Foolproof Pie Dough

Pie dough seems easy enough. Mix flour, salt, and sugar together, cut in some fat, add water just until the dough sticks together, roll it out, and bake it. A study in simplicity. Yet it can all go wrong so easily. The dough is almost always too dry and crumbly to roll out successfully. The crust is either flaky but leathery or tender with no flakes.

A combination of butter and shortening provides the best balance of flavor and tenderness in this foolproof dough—the shortening makes the crust tender and flaky, while the butter provides flavor. We use a novel approach to combine the fat with the flour to ensure a consistent amount of uncoated flour in the dough. As a result, our dough requires the same amount of liquid every time.

Too much water makes pie dough tough and that’s why most pie dough recipes are stingy with the water (and thus really hard to roll out). We wanted to create a moist pie dough that would be easy to roll out. But it still had to bake up tender. We found our solution in the liquor cabinet.

While gluten (the protein that makes crust tough) forms readily in water, it doesn’t form in ethanol, and vodka is 60 percent water and 40 percent ethanol. So adding 4 tablespoons of vodka and 4 tablespoons of water produces a moist, easy-to-roll dough that stays tender because the alcohol vaporizes in the oven, leaving the final crust with only about 6 tablespoons of water.

The dough should be wrapped in plastic and refrigerated for at least 1 hour or up to 2 days. Let well-chilled dough sit out on the counter for 10 minutes before attempting to roll it out. The dough can also be frozen for up to 1 month. Make sure to thaw frozen dough fully on the counter.

Total Cooking Time: 90

Preparation Time: 20

Active Cooking Time: 10

Make Ahead: Refrigerate for 2 days or freeze for 1 month

Yield: One 9-inch pie dough

Difficulty: Intermediate

Core Equipment

The right tool can make or break a recipe. At America's Test Kitchen, we test kitchen equipment in search of brands that offer the best value and performance. Since we accept no advertising, our ratings are unbiased. Check out our recommended products for the equipment you'll need in this course.
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