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
Directions: 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.
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