Photography by Ali Redmond
Homemade pie crusts can intimidate even the most confident home bakers. Instructions like “do not overmix” are vague and terrifying. Buttery dough can split, crumble and make a mess of your kitchen.
The solution lies not in your pantry but in your liquor cabinet, some professional bakers say.
The Science Behind the Solution
“Vodka is the secret ingredient for a tender pie crust,” says Jessica Gavin, a culinary scientist. “The good news is the alcohol will vaporize in the oven, so the pie crust doesn’t have a lingering boozy taste.”
A bottle of 80-proof vodka contains 40% ethanol alcohol and 60% water. As a result, it hydrates dry ingredients like flour differently than if you’d used the same amount of water.
“When you make pie crust, the typical method is to add water to a mix of all-purpose wheat flour, butter and salt to make a cohesive dough,” says Irvin Lin, author of the cookbook Marbled, Swirled and Layered. “Flour has two different proteins in it, glutenins and gliadins, which form gluten when water is present.”
Gluten gives dough elasticity. If you’re baking, say, a loaf of bread, you want to develop and activate the gluten so the end result is chewy.