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 popular for some time. Though the basic idea is nothing new to many bakers, it was made famous in recent years 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 year, I remained skeptical. Finally, on a day I craved an apple pie, I baked it up and was impressed with the results. So...why put vodka in your pie crust? Read on and I'll try to answer that question for you.

The Famous Vodka Pie Crust 

(which is neither shaken nor stirred)

Cleo Coyle writes two
bestselling mystery
 series with her husband.
To learn more, click here.

Adapted (with geek speak) and photographed by Cleo Coyle with thanks to 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
8 tablespoons 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: For best results, you must use a food processor for the first part of this recipe. Place 1-1/2 cups of the flour, along with the salt and sugar into your food processor and process just until combined (a few one-second pulses). Now scatter the cold butter and chilled shortening evenly around the bowl and process just until the dough begins to form uneven clumps (about 15 seconds). Do not over-process, your dough should resemble cottage-cheese curds, and there should be no uncoated flour. Scrape down the bowl. Next sprinkle in the remaining 1 cup of flour and pulse the processor blade about 5 pulses or until you've broken up the mass of dough and it is evenly distributed around the bowl. 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.)

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. Be sure to use some water, don't leave it out, or your crust will be too dry.

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 sopping 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 tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 45 minutes or up to 2 days. (Dough can also be frozen for up to 1 month, but be sure to thaw completely, on the counter, before rolling out.)

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 add very little additional 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 lightly floured parchment paper before rolling. 

Question: Will the dough stick to the parchment paper? Yes. When dough gets warm, it may stick (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 ten to fifteen minutes (not much more than that or the crust may begin to dry out). 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. Thanks again to the ever-curious cooks of America's Test Kitchen.

Eat (and read) with  joy!

New York Times bestselling author
of The Coffeehouse Mysteries and
Haunted Bookshop Mysteries

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  1. 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

  2. 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...