To Vodka or Not to Vodka
I spent most of one afternoon and evening this week testing out different variations of a vodka pie crust recipe. It is one that I have heard of being used very successfully and as I’m very interested in testing out all sorts of crust recipes at least once, I gave it a go.
There are a number of differences in the recipe I used, and mine. Here are a few.
- Vegetable shortening (i.e. “the stuff in the blue can”) and unsalted butter vs. leaf lard and salted butter
- Sugar vs. no sugar
- Vodka and water vs. water only
- Food processor and a rubber spatula vs. hands and fork
- Prebaked crust vs. unbaked crust
To add variables and a broad range, I experimented with five crusts.
- Vodka Pie Crust recipe as written.
- Vodka Pie Crust substituting Earth Balance shortening sticks for “the stuff in the blue can”a/k/a Crisco.
- Vodka Pie Crust substituting leaf lard for “the stuff in the blue can”.
- American Pie Dough for Prebaked Pie Crust from “The Best Recipe Cookbook“ (Cooks Illustrated) as written.
- My own recipe using butter and leaf lard.
There were more differences along the way:
- Amount of liquid needed
- Size of pieces of shortening or lard
- Chilling time before rolling
- Rolling Out
- Chilling time after rolling
After chilling each dough, I followed the vodka crust process for each crust:
- Roll out
- Place carefully in pie pans
- Cover with foil and fill with pie weights (in this case, beans, rice or coinage from change basket that resides in the prosperity corner of my Olympic Peninsula home)
- Chill in the refrigerator for another 15 minutes
- Bake for 15 minutes in a 425F oven
- Remove foil and pie weights
- Bake for an additional 5 to 8 minutes
While they were baking, I rolled out some Little Tasties; that’s what I call the cinnamon/sugar treats I make with any leftover dough. There was lots of left over dough so, five batches of these yummy treats to bake. As soon as the pies came out, the tasties went in.
Finished? Not quite!
After blind baking, the crusts now needed to become pies so I made up enough pumpkin pie filling for five pies, filled the prebaked shells and baked them all. It looked like a Thanksgiving extravaganza in the kitchen with all the pumpkin pies cooling on the kitchen counter.
In general The Vodka Pie Crust recipe in all variations seemed to be missing “backbone,” and by that I mean making a crust that was tender and flakey, but sturdy enough to hold an entire baked, cooled, and uncut pie when removed from a pan. It just didn’t.
- The recipe with no variations (#1), was almost too tender and a challenge to roll out as it was so moist and soft.
- Crusts #2 and #3 rolled out easily but were both missing that “backbone.”
- #4 from Cook’s Illustrated (no vodka) is flaky tender and did have some “backbone”.
- And #5, the leaf lard and butter crust, was tender and flaky (without blowing away in the wind) with the flavor of butter and the flakiness that leaf lard provides. It’s still my first choice of pie dough.
This kind of research, although time consuming, helps in defining a recipe that works and why, as well as being fun in the process. The bottom line is that everyone will have a favorite dough recipe and technique, so use the one that works for you.