My friend Erin taught me this simple trick for making delicious pie crust: substitute ice-cold vodka for half of the water. The vodka doesn't form gluten with the flour, meaning that your crust comes out very flaky and tender even if you make it a tad more wet than usual or handle it a little too much. (I have also used tequila or bourbon at different times, and the flavor was not noticeable in the cooked dough.) Don't go overboard on working the dough or make it really sticky or anything. Just know that you can relax a little because your crust will be fabulous. I also use at least 1/2 cup whole wheat pastry flour, because it is delish and also doesn't form gluten easily. In fact, my in-laws, who are not whole wheat types, don't notice the whole wheat pastry flour.
Kids are very good at methodically cutting the butter into cubes, at pouring the liquid in, and at stirring. Just be sure that you chill the butter thoroughly after they soften it unintentionally with their warm little hands.
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (or substitute whole wheat pastry flour)
1 Tbs sugar (optional)
3/4 tsp salt
1 cup butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes and refrigerated (I think that I've actually been using 1 cup plus 2 Tbs butter)
ice water and icy-cold vodka
- Pour water into a tumbler full of ice. Pour about 1/4 cup vodka over ice in a second tumbler, unless you store vodka in your freezer to begin with. Make sure your toddler doesn't grab the second glass by mistake (yes, this has happened in my kitchen).
- Mix flour, sugar (if using), and salt in a large bowl. Cut in the butter with a pastry cutter until the mixture looks flaky, like slightly moist large-flake brewer's yeast or something. The largest lumps of butter in the mix should be about the size of an itty bitty petit pois-style pea. (Don't overwork the dough by making the lumps too small, but don't leave giant lumps of butter either. Remember, vodka is on your side, so you can relax!)
- If you want to be obsessive (hey, sometimes I do), put the dough in the freezer at this point for 15 minutes or so. (This is what the chef at Field to Table does.) Vodka is on your side, so you don't really need this trick. If you have to sit down and nurse or read someone a book, though, the freezer or fridge is a good place for your dough to wait for you.
- With a fork in hand, sprinkle 3-4 Tbs of vodka over the dough and stir until just combined. Then do the same with 3-4 Tbs of ice water. Test the amount of moisture in your dough: Does it clump together easily when you squeeze some in your palm? (Check some dough from the bottom of the bowl, too. Sometimes the water hasn't been worked into the dough at the bottom, so your dough is drier than it appears.) Add more vodka and water, if you think your dough needs it. (Err on the side of more vodka if you like.)
- Form the dough into two disks, wrap each in parchment paper or a plastic bag, and refrigerate. (If lots and lots of little crumbs fall off, or the dough doesn't come together well, your dough is too dry. Add more vodka.) Or don't refrigerate: vodka is working for you here.
- Roll each disk of dough out on a well-floured surface. You can refrigerate the first rolled-out dough while you are working on the second. Done!