Birthday Pie + Mystery Ingredient

Eric’s birthday was last week and true to form, he asked for a birthday pie.  Since the strawberries are early this year, I decided strawberries it had to be.  My mom was down visiting for spring break, entertaining Greta and me while I baked this.  She mentioned she had just read about using a mystery ingredient to make pie crusts the best they can be.

Read on to find out what I added and how and why it improved my pie crust.


For the filling:

4-1/2 cups sliced fresh strawberries (the more you use, the higher your pie will stand when baked)
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup instant tapioca power (because strawberries have no pectin and need this to gel)
2 tablespoons butter

1.  Mix together in a medium mixing bowl.  Let stand while preparing the crust.
For the crust:
2-1/4 cups all-purpose flour
2/3 cup shortening
6 tablespoons ice cold water
2 tablespoons vodka (WHAT?!?!)
1.  Preheat oven to 425.  In a medium mixing bowl, use a pastry blender to cut in cold butter until pieces are coarse crumb size.
The most important pie baking tool.
2.  Sprinkle 1 tablespoon ice cold liquid at a time; gently toss with fork.  Push moistened dough to side of bowl.  Repeat using rest of liquid.  Dough will be dry, do NOT give into temptation to make dough moister by adding more liquid.  This will make your dough tough.  Divide dough in half; form into a ball.
3.  On a lightly floured surface, use your hands to flatten ball of dough.  Roll dough from center to edges into a circle 12 inches in diameter.  Do not overwork the dough and do not allow dough to warm up.
4.  Carefully transfer dough to pie pan, by wrapping around a rolling pin, not allowing it to stretch.
5.  Transfer filling into pie pan.  Repeat step 3 and 4 for second ball of dough.  Gently drape second circle of dough over the filling.  Use your fingers to seal the edges of the dough.
6.  Brush dough with milk and sprinkle with cinnamon and sugar.  Cover edges in foil.  Place piece of foil on bottom rack of oven.  Place pie in preheated oven, on middle shelf.  Bake for 20 minutes at 425. Reduce oven to 350, remove foil, and bake another 40-50 minutes longer or til crust is golden and filling is bubbling.
7. Let cool on wire rack.


The pie did not last long – 24 hours to be exact.  This was by far the best crust I have ever made.  In doing some more research, I found that the vodka makes pie crusts flakier because during baking the alcohol evaporates much better than water can.  This leaves your pie with the perfect crust.  Even with the juicy strawberries the crust stayed flaky – something that does not always happen.  Some bakers use only vodka and no water in their crusts.  I intend to play around with this ratio with future pies and will keep you posted on what I discover.
According to Cooks Illustrated:
The trick to creating consistently great dough depended on the amount of water incorporated, and in particular how it was absorbed. There had to be a substitution that would keep the dough moist but not create too much gluten, which is produced by combining water and flour and makes for a leathery crust. After many dry, crumbly, dough “don’ts,” we discovered the perfect liquid to use. Vodka! It added moisture, but is only 60% water—the other 40% of vodka is ethanol. The alcohol doesn’t create dough-toughening gluten, so when we baked up this pie dough, we had a perfectly flaky AND tender pie crust with absolutely no vodka taste (all the alcohol evaporates in the oven during baking).

Published by Chelsea

Art teacher by day. Mother of 2 - day and night. Thrifter, crafter, artist, baker, chef, and DIYer in free time.

3 thoughts on “Birthday Pie + Mystery Ingredient

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