Cooking with Whiskey: Pie - The Whiskey Wash

Cooking with Whiskey: Pie

As American as… bourbon? Apple pie? It’s hard to choose which pinnacle of culinary achievement is more worthy of shared national pride (or more delicious), but here’s the good news: You don’t have to.

We all know that whiskey goes wonderfully with a warm slice of pie, but I’m here to tell you it’s time to forget that simple side-by-side approach and move on to the real deal: putting whiskey in your pie.

There are a few wonderful ways to accomplish this, each method providing a different, delicious effect, and each one resulting in a virtually alcohol-free dessert everyone can enjoy.

An apple pie with whiskey as an ingredient (image via Dave Schumaker/Flickr)

Whiskey in the Filling

Baking a pie is enough to make anybody feel accomplished, but baking a pie with whiskey that you made? That’s got to be the pinnacle of patisserie pride.

“Cooking is a hobby I love to do,” says Pam Heilmann, master distiller at Michter’s in Louisville, Kentucky. Although she also says her work as master distiller keeps her from experimenting in the kitchen as much as she’d like, she’s come up with a method for infusing fruit pies with whiskey flavor without creating an excessively juicy filling.

“What I do for my apple pie is peel and cut up my apples as I normally would, adding the normal sugar, flour, cinnamon, and nutmeg spice combination, and mix that with the apples. At that point, I add about 1/3 of a cup of Michter’s Rye,” she says, noting that Michter’s Rye has plenty of warm, spicy flavors that pair well with traditional baking spices. “I then lay this mixture on a baking sheet and put it in the oven for about 15 to 20 minutes to cook down the liquid until it is just thickened. Then, I put this into the prepared pie crust and bake the pie.”

Pam says baking the filling before pouring it into the crust helps to concentrate the flavors of the apples and also cooks off the alcohol, leaving behind a rich sweet and spicy flavor. Try this technique with other fruits and whiskeys, too, like peaches and bourbon or cherries and bourbon.

Whiskey Pie Crust

Another way to put whiskey in your pie comes via Cook’s Illustrated’s famous “foolproof” vodka piecrust recipe. This remarkable recipe not only produces a deliciously tender and flaky crust, it’s also a moister dough that’s easier to roll, handle, and shape than traditional pie dough.

The recipe works because vodka, unlike water, doesn’t encourage gluten formation in flour. Too much gluten can lead to a tough crust, an outcome that nobody wants, which is one reason traditional pie crust recipes often caution you against adding more than a few tablespoons of water. That works, but it also leaves you with a dry, crumbly dough that’s a pain to work with.

But by using a combination of water and distilled spirits, you can add more liquid without risking an overly glutinous, tough crust. The original Cook’s Illustrated recipe calls for vodka because it burns off cleanly in the oven, leaving no flavor behind, but you’re a whiskey drinker: you want flavor.

It turns out you can most certainly substitute whiskey for vodka when making piecrust (any unsweetened spirit works, in fact). The resulting pastry is tender, flaky, and mysteriously aromatic with spicy, woodsy flavor that pairs beautifully with a wide range of fillings, from classic apple to Boston cream.

Here’s the recipe, reprinted from Cooks Illustrated in the New York Times. We suggest using a simple, tasty, inexpensive whiskey without peat or smoke characteristics—think Evan Williams Black Label or the like.

Whiskey Whipped Cream

The simplest way to get a touch of whiskey flavor into your pie calls for no baking at all, and can dress up a store-bought pie as easily as one you’ve labored over all day. Just add a teaspoon or two of your favorite whiskey to gently whipped, sweetened cream. It doesn’t take much to add a haunting deliciousness to something that’s already pretty darn delicious on its own. (Bonus: this makes a great topper for Irish coffees, hot toddies, and other warm cocktails.)