Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Why Put Vodka in Your Pie Crust? Culinary mystery author Cleo Coyle has a clue...

This Vodka Pie Crust recipe has been around for a few years now. It was first developed by a team of cooks at America's Test Kitchen and subsequently published in a 2007 issue of Cook's Illustrated. Since then, the recipe has been tested, reviewed, adapted, and reprinted on blogs across the Worldwide Web.

For six year, I remained skeptical. Like many bakers, I have my own favorite pie crust recipes, including one with my own "secret ingredient" so why waste good vodka?

I'll tell you why: because one of my fellow crime-writing cooks here at Mystery Lovers' Kitchen, Wendy Lyn Watson (aka Annie Knox), raved about it, and that was good enough for me. I printed out the recipe with plans to try it. Still more months went by and finally, on a day I craved an apple pie, I baked it up and was mighty impressed with the results. 

Wendy first shared the recipe, so I checked in with her. She gave me the green light to share it with all of you. 

The Famous
Vodka Pie Crust
(which is neither shaken nor stirred)

Adapted (with geek speak) and photographed by Cleo Coyle with thanks for the share from Wendy Lyn Watson via the original source of America's Test Kitchen (PBS) and Cook's Illustrated magazine

See the original recipe reprinted here 

in The New York Times

Yield: enough to make two 9-inch pie crusts
(one double-crust pie or two single-crust pies)


2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (12-1/2 ounces)
1 teaspoon salt (I prefer ½ teaspoon table salt or 1 teaspoon Kosher salt)
2 tablespoons white, granulated sugar
12 tablespoons cold, unsalted butter (1-1/2 sticks), diced
1/2 cup chilled solid vegetable shortening, diced
1/4 cup cold vodka
1/4 cup ice water (My advice is not to use all of this, more below)


Step 1 – Mix the flour and fat either with a food processor or by hand. See directions for each method below…

A. By food processor: Place the 1-1/2 cups flour, salt, and sugar into your food processor and process until combined. America’s Test Kitchen suggests 2 one-second pulses. Add butter and shortening and process until the dough begins to form uneven clumps (about 15 seconds). The dough will resemble cottage-cheese curds, and there should be no uncoated flour. Scrape the bowl with your rubber spatula, evening out the dough around your processor blade. Now add the remaining cup of flour and pulse the processor blade until you've broken up the mass of dough. Pour this mixture into a mixing bowl. (If you're wondering why you can't just finish the dough in the food processor, America's Test Kitchen found that the processor overworks the dough after the liquid is added, which is why they direct you to transfer it to a bowl for the next step.)

B. By hand: Into a bowl, measure out the flour, salt, and sugar. Add the fats (cold butter and shortening) and use a pastry cutter (or two knives) to cut the butter and shortening into the dry ingredients. I use a pastry cutter but (honestly) at some point, I always switch to clean fingers, rubbing the fat into the flour until the entire mixture resembles coarse crumbs.

Step 2 – Add the liquid (where Cleo geeks out): This is the trickiest part of any pie dough. Too much liquid and you’ll get a tough crust. That’s why vodka is used. The liquid nature allows you to form and roll the dough easily, but vodka is only part water. It's also part ethanol--and, as the cooks at America's Test Kitchen realized, gluten doesn't form in ethanol. (Gluten is a protein in flour that you want to develop when making bread but never when making a pie crust because you'll end up with a tough, unappealing crust.) 

In the vodka crust, when the crust bakes the alcohol evaporates, leaving just enough liquid in the dough to form an extremely tender and flaky pie crust. That's why you’ll want to sprinkle all of the vodka over the flour mixture, but I suggest starting with only half of the recommended 1/4 cup of ice water. In other words, sprinkle all of the vodka and only 2 tablespoons of the ice water over the flour-fat crumbs.

With a rubber spatula, stir in the liquid, folding and pressing down. Use your best judgment on adding water at this stage: The dough should not be dry and crumbly. Nor should it be overly wet. If your weather is very humid, 2 tablespoons of the ice water may be all you’ll need to form a sticky dough. If your weather is very dry, you might need to add two 2 more tablespoons (for the entire suggested amount of ¼ cup). 

Divide your dough into two even balls and flatten each into a disk. Wrap each dough disk in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 45 minutes or up to 2 days.

Step 3 - Roll the dough (more geek speak): When you're ready to make your pie, take out your disk and roll it out. I've been rolling out dough for years now (cookie dough, pie dough, doughs of all kinds) and I swear by my parchment paper method. Why? Because I never add more flour. 

This is why I hold back the entire amount of ice water in the vodka pie crust recipe. In the recipe notes at America's Test Kitchen, they actually suggest adding up to 1/4 cup more flour to the crust as you roll it out--that's because, if you use the entire 1/4 cup of ice water, your dough will be very wet and you'll need that flour to dry it out, but in my opinion, you also run the risk of toughening your crust more than you need to. 

As I said, I'd rather hold back a bit of water in this recipe and use my parchment paper method of rolling the dough, which is simply to place the dough disk between two pieces of parchment paper before rolling. 

Question: Won't the dough stick to the parchment paper? Yes. When dough gets warm, it sticks (because the butter beings to melt). This is easily remedied by chilling the dough again thus chilling and hardening the butter. So I simply slip the fully rolled out dough, parchment papers and all, onto a flat pan and slide it into the refrigerator for fifteen minutes or until chilled again. Once the dough gets cold, it loses its stickiness and I can remove the parchment paper easily and transfer the dough to a metal pie pan or glass pie plate. 

Bake your pie according to your specific recipe's directions. 

My three tips for you when baking: (1) Be sure to protect the thick crust edges from over-browning by loosely hugging them with aluminum foil or covering with a pie shieldI do this before placing the pie in the oven and remove the foil or shield in the last 20 minutes of baking so the edges will brown. (2) If blind baking an empty, single-crust pie, don't forget to weight the crust with pie weights or it will shrink back in a heartbreaking manner. (3) Brushing the top crust with an egg wash consisting of 1 egg mixed with 1 tablespoon of milk, cream, or half-and-half will help the top turn golden brown.

This vodka crust is the tenderest I've ever tasted. My husband agreed. We both give it a big thumbs-up. Thank you, Wendy (and the ever-curious cooks of America's Test Kitchen)! 

Eat with joy!
~ Cleo Coyle 

New York Times bestselling author of
The Coffeehouse Mysteries

Friend me on facebook here
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Visit my online coffeehouse here.


The Coffeehouse Mysteries are bestselling
works of amateur sleuth fiction set in a landmark
Greenwich Village 
coffeehouse, and each of the
12 titles includes the added bonus of recipes.  


The Ghost and
Mrs. McClure

Book #1 of 

The Haunted Bookshop
, which Cleo writes
under the name
Alice Kimberly

To learn more, click here.


  1. Congrats on the new books Avery and Sheila, and all of our other cozy friends!

    If you think it's the tenderest crust you've ever eaten, I guess I'd better try it Cleo:)

    1. It's a winner, Lucy/Roberta, amazingly tender. And the big thanks goes to Wendy Lyn Watson whose raves convinced me to give it a try!

      ~ Cleo
      Coffeehouse Mystery.com
      Cleo Coyle on Twitter

  2. First, thank you, Cleo, for mentioning my launch along with all the other fabulous writers. It's a big day for cozy readers! Say cheese!

    And now for this wonderful looking apple pie. Oh, my gosh, test-kitchen gorgeous!!! I wonder if the Vodka will improve a homemade gluten-free crust. Must try!! And the apples. My mouth is watering. I want pie for breakfast. Thank you!


    Avery / Daryl

    1. Congrats again to you Avery/Daryl! Release week is a such a special time after all the work and worry. Enjoy it!

      I'm looking forward to your post tomorrow and more news about TO BRIE OR NOT TO BRIE--what a great story of murder surrounding the production of Hamlet in your hamlet!

      ~ Cleo
      Coffeehouse Mystery.com
      Cleo Coyle on Twitter

  3. The very best wishes to all of the new book releasers!

    Cleo, I love it when you talk geeky. The idea that the vodka reduces the likelihood of gluten developing is brilliant. That is one of the things about Cook's Illustrated that I like. They tell you what they have tried and, ultimately, what worked best and why.

    My mother used to love left over apple pie for breakfast with sharp cheddar cheese. Your picture makes me think that sounds like a really good idea.

    1. Thanks, Libby. I know what you mean about pie for breakfast. I have a longstanding tradition of eating pumpkin pie the Friday morning after Thanksgiving. Hmm...

      If one uses a vodka pie crust does that mean a shot of the stuff can go into your coffee cup, too? Yeah, I say it does!

      ~ Cleo Coffeehouse Mystery.com
      Cleo Coyle on Twitter

  4. Woohoo, Avery and Sheila! Congratulations on your releases!

    Cleo, I think it's just plain mean of you to tempt me with such beautiful photos. That pie looks perfect! YUM!

    ~ Krista

  5. Thanks, Krista, I wish I could have you over for the last of it with a spot of tea (or cuppa joe). Have a great week!

    ~ Cleo Coffeehouse Mystery.com
    Cleo Coyle on Twitter

  6. Well...as I have some extra time on my hands I may need to unearth the food processro and give this a whirl ;-) My. Nace love Applle pie with sharp cheddar but I'm partial to cherry. Perhaps two pies at Chez Phillips??? And a birthday coming up...I feel the pounds cominng on...


    1. Okay, now you have me wanting to make a cherry pie! I am pathetically susceptible to the power of suggestion (at least where food is concerned :)). Thanks for dropping by, Nanc. It's always a pleasure to see you in our Kitchen.

      ~ Cleo Coffeehouse Mystery.com
      Cleo Coyle on Twitter

  7. Thanks for detailing this method, Cleo!! I've used the ATK version since they first published it, but did feel that I was adding too much additional flour. I'm going to try your roll-out method on the next pie I make.

    1. Harbingerdc - Thanks for the comment, H. I hope you find my suggestions helpful. Either way, the vodka is a great method for getting a tender crust. I do find it's too tender for things like hand pies, which require a firmer crust, and I use a sweet short-crust for my fresh-glazed strawberry pie. But this is an excellent recipe for fruit pies and quiches, unbeatable.

      ~ Cleo Coffeehouse Mystery.com
      Cleo Coyle on Twitter

  8. I agree with Krista, the photos are tempting. The last one, the close up is especially beautiful. Yes, beautiful! It looks like something on a package or a picture in an ad that HAS to have been photoshopped or touch up somehow. I've commented before - you should be a food stylist (in your spare time) - he he. Oh, and you should also do the cooking for those photos (also in your spare time).

  9. Christi - Thanks for the kind words about the photos. If you’re curious, I used a Nikon Coolpix to take the photos on a table that stands near a very large window in my Queens row house.

    I do all of the cooking that you see in the photos, and the one you liked the most was not Photoshopped. I don't have the budget for the Photoshop program, and (believe me) the Nikon Coolpix is not an expensive camera (in other words, food blogging is a fun, affordable hobby for those who enjoy that sort of thing).

    I obviously enjoy food photography as a hobby. I've been doing it for many years now, but I also started out as a journalist and took many of my own photos, so I do have pro experience. I'm also a published food photographer with NJ Family Magazine. I hope that info helps you with what sounds like a bit of a skeptical look at what I do.

    I’m not sure what your repeated reference to my spare time means. My full-time job (60 hours a week and sometimes more) is to write books and to support that writing via social networking and blogging, just as many other authors do. I once had a day job, but now this is my job, and (believe me) I’m grateful for it, as long as it last. Is that the question you had for me? Where do I find the spare time to make pies and snap photos? See above, lol!

    Because I enjoy cooking and baking (and have all my life, right beside my Italian-born mother and aunt), I do it nearly every day, and I am happy to share my recipes, including the ones I take an hour or two to photograph and blog. I assure you, there is no fakery here, and I'm always here to answer any questions you may have.

    Thanks for your support of the blog, Christi, I hope you'll drop back again...

    ~ Cleo Coffeehouse Mystery.com
    Cleo Coyle on Twitter

  10. I meant to complement your photos, Cleo. This is why I don't do Facebook, and rarely email anyone when I can talk to them on the phone. Little snippets can be interpreted so many ways. I totally meant to say that your photos are always amazing, and look so professional. I wasn't implying that you are hiding anything. It was neat to hear about your photographing past. I meant the "you should be a food stylist (in your spare time)" as a complement AND joke. A complement in that your photos are so great, and a joke in that you aren't probably looking for another career ("in your spare time - he he") and the part about you doing the cooking was added because I wanted it to be clear that you shouldn't just PHOTOGRAPH the food, but it you are obviously a good cook, so why would you photograph someone else's cooking. I didn't mean to imply you photoshopped anything, I meant that the photos are really good! Maybe my comment seemed weird because you've really done what I (because it's obvious) can see you are so good at. I guess I would have been a big winner on "What's My Line".

    1. Christi - PHEW! Thanks for NOT being a wacko! :)

      Every so often we get a comment from a crank or a spammer and since your name has no link to a website or a profile, I wasn't sure where you coming from (to use a phrase from the psychedelic sixties).

      It's nice to know that you were just joking around and having fun and weren't weirdly accusing me of somehow not actually baking the pie I photographed (a true compliment if it looks that good). You should see the blog post I did on my cooking disasters (with photos)! We all have them, me included; maybe it's time for me to do one of those posts again. :)

      Finally, a big LOL on "What's My Line," YOU as the contestant and ME as the panelist; in that case, you surely would have been a big winner!

      Thanks for dropping back and clarifying all, I really mean it, and I truly do hope you'll come on back again and comment again. I'll know what you mean next time!


      ~ Cleo Coffeehouse Mystery.com
      Cleo Coyle on Twitter

  11. Vodka in pie crusts in nothing new. my mother-in-law, who immigrated from Poland in 1960, used vodka in her pie crust and paszka (an Easter bread) all her life. It's quite common over there. Christopher Kimball & America's Test Kitchen didn't invent it, nor did Kenji Lopez-Alt (who works for ATK and seems to imply he invented it).