The Unexpected Ingredient Many Bakers Add To Their Pie Crusts

Ask any seasoned baker, and they'll all agree: Mixing together flour, butter, and water just doesn't cut it for pie crusts. If you really want your pastry to have that wow factor, you'll need a lot more than the three basic ingredients. Many swear by replacing some of the water with vodka (via New York Times Cooking), some insist that freezing the butter is a game changer (via Momsdish), and others claim that adding sugar directly in the dough is the secret to the best pie crust. But according to Martha Stewart, it's the addition of vinegar that really takes the cake (or pie, rather). 

The reason for this is twofold. Firstly, vinegar is an acid, which means that it prevents the formation of gluten that naturally occurs when you mix water and flour. As a result, the pie crust is much more tender, easier to handle, and doesn't shrink after baked. Secondly, vinegar allows for proper browning. Oxidation doesn't occur when vinegar is added to the dough, and this has the effect of improving the browning process, and making for a perfectly golden crust.

How much vinegar should you add to the pie crust?

Though it has the benefit of making pie crusts more golden and flaky, less is more when using vinegar. Let's not forget: Vinegar is an active ingredient and much like baking soda or yeast, too much of it can ruin the final product. King Arthur Baking explains that it only takes a splash of vinegar to upgrade your pie crust. For a recipe that calls for 2½ cups of flour, the company recommends one tablespoon of vinegar.

To best incorporate vinegar into the dough, first add it into the water. This way you can add both to the rest of the mixture all at once. As with any pie crust, over-mixing the dough is a big no-no because it causes it to become tough. Fortunately, however, the addition of vinegar actually makes the dough more forgiving in the case that you go overboard with the kneading. Whether it be white distilled or apple cider, vinegar can go a long way in improving your pies.