I work behind the scenes in food media and across the years have tested lots of pie crust recipes. Over time, I cherry-picked the best features from my favorites and refined them into one great recipe. There are plenty of crust-related debates out there, and I have my own answers: Butter or shortening? Both. Kosher or iodized salt? Kosher (I use Diamond Crystal). Heavy cream vs. cold water? Cream, if possible. Top-shelf vodka or cheap vodka? Cheap. Wait – what is vodka doing in a pie crust? While you need a liquid to bind the flour and fat, using only water (or cream) can make crusts chewy if overmixed. By substituting some alcohol for the cream, you get a flakier crust, and the alcohol evaporates during baking, so you won’t taste it in the pie. Lots of recipes use an acid to discourage chewiness, but it was a Cook’s Illustrated story that introduced me to the vodka idea – and it really works.
MAKES 4 CRUSTS
(ENOUGH FOR 2 DOUBLE-CRUST OR 4 SINGLE-CRUST PIES)
5 cups all-purpose unbleached flour
1 tablespoon sugar
2 sticks chilled unsalted butter, cubed
1 cup chilled shortening,
1/3 cup chilled heavy cream (or substitute ice-cold water)
1/3 cup chilled vodka
In a food processor fitted with a metal blade, pulse the flour, sugar, and 1 tablespoon salt. Add the butter and shortening and pulse about 10 times in 1-second bursts. Pea-sized pieces of butter should be visible. Don’t overmix.
Transfer the flour mixture to a large bowl. Combine the cream or water and vodka, then drizzle over the flour mixture. Using a rubber spatula, begin to combine the ingredients. Then, using your hands, gather and press the dough against the bottom of the bowl. The dough will hold together but should be a little crumbly. If it doesn’t hold together, add another tablespoon of cream or water.
Divide the dough into 4 equal balls and sandwich each one between 2 large pieces of plastic wrap. Roll each ball into an 11-inch round about ¼ inch thick. Visible streaks of fat in the dough are desirable. Chill in the refrigerator for 1 hour or up to 4 days. (To freeze, wrap the plastic around the edges and freeze dough on a sheet tray. Once frozen, slide wrapped rounds into a freezer bag for additional protection. Use within 2 months.)
MAKES 1 9-INCH PIE
5 medium Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, and sliced into ¼-inch-thick spears (about 5 cups)
2 half-pints blackberries, washed and dried
½ cup granulated sugar, plus
1 tablespoon for dusting
½ cup packed brown sugar
¼ cup cornstarch
½ teaspoon cinnamon
2 pie crust rounds
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
1 tablespoon heavy cream or milk
Position a rack in the center of the oven with a rack below it (you’ll want a sheet tray on the lower rack to catch drips). Heat to 425 degrees. In a large bowl, combine apples, blackberries, ½ cup granulated sugar, the brown sugar, cornstarch, cinnamon, and ½ teaspoon salt. Let sit for 10 minutes. Transfer the mixture into a 9-inch pie dish lined with one of the pie crust rounds, mounding filling in the center. With the other pie crust round, make a lattice (see Kitchen Aide) on top of the filling and form a neat standing edge. Tuck cubes of the butter into several of the holes. Brush the lattice and edge with the heavy cream or milk and dust with remaining granulated sugar.
Place the pie on the middle rack and bake 30 minutes. Reduce the heat to 350 degrees and bake until the fruit is bubbling, 30 minutes more. Check occasionally, and if the crust is browning unevenly, place aluminum foil on the darker parts. Cool for a few hours before serving.
MAKES 1 9-INCH PIE
1 pie crust round
1 stick unsalted butter
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup packed brown sugar
1 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk
2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup heavy cream
2 to 3 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar
3 just-ripe bananas, cut into ½-inch slices
Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Line a pie dish with the pie crust round and form a neat standing edge. Cover the dough with a piece of foil, fill the dish with pie weights, and bake 20 minutes. Carefully remove the foil and weights, prick the crust with a fork, and return to the oven until light golden brown, 10 to 12 minutes. Cool.
In a medium saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the granulated and brown sugars and stir until wet-sand consistency. Add the condensed milk and, stirring, bring the mixture to a boil. Cook, stirring, until bubbles migrate from the sides of the pan to the center, about 3 minutes.
Remove toffee from heat and stir in 2 tablespoons vanilla and ¼ teaspoon salt, then pour into the baked crust. Cool; cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 3 hours or overnight. Just before serving, whip the heavy cream with confectioners’ sugar and 1 teaspoon vanilla on high until soft peaks form, about 45 seconds. Top the toffee layer with whipped cream, smooth, and arrange the bananas on top.
COCONUT CREAM PIE
MAKES 1 9-INCH PIE
2/3 cup sugar
5 tablespoons cornstarch
1 14-ounce can coconut milk
1 cup milk
5 egg yolks
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 7-ounce bag sweetened coconut, lightly toasted
1 pie crust round, pre-baked (see Banoffee Pie recipe)
In a medium saucepan, combine the sugar and cornstarch. In a large measuring cup, combine the coconut milk, skim milk, and egg yolks. Whisk the milk mixture into the dry ingredients, then place the saucepan over medium heat and cook, stirring, until the mixture becomes thickened and lumpy, about 9 minutes. Remove from the heat and whisk until smooth. Return the pan to the heat and, whisking, cook 1 more minute.
Remove from the heat and fold in the butter, vanilla, ½ teaspoon salt, and half the coconut. Pour into the pre-baked pie crust and refrigerate until set, 3 hours. Before serving, top with remaining coconut.
TO WEAVE A LATTICE: Cut a very cold dough round into 11 1-inch strips. Lay 5 strips parallel to one another across the filling, using the longer strips in the center. From the center, fold back alternating strips, then lay down a long strip in the center perpendicular to the others (above). Replace the folded-back strips to their original position. Now, fold back the strips that weren’t folded back the last time and lay down another perpendicular strip. Replace the folded-back strips. Repeat with first set of folded-back strips and proceed, using this technique, on both sides of the center line until 10 strips are used. Use the extra strip for patching the lattice or the pie’s edge.
Denise Drower Swidey is a regular contributor to the Globe Magazine. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.