find - save your Grey Goose to treat yourself to a cosmopolitan when the pie is in the oven.   The vodka will cook out while baking, and it won't leave any flavor in the crust.  Since alcohol prohibits gluten formation, it allows the dough to be wet enough to roll out easily.

Vodka Pie Crust - enough for a double crust pie

2.5 c all purpose unbleached flour
1 t salt
2 T sugar (omit for savory pies)
1 1/2 stick unsalted butter (if salted is all you have on hand, use it)
1/2 stick shortening  (8 T or 1/2 cup)
1/4 cup cheap vodka 
1/4 cup cold water

How to make pie crust:
1. Keep the fat  and liquid cold - I store my shortening and vodka in the fridge
2. Mix the dry stuff together with a fork
3. Cut up the fat in small pieces and mash it into the dry stuff with a fork until the pieces are about pea sized
4. Add enough liquid to form 2 hockey pucks that hold together well.
5. Refrigerate the pucks until it's time to roll out

How to roll it out:
1. Make sure the hockey puck doesn't have lots of cracks around the edges - use your hands  to fix any cracks
2.  Put  plenty of flour on the countertop put the puck on it.  Sprinkle flour on the puck.
3. Rub some flour on the rolling pin and roll dough out to 1/2 inch thick circle, rotating the dough to make the circle even. 
4.  Flip the dough over and sprinkle dough with flour and roll out to about an 1/8th inch thick.
5.  Use a bench scraper or spatula to fold the dough in half and put the pie pan next to the fold.
6.  Use the scraper to help place the dough in the pan, and unfold it. 
7.  Fill the crust and top using the same roll out and transfer technique. 

Want an idea for what to fill it with?  How about's how to invent your own apple pie 

6 apples good for baking - Ida Red, Northern Spy, Empire, Rome peeled and cut into 1/2 inch chunks
1/2 - 3/4 c. sugar
3 T. flour
Spices - some ideas are 1 teaspoon or so of cinnamon or pumpkin pie spice, and (go easy on these! they have strong tastes) maybe a pinch of ginger, mace, nutmeg or allspice

Mix together and fill a double crust pie.  Bake at 375 F for 25 minutes with foil around the edges. Remove foil and bake for 20 - 25 min until crust is golden


Yenta Mary said...

I can make souffles and other things that people fear, but I can never get pie crust to work! Must try this ... :)

Margot said...

I hadn't heard about this technique before--what a cool idea. I wonder if you could also use something like cognac or brandy if you wanted a little of the flavor to remain, although I'm having a hard time imagining what the appeal of a "brandied crust" would be so it might just be a waste of more expensive alcohol.

Marianne said...

Dang - it works! Even though I used pomegranate vodka!

Marianne said...

Dang - it works! Even though I used pomegranate vodka!

Anonymous said...

I work in a dental office, a patient was telling me about this crust today. I was just searching for an easier recipe than the cooks illustrated one. I LOVE that you have a recipe without the processor! Thanks for posting!