Perfect pie dough has just the right balance of tenderness to structure. The former comes from fat, the latter from long protein chains called gluten that form when flour mixes with water. Too little gluten and the dough won’t stick together—but too much and the crust turns tough. We’ve developed an approach that keeps gluten in check but also allows for an unusually supple dough that’s easy to handle and reduces the chance of overworking.

Use two fats.

Butter contributes rich taste—but also water, which encourages gluten development. For a crust that's both flavorful and tender, we use a 3:2 ratio of butter to shortening, a pure fat with no water.

Create layers of flakiness.

Traditional recipes process all the flour and fat at once, but we add the flour in two batches. We first process the fat with part of the flour for a good 15 seconds to thoroughly coat it, then give the mixture just a few quick pulses once the remaining flour is added, so less of it gets coated. Besides providing protection against toughness, this approach aids in flakiness by creating two distinct layers of dough—one with gluten and one without.

Swap water for vodka.

Gluten forms readily in water, but it won't form in alcohol. By replacing some of the water in our recipe with vodka (which contains 40 percent ethanol but just 60 percent water), we're able to add more liquid to the dough so it stays soft and malleable, but without increasing the danger of the crust turning tough. (Note: Any 80-proof spirit will work. The alcohol burns off in the oven, along with any flavor.)

4 Tips for Rolling Out Pie Dough

It's always best to let dough rest overnight. This helps it hydrate properly and lets the gluten rest, resulting in an easier-to-roll-out dough.

Always roll from the middle out.And rotate the dough a quarter turn each time.

Want an easy fix for a too-dry dough? Break it up into clumps, put it back in a bowl, and work in a tiny bit of water.

Here's the best way to pick up your dough. Fold it over a rolling pin and lift it from your board with a bench scraper.