Calculating the Perfect Pie

Be it custard or fruit, mousse or chiffon, a pie is only as good as its crust. Drawing as much passion as it does ire, the art of crafting the perfect pastry is a contentious subject among bakers and eaters alike. Everyone has an opinion about this essential dessert foundation, ranging from the most minimalist approaches inspired by the sage advice of grandmothers the world over, to high-end culinary graduate specifications that require a firm grasp of the scientific intricacies of baking to appreciate. There’s more than one way to go about the circumference of the dough, but there is one important rule that must be obeyed: Never let the hype go to your head.

When you find a solid formula, stick with it. There will always be new suggestions to explore, such as the substitution of vodka instead of water, or coconut oil as the primary fat, but if it’s not broken, don’t fix it.

Since Pi Day, March 14th, is right around the corner, now has never been a better time to strengthen your pie making prowess. That all begins with the crust.

What follows is the crust that’s seen me through the stickiest of fillings, the most temperamental of ovens, and the hottest of summers. This “Old Reliable” is a baker’s best friend, capable of standing and delivering anything loaded into it. The ingredients are nothing noteworthy; it’s all a matter of how they’re combined for the magic to happen. Keep everything, including bowls and utensils, as cold as possible so as not to melt the fat. Though a point of contention, I do adhere firmly to the belief that an all-“butter” crust is best. You may lose a little bit of flakiness, but the added flavor and crisp texture is worth that small sacrifice. For a lighter texture, feel free to sub out half of the butter for pure vegetable shortening, and proceed as written otherwise. Do not be tempted to play around with coconut oil or any liquid oils in this one, as the structure simply isn’t built for that kind of tinkering.

Even when I’m planning to make a single-crusted pie, I always use the double-crust proportions, to make the most of my time. The extra disk of dough can be frozen for up to 6 months with no harm, as long as it’s thawed gradually in the fridge before use. That way, you’re always prepared to whip up a pie at a moment’s notice.

Classic Pie Crust
From Easy as Vegan Pie: One-of-a-Kind Sweet and Savory Slices by Hannah Kaminsky

Two Crusts (For a Double-Crust):

2 1/2 Cups All-Purpose Flour
2 Teaspoons Granulated Sugar
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
3/4 Cup Vegan Butter, Chilled, Cut into Small Pieces
1 Tablespoon Lemon Juice
2–4 Tablespoons Ice-Cold Water

OR

Single Crust:

1 1/4 Cups All-Purpose Flour
1 Teaspoon Granulated Sugar
1/4 Teaspoon Salt
6 Tablespoons Vegan Butter, Chilled, Cut into Small Pieces
1 1/2 Teaspoons Lemon Juice
1–2 Tablespoons Ice-Cold Water

The easiest, quickest way to make a traditional pie crust is to get a helping hand from your food processor. Some say this approach sacrifices flakiness in favor of convenience, but I don’t believe that any of my pies have suffered as a result. If you have the equipment, my advice is to use it! Place the flour, sugar, and salt in the bowl of your food processor and pulse to combine. Add the margarine and pulse 6–8 times, until the mixture resembles very coarsely ground almond meal. A few small chunks of margarine should remain visible, but nothing larger than the size of peas. Sprinkle lemon juice and the first tablespoon of water in while pulsing a few times to incorporate. If the dough holds together when squeezed, you’re good to go. If it remains crumbly, keep adding water while pulsing, just a teaspoon at a time, until the dough is cohesive.

In case you don’t have a food processor or just don’t want to clean the darn thing afterward, the old-fashioned method is just as effective, if a bit more labor-intensive. Place the flour, sugar, and salt in a large bowl and use a pastry cutter or two forks to cut in the pieces of margarine. A few small chunks of margarine should remain visible, but nothing larger than the size of peas. Sprinkle lemon juice and one tablespoon of water into the bowl and stir well with a wide spatula. Sometimes it can be difficult to get the liquids properly incorporated, so it may be helpful to drop the formalities and just get in there to mix with your hands. If the dough holds together when squeezed, you’re set. If it remains crumbly, keep adding water and mixing thoroughly, just a teaspoon at a time, until the dough is cohesive. Do your best not to over-mix or over-handle the dough, as this will make it tough when baked.

If making a double crust, divide the dough into two equal portions. Regardless of how many portions you now have, shape them into rough rounds and flatten them into disks about 1/2 inch in thickness. Wrap each tightly with plastic wrap and stash them in the fridge. Let chill for at least an hour, or up to a week. To save the unbaked dough even longer, store the pieces in your freezer for up to 6 months. (Don’t forget to label them clearly!)

When you’re ready to roll, lightly dust a clean, flat surface with an even coating of flour. Work on one disk of dough at a time, and coat both sides lightly with additional flour. Starting at the center of the disk, use your rolling pin to apply light pressure while rolling outwards to the edges. Try to maintain the round shape as best you can, turning the dough as needed. It may be helpful to periodically lift the dough to ensure that it’s not adhering to the counter. Keep rolling until the dough extends at least 2 inches beyond the size of your pie pan all around.

Carefully transfer the dough to your desired pie pan, and crimp the edges or decorate to your heart’s content. See page 24 of Easy as Vegan Pie for ideas. At the very least, trim away the excess dough so that only 1/2 inch is overhanging the lip of the pan. Tuck the extra dough underneath itself along the edge so that it’s smooth.

For an unbaked crust, you’re done here! Let the crust rest in the fridge while you prepare the filling. To blind-bake, see page 24 of Easy as Vegan Pie for the procedure.

If you’re making pie with a top crust, roll out the second disk of dough in the same fashion as before, reapplying flour to the counter if need. Use cookie cutters to cut out decorative vents before moving the dough, or simply cut six vents with a sharp knife. Gently place the flattened dough onto the filled pie, centering it as best you can. Use kitchen shears or a sharp knife to trim the overhang to an inch. Tuck the excess from the top crust under the edge of the bottom piece of dough, pressing together firmly but gently to seal. Bake according to the recipe for the filling.

Makes 1 or 2 Crusts

*Chocolate Pastry Crust: Reduce the flour to 2 1/3 cups and add 1/4 cup Dutch-processed cocoa powder.

Printable Recipe

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Rise and Shine

Emerging from the dark ages of winter, daylight savings time begins tomorrow, pushing the hour hand of our clocks forward and tired bodies out of bed earlier than most would prefer. Studies have shown that this shift is not just an unpleasant adjustment for the sleepyheads among us, but one of the most dangerous times of year. That missing hour of rest accounts for a dramatic increase in car accidents, affecting drivers, bicyclers, and pedestrians alike. There’s no substitute for a proper block of shuteye every night, but when that’s not possible, an extra dose of caffeine doesn’t hurt to ease the transition.

There has never been a better time to re-energize with a can of RISE. Elevating the average cup of Joe to gourmet heights, this brew is brilliant in its simplicity.

Pop the tab to unleash a startling fizz, an awakening of the dark brew concealed within. Don’t be shy, take a sip. An incredibly smooth, velvety texture floods your senses with strong, but balanced, full-bodied coffee flavor. The fine matrix of nitrogen bubbles creates an experience that isn’t foamy or bubbly like soda. Rather, the air pockets are so fine that they knit together in a cohesive, creamy texture. It can’t be compared to beer out of a tap, either; despite the beautiful cascading pour and frothy head that crowns each glass once RISE has been released from its aluminum can, the flavor far surpasses that of any boozy beverage, in my admittedly biased, largely non-alcoholic opinion.

Beyond the superlative take on a standard jet-black brew, unconventional citrus additions set the remaining line of options apart from the pack. Lemon and coffee sounds like an unlikely pair, and yet the two mingle harmonious in this cool, bright, and refreshing blend. Think of the classic Arnold Palmer, combining black tea and lemonade, but with a darker, richer base to approximate the experience. A touch of cane sugar rounds out the high notes for a very satisfying sip, from start to finish. Served over ice, surely this will be the hit of summer when the heat is on.

Blood orange is another unexpected fruity twist on tap, leading with notes of sweet orange that fade into the ground, earthy flavor of dark roasted beans. It’s like an all-purpose, full breakfast beverage in one compact container; just add champagne for a brunch-worthy celebration.

Stay awake, keep hydrated, and treat your taste buds. Coffee can’t stop the relentless march of time, but it can sure help you cope.

Weather or Not

Mentally battered by an assault of inclement weather warnings, you’d think the general public would have staged a revolt against all forecasters at this point. The anxiety and stress piles up faster than the foretold falling flakes, thanks to the added hype that always comes with incessant social media repetition. Nine times out of ten, expectations don’t match the reality of the climate outside, but the hysteria is sure real. So much as suggest that there might be anything less than blue skies and people will turn out from all corners of the earth to wrestle that last roll of toilet paper out of your hands at the grocery store. It’s like a battle of life and death, to secure a stockpile before the world ends, regardless of the pitifully low probability of even flurries.

This is a phenomenon I’ve become somewhat immune to in the generally mild atmosphere of the bay area, but that same illogical impulse still grips me when I’m least expecting it. Rain is the new snow around here, since it appears so rarely and thus cripples unsteady drivers and fragile public transit systems that don’t know how to cope. I still feel the pain of all those back east, hunkering down for a brutal nor’easter right now, undoubtedly hurtling through their local markets as if their shopping carts were assault weapons.

As darkening skies approach, what’s going into your basket? What are the staples that immediately make the cut as sustenance to hold you through those difficult times (maybe even hours!) when the roads are too intimidating to traverse? Practicality is not my strong suit, and so the parade of groceries marching down the conveyor belt at checkout is typically laughable. Peanut butter, bread, frozen peas; sure, those are wise investments. But the random assortment of chocolates, half-priced hummus, and impulse buy mini gnocchi? Those are perhaps a bit less crucial for long-term survival. I would not fare well if ever faced with a real lock-down emergency.

Luckily, my unreasonable yet well-meaning instincts have led me to create some incredible combinations out of those curiously assembled ingredients. Those mini gnocchi, for example, caught my eye as ideal comfort food when the going got rough, and they didn’t disappoint even when the forecast did. There’s never been a better time to indulge in such a recipe, although I can’t say that there would ever come a bad time, either.

Lavished with a buttery cream sauce made of typical pantry staples, it could very well be the new face of emergency rations, despite its less urgent origins. Dauphinoise potatoes typically layers thinly sliced spuds in a casserole concoction, but since pasta keeps longer and is almost always on hand, gnocchi struck me as a natural extension of the concept. In more dire times, or healthier mindsets, I realized that swapping out the dumplings for simple legumes like chickpeas could make for an equally satisfying, comforting side dish, too. It’s all the same starchy, savory, subtly salty flavors which meld into an effortless indulgence in the end.

If you haven’t already gone through the throes of panic-induced grocery shopping, may I make three quick suggestions? 1) Make a list. 2) Avoid the candy aisle. 3) Write in mini gnocchi as a necessity, no matter how silly it may appear at first glance. You’ll thank me for this later.

Gnocchi Dauphinoise

1 Pound Mini Potato Gnocchi
1/3 Cup Raw Cashews
1 Cup Unsweetened Non-Dairy Milk
1/3 Cup Vegetable Stock
2 Tablespoons Vegan Butter
1 Tablespoon Nutritional Yeast
2 Cloves Garlic, Minced
1/2 Teaspoon Dried Thyme
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1/4 Teaspoon Ground White Pepper

Preheat your oven to 300 degrees.

Gently separate the mini gnocchi and toss them into a 1 1/2 quart baking dish. They’re so small that they don’t need to be parboiled before baking.

Toss all of the remaining ingredients into a high-speed blender and pulverize on the highest setting until perfectly silky smooth. If you’re using a machine that has a bit less torque, soak the cashews for at least 4 hours in advance before blender, to make them a bit softer and easier to emulsify. Blend for a full 6 – 8 minutes, until the mixture is steaming hot.

Pour the cashew cream all over the waiting gnocchi before easing the dish into the oven. Bake for 1 – 1 1/2 hours, until the gnocchi are fork-tender and the liquid is thick and rich. Top with freshly chopped parsley, if desired, and serve bubbling hot.

Makes 4 – 6 Servings as a Side; 2 – 3 Servings as an Entree with Salad

Printable Recipe

Flavor Your Life

It’s one of the most common cooking staples across the globe, found in even the most sparsely populated pantries and in the hands of extraordinarily reluctant cooks. Olive oil’s ubiquity is owed in large part to its accessibility, as a vast number of brands have become available in recent years. Such a vast range of options should immediately suggest that not all oils are created equal, yet few shoppers pause to think about the origin of those original fruits before popping a sleek new bottle into their carts. For such a beloved, indispensable ingredient, there sure is still an overwhelming amount of misinformation out there.

Inspired by the Flavor Your Life campaign, supported by the European Union, Unaprol, and the Italian Ministry of Agriculture, the goal of debunking common misconceptions resonated with me in a powerful way. Moms Meet provided a bottle of Zucchi Extra Virgin Olive Oil to demonstrate the difference, but I’ve long been a devotee of quality European olive oils even without that delicious perk.

Let’s not beat around the olive tree, and get down to business. It’s time to talk about the top olive oil myths that need to be put to rest, once and for all:

You can’t fry with it.

Contrary to the single most frequently perpetuated false fact, olive oil has a 400-degree smoke point and can hold up beautifully (and tastefully) to the task of deep frying. Raising the heat beyond that temperature will only result in burnt food no matter the carrier, so keep a thermometer clipped to the pot, tend it carefully, and your taste buds will be rewarded.

Only extra-virgin will work in dressings.

Though there is a drop of truth in that statement, extra-virgin is merely a title bestowed to the very top grade of oil, cold pressed; extracted without heat or chemicals. That isn’t to say that other grades are of any lower quality. If anything, their flavor has a lower impact, which might actually be a welcome quality if your vinaigrette has bold seasonings that would otherwise obliterate the delicate nuances of a top grade oil. On the reverse side of the spectrum, this more neutral palate could be a benefit for baked goods where you don’t want such a savory note to shine though.

Kept in a dark, cool place, it should keep pretty much indefinitely.

Those volatile oils would beg to differ! Like any other fresh food, it should be refrigerated, and for no more than 6 – 8 months, ideally. It does go rancid at room temperature, although most people are so accustomed to using sub-par varieties, they may not realize the truly superlative, ephemeral nature of the genuine article.

Terroir is only for wine.

Extra-virgin is top shelf quality, but bottles bearing that designation manifest that grade through a wide spectrum of flavors. The greatest contributors to taste are the types of olive trees (cultivar), the region (which affects climate and soil) and time of harvest. Early in the harvest season, under-ripe fruits produce oils that are greener, more bitter and pungent. By contrast, olives harvested towards the end of season are over-ripe, resulting in a more mild, sweet, and buttery character. Other variables can yield oils that skew more nutty, peppery, grassy, floral, and beyond.

Considering the incredibly varied range of options being produced in all corners of the European continent, this is just the tip of the iceberg. A full education on this essential ingredient can be gleaned with just a dash of culinary curiosity, and a pinch of knowledge from the Flavor Your Life campaign. Eating better starts with cooking better, and there’s no substitute for quality components.

Powered By Plants

Meet the new “power lunch,” and breakfast and dinner, too. Before you reach for the takeout menus, reach to your bookshelf, pull out Gena Hamshaw‘s latest masterwork, Power Plates, and you’ll undoubtedly discover a meal that’s far tastier, healthier, and just as fast as delivery.

It’s not rocket science, which is exactly what good food is supposed to be. Gena works from her background as a certified nutritionist to compose balanced meals across the board, which means a solid serving of protein, carbs, and fats, of course, but steers away from complex meal plans or confusing macros.

Arguably more important from an eater’s standpoint, that same approach to crafting dishes with a complementary range of elements extends to the overall flavor; spicy, sweet, and savory tastes all meld together harmoniously for that perfect balance in every bite.

Pulling from everyday staples you probably already have in the kitchen, there are no obscure ingredients that will have you running all over creation to hunt down. Case in point, the moment this glossy new text landed on my doorstep, I flipped through those crisp pages and immediately set about preparing the first recipe that jumped out at me. Apple Ginger Muesli, a cold but bold counterpoint to the usual breakfast oatmeal, was both a hearty and invigorating morning meal. Emphasizing a diverse range of textures with crunchy almonds, tender apples, and creamy oats, there wasn’t a boring spoonful from start to finish. Some sort of strange alchemy occurs by letting the mixture sit overnight, transforming the blend into something elevated beyond the mere sum of its parts. This will no doubt become an indispensable breakfast especially as the weather grows warmer.

Speaking of warm weather, I can’t wait for picnic season when I can bust out this Zucchini Pesto Pasta Salad for al fresco dining. In all honesty though, you could just as easily serve this dish hot without detracting from its herbaceous charm. The pesto alone is a keeper, an ideal blend of fresh basil and walnuts, with a touch of nutritional yeast for that extra savory something. You could spread it on toast (or even cardboard for that matter) and be just as happy.

Soup is my go-to quick fix when I don’t have a plan for dinner or much to pull from the fridge, which is why the Lemony Lentil Soup was an easy win. Although originally written with an addition of kale, I made a quick substitution with frozen spinach with great success. No need to go grocery shopping and nearly instant gratification! Bright citrus perks up the standard stew, a small tweak on a familiar theme that yield a big flavor payoff. Thank goodness I always keep lentils on hand, since this is one that I want to eat on repeat, and I have a feeling that you will, too.

New cooks should find the instructions approachable, infused with Gena’s warmth and no-nonsense advice. Those with more experience should take inspiration in their unpretentious sensibility, with an eye to seasonal, fresh combinations. Nothing in here screams “VEGAN” from the rooftops; it’s just delicious, and just so happens to be plant-based.

Having had the pleasure of photographing her earlier cookbook, Choosing Raw, I expected delicious compositions with thoughtful, sage advice, but these results exceed my lofty expectations. Each beautifully illustrated page sparkles with potential, promising nothing short of a stellar experience in every meal. It would be a crime to keep such a treasure to myself, which is why I’m thrilled to share a copy of Power Plates with one lucky reader! To enter this giveaway, get the details below, and let me know in the comment section which recipe(s) jump out at you first. Do you have a game plan together to hit the ground cooking? You’ll want to be ready, since even a casual glance through this cookbook will make you hungry.

Power Plates Cookbook Giveaway

In case you’re already clamoring to get into the kitchen and start cooking, I don’t blame you. Gena has kindly stepped in to help soothe those hunger pains by providing her recipe for that stellar lentil soup I enjoyed so much. Bon appetite!

LEMONY LENTIL SOUP WITH MUSHROOMS AND KALE

I usually add more than the suggested amount of lemon juice to this highly nutritious soup, but that’s because I’m a lemon fiend. No matter how much lemon juice you add, this soup is packed with plant protein and wholesome ingredients and will do your body good.

MAKES 6 SERVINGS

1 1⁄2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large white or yellow onion, chopped
4 carrots, peeled and diced
2 stalks celery, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
8 ounces (225 g) white mushrooms, sliced
Salt
1 1⁄2 teaspoons dried thyme
1⁄2 teaspoon dried rosemary
1⁄4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 1⁄2 cups (300 g) dried green, brown, or French green lentils
4 cups (950 ml) low-sodium vegetable broth
2 cups (475 ml) water
1 small bunch kale, stemmed and chopped
3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

Heat the oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the onion, carrots, and celery and
cook, stirring occasionally, for 8 minutes, until the vegetables are tender. Stir in the garlic, mushrooms, and a generous pinch of salt. Cover and cook for 5 minutes, until the mushrooms are tender and have released their juices.

Stir in 1⁄2 teaspoon salt and the thyme, rosemary, pepper, and lentils, then pour in the broth and water. Bring to a boil over high heat, then lower the heat, cover partially, and simmer, stirring occasionally, for about 30 minutes, until the lentils are tender but not mushy. Stir in the kale, cover, and cook for 10 minutes. Stir in the lemon juice, then taste and adjust the seasonings if desired. Serve piping hot.

Reprinted with permission from Power Plates, copyright © 2018 by Gena Hamshaw. Published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC.

Crumby, Not Crummy

I love coffee cake, but I take issue with the false promises it makes right from the start. It strikes me as disingenuous to lure in the under-caffeinated with such a title, only to deliver a cinnamon-infused experience. I’ve heard the old argument that it’s simply suggesting how well it pairs with a cup of Joe, but that sounds like a poor excuse for deceptive branding, like “juice” that’s never seen a fruit in its short squeezed life. Coffee cake was an evolution, not an invention, derived from many other styles of baked confections in the early days of sugar cravings all across Europe, which can partially explain the indistinct, ambiguous definition of the form.

Some coffee cakes had fruits, others nuts, some were fashioned as loaves while others rose into towering rings and bundts; the one common factor that united them was the uncanny ability to eat them during a coffee break. Bearing out that logic, there would be some fresh hell to pay if we started calling all types of cookies “snack biscuits.” Can you imagine the anger and confusion that would result from the hangry sweet-toothed eaters receiving dry wafers when they were expecting rich, decadent brownies? That’s not a world I want to live in, quite frankly.

Steering clear of the controversy all together, I much prefer a more accurate headline. for my coffee complement: Crumb cake or struesel cake are equally appropriate. No one can deny that coarse, buttery topping, no matter the flavor nor format, for lack or abundance of additional mix-ins. The issue is far from black and white, contrary to this unconventional expression of the concept.

Inspired by the jar of black tahini remaining in my fridge after a fortuitous visit to the Living Tree Community Foods offices, this particular coffee-free spin on the classic fully embraces and celebrates the very best part of its namesake. Living up to its moniker, unlike so many cakes of yore, the struesel topping is thick, bold and unmistakable.

While we’re disrupting the usual routine anyway, why should cinnamon have all the crumb fun? A touch of cardamom and a hint of lemon complement the nutty notes of sesame throughout, subtle yet unmistakable nuances against the tender crumb.

A strong cup of spiced Turkish coffee would certainly be a welcome accompaniment, but as we’ve established, far from mandatory for maximum enjoyment. Whether you serve your slices with tea, lemonade, or nothing else at all, they will always make good on the promise of a delicious sweet treat.

Black and White Sesame Streusel Cake

Black Sesame Streusel:

1/2 Cup Black Sesame Tahini
2 Tablespoons Vegan Butter, Melted
1/2 Cup Dark Brown Sugar, Firmly Packed
1/2 Cup All-Purpose Flour
1/4 Cup Black Sesame Seeds
1/4 Teaspoon Salt

White Sesame Cake:

1/2 Cup Raw Sesame Tahini
1/4 Cup Vegan Butter, at Room Temperature
3/4 Cup Granulated Sugar
1/4 Cup Plain Vegan Yogurt
2 Cups All Purpose Flour
1 Teaspoon Baking Powder
1/2 Teaspoon Baking Soda
1/4 Teaspoon Salt
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Cardamom
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Cinnamon
1 Cup Plain Non-Dairy Milk
1 Tablespoon Lemon Juice
1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and lightly grease a square 8 x 8-inch baking pan; set aside.

Begin by preparing the streusel topping. In a large bowl, stir together the black tahini, melted vegan butter, and brown sugar until smooth. Add in the flour, sesame seeds, and salt, mixing with a fork to create coarse, chunky crumbs. Set in the refrigerator to chill while focusing on the cake batter next.

Place the raw tahini, vegan butter, sugar, and yogurt into the bowl of your stand mixer and thoroughly cream everything together using the paddle attachment. Pause to scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed, making sure that all the ingredients are incorporated into a homogeneous blend before proceeding.

Sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cardamom, and cinnamon together into a separate bowl, whisking to combine. In a small pitcher, stir the non-dairy milk, lemon juice, and vanilla together as well. Add about half of the dry goods into the stand mixer, blending until mostly incorporated. Introduce half of the liquids, continuing to mix at a low speed. Repeat the procedure until both are smoothly blended in. Be careful not to over-beat the batter though; a few errant lumps are perfectly fine.

Smooth the batter into your prepared baking dish. Break up the crumbs with a fork and sprinkle them evenly all over. It may seem like a lot, but you want full coverage here, so don’t hold back.

Bake for 55 to 60 minutes, until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool completely in pan before slicing and serving.

Makes 9 – 12 Servings

Printable Recipe