Foolproof – that’s one word that has been used repeatedly to describe Cooks Illustrated‘s so-called vodka pie dough. And while he won’t take full credit for the recipe, Christopher Kimball will admit that he and his team at Cook’s Illustrated popularized the now time-tested technique of substituting vodka for 1/2 of the water in your favorite pie dough recipe. Here’s a quick explanation from Kimball:
“Here’s the problem, when you make pie dough, There is no gluten in flour, there is glutenin and gliadin. In the presence of water, glutenin and gliadin form gluten, and unfortunately pie dough contains water.” He continues, “you want to add enough liquid so that you can roll out the dough…but if you add too much water to make a soft pliable dough which is easy to roll out, then you get gluten formation. So we sat around saying we need a liquid that actually doesn’t react with glutenin and gliadin to create gluten, and it turns out that alcohol doesn’t. So vodka, is 50% roughly alcohol, so if you take half the water out and put in vodka, you’re reducing the amount of water, some of it’s alcohol, and therefore you can use more liquid and then there’s not going to be all that gluten formation. The other thing, is that alcohol is going to burn off in the oven so you end up with incredibly flakey dough but you can also roll it out, it’s really easy to work with.”
As Evan Kleiman says, this is a great beginner’s pie dough. The only caveat is that it’s not great for blind baking because it tends to shrink. Kimball says it’s best for pies with a top and bottom.
Cooks Illustrated’s Vodka Pie Dough
2 1/2 cups (12 1/2 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon table salt
2 tablespoons sugar
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/4 inch slices
1/2 cup cold vegetable shortening, cut into 4 pieces
1/4 cup cold vodka
1/4 cup cold water
Process 1 1/2 cups flour, salt, and sugar in food processor until combined, about 2 one-second pulses. Add butter and shortening and process until homogeneous dough just starts to collect in uneven clumps, about 15 seconds (dough will resemble cottage cheese curds and there should be no uncoated flour). Scrape bowl with rubber spatula and redistribute dough evenly around processor blade. Add remaining cup flour and pulse until mixture is evenly distributed around bowl and mass of dough has been broken up, 4 to 6 quick pulses. Empty mixture into medium bowl.
Sprinkle vodka and water over mixture. With rubber spatula, use folding motion to mix, pressing down on dough until dough is slightly tacky and sticks together. Divide dough into two even balls and flatten each into 4-inch disk. Wrap each in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 45 minutes or up to 2 days.