While pie may not seem like the healthiest of foods, I am a firm believer in eating foods -- especially real, homemade foods that have ingredients you can pronounce -- appreciating those foods, and savoring their tempting tastes and textures. By being mindful about these foods we love, we can limit ourselves to a slice instead of guiltily sneaking three. Dessert is not a bad word; there are no "bad" or "cheat" foods so much as inappropriate amounts.
I used to be intimidated by pie. The crust would stick or slump, or break apart. Or shrink. I finally found luck with this version of the recipe from CooksIllustrated. Yes, it uses vodka. I know that sounds weird, but subbing in vodka for part of the liquid is magic because vodka acts like a liquid (because it is) but then vanishes out of the picture as it evaporates while baking. I have had luck with subbing in bourbon, too, but note that it adds a distinct flavor so you want to make sure it matches what filling you might be adding.
We have lived in tropical countries for the last 20 years, so even if I keep ingredients super cold while making this, the ambient temperature in the kitchen is never quite cool enough to make this work for me. So instead, I prep everything, and once I ready each ingredient, I stick it in the freezer. Flour, too, is straight from the freezer. Vodka lives in the freezer already, but then the water is iced, too. Then, when I have all of the ingredients ready, I pull it all together as quick as I can, and then chill it again for a good long while before rolling it out.
Hopefully, you too will embrace pie-making once you've tried this, and the crust no longer feels like your nemesis!
Oh, and here are some excellent suggestions and tips for creating that beautiful crust that will have all of your guests in awe of your artistic skill with pie dough. No, really, it's true!
Foolproof Pie Dough double crust
Yield: enough for one double crust pie, or two single crust pie, with enough for some crust embellishments (or jam tarts for the kiddos)
2 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour (12 1/2 ounces) (I have made this with subbing in 1 cup of whole wheat flour, too)
1 teaspoon table salt
1 tablespoon sugar
10 tablespoons (5 oz) cold unsalted butter, cut into smallish pieces
2 tablespoons (1 oz) cream cheese (can also sub in 1 oz finely shredded cheese, too, like cheddar, which is quite tasty with an apple filling)
1/2 cup chilled solid vegetable shortening cut into 4 pieces
1/4 cup vodka cold
1/4 cup cold water
1. Get all of your ingredients ready, keeping them as cool or cold as possible. Hint: Before starting set two pieces of saran wrap on your counter nearby, ready to wrap your pie dough when it is ready. I find if I have the wrap ready to go, my dough gets wrapped and in the fridge faster, and I avoid smearing butter and/or shortening all over while I am wrestling around with the plastic wrap box.
2. When ready to make the dough, process 1 1/2 cups flour, salt, and sugar in food processor until combined, about 2 one-second pulses. Add butter, cream cheese and shortening and process until homogenous dough just starts to collect in uneven clumps, about 15 seconds (dough will resemble cottage cheese curds and there should be no uncoated flour). Scrape bowl with rubber spatula and redistribute dough evenly around processor blade. Add remaining cup flour and pulse until mixture is evenly distributed around bowl and mass of dough has been broken up, 4 to 6 quick pulses.
3. Empty mixture into large bowl. Sprinkle vodka and about half of the water over mixture. With rubber spatula, use folding motion to mix, pressing down on dough until dough is slightly tacky and sticks together. Add remaining water as is necessary.
4. Divide dough into two even balls and flatten each into 4-inch disk. Note: yes, a disk, not a ball. If you wrap the dough up into a nice flat disk you are already steps ahead when rolling it out to put into your pie dish. Wrap each disk in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 2 hours or up to 2 days. At this point, you can also slide the wrapped disk into a freezer bag and freeze it for up to a month.
Another hint: you can also chill the disk in the fridge as indicated above, then roll it and line your pie pan with it, completing the decorative edges as you see fit, then freeze that unbaked pie, too. This is a perfect way to get ahead if you have a lot of pies or prep to make for a big meal, like, say, on Thanksgiving.