Thursday, October 21, 2010

The pursuit of the perfect pie crust

It’s very rare that I follow a recipe exactly as it’s written. I love reading recipes and cookbooks, but I typically use them as inspiration – then do it my way. However, baking is a different story. When I picked up a couple pounds of local apples at the farmers’ market last weekend, I knew that the pie I was plotting would need a killer crust recipe to match.

At this point, a lot of women (or at least my roommate J and any woman in her family) would just whip out their tried and true heirloom pie crust recipe.

I am not one of those women. I did not grow up in a house of homemade pie crusts, and I did not receive a delicate 3x5 index card with the recipe lovingly handwritten by my mother the day I moved out. My mom is a great cook – but in my house, crust is just a vehicle, and therefore, storebought.

So, wanting to do greater justice to these naturally beautiful apples than a throwaway crust, I decided to consult the best. In my one previous homemade crust attempt I used Martha Stewart’s recipe, and the process had instilled such anxiety and stress with its strict warnings that I’d taken no joy in the nice, flaky finished product. This time, I wanted something easier, faster, and less…scary.

With Martha out of the picture, I turned to the greatest culinary authority I know – America’s Test Kitchen. After some quick browsing, I found the recipe for which I was looking (yup, even on a blog I hate ending a sentence with a preposition!).

Like Washington crossing the Delaware*, I decided to boldly put my faith in the unknown and go for it.

Including prep time to assemble my ingredients and equipment, two thick disks of plastic-wrapped pie dough were chilling out in my fridge in less than fifteen minutes.

After they chilled out and rolled out, forty-five minutes and a few peeks through the oven door later I pulled a bubbling, golden pie out of the oven and breathed in the glorious, buttery scent.

The crust gets two thumbs up – it was easy to make, and turned out perfectly flaky and reaaally buttery. Gone are its days as a second-class citizen in my house! Even my mom, the crust critic, was surprised by how much she liked it.

Note: I didn’t have any shortening on hand, and pretty much never bake with it anyway – so I used all butter and it turned out fine. The original recipe calls for 1/2 cup of shortening (if you want to use it, just replace some of the butter).

Foolproof Pie Dough – my way
(adapted from Cook’s Illustrated)

2 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon table salt
2 tablespoons sugar
2 sticks plus 2 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/4-inch slices
1/4 cup cold vodka (I used citrus-flavored, which is what I had on hand)
1/4 cup cold water

Add 1 1/2 cups flour, salt and sugar to your food processor bowl with blade attachment, and process until combined, about 2 one-second pulses.

Add all the butter 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.

*Planned in partial secrecy, Washington led a column of Continental Army troops across the icy Delaware River in a logistically challenging and potentially dangerous operation.


  1. I did LOVE that pie. :-) I bought some honey crisps at WF yesterday and I'm going to use them with a pear in a pear-apple salad from Mrs. C. She made a lemon poppyseed dressing recipe from Southern Living which was great, she said. Looking forward to more posts! :-)

  2. what a great blog! looks so delicious!

    have a nice time!

  3. Thanks Paula! I hope you come back and check out my new posts :)