Truth time: Whether deep-fried, roasted, brined (dry or wet), smoked, pressure cooked, grilled, or stuffed with a chicken before being then stuffed into a duck, turkey is just not that great. Thanksgiving is really about two things: The sides and the pie.
Whatever pies you pick — and I recommend a good selection of both sweet and savory pies on the table, for maximum festivity — a good crust is key. So how do you get that crust to be light, flaky, flavorful, and, above all, reliable? One classic and extremely effective tip from America's Test Kitchen is to sub out half the cold water in your pie crust recipe with cold vodka.
I asked Guy Crosby, the science editor for America's Test Kitchen, to explain to us just how it worked and, even more importantly, whether the trick might work equally well with other spirits subbed in for vodka — and the news is very, very good:
I make my pie crusts using the classic "mixture of cold vodka and cold water" trick, which I think really does make them flakier and tastier. I've heard a bunch of different explanations for this, ranging from "the alcohol evaporates quickly out of the crust" to "less gluten formation" to "the frequent presence of an accompanying cocktail". How does this trick really work? What would using just vodka, and not a mixture, do to my crusts?
Also, lately I've been wondering about subbing in other spirits for vodka. A peach pie with a bourbon crust or an apple pie with a rum crust are both particularly calling to me, for instance. Good idea or bad idea?
Vodka pie dough is one of the most popular recipes at America's Test Kitchen, because it really works. Normally, if dough is made with too much water the gluten will be too strong and the pie crust will be tough. But at the same time, enough water must be used to make the dough pliable enough to roll out. Using vodka in place of some of the water allows the dough to be workable, without making the pie crust too tough. This is because the alcohol in the vodka does not develop gluten, so the dough can be workable but the crust will be tender. Other alcoholic beverages such as bourbon also work, but they may leave a little taste in the crust. Good idea!
Will you be serving pie at your holiday? What kinds? Tips, tricks, recipes, or just weigh-in on the shortening, butter, or half-and-half crust debate (all butter, natch) in the comments now.
Image: Brent Hofacker / Shutterstock