When apples were in season in the fall, I tried several recipes for apple desserts. I tried numerous combinations of apples and just as many toppings and pie crusts. I liked them all but I discovered that a combination of Granny Smith and Mackintosh apples work well together: Grannies are tart and keep their shape while Mackintoshes breakdown into an applesauce-like texture and retain sweetness. As far as pie crusts go, my favorite turned out to be a pie crust from the Cooks' Illustrated geniuses made with vodka. Yes, vodka. Substituting half of the water in the pie crust with vodka allows the dough to be very pliable and totally easy to roll out. Yet the vodka evaporates leaving much less actually liquid in the crust. The result is a delicious, flaky crust that is simple to handle.
I'll never be able to make a pie crust as good as my grandmother's but this one as close to success that I've gotten so far!
Foolproof pie crust from Cooks' Illustrated, November 2007:
2 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour (12 1/2 ounces)
1 teaspoon table salt
2 tablespoons sugar
12 tablespoons cold unsalted butter (1 1/2 sticks), cut into 1/4-inch slices
1/2 cup chilled solid vegetable shortening , cut into 4 pieces
1/4 cup vodka , cold
1/4 cup cold water
1. Process 1 1/2 cups flour, salt, and sugar in food processor until combined, about 2 one-second pulses. Add butter 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 flour uncoated ). 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. Empty mixture into medium bowl.
2. Sprinkle vodka and water over mixture. With rubber spatula, use folding motion to mix, pressing down on dough until dough is slightly tacky and sticks together. Divide dough into two even balls and flatten each into 4-inch disk. Wrap each in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 45 minutes or up to 2 days.