It’s the holidays! You’ve been working hard and it’s time now to have a little fun. And if you’re me, that means pie. Lots of pie.
When it comes to Thanksgiving, I can do most anything, except bake a turkey. When I was in Spain, all the American kids got together on Thanksgiving and had dinner. It was up to another girl and myself to ensure we had the basic dishes, and that meant cooking a turkey, which I had never done before. Well, it turned out alright, except for the fact that we should have begun cooking it much, much, earlier since it was a little undercooked in the middle. Hey, live and learn. But what I also made that day was apple pie, because pie is what I do.
And so, this Thanksgiving, since I would have the opportunity to make many pies, I wanted to try out different crust recipes to find which came out the best.
Most pie crust recipes consist of flour, chilled butter or shortening (or a combination of both), salt, maybe a bit of sugar and ice water. But there are some recipes that swear an extra ingredient or two makes all the difference. Therefore, in the name of science, and comforted by the atmosphere of love and forgiveness surrounding this holiday, I decided to risk my reputation as chief family pie maker and run a little experiment. My helpers for this experiment of course were my nieces Arowyn and Avie.
Here are the three recipes I chose:
The first was from Allrecipes.com, called “Chef John’s Easy Homemade Pie Crust”. Its extra ingredient was a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar.
The second was also from Allrecipes.com, called “Baker’s Secret Pie Crust,” which consisted of the secret ingredients of one egg yolk and 2 tsp of white distilled vinegar.
The third was from my favorite site, Cooksillustrated.com. I really like site because they try a recipe over a hundred times to get the right one, meaning whatever they think is best, in all likelihood probably is. The secret ingredient in their recipe entitled “Foolproof Pie Dough for a Single-Crust Pie” is two tablespoons of vodka, but they say any liquor over 80 proof will work (whiskey pie dough anyone?), and will make it “moister and more supple”.
Okay, so first, for every dough recipe, you’re going to cut up your chilled butter and shortening and add to the flour and salt (and possible sugar).
Then using a food processor, a pastry cutter or your fingers, grind until it has a crumbly consistency.
From there, add the liquid. It’s important that whatever liquid, vinegar or vodka, it must be cold to make the dough stick together. Add it in, tablespoon at a time until dough makes a cohesive blob.
Next, put the dough blob onto a piece of plastic wrap, and mold into a flattened disk shape. Then wrap it up and refrigerate, at least 45 minutes but up to a couple days.
Now it’s time to prepare the crusts! Very carefully, roll out the dough, trying not to overwork it.
Then fold it in half and transfer to a pie plate. From here, the cooksillustrated.com recipe calls for a technique only used for single-crust pies like pecan or pumpkin, which I’ve never tried before. First, preheat oven 425 degrees. After transferring the rolled-out dough to pie plate, press into the plate and, leaving the extra dough over hanging, refrigerate for 15 minutes. After that, remove from fridge and trim the extra dough, pressing the edges into the typical crimped pattern.
Then refrigerate for 15 more minutes. After that, remove and firmly press a sheet of foil into the pie plate, and adding pennies or pie weights to hold it down when it bakes.
Bake for 15 minutes, after which rotate and bake 5 to 10 minutes longer.
Since we were cut for time, we skipped the first refrigeration cycle, and baked for only 15 minutes total. My mother’s oven gets pretty hot and I noticed that the edges were browning, so we stopped it there, and let the pie cool before adding filling.
Then we added our filling, and because I worried about browning edges, I used my nice new silicon pie crusts shields I ordered from Amazon. Now we were ready to bake!
Next, Arowyn and I had a little fun with the apple pie we were going to make. Using the new Thanksgiving shapes pastry cutters I had also ordered, we rolled out and cut-out all the pie crust into shapes.
Then we topped the apple pie not with a single sheet of dough, but a whole bunch of cut-outs. This is good for an apple pie, since it’s important the excess moisture released as the apples cook can escape.
Et voilà! I think it turned out nice, don’t you?
So, what was the verdict on the best dough? Well, we agreed they were all good, but the cider vinegar recipe came out extra flaky, making it the winner of this Thanksgiving’s contest. But don’t take my word for it! Try the recipes yourself! I’ve linked the recipes from Allrecipes.com, but since the recipe from cooksillustrated.com requires a subscription, I’ve added it here. Enjoy!
Foolproof Pie Dough for a Single-Crust Pie
11⁄4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour (6 1/4 ounces)
1⁄2 teaspoon table salt
1 tablespoon sugar
6 tablespoons cold unsalted butter (3/4 stick), cut into 1/4- inch slices
1⁄4 cup chilled solid vegetable shortening, cut into 2 pieces
2 tablespoons vodka, cold 2 tablespoons cold water
Vodka is essential to the texture of the crust and imparts no flavor—do not substitute extra water. The alcohol is key to our recipe; if you don’t have vodka on hand, you can use another 80 proof liquor. This dough will be moister and more supple than most standard pie doughs and will require more flour to roll out (up to 1/4 cup).
1. Process 3/4 cups flour, salt, and sugar together in food processor until combined, about 2 one-second pulses. Add butter and shortening and process until homogenous dough just starts to collect in uneven clumps, about 10 seconds (dough will resemble cottage cheese curds with some very small pieces of butter remaining, but there should be no uncoated flour). Scrape down sides and bottom of bowl with rubber spatula and redistribute dough evenly around processor blade. Add remaining 1/2 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.
2. 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. Flatten dough into 4-inch disk. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 45 minutes or up to 2 days.
3. Adjust oven rack to lowest position, place rimmed baking sheet on oven rack, and heat oven to 425 degrees. Remove dough from refrigerator and roll out on generously floured (up to 1⁄4 cup) work surface to 12-inch circle about 1/8 inch thick. Roll dough loosely around rolling pin and unroll into pie plate, leaving at least 1-inch overhang on each side. Working around circumference, ease dough into plate by gently lifting edge of dough with one hand while pressing into plate bottom with other hand. Leave overhanging dough in place; refrigerate until dough is firm, about 30 minutes.
4. Trim overhang to 1⁄2 inch beyond lip of pie plate. Fold overhang under itself; folded edge should be flush with edge of pie plate. Flute dough or press the tines of a fork against dough to flatten it against rim of pie plate. Refrigerate dough-lined plate until firm, about 15 minutes.
5. Remove pie pan from refrigerator, line crust with foil, and fill with pie weights or pennies. Bake for 15 minutes. Remove foil and weights, rotate plate, and bake for 5 to 10 minutes additional minutes until crust is golden brown and crisp.