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Darcie B

Liquor in pie crust

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The most recent issue of Cook's Illustrated has an article on pie crusts. In it they suggest that using vodka to replace some of the water in a pie crust limits gluten formation and therefore helps make a flaky crust that is also tender. They also state that the alcohol will burn off during baking.

Has anyone tried this before?

I don't think that all the alcohol will evaporate. However, vodka's flavor is easily masked so it probably won't be detectable. This has got me thinking, though, of doing a bourbon pie crust to go with pumpkin, apple or pecan pies. Sounds like an experiment to me! Or maybe even a lemon flavored vodka to do a lemon meringue pie crust.

Thoughts?

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The idea of putting bourbon in apple pie crust sounds like a lot of fun to me! The original piece sounds like a logical extrapolation on Heston Blumenthal's technique of using vodka in the batter for fish and chips (see here).


Matthew Kayahara

Kayahara.ca

@mtkayahara

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Along these lines, a German professor and I frequently discuss Austrian cuisine. (She tells me about it, and I go home and try it.) And she tells me that in an Austrian fried doughnut sort of thing (don't remember the proper name in German, but they're traditionally eaten during Carnival) you always include a bit of spirits in the dough. She says you do so because it keeps them from turning out greasy.

As best as I can figure, what's happening is that the alcohol has a lower boiling point than water. This means that when you put the dough into hot oil, the alcohol starts to boil off more quickly than just water would. And as long as vaporized alcohol (or other liquid) is coming out, you won't get oil rushing in.

I don't know how alcohol would restrict gluten development, from a chemical point of view. (After all, if you're adding vodka, most of that is bottled at 80 to 100 proof—in other words, only 40 to 50% alcohol. The rest is water. Which means that you really aren't adding much alcohol.

To me, this calls for an experiment: identical batches of pie crust dough, one with water and the other with vodka. I think I'd be tempted to just make the doughs, roll them out, and bake them naked.

I guess this means I should go to the PO and pick up the mail from our box, which should include my copy of this issue?

MelissaH


MelissaH

Oswego, NY

Chemist, writer, hired gun

Say this five times fast: "A big blue bucket of blue blueberries."

foodblog1 | kitchen reno | foodblog2

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I don't know how alcohol would restrict gluten development, from a chemical point of view. (After all, if you're adding vodka, most of that is bottled at 80 to 100 proof—in other words, only 40 to 50% alcohol. The rest is water. Which means that you really aren't adding much alcohol.

To me, this calls for an experiment: identical batches of pie crust dough, one with water and the other with vodka. I think I'd be tempted to just make the doughs, roll them out, and bake them naked.

I guess this means I should go to the PO and pick up the mail from our box, which should include my copy of this issue?

MelissaH

Here's what CI has to say about the science:

Pie dough gets its structure from gluten, long chains of protein that form when flour mixes with water. But too much gluten will make pie dough tough. That's why traditional pie doughs are so stingy with the water. I discovered that vodka lets you add more liquid (so the dough is easy to roll out) without toughening the crust. Why?

Eighty-proof vodka consists of 60 percent water and 40 percent ethanol. While gluten forms readily in water, it does not form in ethanol. Thus, my recipe, which contains 4 tablespoons each of cold water and vodka, gets the benefits of 8 tablespoons of liquid (supple, easy-to-roll dough) but actually has the equivalent of about 6 1/2 tablespoons of water-an amount that limits gluten formation and ensures tenderness. As for the alcohol? It vaporizes in the oven.

Edit to add: gfron, re: using Everclear - I wonder why they don't just use straight vodka instead of 1/2 vodka and 1/2 water, since there is quite a bit of water in the alcohol. Maybe it turns out too boozy? Certainly worth experimenting.


Edited by Darcie B (log)

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Edit to add: gfron, re: using Everclear - I wonder why they don't just use straight vodka instead of 1/2 vodka and 1/2 water, since there is quite a bit of water in the alcohol. Maybe it turns out too boozy? Certainly worth experimenting.

Aha. I'd missed the part in your original post where you said they used vodka to replace "some" (not all) of the water.

I agree with you that it's curious that they only use half vodka. And if CI really is as anal as they like to make themselves out to be, I'm amazed they didn't say more about the amount of alcohol to try. (Or did they? They don't seem to have the whole article available on line, and I don't have a hard copy in front of me yet.) I can't get Everclear here, but I think the general concept is definitely worth playing with.

MelissaH


MelissaH

Oswego, NY

Chemist, writer, hired gun

Say this five times fast: "A big blue bucket of blue blueberries."

foodblog1 | kitchen reno | foodblog2

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Sounds like using vodka in batter for fish and chips published last year by Heston Blumenthal in his TV series In Search of Perfection. I’ve not tried vodka in pie crust, but with batter it does give a crisper finish. The only issue is that it tends to make the fish go mushy – can’t imagine that would be a problem with a pie.

I can see that adding liquor would reduce the amount of gluten and help the crust to be less tough. I generally make up French style pastry (using warm butter to make a paste) and never have any problems in getting a very short crust. Otherwise I use ‘00’ Italian flour which has very low protein levels.

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Along these lines, a German professor and I frequently discuss Austrian cuisine. (She tells me about it, and I go home and try it.) And she tells me that in an Austrian fried doughnut sort of thing (don't remember the proper name in German, but they're traditionally eaten during Carnival) you always include a bit of spirits in the dough. She says you do so because it keeps them from turning out greasy.

...

Sidenote: The Austrian doughnuts are called, "Krapfen" or "Faschingkrapfen" (Fasching is the Austrian/German word for Lenten Carnival). The typical spirit added to the dough is rum; often Stroh's rum in Austria. These yeast risen doughnuts do have a distinctive flavor and a very nice feather-light texture but I've never made them without the rum for comparison. There's a nice recipe in Rick Rodger's Kaffehaus.


"Under the dusty almond trees, ... stalls were set up which sold banana liquor, rolls, blood puddings, chopped fried meat, meat pies, sausage, yucca breads, crullers, buns, corn breads, puff pastes, longanizas, tripes, coconut nougats, rum toddies, along with all sorts of trifles, gewgaws, trinkets, and knickknacks, and cockfights and lottery tickets."

-- Gabriel Garcia Marquez, 1962 "Big Mama's Funeral"

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Sidenote: The Austrian doughnuts are called, "Krapfen" or "Faschingkrapfen" (Fasching is the Austrian/German word for Lenten Carnival).

Thanks, ludja, for coming up with the name that I couldn't remember.

The only baking I've regularly done with rum is my mother's rum cake recipe, which consists of a doctored cake mix. There's never a problem with it turning out tough or heavy, but I suspect that's more a factor of the cake mix than the alcohol. Nonetheless, I'm intrigued by the possibilities of including alcohol in various baked goods, particularly WRT the identical recipes made with just water.

MelissaH


MelissaH

Oswego, NY

Chemist, writer, hired gun

Say this five times fast: "A big blue bucket of blue blueberries."

foodblog1 | kitchen reno | foodblog2

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It does make sense, but I don't know if I'd call it a breakthrough. Typically, to make a more tender pie crust many bakers simply use lower protein flour.

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The article makes the point that most piecrust recipes are stingy with the water so as to limit gluten development, but that not enough water makes the dough cracky and crumbly once cold. They decided to use vodka as part of the liquid because ethanol does not form gluten like water does, but gives you more liquid to make a dough that holds together. (So, 4 oz liquid but only 3 1/4 oz water.) When I read it, I was thinking along the lines of infused or flavored vodkas adding a kick to holiday pies -- say, orange vodka with a cranberry pie, or raspberry on raspberry.

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The article makes the point that most piecrust recipes are stingy with the water so as to limit gluten development, but that not enough water makes the dough cracky and crumbly once cold. They decided to use vodka as part of the liquid because ethanol does not form gluten like water does, but gives you more liquid to make a dough that holds together. (So, 4 oz liquid but only 3 1/4 oz water.) When I read it, I was thinking along the lines of infused or flavored vodkas adding a kick to holiday pies -- say, orange vodka with a cranberry pie, or raspberry on raspberry.

Which I think is a wonderful idea, especially if you can do so without adding a ton of extra sugar to the crust.

MelissaH


MelissaH

Oswego, NY

Chemist, writer, hired gun

Say this five times fast: "A big blue bucket of blue blueberries."

foodblog1 | kitchen reno | foodblog2

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Some people put vinegar in their pie crust.

I don't think I've ever done it, but this liquour thing is a definite maybe. :biggrin:

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I keep checking back here to see if any one of you has tried this out yet! Come on, gang! I'm dying to hear what kind of results you get!

I'd take it on but it is College Football Saturday and I'm too busy............

:biggrin:


kit

"I'm bringing pastry back"

Weebl

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Some people put vinegar in their pie crust.

I don't think I've ever done it, but this liquour thing is a definite maybe.  :biggrin:

My MIL puts vinegar in her pie crust, as well as an egg. She does it this way because it's how she learned from her mom and grandma. Despite the fact that she uses Crisco and not butter, her crusts always seem to turn out well.

My MIL's grandmother wouldn't ever have dreamed of using alcohol in anything. The family story goes that the only question she ever got wrong on a driver's license exam is the question about the legal limit for blood alcohol content. She refused to answer, because she'd never use alcohol and therefore the question didn't apply to her.

MelissaH


MelissaH

Oswego, NY

Chemist, writer, hired gun

Say this five times fast: "A big blue bucket of blue blueberries."

foodblog1 | kitchen reno | foodblog2

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Does anyone have an answer for what the vinegar is for? My mom always did that as well, as I recall. I'm planning on making a few small (4inch) pies this week and trying to decide whether I want to try this :raz:


Kate

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What I heard on the tv at the Pie Competition where my Cake-Buddy Valarie won in '06 with the classic cherry pie (you name dropper you) umm, she said she uses it for tenderness. Nothing exactly scientific, but dang, she won the overall.

The hooch is just exponentially more exciting than vinegar. But it sure worked for Valarie.

I only bake one pie a year if that. I gain weight breathing too deep near an open sugar bowl. :rolleyes: I'll be doing pie crust in November. I'll make extra & try the vinegar and the hooch and just regular. Probably need to make tarts huh, as in mini-pies. I'm sure someone will fill us in before that though.

On an aside, the bookstore thing (I'm launching a bookstore) is heating up

and there is a coffee shop element and an approved kitchen. :biggrin::raz::laugh::biggrin::raz:

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I think the vinegar is there as a kitchen-convenient and edible form of acid. Most vinegar is about 5% acetic acid in water, with a little bit of other compounds for color or flavor if it's anything but white vinegar.

As I understand it, acid inhibits gluten formation, and would therefore help prevent the dough from turning tough. If water's an issue, I wonder if a solid acid, such as cream of tartar, would have the same effect. I'm guessing you need at least a little bit of gluten formation or the dough would just fall apart completely, but what would happen if you used all vodka, and a bit of cream of tartar to make your pie crust?

MelissaH


MelissaH

Oswego, NY

Chemist, writer, hired gun

Say this five times fast: "A big blue bucket of blue blueberries."

foodblog1 | kitchen reno | foodblog2

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I think the vinegar is there as a kitchen-convenient and edible form of acid. Most vinegar is about 5% acetic acid in water, with a little bit of other compounds for color or flavor if it's anything but white vinegar.

As I understand it, acid inhibits gluten formation, and would therefore help prevent the dough from turning tough. If water's an issue, I wonder if a solid acid, such as cream of tartar, would have the same effect. I'm guessing you need at least a little bit of gluten formation or the dough would just fall apart completely, but what would happen if you used all vodka, and a bit of cream of tartar to make your pie crust?

MelissaH

Hi,

The use of vinegar in pie crust was addressed by J. Kenji Alt, who developed the concepts and authored of Cook's Illustrated's article, "Foolproof & Flaky Pie Dough".

Kenji Alt at October 2, 2007, 7:43 a.m. commented,

"As for using vinegar and lemon juice, the idea is that gluten formation is inhibited at lower pH values. But through testing and research, we found that this is not the case. In fact, between a pH of 7 (neutral) and 5 (slightly acidic), gluten formation is actually increased. It's only after you get below a pH of 5 that gluten formation is inhibited. Unfortunately, this would require adding almost 6 tablespoons of lemon juice (or vinegar, both with a pH around 2.3) to the pie crust, making it inedibly sour."

The article includes testing techniques to make a flaky dough and separately testing ingredients (alcohol) to make a tender dough.

Specific techniques to make a flaky dough.

Test #1: They tested the idea that flakiness resulted from pockets of fat melted and left a flaky texture. They processed a portion of the fat completely into the flour. The rest of the fat was frozen and grated to create those pockets of fat which melt, leaving gaps that create flaky layers. The crust included plenty of fat pockets but came out FLAKE-FREE.

Test #2: They tested the idea that flakiness resulted from pockets of flour that absorbed water and formed gluten. They fully processed 1 1/2 cups of flour with all of the fat to a unified paste. They added 1 cup of reserved flour and pulsed it to just enough to distribute is around the bowl. Finally they added water and rolled the dough. This dough baked up as flaky as could be, but was not very tender.

The tests shows that the chunks of fat do not create flakiness. The uncoated flour mixing with water and forming gluten guarantees a flaky crust.

Ingredients to make a tender dough.

The alcohol was added to reduce the amount of water, which makes a crust tough. The vodka is 60% water and 40% alcohol. The alcohol content adds liquid (which can not form glutens) to make the dough easy to handle, easy to roll without cracks, stick or tears. The volatile alcohol content cooks off during the baking. The resulting crust is very tender.

The result is a breakthrough in our understanding of making a flaky, tender crust.

Tim

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Ok, so I just tried the recipe today. This is the real deal guys, made the most amazing pie crust ever, and I didn't even do it right! :raz: Excuse the ugly pies, I was working really fast. Also, aren't those small pie plates the cutest? :biggrin:

gallery_54928_4907_42973.jpg

gallery_54928_4907_37109.jpg

I don't have a food processor, which means I couldn't do the blending-of-the-flour-and-fat step, so mine came out a little less flaky than it's supposed to, but it was perfectly tender and tasted amazing. :smile:


Edited by eskay (log)

Kate

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Oh glory those look good. Nothing is ugly about those pies.

So you used how much? Was it vodka? Was it flavored? Could you taste it?

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I used the recipe off the Cook's Illustrated site -- here. I used plain vodka, 2 TBS (along with the 2 TBS of water) except I doubled the batch so it was 4 of each :raz: I didn't notice it tasting like anything weird.

EDIT: also, I should add the usually, the crust isn't my favourite part of a pie, I like the filling better, but I was licking up the crumbs from this.


Edited by eskay (log)

Kate

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This is so awesome. I put an inordinate amount of cinnamon in my apple pie.

It's sooooo goooood. I spit on the mere quantity "one teaspoon" puhtah :biggrin:

I mean I put some apple in with my cinnamon. :raz:

But umm, when I eat dessert it's gotta have big bang for my calorie buck.

So this is so exciting. Can't wait for Thanksgiving breakfast!!!

<insert jumping up & down trying not to drool smilie face>

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Having now made a number of different types of pastry using this approach I can see that it has some potential. In a pastry that is already tender and crumbly, substituting vodka for water reduces the finished result to a fragile object that has to be treated with the reverence of an archaeological relic – it works better with a pastry that is naturally tough (like a lining pastry).

On the downside, all the cases I made cracked overnight suggesting that a vodka-lubricated pastry is best used immediately. Secondly (and here it’s going to depend on your local fiscal environment), it doubles the cost of ingredients!

I like the idea but I wonder how the approach can be used creatively.

Are there some other ideas I could try?

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I do use vinegar in my pie crusts and it does make it more flaky/tender. For one pie crust recipe (that makes enough crust for a single pie with both a top and a bottom crust) which calls for 2 cups of all purpose flour, 2/3 cup Crisco, 1 tsp salt, enough liquid to form a dough(about 1/2 cup), I do use about 2 Tablespoons of vinegar. I guess I could try lemon juice instead. But it does work and the acidity of vinegar does not make the dough harder to handle.

On the subject of butter versus crisco in pie crusts: the difference I have found between using butter or crisco or a combination of them is that the more butter I use in my pie crust, the more it shrinks.

Hope this helps!

By the way Eskay, your pies look awesome!


Edited by tanyacakes.com (log)

Tanya, cake lady

Rochester, NY

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