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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The Life of Pie

Not all brilliant ideas start out that way. Anyone that’s spent a decent amount of time tinkering with recipes can attest to that, often chalking up more failures than successes despite any amount of experience at the stove. Case in point: This stubborn crusted wonder known fondly as a Caramel Corn Pie, which should have graced the pages of Easy as Vegan Pie.

Conceptually sound yet more temperamental than a 5-year old crashing from a sugar high, it was my problem child of the bunch. After sending it through the ringer with over a half-dozen different trials, completely revamping the base and rendering it unrecognizable from the original approach, sweet relief seemed to be in sight. Handing over the results to my unsuspecting recipe testers, I stood back with a smug sense of pride, awaiting the flood of enthusiastic feedback sure to return in no time.

Needless to say, that was not the case. Still baking unevenly, working in fits and starts, there was no rhyme nor reason to why it would work for some but flop spectacularly for others. Endless last minute tweaks caused it to miss the final deadline for joining the other perfect pies in the book, but finally, a gem I’ve been saving up to celebrate Pi Day (3.14!) the right way, its time has finally come.

For all the love that popcorn wins as a stand-alone snack, you’d think that more treats would seek to share in its reflected glory, utilizing the humble kernel for all that it’s worth. It strikes me as a huge failure of creativity that there aren’t more attempts at popcorn cupcakes, popcorn cookies, or popcorn pies. Luckily, with a bit of custard and caramel, this is a problem we can fix. Notes of burnt sugar compliment a buttery undertone, accented with a good pinch of salt. If you’re craving popcorn, it might be a wise idea to think inside the crust.

Caramel Corn Pie

1 Unbaked Classic Crust (page 36 of Easy as Vegan Pie)

Crunchy Caramel Corn Topping:

4 Cups Freshly Popped Popcorn* (From about 1/4 Cup Kernels)
1/2 Cup Dark Brown Sugar, Firmly Packed
2 Tablespoons Non-Dairy Margarine
1 Tablespoon Light Agave Nectar
1/4 Teaspoon Salt
1/8 Teaspoon Baking Soda

Caramel Corn Custard:

4 Cups Freshly Popped Popcorn* (From about 1/4 Cup Kernels)
2 1/4 Cups Plain Non-Dairy Milk
1/2 Cup Dark Brown Sugar, Firmly Packed
1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1/2 Cup Unsweetened Applesauce
1/3 Cup Cornstarch
1/4 Teaspoon Baking Powder
1 Tablespoon Whole Flaxseeds, Ground
1/4 Cup Non-Dairy Margarine, Melted

*To pop your corn, place the popcorn kernels in a medium-size brown paper bag (if you’re not sure if it’s big enough, err on the side of caution and pop the corn in two separate batches). Use scotch or masking tape to seal the bag shut, and put it in the microwave. Use the “popcorn” setting if possible, or set the timer for 3 ½ minutes at full power. When the popping slows to about once every 5 seconds, remove the bag, and open it very carefully, making sure your hands and face are out of the way- The steam can be quite painful! Sift out any unpopped kernels.

The caramel corn topping takes a bit longer to bake than the pie itself, so your best bet is to prepare it in advance. Preheat your oven to 225 degrees and line a jellyroll pan with a piece of parchment paper or a silpat.

Place the first four cups of popped corn in a large bowl near the stove. In a medium saucepan over moderate heat, combine the brown sugar, non-dairy margarine, agave, and salt, stir well and bring to a boil. Cook at a vigorous bubble while stirring continuously for 5 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and quickly stir in the baking soda. It will foam and bubble angrily, but don’t just stand around and watch it- Make haste and pour the mixture all over the popcorn. Toss to coat each and every kernel, and spread the syrupy corn out in an even layer on your prepared baking sheet. Bake for about 1 hour, stirring every 15 minutes. It will become perfectly crisp once cool, so despite the tempting aroma, resist the urge to take a bite until it reaches room temperature.

Once the topping is baked and out of the oven, increase the temperature to 325 degrees.

Bring together the custard filling by combining the second measure of popped corn and non-dairy milk in a medium saucepan over moderate heat. Bring the mixture to a boil, cover, and turn off the heat. Let sit for 1 hour for the corn to soften and infuse into the liquid.

Transfer the popcorn milk to your blender or food processor and thoroughly puree. Give it at least 5 full minutes at high speed to break down the kernels as much as possible, and longer if necessary. Strain through a fine mesh sieve, pressing to get all the liquid out. Discard the solids.

Pour the popcorn milk back into the medium saucepan, and vigorously whisk in all the remaining ingredients for the filling. When perfectly smooth, turn on the heat to medium, and bring to a boil while stirring continuously, scraping the bottom and sides of the pan to prevent the mixture from burning. Once the mixture has thickened to the point that the bottom of the pan remains visible when you stir, without the filling immediately flowing back over the surface, turn off the heat and quickly transfer it to your unbaked pie shell.

Bake until custard is set and browned on top, about 45 – 50 minutes. The center should still be a bit jiggly when tapped, much like a cheesecake. Let cool completely and top with a generous mound of the crunchy caramel corn topping before serving at room temperature.

Makes 8 – 12 Servings

Printable Recipe

Lost at Sea

Nothing is off limits when it comes to capturing the perfect photo. Fulfilling a vision, watching it come to life, and being able to share it with others, no translation necessary, is the most satisfying aspect of the craft. No one said that reaching that goal was ever easy though, which is why I’m willing to go great lengths in order to see a concept through to completion. Even for your garden-variety food photo, every frame counts. Shooting on location presents its own unique set of challenges, but posing a pie for its closeup on the beach is far from my craziest idea yet.

A week of planning, a day of preparation, and day of meticulous baking later, the photo was everything I had dreamed of. With the recipe completed and fine tuned well in advance, the styling went off without a hitch. My Island Breeze Pie from Easy as Vegan Pie looked radiant, a true beach babe if I ever did see one. Never mind the fact that it was a chilly February morning, the wee hours of the AM affording us a quiet, undisturbed spot on the shoreline; the sun’s gentle golden glow suggested otherwise, and the soft ripples of sea water coming in with the tide seemed to lovingly cradle the dish itself. It was perfect, that one moment that every artist lives for when everything in the world feels right.

And the next moment is what every risk-taker dreads.

Splash! Right before my lens, one cruel wave silently crept up from beyond my viewfinder, sneaking around the edges of my painstakingly styled pie, and maliciously scaled the walls of the ceramic vessel, crashing through the latticework in one fell swoop. I never saw it coming, but with camera poised and a finger on the trigger, the devastating attack was inadvertently captured for all eyes to see, detailing the full destruction in a multitude of frames.

“No, not the macadamia nuts!” I howled in anguish, helplessly watching the waters recede. They were one of the rare edible souvenirs that made the journey with me back from Hawaii, you see, much more sentimental than your average ingredient.

Leaving behind a soggy but fully intact pastry in its wake, my rescue efforts came too late, but the whole dish was nonetheless toweled off and taken home. This poor, brave pie made the ultimate sacrifice- Who could be so cold-hearted as to simply shrug and throw it away? Not I; loathe to waste food, and turn my back on this valiant fighter.

Only out of desperation, and only due to one overly optimistic suggestion did the pie return to the oven in an attempt to dry out. The water was removed, but the sand, grit, and salt remained, tasting of of detritus and sadness. Officially beyond salvage, all I could do was honor its memory, publishing that glorious photo to inspire generations of Island Breeze Pies to come.

Don’t forget to enter my giveaway for a chance to win a copy of Easy as Vegan Pie for yourself! Pretty please, don’t let any of your baked creations anywhere near the water, for your own eating enjoyment.

Have a Bigger Slice of the Pie

Gingerly slicing through the packing tape and lifting each flap of the cardboard carton, one at a time, unboxing my very first copies of Easy as Vegan Pie was, both predictably and surprisingly, unreal. Entering the lineup as my fourth cookbook, the creative process had become second nature, from dreaming and scheming to writing down the results. It was all the same routine, albeit more challenging subject matter than ever before, producing the luscious glossy pages I had been imagining for well over a year, through all of the flops and resounding successes alike. Exactly as I expected, the content felt as familiar as the back of my hand, having poured over the tiny details for hours on end to reach this point.

But holding the hardcover in my hands, flipping past photos and recipes that had each taken on their own unique personalities with stories to share, the sensation is indescribable. It’s hard to believe that this really came from my own hands, while it feels close enough to be an actual piece of me, out in bookstores everywhere. I couldn’t be more proud to share my heart, and my pies, abroad.

This isn’t about me though- I know you’re here for some sweet and savory satisfaction! Yes, it’s true, there are indeed savory recipes thrown into the mix, for the first time in any of my personal publications. A book for everyone, the range of flavors covers all tastes, and includes many gluten-free, nut-free, and soy-free options throughout. The “look inside” feature on Amazon.com has yet to go live, so in the meantime, allow me to tempt you with a taste of the recipes within:

Custard, Cream, and Pudding Pies

Adzuki Bean Pie
Banana Tapioca Pudding Pie
Buckeye Pie
Cannoli Pie
Chocolate Chipotle Sweet Potato Pie
Cookies ‘n Creme Fried Pies
Double Chocolate Truffle Tart
Figgy Pudding Pie
Greek Silk Pie
Kiwi Coconut Pie
Lemon Chia Seed Meringue Pie
Mud Pie
New York Cheesecake Pie
Nutterscotch Pie
Pistachio Pudding Pie
Raspberry Red Velvet Pie
Rock ‘n Roll Elvis Pie
Skinny Mint Tart
Speculoos Pumpkin Pie
Sweet Corn Crème Brûlée Tartlettes
Watermelon Chiffon Pie
Yogurt Parfait Tartlettes

Frozen Pies

Acai Bowl Pies
Blood Orange Creamsicle Pie
Hula Pie
Kahlua Pie
Malted Strawberry Milkshake Pie
Mojito Pie
Persimmon Chiffon Pie
Raw Eggnog Pie
Root Beer Float Pie
Spumoni Pie
Winter Wonderland Peppermint Pie
Nut Pies
Baklava Pie
Caramel Macadamia Crumb Tart
Chestnut Crunch Pie
Gingerbread Walnut Pie
Hazelnut Tassies
Marzipan Crostata
Pomegranate Pecan Pie

Fruit Pies

Apple Burgundy Betty Pie
Apricotta Tart
Bella Bellini Tartlettes
Black and Blue Licorice Pie
Black Forest Pie
Concord Frangipane Pie
Cran-Cherry Impossible Pie
Drunken Apricot Pies
Frankenstorm Pie (AKA Banana Ganache Pie)
Grapefruit Shaker Pie
Island Breeze Pie
Killer Apple Pie
Ma’amoul Pie
Mahalapeño Pie
Mango Chutney Pie
Membrillo Pie
Pear Praline Pie
Rhubarb Heart Pies
Roasted Strawberry and Tomato Galette
Rosemary-Peach Tarte Tatin
Strawberry Cereal Streusel Pie
Sugared Plum Tart

Wild Card Pies

Birthday Pie
Black-Bottom Macaroon Pie
Carrot Cake Pie
Chess Pie
Chocolate and Zucchini Pie
Choose-Your-Own-Adventure Pie Pops
Jack-O-Lantern Pies
Mango Sticky Rice Pie
Maple Shoo-Fly Pie
Margarita Jelly Shot Tartlettes
Matcha Mochi Pie
Old Fashioned Oatmeal Pie
Pup Tarts
Snickerdoodle Pie
Stained Glass Pie
Torta di Verdura

Savory Pies

Caramelized Onion and Apple Tart
Cheesy Mac Pie
Fried Green Tomato Pies
Primavera Pot Pies
Reuben Pie
Spaghetti Squash and Meatball Pie
Taco Pie
Tamale Pies
Tea Tart
Thanksgiving Quiche
Wasabi Pea Pie

…And that’s to say nothing of the wide range of crusts, accompaniments, toppings, and variations included as well. Of course, you’ll also find tons of tips on how to make your best pies ever, going into great detail on equipment, techniques, and ingredients.

Now, if you’ve made it all the way through that cruel temptation of recipe titles, you definitely deserve an actual slice of pie. Although I can’t ship one of these crusted beauties safely through the mail, I would be delighted to send you the blueprint to make scores of your own. To celebrate the official release of Easy as Vegan Pie, I’m giving away one signed and personalized copy, straight from my own reserve. I’m bursting to share this gem, so I can’t wait for it to reach book shelves any longer! If you’d like a big slice of the pie for yourself, enter by leaving me a comment below with your name and email in the appropriate boxes before October 16th, Midnight EST.  The only restriction is that you must have a US mailing address. Tell me about the best pie you’ve ever eaten, or which pie listed above you’re most looking forward to sinking your teeth into!

UPDATE: The entry period is over and a winner has been selected by the trusty random number generator. The participant who’s about to start rolling in dough very shortly is…

Commenter #97; Lizze! Congrats Lizzie, you’ll be hearing from me very shortly about how to collect your prize. Don’t despair if this wasn’t your lucky day. There will be many more exciting giveaways to come…

I Only Have Pies For You

March 14th is always a cause for celebration, a holiday that deserves more fanfare than it ever earns. For those who haven’t marked their calendars and awaited the day with enthusiasm, just take a peek at the numerical representation: 3.14. Ring any bells? Yes indeed, it’s Pi Day!

Every year, bakers and bloggers across the globe try to out do themselves, coming up with some truly brilliant representations of this most delicious mathematical value. You wouldn’t guess it based on the current state of my recipe index, but I’ve been working especially hard on my pie contribution this time around. In fact, I have not one mere pie to share, but well over one hundred. There’s just one small catch…

You’ll have to wait until Easy as Vegan Pie is released this coming October.

All you pie-lovers out there, can I get a “Hell Yeah!”? It’s been a difficult path, paved with crumbly, sticky, and otherwise uncooperative dough; runny custards and undercooked fruits; every pie-related woe possible stood in my way of the perfect slice. Now I can confidently promise a fix to all those problems, along with dozens of mouth-watering, near revolutionary fillings never before seen in a crust. Get excited everyone- This book will make every day a pi day.

As if that wasn’t enough news to make you jump up and dance around the kitchen, brace yourself because I have another reason for you to start preheating your oven in anticipation… Vegan Desserts, out of print for many months now, is to be reprinted and re-released in paperback format, come November!

It’s going to be one sweet fall season…