Fall Baking: The Perfect Pie Crust

Enjoy pie again with a light, crispy, delicious crust. And it's easy!

For most of my life, I didn’t like pie. The reason was the crust was always terrible- dry, odd tasting, chalky. But, then I saw an America’s Test Kitchen episode where they made the perfect pie crust.

They explained that the problem with crusts is water. Water develops the gluten in the flour. The more water in the dough, the easier it is to work with but then, the tougher and drier the crust is in the end because of all the gluten. Less water means the dough is harder to work with and cracks and falls apart.

The solution?

Vodka

Alcohol gives the dough the moisture it needs while you work with it but it doesn’t cause the gluten to develop, and it evaporates as it cooks. You end up with a much lighter, crispier crust.

So, I tried it.

Let me show you the very first pie I ever made. While my shaping skills seriously need work (see the sad face?), the crust itself was wonderful to eat- light, airy, flaky, tasty!

 

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Before we get to the recipe, I want to say something about America’s Test Kitchen. This is a show that my husband used to watch on PBS. He lived in Markham and was able to get the US channel with ‘bunny ears’. He introduced me to the show when we were dating and I bought him a couple of seasons on DVD (which came with cook books for the recipes).

In 2010, they released a cookbook featuring all 10 seasons of their recipes from the TV show. We bought it along with the 2010 season on DVD. It’s the best cookbook we’ve bought. It has everything from soups, bread, and vegetable and meat dishes from cuisines around the globe, to decadent desserts like this one:

Actually, in 2013, we bought the 13 year compendium specifically to get that chocolate raspberry tort recipe.

My husband won’t let me give away the 10 year book because it’s his favourite (even though the 13 year has all the same recipes and then 3 more years’ worth!) I have to say, the 13 year book is pretty thick so I can’t imagine how heavy the 17 year book would be!

Anyway, if you are looking for that one perfect cookbook, America’s Test Kitchen has it for you.

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OK.

Let’s get to the recipe:

Makes two

  • 2 ½ cups unbleached all-purpose flour(12 1/2 ounces)
  • 1 teaspoon table salt
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 12 tablespoons cold unsalted butter (1 1/2 sticks), cut into 1/4-inch slices
  • ½ cup chilled solid vegetableshortening, cut into 4 pieces
  • ¼ cup vodka, cold
  • ¼ cup cold water

You’ll want a food processor but, if you don’t have one, use a hand held pastry blender.

Hand mixing will take longer but just look that the dough is coming together as noted in the instructions.

 

In the food processor bowl, or a mixing bowl if doing it by hand:

  1. Add 1 1/2 cups of the flour, sugar, and salt into bowl and process for 15 seconds until mixed. Then, add the butter and shortening and process until the butter and shortening are completely mixed in and it looks like “cottage cheese curd” size clumps in a mass.  Add remaining flour and process until the mass breaks up into smaller pieces.
  2. Sprinkle the water and vodka mixture, 1 tablespoon at time, over the dough and, using a folding motion, fold and press with a rubber spatula until it sticks together. Cut the two into two even pieces and wrap with plastic. Put it in the fridge.

Carry on with whatever pie you want to make. Being Fall, an apple pie would be lovely especially made from apples you picked yourself!