When it comes to pie dough you probably have a favorite go-to recipe. But with dozens of recipes to choose from how do you know you're using the best one? You don't. But with a bit of trial and error you can tweak any pie dough recipe to yield a tender flakey crust.
What's the secret to a great pie crust? Cold ingredients, a quick light hand, rested dough, and the correct ratio of flour to fat to liquid. Variation in type and proportion of these three ingredients can result in vastly different pie crusts - flaky, crispy, mushy, crumbly, or tough. Varying protein content of flour contributes to a dough's texture and consistency. Lower the protein, the flakier the crusts. I like to use unbleached all-purpose flour, and equal parts butter and shortening for my fat. Butter for taste, and shortening for tenderness. As for the liquid, the options range from plain ice-cold water, milk, apple cider vinegar diluted in water, or a 50/50 split of water and vodka.
For years, bakers have debated the use of vinegar versus vodka. Why either, why not just ice water? Gluten. Gluten is formed when water is added to flour. Gluten gives a pie crust its shape, but too much gluten can yield a tough or chewy crust. But you need enough liquid to both bind and roll out the dough. The solution? Vinegar or alcohol. Neither react with the flour to create gluten; replacing half the liquid in your dough recipe with vinegar or alcohol means less gluten formation. Some people think vodka is the way to go as it is roughly 50% alcohol; when the alcohol burns off during the baking process the amount of liquid is reduced, yielding a more tender and flakier crust. You can replace 50% of the liquid with any type of alcohol, not just vodka.
Personally I've never really noticed any difference with either vodka or vinegar; plain ice-water works just fine for me. Why don't you give it a whirl and see if either makes a difference to your pie dough recipe.
The following recipe for vodka pie dough comes from Cooks Illustrated via KCRW. This recipe is best for double-crust pies as single crusts tend to shrink, particularly when blind baking.
Cooks Illustrated's Vodka Pie Dough
2 1/2 cups (12.5 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tsp table salt
2 tbsp sugar
12 tbsp (1 1/2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/4-inch pieces
1/2 cup cold vegetable shortening, cut into 4 pieces
1/4 cup cold vodka
1/4 cup cold water
- Process 1 1/2 cups flour, salt, and sugar in food processor until combined, about 2 short pulses. Add butter and shortening and process until homogeneous dough just starts to collect in uneven clumps, about 15 seconds 9dough 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.
- 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.