Vodka Pie Crust / by Judy Kim

by Judy Kim

VODKA PIE CRUST

Yield: Yield: Two 8 to 10-inch single-crust pies/tarts, one double-crust pie or two large half sheet pan galettes

As some of you know, I'm a huge fan of pie. While I've been making decorative pies, I've realized how essential a good pie dough recipe is to create a delicious pastry dessert and one that will perform while making decorative cut outs or lattice work. After discovering that water is the culprit for tough pastry dough, I was excited to discover vodka pie crust. (I used to use way too much water to get the right consistency of dough, it tasted terrible. I was sacrificing flavor for the visual, no bueno.) In a nutshell, vodka reduces the formation of gluten. Since it is more forgiving than water, it allows you to add enough liquid to ensure a smooth pie dough. Typically pie dough recipes will call for a small amount of liquid and yield a crumbly dough that will typically crack while rolling. Since I tend to make more decorative pies, I need a pie dough that is pliable to resist cracking. This recipe yields a wet dough in comparison to others. Note: Use as little bench flour as possible when handling dough at the stage just before wrapping and resting. I've modified this direction from the past as I noticed it dried the dough too much, counteracting the large quantity of liquid.

I've been working on perfecting this recipe over the years and very happy with the results in both taste and texture. But I encourage you to play with the ratio of butter and shortening. I often keep the same total measurement of fat but increase the butter or the shortening depending on the type of pie crust I want to achieve or change the flavor and texture. When making tarts or pies that are handled very little, meaning no decorative cut outs or lattice work, I prefer Pâte Brisée (100% butter) because of the flavor. Just keep in mind it tends to crack a little more than a pie dough made with shortening.

INGREDIENTS

12 tbsp unsalted butter ( 1 1/2 sticks), cut into 1/2-inch cubes and frozen in advance

1/4 cup shortening, frozen

1/2 cup vodka

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 tsp salt

DIRECTIONS

  1. Cut butter into 1/2-inch cubes and freeze overnight, minimum of 5 minutes if you're short on time. Measure shortening with tablespoon and scrape out with a small spatula or spoon into a bowl and keep in freezer until ready to use.
  2. In a liquid measuring cup pour vodka, then add several ice cubes. Wait until vodka is chilled and remove ice. Add chilled water to vodka until it reaches 3/4 cup measurement. This ensures that the vodka maintains 1/2 cup measurement. 
  3. Combine flour and salt in a large mixing bowl; add frozen butter and shortening. Toss together quickly with your hands to coat each piece of butter and shortening with flour mixture, this will ensure an even dough. Transfer to the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade; pulse 2 to 3 times until the size of chick peas.
  4. Pour vodka mixture through feed tube in a steady stream while pulsing until dough begins to pull together. Do not run machine or liquid will not absorb evenly and butter pieces will become too small. Butter and shortening should be about the size of dried lentils. If you pour too slowly the butter will broken down too much and will warm the dough. Carefully turn dough out onto a very lightly floured work surface and remove the blade. I work on a granite countertop and use less than 1 tbsp bench flour. Too much flour will make the dough dry. This should be a slightly wet dough and more elastic than typical. No need to kneed dough, just enough to pull it together. If it feels crumbly, have faith it will come together after it's been wrapped and rested.
  5. Divide dough in half. Wrap each half in plastic wrap and shape the dough into a round or rectangle. I find the dough will stay cooler if I handle it after wrapping. If you are making pie, shape the dough into a flattened round disk or a rectangle if you are making a galette; this will help eliminate wastage. Refrigerate for minimum of 30 minutes. You can freeze the dough up to 3 months. If you have left over scraps I cut them into manageable pieces and wrap them in parchment paper and stack the pieces. The parchment will prevent them from sticking. Wrap in plastic wrap tightly and freeze to use for cut outs on a future pie.

SPECIAL NOTES FOR DECORATIVE PIES:

If you desire a decorative pie using cut out shapes, try purchasing pie cutters at a local specialty store, Williams Sonoma or online. Cookie cutters are another favorite. Generally I prefer pie cutters since they give a detailed impression mark due to their plunger design. The texture will give a rich detail to your pie.

If you want to layer a lot of cut outs in your final pie layout, I suggest you roll the dough a bit thinner since they cut outs will overlap. Cut out the shapes and place in a single layer on a parchment lined quarter sheet pan or any tray that will fit in the freezer. Once frozen use the them right away or stack the shapes into a container for future use. The shapes can be scattered all over a fruit pie in place of a top crust. 

For a custard pie that requires blind baking, I suggest you roll the dough a bit thicker for the cut outs. Roll the bottom layer, place into a pie dish and trim neatly with scissors or a sharp paring knife. The shapes should be frozen solid for a few hours or preferably overnight. This will help them resist heat to maintian their shape and placement while baking. The shapes can be added to a simple crust and form a wreath by brushing the backside with heavy cream and attaching to the crust. Keep the edge of the bottom crust on the thinner side so that the cut outs don't create an overly thick edge. With practice you will figure out your preferred thickness based on your design. Freeze pie crust for about 5 to 10 minutes before blind baking. 

BONUS: Using pie cutters is a great way to use excess dough. Keep cut outs in the freezer and bake them off as needed. Brushing with cream or an egg wash will make them golden. I suggest using them for a topping on desserts like ice cream or berries with whipped cream. I've even been known to put them with skillet eggs and arugula.

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* recipe updated November 2016