Working on Pie Crust

Last week on our weekly outing to the grocery store, there was a nice surprise.  The store had a bumper crop of vine ripe tomatoes, from South Carolina growers, and on sale for 98 cents a pound.  They had a divine tomato aroma, and I bought four pounds with a Tomato Pie and perhaps some Dried Tomatoes for pizza in mind. I cleaned and sliced enough for a pie, layered them in paper towels and refrigerated them overnight.  The next day, I went to the freezer only to discover that the box I thought was a pre-made pie crust was something else.  So, now what?  I was not going back out again for at least a week.  I thought briefly about doing the tomato pie crustless, but quickly decided it would fall apart too much without one. The only thing to do was to make a pie crust from scratch.  I’ve not had the best of luck doing this in the past, but I had watched a cooking show on it last year sometime that mentioned using vodka instead of some of the water in the recipe to make a nicer flakier crust.  Now was the time to try that.

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I got out my America’s Test Kitchen cookbook, and looked it up.  Since vodka is only 60% water, you get the ingredients moistened without the development of gluten which makes a crust tough.  It is water interacting with the flour that makes gluten.  All the alcohol will bake off in cooking, so your final crust doesn’t contain alcohol, nor any hint of a vodka taste.  The second great idea on this recipe was to grate the butter.  This was fast and easy with a well chilled stick, but would be even easier if you freeze the butter for about 30 minutes.  Of course, chilling the vodka and the shortening will help too.  The colder your ingredients, the more tender the crust will be.

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Cut the butter and shortening into the dry ingredients with a two knives, then add the liquids and mash together with a spatula.

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Make a disc of the dough and chill at least an hour.

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Roll out and put in your pie plate.  My hands were very messy as you need a lot of flour to roll out this very wet dough, so I didn’t get a photo of that step.  I filled the crust with my tomatoes that had drained overnight, and the rest of those ingredients.

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I didn’t prebake this crust, although I could have.  The filling was very dry as the tomatoes were well cleaned and drained, so I didn’t feel like I needed to.

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Yum, just look at how flaky this came out.

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The recipe came out perfect, no water in the bottom from the tomatoes, and a perfect flaky and delicious crust.  My Sweet Babboo said it was delicious!

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Flakiest Pie Crust Ever
Adapted from America’s Test Kitchen

1-1/4 cups (12 1/2 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour, plus extra
1/2 teaspoon table salt
1 tablespoons sugar
5 tablespoons cold unsalted butter
3 tablespoons vegetable shortening
3 tablespoons vodka
3 tablespoons ice cold water

Mix flour, salt, and sugar in bowl until combined. Grate the butter into the dry ingredients and add shortening in small pieces, cutting with two knives until well combined and mixture resembles coarse crumbs.  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. Flatten into 4-inch disk. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 45 minutes or up to 2 days.  The dough will be more moist and sticky than you are used to seeing, so use copious amounts of flour on the board and on your pin to roll it out.  Move the disc after every roll, turning it as you go not only to roll evenly, but also to ensure it is not sticking to the surface.  Lift carefully, using the rolling pin to move it, and transfer to your pie plate.  Continue with filling as you like and baking according to the recipe you are using.

Download a pdf with both recipes – Carole’s Tomato Pie With Vodka Crust

Just look at this slice, the crust is so flaky it is falling apart at the back edge!

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The best part, it was still flaky the next day, and the day after that.  Three days is all it took for both of us to eat the entire pie.

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Are you using your staycation to master a new technique?  Have you ever made pie crust with this method?

38 thoughts on “Working on Pie Crust

  1. kattails

    Looks and sounds positively delicious! I use vinegar in my pie crusts and they are super flaky. As I don’t have any vodka on hand I’ll just go ahead with my usual crust. Come to think of it I don’t have srirachi on hand either….would regular Pete’s Hot Sauce work? I just bought some red and yellow tomatoes from “down south” as well and as everything else needed is in the pantry I think I’ll be making this for tomorrow. As far as challenging myself during this shelter-in-place time, I am cleaning, organizing and purging “stuff” more, but also have been spending more time on long-forgotten passions like cross-stitch and redwork embroidery. It’s been kind of relaxing and a bit nostalgic to return to things I put aside years ago in order to quilt and sew. Blessings…stay well, Carole. Keep posting….I always enjoy them so very much.

  2. Darci Marshall

    Yum! I can’t wait to try this recipe! I haven’t seen any good tomatoes yet, but maybe this weekend I can try this out. Nothing better than a good tomato!

  3. jesusnowand4

    I took advantage of Craftsys free streaming last month and watched several cooking classes. I learned how to braise meats and we have loved the meats/roasts from that class! I also learned how to cook steaks. I have cooked steaks many times before, but I feel like I understand a whole lot more now! Yummy!!! I’m going to have to diet after this shutdown! LOL!!!

  4. I have that issue with the recipe, just haven’t tried it. Now I need to put it on my list. I’m not a pie maker, because I can never get the crust to work. If this quarantine has done anything, it sure has amped up the baking fun!

  5. I have prepared the ingredients for a turkey pot pie and safely stored them in the freezer since I did not have any pie crust (sound familiar). We had an early Thanksgiving this year with lots of home time and looking for alternate events. Now you have given me the courage to try the pie crust as well. Thanks.

  6. Nancy Bekedam

    That looks absolutely mouthwatering! I can’t say I’ve tried that method of pie crust. We always use the oil recipe from Better Homes & Gardens and roll it out between wax paper. Thanks for sharing your new ideas, Carole!!!

  7. I made turkey pot pie just last week! Girl #2 has a thing about butter pie crusts, but I haven’t liked them. This butter/shortening combo might be the compromise! I have had pretty good success with pie crusts once I started rolling them out between wax paper. I am still not happy with my edges, but they have improved now that I’m home and make more dinner pies!

  8. I have used that recipe before, but have used my grandmother’s recipe most of my life. That one always turns out the flakiest and uses lard and vinegar.

  9. Brenda @ Songbird Designs

    Thanks, Carole! It’s been years since I tried making a pie crust, but this seems doable and yours turned out so well! I love tomatoes, though Thing #1 and I are about the only ones in my whole family that do! I may try this without the crust for me since the ingredients are keto friendly! DH does the grocery shopping so I may have to wait until we can all get out and go to the farmer’s market and get some wonderful fresh tomatoes!

    1. jesusnowand4

      I follow the keto diet and found a recipe for keto pie crust. Carole’s tomato pie has become a go to for me! I love it!!!

  10. Ruth Jones

    What a great post Carole. I struggle with pie crust and am usually not satisfied with the final result, I will definitely give this a try. Thank you!

  11. Mary Stori

    Look very good…..For someone who enjoys cooking as much as I do I can say I’m getting a little weary….only because there isn’t another choice. If there was I probably wouldn’t take advantage of it anyway…..just being ornery this morning. Or perhaps because I just spent over an hour + of prep. for Boeuf Bourguignon……time I’ll actually be happy I spent tomorrow!

  12. Julie

    I once made a pie crust that gave new meaning to the term ‘pie shell’. It was hard as a rock; we poured out the blueberry filling & ate it straight. The brand of low fat margarine I had on hand was more suitable for making cardboard.

  13. Keysha

    I love, love, love America’s Test Kitchen. I have wanted to try their pie crust recipe that calls for vodka, but I have been waiting for peach season to do so.

  14. Carolyn K.

    I have used a vodka pie dough recipe ever since the 1st time I saw it made on the show. That recipe was for a double pie crust so I got out my card to compare it with the one you used. Here is a list of the changes:
    1. Use a food processor with a blade.
    2. 2 cups of cold flour
    3. 1 cup cold butter cut in small pieces then chilled in freezer for 10 mins.
    4. Sugar & salt same amounts
    Pulse until mix resembles course cornmeal
    In small chilled bowl, whisk 1/4 c cold water, 1/4 ice cold vodka, 1 tsp lemon juice
    Slowly add to flour mix pulsing until dough comes together.
    Work dough on cold surface away from hot cooking area
    (Rest of recipe the same.)
    I use this recipe all the time now & smile with the results. Hope this helps. I do rinse my hands in cold water before taking dough out of processor and out of frig before rolling it.)

  15. Ingrid

    Like Carolyn K, I use the food processor…it does the cutting in of the butter in a jiffy. Ive been using Martha Stewart’s recipe for pie dough for many years but will DEFINATELY try this as the vodka has me curious! I’m able to get locally grown tomatoes so that’s even more reason to give this a go. Once again, Thankyou for your inspiration.

  16. Sharon Schipper

    I have a recipe that uses vinegar, great for my quiche recipes. You’ve made me hungry and I’ve never done a tomato pie. I love friend green tomatoes and I’ve seen a green tomato pie recipe in the Southern Living Cookbooks, but it was sweet. Hard to get green tomatoes here unless we grow our own, and the growing season is tough for tomatoes w/o a greenhouse.
    PS Alton says LARD, good clean commercial lard, is the go to for pie crusts and biscuits! I confess I haven’t done that yet, but I betcha the flavor comes closest to our grandmothers’ recipes! As the child of a southern mom, took me years to eat veggies w/o bacon grease…

  17. Catherine

    The tomato pie looks delicious! I’m not much of a cook, I mostly live on simple food. What I’m doing new is practicing piecing and quilting, and working on accuracy. I’m using this time to make small quilts and practice skills. Yesterday I put a border and binding on a small quilt First I used your tutorial to properly measure the borders. That was easy and you were correct, they were nice and flat. Then I used your tutorial to add the binding. I actually got up and looked at the pictures each time I got close to a corner. three of the four corners are perfect! I had a really hard time with one corner, but that’s okay, Still learning. Then I joined the two pieces of binding as you show. The first time they didn’t line up so I picked out the stitches and did it again. I was happy with attempt number two. So this little project is almost finished and will go to my sister. Thanks for all the great pictures and the time you put into you tutorials and blog.

  18. Carolyn K.

    I thought that might be the case. I guess, because they stressed the business of COLD you could put dough in frig prior to shaping it, it might help. I agree that working the dough is a problem but you seemed to have such a difficult time, anything you can do to keep it cold might help. By the way when I saw the picture with the handheld grater I had to laugh. I found myself in the same position on Monday when my husband asked for carrot, apple, zucchini muffins AND a carrot cake for his birthday. I didn’t have my processor here so there I was for well over an hour grating every thing on the same little hand grater. On my next trip to Meijer’s, I found a four cup Cuisinart processor for $40. Now I have 2, all is right again & hubby will not be sent to garage to sleep any time soon. Does that tell you how I am surviving sheltering in place!!! UG 😡

    1. Carolyn K.

      You are such a trooper! Guess that is why I continue to follow you as I can not quilt and usually don’t even understand the directions. Your interests are so wide and varied that I can always find something to enjoy reading. By the way, I just read in the Cook’s Science of Good Cooking that any 80% alcohol beverage can be used in the pie crust and yes, they did do taste tests with several. Please stay healthy and keep on posting.
      Carolyn K.

  19. Becky Turner

    I just tell people that I have “bad pie crust Karma” .
    Love Cooks Illustrated and use them often…

  20. Phyllis Smith

    Hello Carole, Well, today is a terrific cool day here, great for a baking day. Your tomato pie sounds terrific and I can’t wait to make it, Made a tomato pie a while back but it is nothing like your, Love the sound of cheeses in it . Have been wanting to make a green tomato and beef tomato pie recipe I found when I got some recipes off the internet. I’ve found out that a great way to clean the tomatoes is to use a grapefruit spoon, worked great for me. Have a lot of projects to work onthis weekend so I should stay out of trouble. Phyllis

  21. stephzw

    Thank you for this yummy recipe. You are absolutely amazing. This is the best pie crust ever, I won’t let this one get away.

  22. Brenda Ackerman

    Hello Carole, First, I have to say that I was filled with many laughs while reading the comments today…so thank you to everyone who commented and shared a bit of their experiences and even their own recipes! Carole, I have not been, per say, allowed to make a pie crust in…well it has been a very long time. It is because my pie crusts completely fall apart or are as hard as a cement side walk (no joking). Yet, they always do have a great taste that is because they are either one or the other of my Grandmothers Recipes. I just can not remember from one pie making session to the next pie making session the steps that create that perfect crust! LOL. So, yes, when it is time for pies my family starts laughing and teasing asking who made the pie crust and who made the filling!
    I will definitely be sharing your pie crust recipe with my Husband and with his oldest daughter. She is my recipe experimenter and loves to try new recipes and also completely create her own, also! Well, off I go to do the needed housework before I go and begin pulling a massive jungle of weeds throughout all of my flower beds. I do believe it has finally decided to allow Spring to begin, we are expected to be in the mid 70’s for at least the next 5 days! YIPPPEEE!! I hope that you have a marvelous day also!

  23. Joan Sheppard

    Marshall Fields was a store in Chicago like Macy’s but better – but they had the very best carrot cake and I can’t find the recipe but it had 3 different kinds of raisins and was brown so probably dark brown sugar. But I also read that rolling dough on a marble surface helps because it absorbs the heat from the dough and the butter/lard stay cooler and don’t melt. (Thank you Chris Kimball.)
    Did you say what kind of tomatoes? Sweet, Roma? On my way to the store now before the weekend rush (does that even exist?) and this looks perfect for tomorrow’s dinner. Ummmmmmm

  24. Oh yum, I’ll be over for a slice 🙂 I am doing some creative cooking but nothing like that, a peach dump cake is in the oven right now…

  25. Sandra B

    This looks amazing!
    As we get into the warmer weather of late spring/summer and fresh locally grown produce is more abundant, I am always looking for new recipes to try.
    I will definitely give this one a try….thanks so much for sharing!

  26. Pie crust works for me for apple pie using the tried and true Better Homes & Gardens cookbook. (Once a year for my son-in-law at Thanksgiving!) Tomato pie looks delicious ! I know you have worked hard to master the method and it looks like it worked! I saw a video recently from a chef about cooking fish and getting the moisture off the fish so the batter sticks and tried his method and it worked!

  27. Susan Salo

    Oh I am eager to try this piecrust recipe! I have been so unhappy since Crisco changed their formulation of shortening. Maybe this will work better!

  28. thedarlingdogwood

    Yum! I have tried pie crust and have not had good success. My dad makes the pie crust. When he lived in Charlotte, our arrangement was that he made the crust, I made the pie. Now I only get real pie crust when he visits.

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