Vodka Pie Dough
2 1/1 cups (12 1/2 oz) unbleached, all-purpose flour
1 tsp salt
2 tbsp sugar
12 tbsp (1 1/2 sticks or 6 oz) cold unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
1/2 cup (4 oz) cold vegetable shortening or lard, cut into small pieces
1/2 cup vodka
1/2 cup water
1. Process 1 1/2 cups flour, salt and sugar in a food processor until everything is evenly combined, a couple of pulses. Scatter the butter and lard pieces around on top of the flour mixture. Process in pulses until the mixture is thoroughly and evenly blended (about 15 seconds). The dough at this point will look like wet sand, or dry cottage cheese. You're looking to thoroughly coat all the flour with the fat. Scrape the bowl down with a spatula, making sure there are no clumps and that everything is evenly distributed around the processor blades. Add the remaining flour and pulse until the mixture is fully incorporated, and the mass of dough starts to clump and break up - maybe 5-6 more pulses. At this point, the dough will look more like wet sand than cottage cheese. Turn the mix out into a large mixing bowl.
2.Sprinkle vodka and water over mixture. Using a rubber spatula (or your hands, if you're adventurous), scoop and fold the dough over on itself several times, pressing down, until the dough comes together in a ball and is slightly tacky. Split the dough in half; roll each half into a ball, then flatten it into a disk, roughly 4 inches thick. Wrap each half tightly in plastic wrap, then refrigerate for at least 45 minutes. Use as you wish after that point.
NOTES: What's with the vodka? Well, vodka is around 80 proof - meaning it's about 40% alcohol, and 60% water. Flour does not react with alcohol to form gluten, and too much gluten makes a pie dough tough - not tender. So when you add the water and vodka to this recipe, you're adding one cup of LIQUID (which helps you bring the dough together easier), but only about 3/4 cup of WATER (which will limit the gluten formation). This makes the dough a snap to bring together and roll out - you'll find there's less cracking when working with this dough. Vodka's flavorless, so it won't affect the taste of the crust, and it burns off at a very low temperature, so once the crust is in the oven, most all that alcohol will vaporize away.
And why are we processing the flour in two batches? Well, you want a majority of flour to be completely coated with fat. This will make all that fat get evenly distributed in layers once the dough has come together, and layered fat in the dough means lots of flakiness in the final crust. But you don't want ALL the flour coated, because that would prevent the water from mixing with the flour. We need SOME gluten to form, otherwise the dough would never hold together. By processing in batches, you're ensuring a good ratio of coated-to-uncoated flour.
Can you use other alcohol? Sure. This is a very good all-purpose pie dough (and can fill in as a tart dough, too) because vodka is flavorless. But if you were going to make, say, an apple pie, you might try swapping out the vodka for some Apple Jack or Calvados. If you're going to start playing around with the alcohol, though, make sure you match the proof - keep it at 80 proof, and it should be interchangeable.
Pairs Well With
What? Vodka?! Yes - it's becoming more and more well-known, adding spirits to pie/tart dough - and it's not just for flavor (obviously not, in vodka's case). This is one of my go-to recipes when I need a basic pie dough - it can double as a tart crust, too. It comes together quickly and easily, and I'll often make up a double batch, and freeze half so I'm always prepared to make a pie at a moment's notice. The recipe's not exactly foolproof, but it is fool-resistant.