…with a surprising crust. No, the surprise is not the vodka — y’all have all heard about the vodka crust trick by now.

Adding too much water to pie dough makes it tough, whereas adding too little results in a dry, crumbly mess (that was supposed to be a pie pocket. Ahem). Adding vodka and water to your pie dough instead of just water allows you to incorporate more liquid, making your dough workable without making it tough. The alcohol vaporizes while cooking so the final pie doesn’t taste like vodka. This was my first trial of this nice little trick, but it’s old news for many of you.

This was also, incidentally, the first time I’d ever encountered vodka first hand (being a teetotaler). I just want to know why someone would drink something that smells exactly like rubbing alcohol? I guess taste is really not the point? Please fill me in.

Anyway, vodka’s not the surprise. The surprise is how seriously I debated throwing this pie over my balcony, pie plate and all. It’s not because the pie wasn’t delicious . . . because WOW, it was! It’s a gorgeous flaky, tender crust with a thick filling full of plump, juicy berries. In fact, it’s not because of the finished pie at all. It’s because of what America’s Test Kitchen ironically calls their foolproof pie dough.

Ohhh this dough was a sticky, frustrating mess until I finally got it shoved into the oven with a huff! Despite the utter gobs of flour strewn all over my counter, my cute apron, my cute dog, and my cute boyfriend, the dough stuck to everything it could get its doughy little tentacles on. Even more fun, it tore apart rebelliously whenever moved. If you’re wondering why this pie looks like it got in a fight with an unruly pastry cutter . . . that’s why.

My attempts to crimp the edges resulted in dough-covered fingers and one ragged pie. Let’s just say this kitchen disaster was not weathered gracefully. There may have been some apron throwing. At least I didn’t chuck the pie into the woods behind my apartment after struggling for the umpteenth time trying to roll out the dough, right? Honestly, if it hadn’t been Mike’s mom’s pie plate . . . who knows what could’ve happened!

After eyeing the evil pie dough and the trash can a few times, I finally decided to buckle down and see my recipe through to the end. I rechilled, refloured, griped about America’s Test Kitchen, rechilled again, cried, switched to rolling on parchment, yelled a little, switched back to flour . . . and held my breath every time I moved that pie dough anywhere.

I’m glad I stuck it out. The crust, as I mentioned, is delicious and the perfect texture. I may switch back to my standard lard/butter vodkaless crust next time to avoid a kitchenpocalypse and protect my typically reasonable blood pressure, but it was very good. And let me tell you about these BLUEBERRIES!!

One of the reasons this pie is beautiful to me despite its decidedly Quasimodo-esque appearance is because it has the perfect consistency, bright flavor, and is full of plump, rich berries! ATK, redeeming themselves for now, formulated a recipe for blueberry pie filling thickened with tapioca and a grated apple, which releases its pectin upon being cooked. No runny filling or smushed berries here — just the perfect blueberry pie. It even has a tangy complexity to the blueberry flavor imparted by Ms. Granny Smith. I was such a fan of every bite I took.

So perfect, in fact, that I tried the same nifty apple trick with another sort of pie. A pie that actually turned out pretty and even tastier than this one — but you’ll have to wait until the next post to hear more! For now, here are some tips on managing this beastly dough (that, in all fairness, many cooks on the interwebs apparently loved working with. Go figure):

-Let it chill for a long time. At least overnight, but two days might be even better.
-Don’t be timid about flouring your surface and rolling pins generously. That’s the point of having a wet dough, and you’re gonna need it.
-Rechill any time you (or your dough) are losing your cool.
-Imagine the final product. While struggling with my dough, I was already drafting a post in my head telling you about how the final pie wasn’t worth the trouble, but truthfully . . . it was.

What’s your favorite pie crust trick? Anyone ever actually chucked their dough into the garbage? Tell me your pie secrets!

Best Blueberry Pie with Foolproof Pie Dough

Recipe by: America’s Test Kitchen
Yields: one 9-in, double-crust pie

Crust Ingredients:
2 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour (12 1/2 ounces)
1 teaspoon table salt
2 tablespoons sugar
12 tablespoons cold unsalted butter (1 1/2 sticks), cut into 1/4-inch slices
1/2 cup chilled solid vegetable shortening, cut into 4 pieces (I use butter flavor)
1/4 cup vodka, cold
1/4 cup cold water
1 large egg, lightly beaten with 1 teaspoon water

Blueberry Filling Ingredients:
6 cups fresh blueberries (about 30 ounces)*
1 Granny Smith apple, peeled and grated on large holes of box grater
2 teaspoons grated zest and 2 teaspoons juice from 1 lemon
3/4 cup sugar (5 1/4 ounces)
2 tablespoons quick-cooking tapioca, ground*
Pinch table salt
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 1/4-inch pieces

1. For The Pie Dough: Process 1 1/2 cups flour, salt, and sugar in food processor until combined, about two 1-second pulses. Add butter and shortening and process until homogenous dough just starts to collect in uneven clumps, about 15 seconds; dough will resemble cottage cheese curds and there should be no uncoated flour. Scrape bowl with rubber spatula and redistribute dough evenly around processor blade. Add remaining cup flour and pulse until mixture is evenly distributed around bowl and mass of dough has been broken up, 4 to 6 quick pulses. Empty mixture into medium bowl.

2. Sprinkle vodka and water over mixture. With rubber spatula, use folding motion to mix, pressing down on dough until dough is slightly tacky and sticks together. Divide dough into 2 even balls and flatten each into 4-inch disk. Wrap each in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 45 minutes or up to 2 days.

3. Remove 1 disk of dough from refrigerator and roll out on generously floured (up to 1/4 cup) work surface to 12-inch circle, about 1/8 inch thick. Roll dough loosely around rolling pin and unroll into pie plate, leaving at least 1-inch overhang on each side. Working around circumference, ease dough into plate by gently lifting edge of dough with one hand while pressing into plate bottom with other hand. Leave dough that overhangs plate in place; refrigerate while preparing filling until dough is firm, about 30 minutes.

4. For The Filling: Adjust oven rack to lowest position, place rimmed baking sheet on oven rack, and heat oven to 400 degrees. Place 3 cups berries in medium saucepan and set over medium heat. Using potato masher, mash berries several times to release juices. Continue to cook, stirring frequently and mashing occasionally, until about half of berries have broken down and mixture is thickened and reduced to 1 1/2 cups, about 8 minutes. Let cool slightly.

5. Place grated apple in clean kitchen towel and wring dry. Transfer apple to large bowl. Add cooked berries, remaining 3 cups uncooked berries, lemon zest, juice, sugar, tapioca, and salt; toss to combine. Transfer mixture to dough-lined pie plate and scatter butter pieces over filling.

6. Roll out second disk of dough on generously floured (up to 1/4 cup) work surface to 11-inch circle, about 1/8 inch thick. Using 1 1/4-inch round biscuit cutter, cut round from center of dough. Cut another 6 rounds from dough, 1 1/2 inches from edge of center hole and equally spaced around center hole. Roll dough loosely around rolling pin and unroll over pie, leaving at least 1/2-inch overhang on each side.

7. Using kitchen shears, trim bottom layer of overhanging dough, leaving 1/2-inch overhang. Fold dough under itself so that edge of fold is flush with outer rim of pie plate. Flute edges using thumb and forefinger or press with tines of fork to seal. Brush top and edges of pie with egg mixture. If dough is very soft, chill in freezer for 10 minutes.

8. Place pie on heated baking sheet and bake 30 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees and continue to bake until juices bubble and crust is deep golden brown, 30 to 40 minutes longer. Transfer pie to wire rack; cool to room temperature, at least 4 hours. Cut into wedges and serve.

*This recipe was developed using fresh blueberries, but unthawed frozen blueberries (our favorite brands are Wyman’s and Cascadian Farm) will work as well. In step 4, cook half the frozen berries over medium-high heat, without mashing, until reduced to 1 1/4 cups, 12 to 15 minutes. Grind the tapioca to a powder in a spice grinder or mini food processor. If using pearl tapioca, reduce the amount to 5 teaspoons. Vodka is essential to the texture of the crust and imparts no flavor; do not substitute.

Want a slice?

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22 Comments on Fresh Blueberry Pie

  1. Amelia
    March 7, 2010 at 6:24 pm (12 years ago)

    So. Christmas. Pumpkin pie. I pulled out my Best Recipe cookbook (the first edition) and tried to make pie crust from it. (Maybe flour would have worked better? I kid, I kid…) Oh my dear G-d in heaven, what was I thinking??? It was an (almost) unmitigated disaster. Almost, in that, in the end, the crust held the filling. That’s all it did; it didn’t taste good or anything like that. :p

    It’s the same folks who are in charge of America’s Test Kitchen, Cook’s Illustrated, the Best Recipe cookbooks, Cook’s Country, etc. I respect them, but they’re not infallible.

    • Julie
      March 7, 2010 at 10:45 pm (12 years ago)

      You know what? Holding the filling = success in my book! πŸ™‚

  2. Kat
    March 7, 2010 at 10:19 pm (12 years ago)

    First Thanksgiving after we were married…
    three dinners to go to…
    each asked me to bring pies…
    ended up on the apartment’s kitchen floor bawling my head off.

    • Julie
      March 7, 2010 at 10:46 pm (12 years ago)

      Oh my goodness, Kat, I feel ya! I was asked to bring over two cream pies to the parents’ house this past Thanksgiving. I brought over two cream soups in pie crusts. Oops.

  3. Wendy
    March 8, 2010 at 9:26 am (12 years ago)

    That looks so yummy! My mom makes the best pie crust. Her tip – practice, practice, practice. She says that is the best way to make it good. She makes hers by hand, but I do use a processor to make mine, but think I have a couple of years of practice to go before mine gets like hers!

  4. Kim
    March 8, 2010 at 11:19 am (12 years ago)

    All I have to say is I’ve never been happy with a pie crust until I got The Pie and Pastry Bible by Rose Beranbaum. She has awesome little tips and tricks for putting together the perfect dough without ever having flour touch your counter. I highly recommend this book if you haven’t already read through it πŸ™‚ And despite all your trouble…the pie looks phenomenal!

  5. Karly
    March 8, 2010 at 2:31 pm (12 years ago)

    That pie looks delicious. And I’m ashamed to say that my favorite pie crust trick involves opening a box of Pillsbury pie crust.

  6. Amy I.
    March 8, 2010 at 6:29 pm (12 years ago)

    I can totally relate to your pie crust frustrations! So glad that it worked out in the end and that you didn’t wind up chucking it… looks mouthwatering to me!

  7. Barbara
    March 8, 2010 at 7:44 pm (12 years ago)

    I love this filling recipe too! I use to be intimidated making pies until I watched Martha Stewart roll out a pie crust between sheets of plastic wrap. The rolling pin doesn’t stick to the crust and after it’s rolled out you just take the top sheet of plastic wrap off, flip it over into the pie tin, fit it in the tin and peel the top layer off. Here’s my favorite crust receip with my tips. http://www.barbarabakes.com/2008/03/pi-day-jennifers-favorite-fresh.html

  8. Megan
    March 8, 2010 at 10:56 pm (12 years ago)

    I didn’t have the easiest time with that foolproof pie dough either — the chilling is definitely essential. I found a nice pie dough recipe in The Art & Soul of Baking.

    As far as vodka… I’d much rather have gin (actually, I’d rather have wine than anything else)… but if you have to have vodka, go with Grey Goose, which doesn’t taste or smell like rubbing alcohol.

    It’s a beautiful pie!

  9. Rach
    March 9, 2010 at 12:41 pm (12 years ago)

    Your pie looks scrumptious! It’s making me hungry!
    For my pie crust, I always do it by hand. I use real butter, cold, and cut it into the flour. When you do it by hand you can’t over work it. Then you roll it out, sandwich it between wax paper or parchment paper (sprinkled with flour), once rolled out, take off one side of the paper and flip it into your pie pan. My mom makes the very best pie crust and this is how she taught me to do it. Everyone complements her on her crust. She’s Scottish, and knows pie! πŸ™‚
    Happy Baking Julie!

  10. Lauren
    March 10, 2010 at 1:16 am (12 years ago)

    I had never heard of the vodka trick. Might be something to try though.

    This pie looks sensational! I love blueberries =D.

  11. Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella
    March 10, 2010 at 6:40 am (12 years ago)

    Julie! I so feel your frustration! It looks marvellous though and the filling so lusciously jellied too (nothing worse than runny filling is there?). My secret to pie dough? I’m no expert but resting the dough as much as possible.

  12. betty
    March 10, 2010 at 8:35 pm (12 years ago)

    wow – your pie still looks amazing! & worth the mess you left in the kitchen because of it :O)

  13. Marcellina
    March 11, 2010 at 10:36 pm (12 years ago)

    Mmmm, my mouth is watering!!! I would love a slice of that pie. The blueberry filling is gorgeous!

  14. Sarah
    July 3, 2011 at 9:12 pm (10 years ago)

    One trick with pie crust is to roll it out between sheets of plastic wrap. It takes a while and needs to be frozen (not refrigerated) intermittently, but it makes pie-making EASIER. I made this pie several weeks ago and had to force myself to stop snacking on it later-it’s DELICIOUS.
    Thanks for posting this one online!!! Your pics make my mouth water:)

    • Julie @ Willow Bird Baking
      July 3, 2011 at 9:31 pm (10 years ago)

      Hi Sarah! I usually roll out between sheets of parchment or wax paper — is plastic wrap easier? I love this pie too! Thanks πŸ™‚

  15. David
    June 2, 2012 at 7:51 pm (9 years ago)

    I made this pie a couple of days ago…best pie EVER. ( I wish I could make the font HUGE for EVER since this stuff was SOOOO GOOOOOD!!!!!!!!)
    I did not have the problems you had with the crust. After cleaning the counter and wiping it down with a wet paper towel, I dried it as well as I could. Then I poured about 1/3 cup of flour on the counter and spread it around forming about a 12 to 14 inch circle of flour. I rubbed it into the counter (mine is cheap Formica) to absorb all of the water that remained from cleaning it. Then I wiped the flour off of the counter and into the trash can with its load of residual moisture along for the ride.
    Now I had a clean, totally desert-dry counter that was still dusted with flour. I poured maybe another 1/2 cup of flour on top of that and again spread it to about 12 inches in a circle. There was a pretty thick layer of flour down now to prevent the dough from ever actually contacting the counter directly. I had only chilled the dough 45 minutes in the fridge. I placed the disk of dough on the flour and picked up some of the flour on the counter with my hands and rubbed it into the top of the disk pretty firmly. Then I flipped it over and did the other side. There was no way my dough was gonna stick! I held the dough up and smoothed the flour under it in a uniform layer, placed the dough into the center and began rolling it out with a wooden roller. It will crack a bit as you roll it, but you can kind of pinch the cracks back together and roll over it again to smooth them out as you go. The dough was a bit thicker than I what I am used to when it was rolled out. When it was the right size, I just rolled it around the rolling pin and laid it into the pie plate (I used a deep dish…there is a lot of filling so I was glad I did.)
    For the top crust, I used a small star shaped cookie cutter instead of circles. I made the recipe once before with circles, but it was not really very special compared to the stars. Before I cut them out, I lifted the entire top crust from the counter and dusted some flour under it just to be on the safe side. Then I punched out the stars. After brushing the top with the egg mixture, I took the stars that were punched out and placed them on top of the crust. Then I brushed more egg wash on top of the stars, and they glued down nicely.
    I know this is a lot to write just about rolling out the dough, but if folks are thinking about throwing out the pie or even using another dough recipe, I beg you, please don’t!!! You can make this crust without any trouble and in only minutes if you use the proper techniques. Flour is practically free…waste some if you have to, but don’t let the dough stick. It is a delicate, beautiful, soft dough. Baby it, and you will be rewarded with a pie that will make people absolutely marvel. I can text or email a photo of my finished pie if you like, and I will gladly answer any questions. I just want everyone to try it. daveplem at gmail dot com.
    One other suggestion: Make it in the evening, and eat it for breakfast the next morning. Yum!!!

  16. ChristineK
    November 16, 2012 at 6:03 pm (9 years ago)

    I used to avoid making pies because the crust was always too dry, or shrank, or tasted like paper. Then I tried the ATK vodka recipe. My husband objected at first — “my grandma made great pies and she never used vodka in her pie crust” — but after I gave him the choice of accepting vodka in my pie crust or no blueberry pie (and an unsubtle hint that I am a much better cook with technique as well as making tasty food for our family), he retreated to his woodworking studio in the basement, and I made the vodka pie crust.

    I freeze the butter and crisco in sandwich bags, sliced as directed in the ATK recipe (one recipe of single crust per bag) , then cut the frozen mass of butter and crisco into bits before adding it to the flour in the food processor. I also add a bit more sugar to the dough for dessert pies (about 1-1/2 tablepoons) and 2 pinches of salt since my butter is salted (unsalted butter is more expensive than salted at Cosco). I shape the dough into a round disc about 4″ thick, wrap tightly with plastic wrap and place in a ziploc sandwich bag, and chill 15-20 min., depending on how warm my kitchen is.

    As David describes, I generously flour my silicone rolling mat and continuously turn and flip the dough, flouring it on both sides until it doesn’t stick, rolling from the center out, to make a circle. I pinch any cracks in the edges closed, and pound the edges with the side of my rolling pin to make even edges so that there aren’t any thin spots where the cracks were. I roll the dough around my rolling pin and transfer it to the pie plate. It’s difficult for me to cut the edges to a 1/2″ overhang, etc., because my Pyrex pie plate has thick handles that get in the way of the overhang, so I just wing it, cut as even an edge as I can, and use the trimmings from the handles to patch thin spots on the bottom and to make the outer edges of the crust more even.

    After covering with plastic wrap and chilling the crust for 10 minutes, I fold the crust edges over to make an edge to crimp. Maida Heatter says in her Book of Great Desserts that it’s easier to fold the dough over rather than fussing with it, trying to fold the dough under. You’re making an edge to crimp and it’s better to do it the easy way so that the dough doesn’t get too warm and to prevent uneceassary frustration!

    For good measure, I freeze the crimped crust for 10 minutes, then fill it and bake. If there’s a top crust, I brush the crust with milk and sprinkle with coarse sugar.

    Voila! A delectable slightly sweet flaky crust, beautifully browned sparkling pie! The 3 of us, my husband, 18-year-old bodybuilder son, and me, polish off my pies in 2 or 3 days! Now I make at least 7 or 8 pies a year–fresh strawberry, sweet cherry, blueberry, Italian plum, 2 types of apple, pumpkin, and cranberry-sour cream. I’m always looking for more recipes, like the marshmallow-blueberry and plum frangipane.


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