The secret to a memorable pie crust is to create light, flaky layers that give way to a buttery tenderness in each bite.
The colder your ingredients are, the better your crust will be. You can even freeze the flour in advance. The better your butter, the better your pie crust. Use a tangy, cultured butter with a high fat percentage if you can find it. The luscious offerings of Vermont Creamery and Organic Valley are widely available. Or better yet, make your own!
And don’t skip the vodka — it’s the secret to the flaky layers you seek. In its liquid form, the vodka works with the water to keep the dough together, but as it evaporates in the oven, lovely little pockets of air are left behind to separate thin layers of pastry.
4 1/2 cups flour, plus extra for rolling
2 tsp kosher salt
12 ounces unsalted butter, cut into small pieces, chilled until use
1/4 to 1/2 cup ice water
2 tbsp vodka
Whisk together the flour and salt in a large bowl. Using clean hands, begin to rub the bits of butter into the flour with your fingers and palms. Eventually you’ll have a mixture that looks like sand. It’s OK to have some slightly larger smears of butter, but there shouldn’t be too many that are larger than a pea.
Sprinkle the water and vodka over the sandy mixture. Using your hands again, combine to form into a thick ball of dough that barely holds together. Add water as needed to pull the dough together, but try to limit it. Shape the dough into a slightly flattened circle. Wrap it in plastic wrap, and chill it in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.
Lightly flour a clean countertop or other work surface. Unwrap the dough and roll it into a 10-inch round with a thickness of about 1/4 inch. Line a 9-inch pie plate with the dough, crimp the edges between your thumb and forefinger, and trim off any excess dough. (Excess dough can be used to make a small tart.) Chill the dough for about 20 minutes while you preheat the oven to 300 degrees Fahrenheit.
Depending on your recipe, you might want to fill the pie shell before baking. If blind baking instead, line the pie shell with parchment paper or aluminum foil, then fill it with a layer of dried beans. Cover the edges with foil or pie guards to prevent the edges from overcooking. The beans act as a weight to keep big bubbles from popping up, and can be used many times. Bake for about 35 minutes, or until the crust is cooked but not browned. Remove the parchment and pie weights. Bake uncovered for another 5 to 10 minutes, or until golden.
Try this delicious pie crust with our Bacon, Blue Cheese, Lemon and Leek Quiche.