Be Thankful for Pies

(originally published November 2002, in Co-options, the newsletter of Sevanada Natural Foods Cooperative in Atlanta, GA.

Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners require pies. I don’t know any other holidays where pastries are so essential to the menu. Unfortunately, most of us have heard that making pie crusts is difficult, so we leave it to Mrs. Smith or Sara Lee. For vegetarians, however, making your own crust is almost essential – if you check most supermarket pie crusts you’ll find that they’re made with lard because lard is cheap and makes a very flaky crust. I’m here to tell you that, even if you are a pastry novice, you can bake a flaky, tender piecrust that won’t clog your arteries or contain bits of Babe. All you need is some knowledge, and some practice. Practice is the most important ingredient of all, actually. Start now, and enjoy eating all your “not quite perfect” homework. By the holidays, you’ll have your technique down cold, and your friends and family will be amazed!

(If you decide you simply can’t face making your own, most natural food stores sell some perfectly adequate pie shells, including wheat-free ones, but they just can’t match homemade.)

If you read my article about making biscuits, you’ll remember the basic rules for pastry. They are 1) use a low gluten (low protein or pastry) flour, 2) keep your ingredients cold, 3) don’t overwork your ingredients, and 4) bake in a hot enough (425 F) oven. If you follow the pie crust recipe below exactly as it is written, you will follow all the above rules. If you want to know more about why you should follow these rules, please refer to my February 2002 column on biscuits, or for more detailed information, check out The Pie and Pastry Bible by Rose Levy Beranbaum. Disclaimer: this is not a vegan-friendly book (Beranbaum loves butter and lard and even goose fat crusts!) but she is an excellent teacher and explains the whys and hows of baking better than just about any writer I know.

Here’s my version of her Flaky Vegetable Shortening Pie Crust:

Flaky Vegetable Shortening Pie Crust – Double Crust

Recipe adapted from Rose Levy Beranbaum, The Pie and Pasty Bible
Serving Size: 8

7 tablespoons solid vegetable shortening cold
7 tablespoons Earth Balance cold
1 1/2 cups unbleached flour (using dip-and-sweep method of measuring)
3/4 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons plus one teaspoon ice water
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar

Place a mixing bowl in the freezer to chill.

Cut the shortening and Earth Balance into small (3/4 inch) cubes. Wrap them in plastic wrap and refrigerate them for at least 30 minutes.

Place the flour and salt in a reclosable gallon size freezer bag and whisk to combine. Add the shortening and Earth Balance cubes, press to expel any air, and close the bag. Use a rolling pin to press the shortening into the flour into large thin
flakes. Place the bag in the freezer for at least 10 minutes or until very firm.

Empty the mixture into the cold bowl, using a rubber spatula to scrape the dough from the sides of the bag. Set the bag aside. Sprinkle the mixture with the water, tossing lightly with a rubber spatula. There will be mostly big loose clumps, but there will still be a little dry flour.

Holding both ends of the bag opening with your fingers, knead the mixture by alternately pressing it, from outside of the bag, with the knuckles and heels of your hands until the mixture holds together in one piece and feels slightly stretchy when pulled.

Wrap the dough with plastic wrap, flatten it into two discs (one slightly smaller than the other for a two crust pie, or 2/3 and 1/3 for a lattice top) and refrigerate for at least 45 minutes, preferably overnight (or up to 2 days in the refrigerator, up to 3 months in the freezer).

Bake as directed in your pie recipe.

Notes: “Dip-and-sweep” measuring: Stir your flour lightly, then dip your measuring cup in and scoop up a cupful. Use a knife or flat spatula to sweep any heaped flour off the cup.

Beranbaum insists that you let your pie shells “rest” for at least one hour before baking to allow them to relax into their tins and help prevent shrinking.

Add 1/2 teaspoon additional salt for savory fillings.

Flour this dough well when you roll it out – it’s very fragile

Many pie recipes, including the pecan pie following this, require you to pre-bake (blind bake) your shell before filling it. In The Pie and Pasty Bible, Beranbaum recommends the following method for blind baking. She places a large (commercial size) coffee filter or a piece of parchment paper inside the pie shell and fills it with dried beans or rice. Bake the pie shell as directed in your recipe. This prevents the crust from “bubbling” up from the bottom of the tin. She feels that this method allows the pie crust to crisp better than using metal pie weights sold for the purpose. The beans or rice can be used many times – just save them in their own clearly marked tin in the pantry and don’t try to cook them after they’ve been baked!

Georgia Kudzu Pecan Pie

Recipe By: Meredith McCarty, in Lorna Sass’ _The Complete Vegetarian Kitchen_
Serving Size: 8
Preparation Time: 0:45

The rice syrup in this recipe gives the pie a rich “buttery” flavor. I think it’s even more delicious than traditional pecan pie – it’s less sweet and not as cloying. The kuzu powder used to thicken this pie is make from the roots of our “beloved” kudzu plant. Finally, something good comes of kudzu!

1 9-inch unbaked pie shell or 1/2 above recipe
1 1/2 cups brown rice syrup (see cook’s notes)
1 1/2 cups water
1/4 cup agar flakes
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
2 tablespoons kuzu or arrowroot powder
water, to barely cover the kuzu
2 cups toasted pecans
1 teaspoon vanilla

1. Set pie weights or beans into the pie crust and bake on the middle shelf of a 425 F oven until lightly browned, about 12-15 minutes. Set on a rack to cool. This is a good time to toast your pecans as well. Check them also after 12 minutes.
2. In a heavy saucepan, prepare the filling. Whisk together the rice syrup, water, agar flakes, cinnamon, and salt, and bring to the boil. Reduce heat and simmer over very low heat until the agar completely dissolves, stirring occasionally, about 5 minutes.
3. In a small bowl, dissolve the arrowroot in water to barely cover and add to the agar-rice syrup mixture. While cooking the mixture at a low simmer, whisk it until the chalky color becomes clear.
4. Let the mixture cool for 15 minutes. Stir in the pecans and vanilla and pour into the prepared pie crust, taking care to distribute the pecans evenly.
5. Let the pie cool to room temperature and set, about 2 hours (or refrigerate pie about 1 hour to firm up more quickly). For optimum flavor, bring to room temperature before serving.
Cook’s notes: For the filling, Meredith favors the dark brown rice syrup made by Mitoku. Other brands (often lighter in color) sometimes prevent the filling from setting firmly. (Lisa’s note: I use either Tree of Life Rice Syrup or Lundberg Gluten-Free Brown Rice Syrup – both quite light in color – and both work well).

Variation: To really make this pie a truly decadent Chocolate Bourbon Pecan Pie, use about 1 cup water and 1/2 cup bourbon to dissolve the agar flakes (the alcohol will dissipate while simmering, leaving just the flavor), and add 1/2 cup non-dairy chocolate chips to the partly cooled filling before you pour it into the crust. Yum!!

Apricot Glazed Crumb-Topped Apple Pie

This is an unusual take on apple pie. The apricot glaze and cardamom add an exotic note to this familiar “all American” pastry.

Serving Size: 8
1/2 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1/4 cup sliced almonds or nuts of your choice
3 tablespoons Sucanat or maple sugar
1 pinch salt
3 tablespoons canola oil

6 Golden Delicious Apples — washed and sliced thinly
(peeling is optional)

juice from 1/2 small lemon
1 pinch salt
5 1/2 tablespoons arrowroot powder
5 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon cardamom
2 tablespoons fruit sweetened apricot spread
3 tablespoons Organic maple syrup
1 unbaked piecrust (8 or 9 inch) or half recipe above

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Toss the apples with lemon juice. Add pinch of salt and spices. In a bowl, mix together the apricot spread and maple syrup. Pour onto the apple mixture and toss to coat well. Carefully place the apples in the unbaked pie shell.

Prepare the topping: Mix the oats, flour, almonds, Sucanat, and salt together in a bowl. Add the canola oil and mix until crumbly with fingers or a pastry blender. Sprinkle the topping all over the pie, carefully pressing down just a bit to secure. Bake for 1 to 11/4 hour. You may want to place a cookie sheet on a lower rack under the pie to catch any juice that may drip down onto the oven.

Persimmon Pie with Lemon Pepita Crust

Recipe By: adapted from Shanna Masters, Veggie Life, Fall 2000
Serving Size: 8

Fuyu persimmons are flat and almost square in shape. They are best eaten while still firm. They are not astringent when unripe like Hachiya persimmons (the long, tapered ones). This pie travels well and has won raves at potluck dinners!

1 cup unbleached white flour
1/2 cup whole wheat pastry flour
7 tablespoons cold Earth Balance margarine
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
3 tablespoons pumpkin seeds, raw
1 lemon – zest and juice
7 Fuyu persimmons, firm
3/4 cup unbleached sugar (dehyrated cane juice)
2 tablespoons quick tapioca
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
2 teaspoons crystallized ginger, minced

1. To make crust: In a good processor, combine flours, Earth Balance, and salt. Pulse to mix just until large chunks of Earth Balance remain. Add seeds and lemon zest and pulse once or twice to chip coarsely.

2. Combine lemon juice with enough cold water to make 5 tablespoons. With motor running, add liquid to processor. Do not overmix. Mixture should resemble coarse crumbs, but should hold together when a handful is squeezed together. If mixture is too dry to come together, add 1 more tablespoon water and pulse once or twice more.

3. Divide dough in half and press into 2 patties about 1/2 inch thick. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate while you make the filling.

4. To make the filling: Core, peel, and slice persimmons (as you would an apple) and place in a mixing bowl. Sprinkle with sugar, tapioca, cinnamon, and ginger. Toss to coat all slices.

5. Preheat oven to 425 F.

6. To assemble: Roll out bottom crust between 2 pieces of plastic wrap. Remove plastic and fit dough into pie plate, letting edges hang over. Roll out top crust between plastic wrap.

7. Transfer filling into pastry-lined plate. Remove plastic and top with second crust. Trim and pinch edges together to form a tight seam. Crimp edges and cut vents in top crust. Decorate with leaves cut from scraps, if desired.

8. Place pie on a baking sheet and bake 15 minutes. Reduce heat to 400 F and continue baking about 45 minutes, until filling is bubbly. During baking, cover pie loosely with foil if it browns before baking is finished.
Notes: You may use tapioca flour, arrowroot powder, or powdered kuzu root in place of quick tapioca.