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Culinary Lesson #23 - Pie Dough

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

If you're like most people, the thought alone of making, rolling, and shaping pie dough stresses you out.  Many recipes yield a dough that's so dry that once you get it rolled out to the proper size, it cracks and falls apart while being transferred to a pie dish or while shaping it into place.  After reforming it into a ball and working in a little water to moisten the dough, the final product usually is a tough mess since it has been overworked.  Luckily some smart folks devoted to the art of making the perfect pie dough have found the key ingredient:  vodka!

It may sound weird, but it makes perfect sense.  The main reason why this unlikely ingredient improves the dough is that it doesn't produce nearly as much gluten as water does (since vodka is only 60% water).  Other tricks that America's Test Kitchen came up with include (1) using shortening in addition to butter, as well as (2) using more fats than usual.  The shortening does not contribute to gluten development since it doesn't contain any water, and the additional fat helps coat more of the flour, thus, preventing it from coming into contact with the water (which...you guessed it...produces gluten).  By combining these three main tips with several others listed throughout this post, you'll now be able to enjoy the art of pie-making.

INGREDIENTS (makes a double crust):

12 1/2 ounces (~1 1/2 cups plus 2 tablespoons) all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
12 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 1/4-inch pieces and chilled
8 tablespoons vegetable shortening, cut into 4 pieces and chilled
1/4 cup vodka, chilled
1/4 cup water, chilled


In a food processor, combine 3/4 cup flour, sugar, and salt.  Add the butter and shortening and and process for 10 seconds.  Use a rubber spatula to ensure that the fats are scraped off of the sides and evenly mixed with the flour.  Add the remaining flour and pulse 4 to 6 times.  Transfer the mixture to a medium bowl.  Add the chilled vodka and water and stir with a rubber spatula until combined.  Divide the dough in half and form each half into a 4-inch round disk.  Wrap each disk in plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator for at least an hour before rolling.  [Side note:  At this point, the dough can either stay in the refrigerator for up to 2 days, or can be frozen for up to 1 month].

Before rolling out the dough, preheat your oven to 425° F.

Remove the dough from the refrigerator and flour a counter.  Roll out each disk so that it's large enough to overhang the pie dish by roughly 1/2-inch once pressed in the pie dish.  [Side note:  Since the dough is softer than most, don't be surprised if you end up using up to 1/4 cup of flour total when rolling out the dough].  Transfer the bottom crust to the pie dish by wrapping one end of the dough around the rolling pin, and then rolling up the rest of the dough.  Unroll the dough onto the pie dish, centering as best as possible.

If you're making a single-crust recipe, tuck the excess 1/2-inch of dough behind itself.  Crimp using the method of your choice.

If you're making a double-crust recipe, add the filling to the bottom crust.  Egg wash the excess 1/2-inch of dough and then transfer the top crust to the pie.  Gently press together the top and bottom crusts along the egg washed section.  Tuck the excess 1/2-inch of dough behind itself.  Crimp using the method of your choice.

  1. To prevent single-crust pies from becoming soggy on the bottom, cover the (raw) pie crust with tin foil, add weights to keep the crust from puffing up, and bake for roughly 15 minutes.  Remove the weights and tin foil, and cook for several more minutes to your desired doneness.
  2. To prevent single-crust or double-crust pies from becoming soggy on the bottom, bake the pie on a cookie sheet that has been preheated for 15 minutes.
  3. To give your top crust a nice color, egg wash the crust before baking.

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