So, I first heard about the vodka pie crust thing in the fall of 2008 when I was still working at Baked. My lovely and oh, so dear colleague at the time, Sefania, arrived one morning raving about a Cooks Illustrated pumpkin pie with a vodka crust that she had baked and brought to a dinner party the night before. Now, I’m going to bastardize the story a bit here, but somehow Mark Bittman heard about her pie (maybe someone who was at the dinner party with Stefania worked with him?) and long story short, a few weeks later, there was a post on the NYT Diner’s Journal blog about Stefania’s pie (or, more accurately, about how her pie had influenced the writer of the post). And the vodka pie dough phenomenon was forever etched in my brain.However, despite the fact that I’ve known about the joys of substituting vodka for a portion of the liquid in one’s pie dough for the last 6 years (and truth be told, Coks Illustrated actually first published their vodka pie dough recipe a year earlier, in November of 2007), it took me until three weeks ago to actually try it. Spurred on by my non-baking husband, of all people (he heard a story about the dough on NPR), I decided to try using vodka, instead of cider vinegar, in my off the charts flaky pie dough. My thinking was two-fold: The vodka might make the dough easier to roll out (my recipe produces a pretty tender dough due to the pastry flour, copious amounts of butter, and lack of liquid, and it has been known to tear on occasion). And if the vodka thing in the pie dough was coming back to me all these years later via my husband, it was probably a sign.
And a sign worth heeding: the vodka did indeed make the dough easier to work with (the science behind this is spelled out rather nicely on Food52) and I was ever so pleased to have finally given it a whirl.
Note: My original off the charts flaky pie dough post explains the technique I use for that dough, as well as this one, if you’re curious.
Off The Charts Flaky Pie Dough with Vodka — Redux
- 2 1/4 cup 2 Tbsp pastry flour (I recommend King Arthur)
- 1 Tbsp granulated sugar
- 2 sticks 16 Tbsps high-fat, salted butter, cold
- 2 Tbsp vodka ice cold
- 2 Tbsp cold water
- 1 large egg
- 2 tsp heavy cream
- Sugar in the raw for decorating
- Whisk the pastry flour and sugar together in a large mixing bowl. Slice each stick of butter into about 12 pieces. Toss the butter into the flour and place the bowl in the freezer for 30 minutes. Combine the vodka and water and place in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.
- Remove the bowl from the freezer and dump the contents on to the counter. Using a rolling pin, flatten/smear the butter into the flour (I recommend using a rolling pin to fraisage the dough, rather than the palm of the hand). Your goal is sheets of butter, crumbly bits of butter/flour and almost no loose flour (otherwise the dough is too dry and it is hard to roll out later). Use a bench scraper to move the dough around as you work, periodically bringing it all back into a pile in front of you. Break up any large sheets of butter with your fingers so all the butter bits are (relatively) uniform.
- Once your pile consists of butter sheets and crumbly dough, sprinkle a little of the vodka/water mixture over your pile, and use your hands to gently incorporate the liquid into the flour and butter.
- Continue sprinkling and incorporating until the dough is uniform — about 4 sprinkles in total. don't be afraid to spend some time here tossing the dough with your fingers, to really help the flour absorb the liquid, but don't overwork it. Toss, don't knead.
- Form the dough into a ball (as best you can) and transfer the dough to a sheet of plastic wrap. Use the plastic wrap to mold the dough into a disc. Wrap it tightly and place it in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes.
- Lightly flour a work surface, remove the disc from the fridge, and place it on the surface. Flour the top of the disc, and let it rest on the counter until it softens a bit — about 10 minutes, or so (a little rest keeps the edges from cracking). Using your rolling pin (and your fingers, if necessary) begin rolling/molding the dough into the shape of a rectangle. It will come together as you work, but if it is extra sticky, sprinkle extra flour on the disc and your work surface to combat the stickiness.
- Once in the shape of a rectangle, take one of the ends of the rectangle and fold it a little more than halfway across the rectangle towards its other end. Then take the other end and fold that over the first (as if you are folding a long and skinny "business" letter).
- Once the dough is folded, roll it out again into a rectangle (re-flouring beneath it and on top, if necessary), and fold up the ends, like a letter, for a second time. Repeat this one or two more time (3 to 4 times in total). By the third time, your dough should have transformed into something much more pliable and easier to work with. Cut the final rectangle in half, form each half into a disc (or keep it in its rectangular shape, if making a slab pie), tightly wrap each disc/rectangle in plastic wrap, and place in the refrigerator for 45 minutes.
- Remove one disc/rectangle from the refrigerator, roll it out, generously flouring your work surface as you go, and place it in the bottom of your pie plate or 1/4 sheet pan (or half sheet pan if making a large slab pie). Patch any holes with a bit of extra dough. Dock the dough (prick the bottom all over with a fork) and place the rolled-out dough back in the refrigerator.
- Prepare your filling
- Remove the pie dish/pan from the fridge and fill it. Take out the second disc/rectangle, roll it out, and cover your filling with the second rolled-out disc, crimp the edges, and using a paring knife make several cuts in a decorative pattern on the top of the pie (if making a slab pie, use a fork to decoratively puncture the top of the pie).
- In a small bowl, whisk the egg and cream together and, using a pastry brush, brush the top of the pie with the egg wash. Sprinkle sugar in the raw over the pie and place in the freezer for one hour (freezing the pie before baking it prevents shrinkage).
- Preheat the oven to 425 degrees and bake the pie for 45 to 50 minutes, or until the juices are bubbling through the vents (a slab pie will bake in less time - more like 35 to 40 minutes).