Yield: 4 dough rounds (enough for two double-crust pies or 4 single-crust); can be halved

Cook’s notes: Although I like using my processor to cut butter into flour for scones and biscuits, for pie crusts I prefer my mixer. It keeps the butter from overheating, and although it seems like it would make a tough crust, this is one of the best I’ve ever had (and I often consider pie fillings mainly a garnish for the crust). If you don’t have coarse salt, use ¾ teaspoon table salt. The vodka idea, an attempt to inhibit gluten strands from forming and toughening the crust, comes from Cook’s Illustrated magazine; I’m not convinced it makes much of a difference, but it doesn’t hurt. You could use 2 tablespoons white vinegar instead, adding 2 more tablespoons water as needed. To cut up the sticks of butter into 32 pieces, cut each stick in quarters lengthwise, then make 8 crosswise cuts. Don’t worry about being exact about this – the point is just to get small enough pieces that they mix in quickly. And if you have a kitchen scale, use it!

  • 1 pound, 6 ounces (5 cups) all-purpose flour (preferably bleached, and preferably a Southern flour, such as White Lily or Martha White)
  • 4 ounces (½ cup) granulated sugar (reduce to 3 tablespoons for savory pies)
  • Pinch of baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon coarse (kosher) salt
  • 1 pound (4 sticks) butter, each stick cut into 32 pieces, frozen or very cold
  • ¼ cup vodka
  • 6 to 7 tablespoons iced water

Put flour, sugar, baking powder and salt into the bowl of a stand mixer and mix with the paddle on low speed for 30 seconds. Add butter and mix on a low or medium speed until the butter is in small pieces: the mixture should feel crumbly, with pea-size pieces of butter. Add the vodka and 5 tablespoons of water and mix on low speed until dough just begins to hold together. If it’s very dry, add another tablespoon of water.

Turn dough onto a work surface and gently press together into a ball, sprinkling with another tablespoon of water if needed. With a knife or bench knife, divide dough into quarters.

Dust your work surface and rolling pin with flour, shape one quarter of the dough into a disk, rolling it on like a tire on its edge to smooth the edge, and begin to roll out into an 11-inch circle. As you roll, push from the center of the dough out, easing pressure on the rolling pin just before getting to the edge of the dough. Give the dough a one-third turn (not a quarter-turn, or you end up with a square), dusting underneath with more flour if needed, and repeat until you’ve reached 11 inches.

Gently fold the dough in quarters to transfer to a pie plate, unfold, and gently tuck it into the sides of the plate. Don’t stretch or push it, or the dough will shrink when it bakes. Cut the overhanging dough so you have about an inch of excess all around, fold the excess under so it rests on the lip of the pie plate, and crimp. Chill while you prepare the filling.

To freeze the dough rounds, stack them on a parchment paper-lined sheet pan, separated by pieces of parchment, freeze until solid, then wrap each airtight in plastic wrap and foil, or plastic wrap and a freezer bag. You can also put the dough into a pie plate and freeze it, then securely wrap the plate. Thaw in the fridge or at room temperature (if thawing on the counter, keep a close eye so it doesn’t get too warm – it should be barely pliable.

To use:

On  a lightly floured surface, roll out 1 disk of pie dough to about an 11-inch circle, lifting and turning the dough to keep it from sticking to the surface. Fold the dough in quarters and transfer to a 9-inch pie pan, preferably glass or pottery. Unfold and gently tuck it into the sides of the pan; fold under the overhang and decoratively crimp the edges or press them with fork tines for a pretty edge. Chill in freezer for 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat oven to 375 degrees. Line the pie dough with foil, letting it drape loosely over the rim. Fill with pie weights, rice, or dried beans to the top. Bake 20 minutes; remove foil and weights for a partially baked crust and cool. For a fully baked crust, bake 5 to 10 minutes longer, until golden and crisp. Cool on a wire rack.

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