Last Call

Vodka Is NOT the Secret to the Perfect Pie Crust. We've Got a Way Better Recipe -- and White Russians, Too

Ring the bell, it's time for Last Call, where JK Grence, bartender at Shady's, serves up booze advice and recipes. Got a burning question for your bartender? Leave it in the comments and it might be answered in a future column.

The folks involved with Chow Bella are getting more than a little excited about our upcoming Pie Social. How excited? Even the booze column is giving pie tips.

See Also:
 - Want to Be An Official Pie Social Judge? Here's How.

Five years ago, the staff of Cook's Illustrated magazine started a baking revolution when they developed a new pie crust recipe. The number one enemy of pie crust bakers is gluten. If you overwork the dough, you develop too much gluten and end up with a tough crust. Someone at Cook's Illustrated realized that if you replace some of the water with vodka, less gluten develops, making it a piece of cake easy as pie to create the tenderest, flakiest crust you've ever had.

There is one problem with this technique. The problem is that the alcohol burns off in the oven. I'd rather enjoy a drink with my pie, and I'm sure you would too.

Let me introduce one of my favorite food writers, J. Kenji López-Alt. He's an editor for the food blog Serious Eats, and writes a terrific column called The Food Lab. In The Food Lab, he picks apart what makes a recipe tick, and makes it better than ever. When it comes to pie crust, he has more experience than most. Even though Cook's Illustrated head honcho Christopher Kimball takes all the credit, J. Kenji López-Alt developed the famous pie crust recipe. Who better to take the recipe to the next level?

The vodka trick was only part of the recipe. The big secret is to thoroughly mix just part of the flour with the fat when you start. Those flour particles get completely coated in fat, and can't develop gluten. When you add the rest of the flour, just the right amount of gluten develops, giving you flawless pie crust every time. Now, you can save your vodka for a delicious White Russian.

There is a little more to great pie crust. First, weigh your flour; flour's volume can change based on many things. Second, make sure everything stays cold. Water should be ice cold, and toss the flour in the freezer before you start. If it feels like things are warming up, slide everything in the fridge for 15 or 20 minutes to chill back down. You can make this recipe with a pastry cutter or your fingers, but a food processor makes it about a zillion times easier. J. Kenji López-Alt's Easy, Amazing Pie Crust (recipe used with permission)

12.5 ounces (2.5 cups) all-purpose flour, divided 2 tablespoons sugar 1 teaspoon kosher salt 2½ sticks (20 tablespoons) unsalted butter, cut into ¼-inch pats 6 tablespoons ice-cold water

  1. Combine 2/3rds of flour, sugar, and salt in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse twice to incorporate. Spread butter chunks evenly over surface. Pulse until no dry flour remains and dough just begins to collect in clumps, about 25 short pulses. Use a rubber spatula to spread the dough evenly around the bowl of the food processor. Sprinkle with remaining flour and pulse until dough is just barely broken up, about 5 short pulses. Transfer dough to a large bowl.
  2. Sprinkle with water then using a rubber spatula, fold and press dough until it comes together into a ball. Divide ball in half. Form each half into a 4-inch disk. Wrap tightly in plastic and refrigerate for at least 2 hours before rolling and baking.

You didn't think I'd let that White Russian slip, did you? Great ones are a piece of cake.

White Russian 2 ounces vodka 1 ounce coffee liqueur (e.g. Kahlúa) 1 ounce heavy cream Shake everything with ice. Strain over fresh ice in a double rocks glass.

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JK Grence
Contact: JK Grence