The Unexpected Ingredient You Should Be Adding To Your Pie Dough

Any time you decide to make pie dough from scratch, chances are you probably double-check to see if you have butter, flour, and sugar in your kitchen. Pie dough is as basic as recipes get, and it's pretty hard to mess up. But if you've been using the same recipe for as long as you can remember and want to take it to the next level, there's one ingredient you should definitely add.

According to Cook's Illustrated, that ingredient is alcohol. Alcohol works to alter the texture, making for a pastry that's perfectly flakey yet soft when baked. The alcohol also makes the dough a lot easier to roll out, the website suggests. That inevitably means a crust that won't tear as easily, and lattice strips that are much easier to handle. Cook's Illustrated explains that the best alcohol to use is 80 proof vodka; however, any liquor of the same concentration can be substituted. And despite the fact that 80 proof liquor is 40% alcohol, Cook's Illustrated confirms the flavor won't come through, even if you use rum, whiskey, or gin.

Why does alcohol create a flakier pie crust?

As with any type of recipe, achieving the best results comes down to food science. Cook's Illustrated explains that more alcohol means less gluten. For pie crusts in particular, less gluten is a good thing because it's made up of a "network of proteins that can cause a crust to turn leathery." When using alcohol in your pie dough, some gluten will form, since 80 proof alcohol still contains 60% water. But it won't be nearly as much gluten as a traditional recipe, thus improving the texture. 

"The more water you add, the more gluten is developed, which will decrease flakiness and make a tough pie crust," Epicurious elaborates in a YouTube video. "The vodka will keep the dough supple without participating in gluten formation." This creates a perfectly flaky crust you wouldn't be able to get from water alone. So, next time you're making an apple pie and want the crust to be extra flaky, don't forget to add alcohol to your mixing bowl.