Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The One and Only Pie Crust

My first memories of cooking are in my Nana's kitchen at my grandparent's ranch in the mountains of Northern California. We made cookies and fudge and cobblers and all sorts of treats, but most importantly we made pie.

We made blackberry pie using the blackberries we picked from the wild bushes near the creek bed or apple pies from the apple tree in the yard or strawberry-rhubarb pie from the summer harvest in the garden down by the lake.

My Nana makes some amazing pie. 

And thanks to her, so do I.

She makes an awesome pie crust, but truth be told I've never been able to master it. She does it by eye and feel, rarely using exact measurements. I can make her pie crust but it's never as good. 

So I spent a long time searching for the perfect crust recipe. For a long time I used Serendipity's pie crust recipe, which is awesome but, like many pie crusts, needs to have very cold ingredients and must be made very quickly so it doesn't become tough. In my perpetually warm kitchen, that's tough potatoes.

Then, I came across Cooks Illustrated pie crust recipe. I was skeptical at first because it was all made in a food processor (which I did not have at the time) and, here's the kicker, it had vodka in it. I'd never heard of such a thing. It seemed so...wrong. But let me tell you, once you try this pie crust there is no going back.

The alcohol cooks off when the pie is baked, so no one will guess its in there if you don't tell them. It also allows you to work the dough as much as you need to without it becoming tough. It has plenty of liquid to keep the dough pliable, you can flour it as much as necessary, you can even rework it if something goes wrong after the dough is rolled. It's magically simple and turns out great. Every. Single. Time. 

I use it for every pie I make: lemon meringue, pumpkin, apple and of course blackberry (which I still made with blackberries from the creek bed every year). 

Give it a try won't you?

 Cut up your cold butter and shortening

 Mix with a pastry cutter until it looks like this, no flour and big clumps.
 Add some more flour and mix until lumpy like this.
 Sprinkle on some vodka and water and fold it in to form a nice tacky dough
Then you divide it into two discs and refrigerate until you're ready to use it.

Double-Crust Pie Dough
adapted from Cooks Illustrated

2 1/2 c. flour, divided
1 tsp. table salt 
2 Tbs. sugar
1 1/2 sticks butter, cold and cubed*
1/2 c. shortening, cold and cubed
1/4 c. cold water
1/4 c. vodka

Mix 1 1/2 c. flour, salt and sugar in a large mixing bowl. Cut in butter and shortening with a pastry cutter until a homogenous dough forms uneven clumps and the flour is completely mixed in. Add the remaining cup of flour and mix until even, pea-sized lumps form. Sprinkle dough with water and vodka. Fold to mix. Dough should be tacky (I know, crazy, right?). Separate into two even discs and refrigerate 45 minutes or up to 24 hours. Dough can also be frozen at this point, just thaw in the refrigerator until ready to use. Roll dough out using plenty of flour. Makes a double crust for a 9-10"  pie or two single crust pies.

To bake a single pie crust: poke holes in the bottom with a fork, line with parchment paper and fill with pie weights or uncooked rice. Bake at 400 for 10 minutes. Remove parchment and weights, cook for an additional 5-10 minutes until lightly browned.

*The butter in this recipe can be completely substituted with shortening with great results. My father-in-law is lactose intolerant so I often make my Thanksgiving pies this way.

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