A spiked pie crust is a happy pie crust.
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Pie crust is finicky. It's sensitive to touch and temperature, and is vulnerable to breaking apart or becoming too tough. It's no wonder people turn to pre-made pie crusts and pastry sheets as much as they do (and nothing's wrong with that!). But with a little practice, wisdom, and a special ingredient, it is possible to make a super flaky pie crust from scratch.

And what is the secret ingredient? Vodka! If you've never made a pie crust with vodka before, here's the scientific reason why vodka helps make pie crust so tender and flaky.

Why Vodka Makes Pie Crust Flaky

Vodka's effect on pie crust may seem like magic, but it's just straight-up science. "The use of vodka enables the addition of more liquid in a form that does not develop gluten, which otherwise would make the pie crust tougher," says Guy Crosby, certified Food Scientist, former science editor at America's Test Kitchen, and author of "The Science of Good Cooking" and "Cook's Science." "The alcohol in vodka does not develop gluten like water does. So adding vodka adds liquid that helps to make the dough more workable and pliable without developing tougher gluten."  

What Is Gluten and How Does It Affect Pie Crust?

Gluten forms when the proteins in wheat come into contact with water. The water hydrates these proteins, which causes them to bind and get stronger, making a thicker, tougher dough. This process is great for bread, but not for pastry like pie crust. Vodka, however, doesn't encourage gluten growth, which keeps pie dough nice and delicate.

closeup of a golden-brown double crusted pie with apple-shaped steam vents and sugar-topped pastry cutouts
Credit: naples34102

More Tips for a Flaky Pie Crust

Vodka doesn't have to be your only strategy for a flaky crust. Vinegar can also promote a flaky crust because like vodka, it's been distilled and doesn't encourage the formation of gluten. Apple cider vinegar and rice vinegar also form a tender pie dough and add a bit of flavor.

You can also discourage gluten from forming in your pie dough via technique. Using cold butter is crucial — if the butter is too warm, it will combine with the flour, making it unable to create layers in the dough while it's baking, according to the Land O'Lakes test kitchen. Handling pie dough as little as possible will also help prevent gluten strands from forming. To really keep your hands off your pie dough, try a recipe outfitted for a food processor.

Aside from that, the best way to achieve a flaky pie crust is by getting plenty of practice. Baking is a science, and experience plays a great role in understanding pie dough and crust on a fundamental level.

"I think it's important to understand the phase changes involved in a pie dough," says Keia Mastrianni, founder of Milk Glass Pie, a farm-based cottage bakery located in Shelby, North Carolina. "Using all your senses, being present, and practice" will all hone your pie-making skills.

Try this 5-star recipe for Easy Vodka Pie Crust.

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