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: about 2 hours

Preparation Time: 20 minutes

Active Cooking Time: 10 minutes

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.
  • Amco Houseworks Professional Performance 4-Piece Measuring Cup Set

    This stainless steel set measured with near-perfect accuracy and offered moderate weight, great balance, and long, level, clearly m... read more
  • Pyrex 2-Cup Measuring Cup

    The unbeatable traditional version of the Pyrex Liquid Measuring Cup is back on the market. read more
  • Cuisipro Stainless Steel Measuring Spoons Set

    Comfortable and accurate with long handles, this set nests nicely. The rim of each spoon is flush with the handle so it is easy to s... read more
  • Masamoto VG-10 Gyutou, 8.2"

    “Feels fantastic when you pick it up: comfortable, light, ready.” “A dream” for cutting up chicken and dicing onion, with its “very ... read more
  • Glad Cling Wrap Clear Plastic

    This wrap aced the impermeability test. Its box featured well-placed, sharp teeth that easily tore the plastic, and “Glad Grab” (a 1... read more
  • Cuisinart Custom 14 Food Processor

    With a powerful, quiet motor; responsive pulsing action; sharp blades; and a simple, pared-down-to-basics design, our old favorite a... read more

All purchases fulfilled by All products reviewed by America’s Test Kitchen are independently chosen, researched, and reviewed by our editors. We buy products for testing at retail locations and do not accept unsolicited samples for testing. We list suggested sources for recommended products as a convenience to our readers but do not endorse specific retailers. When you choose to purchase our editorial recommendations from the links we provide, we may earn an affiliate commission. Prices are subject to change.