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


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


Catch More Flies with Vinegar Than Honey

Vinegar is having a moment right now, bolstered by the rising popularity of experimental pickling, increasingly sour drinks, and infused dressings. Perhaps it’s the natural reaction to being saturated in sweetness from morning to night, a palate cleanser in between sugary snacks and unbalanced entrees, that’s driving the trend. Whatever the case may be, it’s hardly an innovative thought; early American pioneers were hip to the vinegar hype way before it was cool.

Imagine those cold, dark days, before refrigeration was even a wild dream, when seasonal fruits were far from reach but demands for dessert were still as urgent as ever. Reach into the cupboard and pull out the first viable flavoring agent, and undoubtedly, you’d find a bottle of good old white vinegar in your hand. Blended into a simple, creamy custard and set inside a golden brown crust, classic vinegar pie is a study in careful contrasts. Bright and bold, yet not overly acidic, only an expert baker could have pulled of this early combination with success, as the tiniest tweak in ratios could have skewed those slices towards seriously astringent territory.

Though that same scarcity is no longer a concern, there’s still much to glean from this old-fashioned approach. What if we took that concept and kicked up the flavor a bit? Select a more full-bodied vinegar and create a flavorful fruit filling that still pays homage to its origins.

Apple cider vinegar, the workhorse souring agent of the kitchen, finally gets a shot at the limelight in this sweet-and-sour treat. Fresh applesauce, ripe with the essence of the orchard, sets the tone, singing the song of autumn harvest and bounty. Naturally, this is best using homemade applesauce, but certainly works with any quality store-bought option. Heck, you could even go crazy and keep it chunky for some added textural excitement.

Simple, homely by the kindest of descriptions, those unassuming slices will take your guests by surprise. Each bite packs a real punch, while remaining impossibly well-balanced on the palate. It’s not a new idea, but one that’s executed just right.

Apple Vinegar Pie

1 Unbaked Classic Crust (page 36 of Easy as Vegan Pie) in a 9-Inch Round Pie Pan

1/4 Cup Vegan Butter, Melted
2/3 Cup Light Brown Sugar, Firmly Packed
1/2 Cup Tapioca Flour
1/2 Teaspoon Baking Powder
2 Cups Unsweetened Applesauce
2 Tablespoons Apple Cider Vinegar
1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

Prepare the custard by simply whisking together all of the ingredients for the filling until smooth. To make really fast work of this, you could toss everything into your food processor or blender, too. Pour into your prepared pie crust and bake for 60 – 70 minutes, or until softly set. It should still jiggle in the middle when tapped because just like a cheesecake, it will continue to firm up as it cools.

Let cool at room temperature before moving into the fridge, and chill for at least 4 hours before slicing. Top with whipped coconut cream and sliced fresh apples for a bit of extra flare, if desired.

Makes 8 – 10 servings

Printable Recipe

Layered in Sweet History

Towering stacks of gossamer-thin pastry, impossibly crisp and glistening with sticky syrup gleam from within bakery cases across the globe. Though typically full to bursting with crisp walnuts and warm spices, baklava is no stranger to alternative approaches. Considering the fact that it’s been at the mercy of creative bakers for centuries, this well-loved treat has managed to maintain its core identity far better than most, thanks in no small part to its sheer simplicity.

All you need is phyllo dough and a bit of patience to bring any dessert-lover to their knees. Swapping in pistachios for the filling is my favorite twist, inspired by my dad’s equal distaste for walnuts and love for pistachios, but this is a new rendition that he can endorse as well. Toasted coconut adds tropical flare without venturing too far into the dangerous waters of “fusion” cuisine. Sweet cinnamon and floral syrup closely reminiscent of honey bring familiar flavors back into the fold, sure to satisfy traditionalist and more adventurous eaters alike.

Coconut Baklava


1 Cup Water
1 1/2 Cups Granulated Sugar
2 Tablespoons Lemon Juice
1/2 Teaspoon Orange Blossom Water
1/2 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract


4 Cups Shredded, Unsweetened Coconut, Toasted
3/4 Cup Raw Cashew Pieces, Roughly Chopped
1/2 Cup Coconut Sugar or Turbinado Sugar
1 Teaspoon Ground Cinnamon
1/2 Teaspoon Salt

For Assembly:

1 (1-Pound) Box Frozen Phyllo Dough, Thawed
1/2 Cup Coconut Oil, Melted

Make sure that your phyllo dough is completely before beginning. Keep it covered with a lightly moistened kitchen towel to prevent it from drying out.

Preheat your oven to 300 degrees and lightly grease a 9 x 13 inch baking pan.

Prepare the syrup first so it has time to cool. This can also be made well in advance, as it will keep almost indefinitely in an air-tight container. Simply combine all of the ingredients in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil. Cook just until the sugar has fully dissolved; set aside.

Moving on to the filling, briefly pulse the coconut and cashews in your blender or food processor to achieve a coarse grind while still allowing the mixture to remain very rough and chunky. Transfer to a large bowl and mix with the sugar, cinnamon, and salt.

Cut (or tear) the phyllo so that it will fit into the bottom of your prepared baking pan. It is okay if the pieces overlap a little. Begin by laying down one sheet and brushing the pastry with melted coconut oil. Add another sheet of phyllo once the first is lightly but thoroughly coated. Brush the second sheet with coconut oil. Repeat these steps up to 4 times to create a phyllo layer; the exact number is up to you. After applying the coconut oil to the last sheet in your first phyllo layer, sprinkle it evenly with the nut mixture. Repeat the entire process to create a second layer of phyllo, followed by another layer of the nuts. Continue this pattern until you run out of the dry ingredients, ending with layers of pastry on top.

Before placing the baklava in the oven, pre-cut the little triangles, or, if you are not feeling so handy with a knife, little squares are just fine. Bake for 70 to 80 minutes, until golden brown and slightly crispy-looking, but watch to make sure that the edges do not burn. Cover the pan with foil to prevent overcooking, if needed.

Pour the warm syrup all over over the baked pastry. It may look excessive, but it will all soak in over time. Allow the baklava to cool for at least an hour or two before slicing and serving.

Makes 24 Triangles

Printable Recipe

Leave the Dairy, Take the Cannoli

After fourteen years of veganism and a lifetime of lactose intolerance, cow’s milk doesn’t pose even the slightest temptation, no matter the myriad forms it may take. That commitment is effortless not simply due to habitual avoidance, however, but because the alternatives are now more readily available and more delicious than ever. So Delicious, in fact.

Dumping dairy isn’t a challenge when you already have luscious frozen desserts and rich, creamy beverages on your side, so the call to take part in the So Delicious Dairy Free 21 Day Dairy-Free Challenge sounds like a real non-dairy cakewalk to me. Whether you’ve been committed to a lactose-free life for years or have merely dabbled with the concept, consider joining the Facebook group for a chance to win some fabulous prizes! Leading up to and throughout the event, from January 21st through February 10th, there will be giveaways for gift cards, food kits, and even a trip for two to Boulder, Colorado.

Like the smoking gun of The Godfather, all forms of dairy can easily become part of a regrettable past, replaced by the immediate gratification of the sweet, simple cannoli. The overwhelming urge to take comfort in familiar flavors, childhood treats, or downright decadent indulgences can drive the average person to commit unspeakable culinary sins, despite the best intentions, but one needn’t return to a life of crime for satisfaction. Cannoli were always the greatest treat if in the nearby vicinity of an Italian bakery, since no one in my household would have dared fire up a vat of hot oil to fry and fabricate the shells from scratch. Without that edible container, there was no pastry altogether- Or so I thought.

Believe it or not, after tireless taste tests, standard waffle ice cream cones have proven themselves as highly satisfying substitutes, every bit as crisp and crunchy, and far less greasy, to boot. In place of the typically heavy mascarpone filling, a combination of Greek-style coconut yogurt and airy CocoWhip commingle to create an effortless mousse. Light as a cloud while still possessing that same characteristic tang of traditional cultured dairy, this barely sweetened filling comes together in a matter of minutes. That’s fast enough to strike down any craving in its tracks.

Let’s be honest: This is the least challenging “challenge” on the internet, and if you’ve ever spent time trolling YouTube videos, you’ll know that’s really saying something. Whether you join in on the fun or not, you would be doing yourself a disservice not to try these fun faux-cannoli. You’ve got nothing to lose, except any residual attachment to dairy products!

Cannoli Cones

“Mascarpone” Mousse Filling:

1 6-Ounce Container Plain Greek Cultured Coconut Milk
2 Tablespoons Confectioner’s Sugar
1/2 Teaspoon White Miso Paste
1/2 Teaspoon Nutritional Yeast
1/2 Teaspoon Vanilla Bean Paste or Extract
4.5 Ounces (Half a Container) CocoWhip Original


8 – 10 Ice Cream Cones
3 Ounces Dark Chocolate, Finely Chopped
1/3 Cup Toasted Pistachios, Roughly Chopped (Optional)

To make the mousse filling, mix together the yogurt, sugar, miso, nutritional yeast, and vanilla in a large bowl. Stir until fully combined and completely smooth. Add in a few dollops of the Coco whip at a time, using a wide spatula to gently fold it into the mixture. Be careful not to beat all the structure out of it to keep the filling light and airy. Keep refrigerated in an airtight container until ready to serve, and for up to a week.

To finish the cannoli assembly, place the chocolate in a microwave safe contain and heat for 30 – 60 seconds, stirring thoroughly until the chocolate has completely melted. Dip the tops of the waffle cones into the liquid chocolate, allowing the excess to drip off, and carefully stand them in tall, narrow glasses to dry upright.

To serve, simply pipe, spoon, or scoop the chilled mousse into your cones and top each with a sprinkle of toasted pistachios. Enjoy!

Makes 8 – 10 Servings

Printable Recipe

This post was is sponsored by So Delicious, but all content and opinions are entirely my own.

Napoleon Complex

You can hardly walk a block through any big city these days without tripping over a vegan-friendly bakery. Littering the landscape with enthusiastic signs proclaiming their versatility with alternative diets, it’s thrilling to get any sort of treat with such ease. The typical selection, however, leaves a bit to be desired. Cupcakes and donuts are easy to find, but it’s the real treasures of classic French pastry that remain so terribly elusive. For anyone craving the finesse of mille-feuille, those gossamer thin sheets of puff pastry baked to a shatteringly crisp crunch, sans butter, there’s simply no where to turn… Except for the kitchen, of course.

Puff pastry may intimidate those unaccustomed to its often temperamental ways, but there’s no shame in buying the frozen variety to shave hours of mind-numbing prep off of the procedure. Rather than going the classic but tired chocolate-and-vanilla route, I wanted something a bit more lively. Lemon zest proved just the trick to add some sparkle to my Lemon-Pistachio Napoleons, baked for the March/April issue of VegNews Magazine. Considering how easy it is to put all the pieces together, it’s just as well that more bakeries don’t take the initiative for themselves. This is one DIY project that is likely far easier than taking a trip out to the nearest patisserie!

Around the World in 80 Plates: Lyon, France

Moving right along on our culinary world tour, our next stop will be in Lyon, France! Although I’ve never been to Lyon, I have visited Paris, and am rather familiar with one French specialty in particular… Pastry! As soon as I learned of this destination, there was no doubt in my mind that another grand dessert experiment was in store. How many times do I have the opportunity to let loose and go wild with chocolate, sugar, and cake? Perhaps more than the average person, true, but French pastries are something different altogether.

Recalling towers of multi-colored macaron shells, spiraling upwards to impossibly tall heights, and glass cases lined with glittering fruit tarts so dazzling, they could easily be confused with a jeweler’s wares, all my inspiration could be found in one memory of one patisserie. Pierre Hermé, the so-called “Picasso of Pastry,” pairs daring flavors into modern pastry presentations, which is right up my alley.

On my “dream pastry challenge” list, (Yes, such thing really does exist! The pages are lined with ideas of croquembuche and napoleons, but those are for another day) there sat the scribbled title of “plaisir sucré.” An individual portion that unflinchingly packs in the chocolate in a layered attack that seems greater than each component would be capable of. Originally based on a hazelnut cake and hazelnut praline foundation, followed by waves of milk chocolate, I just had to put in my own little twist. Speculoos is my secondary flavor, playing harmony to many shades of dark chocolate instead. There’s a lot going on in each bite, so let me break it down for you…

Though far from perfect, it felt as though I had scaled Mount Everest when that final sheet of chocolate fell into place. It’s true, I could use a whole lot of work on my chocolate skills, but a nice transfer sheet covers a multitude of tempering sins. I’m not sure that Monsieur Hermé would approve of my eggless and dairy-free rendition on his masterwork, but I’m fairly certain that my tasters did, in any event. Who knows if the competitors on the upcoming episode will turn to pastry, but I would crown them the winner right then and there if they did the French tradition justice! Tune in when Around the World in 80 Plates heads to France, this Wednesday at 10/9c on Bravo, to find out.

Speculoos Plaisr Sucré

Chocolate Sheets:

10 Ounces Dark Chocolate, Finely Chopped, Melted, and Tempered

Bittersweet Ganache:

12 Ounces Bittersweet Chocolate, Finely Chopped
3/4 Cup Plain Non-Dairy Milk

Speculoos Dacquoise:

3/4 Cup Speculoos Spread
1 Cup Water
1/2 Cup Confectioner’s sugar
1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
1 Cup Cake Flour
1 Teaspoon Baking Powder
1 Teaspoon Baking Soda
1/4 Teaspoon Salt
1 Cup Roughly Crushed Speculoos Cookies

Speculoos Praline:

1 1/3 Cups Speculoos Spread
6 Ounces (1 Cup) Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips, Melted
1/4 Cup Non-Dairy Margarine, Melted
2 Cups Crispy Rice Cereal

Chocolate Chantilly

Starting with the chocolate sheets, use an offset spatula to spread your tempered chocolate onto plain acetate sheets, or chocolate transfer sheets, large enough to cover a baking sheet. Mine had been rolled up for quite some time, so in order to get it flat, I had to tape down the corners with masking tape; you may choose to do the same, just to prevent it from sliding around. Spread the chocolate very thinly (thinner than is pictured- these layers were a bit tough to get a fork through) and as evenly as possible. Allow them to set, undisturbed, until completely solidified. If your kitchen is particularly warm, you can place the whole sheet in the refrigerator to help them firm up. Once solid, warm a sharp knife to allow for smoother cuts, and slice the sheet into 2 x 4-inch rectangles. Set aside.

Next up, prepare the ganache. Simple place the chocolate and “milk” in a microwave-safe dish, and heat on full power for 60 seconds. Let sit for 60 seconds more, and then stir thoroughly, until completely smooth. If there are still a few stubborn pieces of chocolate that haven’t fully melted, heat again at intervals of 20 seconds, stirring well after each heating, until smooth. Let cool until firm enough to pipe. You may wish to hasten the process by chilling the mixture in your fridge, but don’t just leave it there, because it will set to hard if allowed to reach such a cold temperature. Set aside.

Moving on to the dacquoise, preheat your oven to 325 degrees and lightly grease a 15 x 10-inch jelly roll pan.

Place the speculoos spread, water, sugar, and vanilla in your blender, and process to emulsify. Scrape down the sides of the container if any of the spread is sticking, and blend once more, until the liquid mixture is entirely homogeneous.

Separately, whisk together the flour, baking powder and soda, and salt in a large bowl. Pour the liquid mix into the dry goods, and whisk just until the two are combined to create the batter. Transfer to your prepared jelly roll pan, and smooth it out into a thin but even layer. It may not seem like enough cake to cover all that space, but just keep spreading and you’ll get there! Sprinkle the crushed speculoos cookies equally over the entire surface.

Bake for 15 – 18 minutes, until lightly browned around the edges and a toothpick inserted into the center pulls out cleanly. Let cool completely before proceeding.

For the praline, simply mix together all of the ingredients until well incorporated, and quickly spread it on top of your cooled sheet of cake. This mixture is extremely thick and sticky, so I would highly recommend lightly greasing your offset spatula before going at it. It only gets thicker as it cools, too, so don’t waste any time or let it sit there unattended! Spread it out as evenly as possible, to ensure that the rest of your layers follow suit.

Lastly, prepare the chocolate chantilly according to the recipe linked, and take a moment to thank Hervé This for his brilliance.

Okay, now we’re finally ready for assembly! Slice the praline-topped cake into rectangles measuring 2 x 4-inches. Load the ganache into a pastry bag fitted with a medium-sized round tip, and pipe ganache in a zigzagging pattern across the top of each piece. Place a sheet of chocolate on top, and pipe another zigzag of ganache over that. Add another sheet of chocolate, and now grab your chocolate chantilly. Place that into a second piping bag, this one fitted with a large round tip, and pipe two straight lines lengthwise down each piece. At long last, finish it all off with a third sheet of chocolate. You’re done! Now, savor every single bite; this isn’t an ordinary, everyday sort of treat!

Makes Approximately 18 – 24 Servings (depending on how many scraps you eat during the process)

Printable Recipe

For participating in this competition, Bravo has compensated me for my time, but all recipes and opinions are solely my own.