In the eternal battle between cake and pie(ish desserts), I’ll always end up on the flaky, juicy pie side. Pretty ironic considering that this is my first pie post after multiple cake recipes, no? While I love pie, I’ll be the first to admit that they’re a bit of a pain to make what with rolling out the dough and doing a few pagan sacrifices and sutras in the hopes that it doesn’t fall apart on the way to the pie pan. Not to discount all the peeling, slicing, coring and near thumbless misses. The poor hubby still twitches with PTSD sometimes when I’m making pie remembering pie-mageddon of 2002 where the pie crust imploded and I exploded. But now, I make pies whenever the urge strikes (and the ambient temp is below 75F–no pies during this year’s prolonged heat wave!) cuz I found a bulletproof, foolproof, completely malleable and forgiving pie crust that even if it’s a little too wet or a little too dry will still turn out flaky and tender without falling apart all over the pastry board or en route to the pie pan. Yup, it’s the vodka pie crust from Cook’s Illustrated, my favorite group of culinary geeks 😀 Did you say vodka? What, Winston Churchill baked pies? Nope 😉 By switching out half of the water for vodka you still have a malleable, moist dough but less gluten activation which can make your crust hard instead of light and flaky. In fact, this dough is so forgiving that even if you do get [sob] tears in it, you can just overlap the edges and patch them together with some light pressure and save the tears for your beer (hehe). And, since the dough is so easy to work with, you’ll find yourself using less flour and not having to roll out so many torn and ragged errors which means more flaky and tender crust cuz the other thing besides liquid that activates gluten is mechanical manipulation. (Hmm, that reads weirder than I thought it would.)
For those of you who twitch reflexively when you hear pie crust, starting out with a galette instead of a traditional 2-crust pie is a great way to dip your toe into the flaky waters as you only have 1 freeform crust to deal with. I like to bake mine in a pie plate cuz I’m usually transporting it somewhere but a 10 x 15-inch baking sheet works great if you’re going freeform. So why marzipan? Cuz apples and almonds go hand in hand like Nutella and bananas. Seriously, sweet apples and marzipan to paraphrase my favorite Thai saying are same-same but differently sweet, with nutty amaretto-y slightly bitter almond flavor wrapped in a airy crumbly crust. Okay, if you really hate almonds then just leave the marzipan and almond extract out and add 2-3 tsp of brown sugar and 1/2 tsp of ground cardamom for a little flair. But you don’t know, you might love what you’re missing….
What would Julia Child do?
1) What if I don’t have a food processor Ms. Fancypants? While I love my food processor and reaffirm its indispensability by lugging it out and
whispering sweet nothings using it every week, that’s prolly not the norm. It’ll be more labor intensive but you can use the old pastry cutter method to incorporate the butter and shortening into the flour. Just think of those sinewy, rippling forearms you’ll have afterwards!
2) What’s the easiest thing you can do to make rolling out dough easier? Think cold, very cold. The colder your fats, liquids, and dough are, the less likely that your dough will become mushy and stick to the your rolling surface, your hands, the rolling pin, innocent bystanders….
3) I, and apparently Cook’s Illustrated too, like to use a French rolling pin which is about as simple as it gets. Just a slender piece of untapered wood without the fiddly handles. I find that I end up applying even, light pressure when I’m rolling as the rolling pin is the same diameter and weight along its length. And just to reward you for keeping it simple, they’re also almost 2/3 cheaper than the ones with handles.
4) Wait, but Cook’s Illustrated adds the flour in two separate batches. Theoretically this is to create two layers to the dough, one with gluten and one without. I’ve done it both ways and it doesn’t make a noticeable difference so I just dump it all in together. Less muss, still a lovely crust.
5) So why doesn’t vodka allow gluten to develop as much as water? Vodka has 40% less water than well, water. Water allows gluten strands to uncoil allowing them to straighten and create a structural matrix during kneading or mechanical manipulation. This gives dough its physical structure giving you a nice springy bread dough 🙂 or a hard, brittle pie crust 😦 Some cool experiments by Greg Blonder also showed that baking “dough” made up of only vodka + flour gave you a flaky, pastry-like consistency (vs water + flour which actually looked more like bread under magnification) cuz the alcohol was able to strip the oils from the flour creating lipid and water layers and allowing the gluten to lie in crust-like strips. Cool, huh?
1/2 Recipe Cook’s Illustrated Foolproof Vodka Pie Crust
2 tbsp cold cold water
2 tbsp vodka
1 1/4 c all-purpose flour + extra for rolling out dough
1/2 tsp salt
1 tbsp sugar
6 tbsp unsalted butter, in 1 tbsp pieces and chilled (straight from the refrigerator)
4 tbsp vegetable shortening, in 1 tbsp pieces and chilled (straight from the refrigerator)
1 tbsp cinnamon sugar for sprinkling on the crust, optional
Mix water and vodka together in a small bowl or cup and set aside in the refrigerator.
In a food processor, or by hand with a pastry blender, pulse (~1-2 pulses) together flour, salt, and sugar. Add butter and shortening and pulse till dough looks sandy and is just starting to clump together ~4-5 pulses. Pour in 1/3 of vodka mixture and pulse dough 2-3 times. It will start to come together instead of looking clumpy. Add additional vodka mixture and pulse as needed till dough just comes together. It usually only takes me 2 tbsp and 4-5 pulses but I do live in the humid Pacific NW. Unplug food processor and scrape dough into a bowl (cuz well, gremlins could turn it on while you’re digging around in there or you could accidentally hit a button ya know). Cover and chill in refrigerator for ~45 minutes.
3-4 large apples (I used Honeycrisp)
2-3 tsp sugar (depending on how sweet your apples are)
1/4-1/3 c all-purpose flour
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp almond extract
1 tbsp butter, optional
4 oz marzipan
While the dough is chilling, peel and core the apples then cut them into 1/3 to 1/2-inch slices–they need to be this thin so that they’re not crunchy while the crust is turning black. Coat the apples with vanilla and almond extracts then mix in sugar, flour, and cinnamon. Set aside.
Preheat oven to 375F.
Remove dough from the refrigerator and pat into a ball and roll out on a smooth, floured surface. I find that when I’m first rolling out the dough it’s important to lift it up, re-flour the pastry board/flat surface, and flip the dough over so that the side that was facing up is now facing down for the first 3-4 passes with the rolling pin so that things don’t stick. Roll out dough so that it is ~4 inches bigger than the pie pan so you’ll have enough extra to fold up over the apples. I just hold the pan over the dough to check–it’s good the have the pie pan right next to your rolling surface so you can easily plop the dough into it when you’re done. (Same thing if you’re using a baking sheet.)
Place the rolling pin a couple inches from the top edge of the dough and flip the dough over the pin so that it’s coming towards you. Continue to wrap the dough over the rolling pin towards you as you lift it up from the pastry board. Scoot the pie pan on the pastry board in the center of where your dough was and slowly unroll the dough from the rolling pin so that it is centered over and covers the pan.
Place an even layer of apples on the crust. Using 2/3 of the marzipan, pinch off small, cashew-sized pieces of marzipan and randomly place over apples. Repeat with each layer of apples. Dot with remaining 1 tbsp butter broken into pea-sized pieces if using.
Place a small bowl or cup with water next to the galette. Fold up crust edges toward the center of the pie and overlap them in the same direction (clockwise or widdershins). As you’re folding up the crust dip the fingers of one hand into the water and smooth over and seal the edges together. I like to have one dry hand for folding up and a wet one for sealing. If using cinnamon sugar, lightly pat crust with wet hand and sprinkle with cinnamon sugar using dry hand. Break up the remaining marzipan into small flattish pieces and cover the center hole (it doesn’t have to completely cover). Bake for 60-75 minutes till crust is golden brown and a sharp knife inserted into an apple slice doesn’t meet with any resistance, meaning that the apples are soft and not crunchy. In a ceramic pan with convection it takes me ~60 minutes. If the crust is golden but your apples are still firm, cover with foil to continue baking. I usually need to cover the galette after 30 minutes and finish baking it covered for the remainder of time. This isn’t a very liquidy dessert but I like to put the pie plate on a rimmed baking sheet to catch overflow just in case. Makes 10-12 servings.