I Tested Two “Secret” Ingredients in Pie Crust and Only One Made A Difference
Both tricks are popular, but only one is scientifically proven to improve your pie.
Warm weather is here and you know what that means—bring out the fruit pies!
Spring and summer pies offer a whole new flavor profile, with juicy, plump berries that burst in every bite and a natural sweetness that’s balanced by a hint of tart. Not to mention, the gorgeous, glossy colors that compliment any picnic table or backyard cookout spread.
Fruit pies offer some relief from the fussy fillings you might see at other times of the year. There’s no heavy-whisking required as there is with custard pies. You can avoid the mindless peeling and coring of Granny Smiths that comes with apple pie season.
In fact, fruit pie fillings are almost entirely worry-free. It’s just a matter of finding the freshest fruit you can and mixing it in a bowl with a little cornstarch and sugar. Voila! A masterful dessert.
With the pie filling out of the way, you have more time to dedicate to the second most important component: the crust.
WATCH: How To Make Pie Dough
If you’re not familiar with making homemade pie crust, I totally understand. But I can also tell you that the flavor and texture of your pie crust will benefit tremendously from the bit of extra labor. We also have some solutions for the most common problems you might be fearful of.
Now, you can save your comments on the overcooked and unstyled crust edges. I am no pie artist like you see on Instagram. I stuck with a simple lattice design, opting for function over form, but when you made your own dough there is ample room for creativity.
Of course, there are dozens of ways to improve your pie game, but I tested two popular crust-making tricks to see which one yields the most beautiful and flakey results.
The Control Pie
For the first test, I used the pie crust recipe that we know and love here at MyRecipes. Making sure to keep all the ingredients cold, I cut the butter and shortening into the sugar/flour mixture for about a minute before forming a dough ball. Adding ice-cold water sparingly, I looked for a “tacky, not sticky” feel.
This recipe makes 2 (9-inch) rounds, so make sure to divide the dough into two segments before wrapping tightly and chilling in the fridge. After filling the pie and painting on an egg wash, I put it back in the fridge for one final round of chilling before it hit the oven.
This is the method I used for all three pies.
The first dough I made was pretty tough and it took some muscle to roll out the dough to 9-inch rounds. I found that the edges where pretty scraggly and rigid, but adding a few more spoonfuls of water probably would have smoothed the splits in my dough.
Make our Fresh Cherry Pie.
Addition: Distilled White Vinegar
White vinegar is commonly called for in pie dough recipes, but it didn’t prove to be the cure-all I was expecting.
While some bakers may claim that vinegar tenderizes the crust by inhibiting gluten formation, the claim hasn’t been entirely proven. In fact, according to Serious Eats, mildly acidic environments actually improve the formation of gluten, making the dough tougher instead of more tender. It would take a whole lot more vinegar than a couple of teaspoons to change the pH enough to tenderize the dough.
That being said, some pie gurus still use vinegar regardless, just for the hint of tangy flavor. The splash of vinegar may also prevent the dough from oxidizing after a few days in the fridge. For me, the flavor wasn’t strong enough to detect, and I didn’t notice a significant difference in the tenderness of the dough, one way or the other.
Which brings me to the final verdict: no change in the dough.
If you wish to test out this method yourself, try adding 1½ teaspoons of vinegar to the dough mixture at the time when you’re adding cold water. You can use any vinegar you prefer (like apple cider or red wine) or lemon juice for a hint of flavoring.
Make our Perfect Strawberry Pie.
On the other hand, the vodka dough surpassed my expectations.
Vodka adds moisture to the dough, but it doesn’t promote the formation of gluten as much as water does. 80 proof vodka is 60% water and 40% alcohol, so only about half of the vodka is working to form those structural gluten bonds, while the other half is acting purely as moistening agent.
As the pie bakes, most of the alcohol cooks off and dries out of the crust, leaving you with a light, flakey crust (and no offensive flavoring). The alcohol evaporates even better than water, so hypothetically, you are always better off using an alcohol/water combination rather than water alone.
Making the vodka dough, I noticed it also had much more give when it was worked and required less effort to roll. The lattice strips also held together well rather than breaking apart in the middle. Overall, I’d declare this dough a winner.
To make a vodka dough, replace half of the water called for with 80 proof vodka in a measuring cup, and chill the mixture to keep it ice cold until using. Be careful not to saturate the dough in too much liquid, because that will require you to restart it.
If you don’t have vodka on hand or you prefer baking with other spirits, you can sub in any 80 proof liquor for similar results. Chances are, you won’t be able to distinguish the flavor in the finished pie.
Make our Lattice-Topped Blueberry Pie.