Recipe Review: The Cook's Illustrated Vodka Pie Crust

Have you heard of the vodka pie crust recipe? It made big news in the baking world when Cook's Illustrated first published it last fall. Half of the pie dough's moisture comes from vodka, which is 40% pure alcohol. The alcohol doesn't promote gluten formation, so it helps the crust stay much flakier and more tender - a foolproof help to those of us who tend to overwork our pie dough.

So, how does this pie dough work? Is the unconventional addition of vodka worth it? We gave it a spin and here are our thoughts.

A pie crust is made of just a few things, as Emma described. The vodka recipe doesn't change much of that classic formula of fat, flour, and liquid; the vodka is the main innovation.

This recipe specifically calls for a food processor to mix the dry ingredients (flour, salt, sugar) and the fat (a mixture of butter and shortening). We mixed those up in a jiffy and cut in the butter and shortening. We pulverized these with just a couple quick bursts (watch for a more detailed post on the whole process of making a pie soon).

Then it was time to add the vodka! (We used Sobieski Vodka, an inexpensive but very nice variety from Poland that we've been trying out. It's actually the #1 vodka in Poland and only recently introduced to the US.) An equal amount of vodka and water go into this crust recipe. We stirred it around with a spatula and the dough quickly formed a smooth ball. We wrapped it in plastic and put it in the fridge to chill.

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Now, here is where this crust gets tricky. There is quite a bit of extra moisture in it because of the vodka. See, most of that alcohol burns off while cooking, leaving a flaky, tender crust behind. But meanwhile the unbaked dough is very sticky - much, much stickier than the stiff pie dough we're used to. So here is the main tip we would offer when working with this recipe:

• Chill your dough until it's as stiff as taffy or another hard candy. You want to still be able to roll it out, but it should be very stiff. Otherwise it will stick to your rolling board or countertop very badly, no matter how much flour you use.

After a couple false starts trying to get this very soft, biscuit-y dough into our pan in one piece we just patted it out from the middle of the pan. It didn't look pretty, but it held promise.

Sure enough, this baked dough (we had some scraps we baked and ate immediately) was the tenderest, flakiest crust we'd ever used in a pie. Delicious! (And no taste of alcohol, in case you were wondering.)

We're not the first to blog this pie crust; check out these commentaries as well, both with reprints of the recipe.

Cook's Illustrated's Foolproof Pie Dough at Serious Eats
pie crust 101 at Smitten Kitchen

Have you ever tried this pie dough? We are definitely adding it to our regular repertoire.

Related: Recipe: Basic Pie Crust

Related: Food Science: The Anatomy of a Pie Crust

(Images: Faith Durand)

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Baking, Recipe Review, Roundup

Faith is the executive editor of The Kitchn and the author of three cookbooks. They include Bakeless Sweets (Spring 2013) as well as The Kitchn's first cookbook, which will be published in Fall 2014. She lives in Columbus, Ohio with her husband Mike.

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