Thanksgiving Pies

It’s Thanksgiving time here in the U.S., and that means pies for dessert. I have veganized versions of the usual favorites for you – pecan, pumpkin, apple, and sweet potato, plus a new and improved, all whole wheat, food processor version of Flaky Pie Crust! Let’s get at it.

For more technical info on making pie crusts, search this site using “pastry” as your search term, or read The Pie and Pastry Bible, by Rose Levy Beranbaum. This is not a veg-friendly book (she even extols the virtues of goose fat!), but it’s a really great piece of writing that explains all the whys and wherefores of making flaky, tender pies.

As with all pastries, please remember to use whole wheat PASTRY flour (not regular or bread flour) or White Lily bleached all-purpose flour if you or your relatives simply must have a white flour crust. Don’t use regular unbleached flour. It is often far too high in protein (gluten) and will make your piecrusts tough and chewy.

Easy, Flaky Two-Crust Whole Wheat Pie Crust
For the flakiest crust, work quickly and keep everything cold. No food processor? Just cut the shortening and buttery spread into the flour with a pastry cutter or two butter knives. It will just take you a little longer.

Recipe By Lisa T. Bennett, adapted from Rose Levy Beranbaum
Serves 8
Preparation Time 30 minutes to chill ingredients, 5 minutes to mix, and 10-15 to roll and form pie crusts and other decorative cutouts

1 stick Earth Balance Shortening Sticks (8 tablespoons), cold
6 tablespoons Earth Balance Buttery Sticks or Spread, cold
2 1/4 cups whole wheat pastry flour (using dip-and-sweep method, see below)
1/4 teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons plus one teaspoon ice water
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar

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

2. Place the flour and salt in the work bowl of a large food processor with the plastic pastry blade if available, or the steel S-blade.

3. Add the shortening and buttery cubes to the flour mixture and pulse quickly to cut shortening into flour until it resembles large crumbs with a few pea-sized pieces of shortening remaining.

4. Pour in ice water, beginning with about 5 tablespoons and the tablespoon of vinegar and quickly pulsing the machine, adding water just until the dough comes together in a clump.

5. Using 2/3 of the dough for the bottom crust, roll out dough on a well-floured board with a well-floured rolling pin (or a wine bottle works in a pinch). For a 9-inch pie plate, roll out dough to 12 inches in diameter and carefully lift it into the plate. If the dough tears, simply press it together along the seam and continue as per your recipe.

6. Save the smaller piece of dough for a top crust or lattice, or cut into shapes and sprinkle lightly with sugar and bake separately for decorative pieces to add to the top of a baked pumpkin or sweet potato pie. Autumn leaves are a very pretty choice.

For “Blind Baking” –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. 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!
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. If you have the time, this is a great idea.

Add 1/2 teaspoon additional salt for savory fillings.

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

Georgia Kudzu Pecan Pie
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 made from the roots of our “beloved” kudzu plant. Finally, something good comes of kudzu!

Recipe By: Meredith McCarty, in Lorna Sass’ The Complete Vegetarian Kitchen
Serves 8-12 (a little goes a long way – it’s rich!)
Preparation Time: about 45 minutes, plus at least 1 hour to cool and set-up

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. Roll out a 12-inch circle of pastry and set it into a standard 9-inch pie plate. Crimp overlapping pastry around the edge. 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. They should be medium brown and toasty-smelling.
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!!

Old-Fashioned Apple Pie
See notes below when choosing apples, or for options for a brighter, livelier, less “old-fashioned” flavor
Recipe By: Lisa T. Bennett, adapted from
Serves 8
Preparation Time: about 1 hour to prep, 40 minutes to bake, and at least 1 hour to cool

4 large cooking apples, about 2 pounds (to make 6 cups sliced apples)
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2/3 cup unbleached sugar
1/2 cup Sucanat
3 tablespoons unbleached (all purpose) flour
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 dash nutmeg
1 dash allspice or ground cloves

1 recipe Easy, Flaky Two-Crust Whole Wheat Pie Crust

2 tablespoons Earth Balance Buttery Spread

1. Peel, quarter, and core apples; cut into 1/4-inch slices (should have 6 cups). Toss with the lemon juice in a bowl.

2. In a separate bowl, combine unbleached sugar, Sucanat, flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, and ground cloves; pour over the apples and toss to coat.

3. Prepare pastry. Roll half of pie pastry to a 12 inch circle on a well-floured surface. Fit pastry into a 9-inch pie plate; trim overhang to 1/2 inch.

4. Spoon apples into the prepared pastry shell; cut Earth Balance into very small pieces and sprinkle over the apples.

5. Roll out remaining pastry to an 11-inch circle. Cut several slits in pastry to allow steam to escape. Cover pie and trim overhang to 1/2-inch. Turn edges under flush with the rim; flute all around to make a stand-up edge or seal edges with a fork.

6. Bake pie at 425° for 40 minutes, or until top is golden brown and juices are bubbling up. Cool on wire rack.

Notes: Cooking apples include Golden Delicious, Granny Smith, Rome, Winesap, Stamen, and most tart, firm apples.

Cooks Illustrated magazine recommends a mixture of Granny Smith and MacIntosh apples for the best apple pie. The Granny Smiths are too firm alone, and the MacIntosh cook too soft by themselves, but they complement each other. According to CI, for a brighter apple flavor, you can cut the cinnamon down to 1/4 teapoon, leave out the flour and the Earth Balance. The pie will have a thinner juice, but will taste great. It just won’t be like your Mom’s or Grandmom’s or whoever you’re homesick for.

Vegan Sweet Potato Pie
This recipe makes two regular (not deep dish) pies. The Easy, Flaky, Two-Crust Whole Wheat Pie Crust recipe is sufficient for both.

Recipe By Lisa T. Bennett
Serves 16 (makes two pies)
Preparation Time depends on method for cooking sweet potatoes. Add 20 minutes to that for prep, then 1 hour for baking, and at least 1 hour to chill.

4 cups orange-fleshed sweet potatoes, cooked and mashed (about 5 medium-large sweet potatoes)
2 tablespoons Earth Balance Buttery Spread, melted
2 cups soy milk
1 cup Sucanat
1 teaspoon almond extract (optional)
1 tablespoon vanilla
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves or allspice
1 tablespoon Ener-G egg replacer powder
1 recipe Easy, Flaky, Two-Crust Whole-Wheat Pie Crust

1. Place all ingredients in a food processor or mixer bowl and mix slowly until everything is combined. Then mix or process on high for a few minutes until there are very few lumps left.

2. Roll out two 12-inch pie crust circles and place them in 9-inch regular (not deep dish) pie plates. Flute edges lightly.

3. Pour filling into crusts and smooth the tops. Bake at 350 for 45 minutes – 1 hour. Remove when crust is golden and filling is relatively firm (the center might still be a little jiggly).

4. Cool completely on a wire rack, cover, and refrigerate until ready to serve.
Notes: You may steam, boil, or bake your sweet potatoes before mashing them. If you bake them, you might need to add a little more soy milk to the filling (1/4 cup or so) to keep the filling light and moist. Boiling the sweet potatoes is the standard method used in most pie recipes.

Dairy-Free, Low-Fat Pumpkin Pie

Recipe adapted from Mori-Nu, Morinaga Foods
Preparation Time: 15 minutes to prepare, 1 hour to bake, 1 hour or more to chill
Serves 8

1 1/2 packages Mori-Nu Lite Organic Extra-Firm Tofu (see notes)
2 cups canned or cooked pumpkin (see notes – not pumpkin pie mix)
2/3 cup maple syrup (or more to taste)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract or flavor
1 tablespoon pumpkin pie spice (or see notes)
1 9″ unbaked vegan pie shell (half of the two-crust recipe above)

1. Drain tofu and blend in a food processor until smooth. Add remaining ingredients; blend until the mixture is glosssy. This will take a couple of minute. Scrape down the mixture once or twice to avoid any little unblended bits of tofu in the pie.

2. Pour into a 9″ unbaked pie crust. Bake in a preheated 350 degree F oven for approximately one hour. Filling will be soft, but will firm up as it chills.

3. Cool on wire rack completely. Cover, chill, and serve cold or at room temperature for best flavor.
Notes: For a lighter texture, use Mori-Nu Organic Firm Tofu. You can actually use any of the Mori-Nu tofu packages, except “soft” which will make a pie that is a little sloppy.

If you choose to cook your own pumpkin, make sure it is a pie pumpkin (sweet and meaty), not a jack o’ lantern-type (which are flavorless and stringy).

Instead of pumpkin pie spice, use 1 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon, 3/4 teaspoon ginger, 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg, 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves.

Lisa’s favorite spice: Instead of pumpkin pie spice, use garam masala (Indian spice mix). This adds a subtle heat and an interesting depth to the flavor.

Roll out the extra pie crust, sprinkle with sugar, and cut into festive shapes (fall leaves, pumpkins, turkeys, clusters of grapes), and bake separately until golden brown. Set aside and decorate chilled pie with cutouts before serving.