A Pie Crust With Spirit

By CYNTHIA COWAN

With Thanksgiving over, pie crust pressure is off. Whew. Now is the time to tweak, experiment, and perfect the craft ... in time for Christmas. The following recipe stands out among the usual flour, shortening, salt, water variety. Sure there are deviations from the norm, with additions of vinegar, sour cream, egg or even oil. But vodka in pie crust? Surely, this is just some sorry excuse to imbibe.

According to Cooks Illustrated December issue, vodka is the essential ingredient for Foolproof Pie Dough. The science behind the recipe seems plausible. Bakers will tell you that water is the enemy to a tender crust ... something about gluten formation. Efforts to decrease the amount of water in favor of other forms of moisture work with limited results and often at the expense of flavor and texture.

Apparently, using vodka as part of the water component in pie crust works its magic in three ways. First, the vodka acts as water does, providing the necessary moisture to bring the dough together. Next, the alcohol inhibits the production of the undesirable, dough-toughening gluten. Finally, and perhaps the most fascinating effect, is that after the vodka has performed its miracles, it evaporates without a trace, leaving only tender, flaky crust. Give it a shot.

Spirited Pie Dough (enough for a double-crust pie)

2 1/2 cups flour

1 teaspoon salt

2 Tablespoons sugar

12 Tablespoons cold butter

1/2 cup cold Crisco

1/4 cup cold vodka

1/4 cup cold water

Combine 1½ cups of the flour, salt and sugar in a food processor. Add butter and Crisco cut into tablespoon-size chunks. Process until dough resembles cottage cheese, pulsing for about 15 seconds. Redistribute dough with a spatula. Add remaining flour and pulse four to six times until distributed. Empty do ugh into large bowl. Combine vodka and water and pour over dough, while gently folding in with a spatula, just until dough comes together into a tacky, shaggy ball. Divide dough in half. Flatten each ball into a disc, wrap in plastic and refrigerate for 45 minutes to two days. After a brief chilling , the dough becomes surprisingly smooth and supple. Use a generously floured rolling pin and cloth to roll it out.