Pie-Eyed

The only class I’ve ever failed was math. Though typically a dedicated student and overachiever, this devastating low mark hardly came as a surprise. If the theory is true that the left brain is meant to handle more abstract, creative thought and the right is in charge of practical analytics, it’s not entirely farfetched to imagine a complete absence of the latter in my skull. I’m still lost beyond the most basic arithmetic required for scaling recipes up or down and thank my lucky stars that somehow, for reasons unbeknownst to me, they still let me graduate on such shaky algebraic footing.

Despite the fact that pi is a formula I would rarely consider applying in real life, it’s a concept I’m only too happy to celebrate every March 14th, otherwise known as 3/14 on the calendar. Though a mathematical novice, I’d like to consider myself a pie expert with a lifetime of experience both eating and baking the crusted wonders. Evidence of that mild obsession is easily found in Easy as Vegan Pie, a trove of both sweet and savory recipes that could make any day a Pi/Pie Day.

Don’t know where to start? Take a gander at the cheat sheet I’ve assembled here with some of my best baking blueprints, which don’t need any sort of higher degree to decode.

The sleeper hit that no one expected, the Frankenstorm Pie (AKA Banana Ganache Pie) has become one of my most popular pies to date. Not so shabby for a recipe created under such dire circumstances, and it almost went unwritten altogether. It’s a crazy story that you’ve gotta read, and a flavor you must taste to believe.

Roasted Strawberry-Tomato Galette brings out the best in each fruit for this sweet slice. Just as comfortable together in a salad as in this free-form pie, the savory, gently acidic bite of the tomatoes serves to accentuate the sweetness of the berries.

Pumpkin pie is one of the time-honored classics, but I’m never one to go the traditional route. My best take on the concept is one with a fluffy filling, soft, simple, and full of spice. Marshmallow Chiffon Pumpkin Pie is a natural fit for autumnal holidays, but light and cool enough to hit the sweet spot in warmer weather.

Speaking of nontraditional, chipotle mashed sweet potatoes were the inspiration for my Chocolate Chipotle Sweet Potato Pie. Dialing in the heat so the chilies provided just the slightest tingle on the tongue, their intensity is further tempered by the soothing contrast of brown sugar and rich coconut milk. Better yet, a thin base of dark chocolate adds depth to the dessert, and adds appeal for those who aren’t big on starchy squash pies.

Ending on a whimsical note, caramel and custard elevate the humble popcorn kernel in this Caramel Corn Pie. 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.

What’s your Pi Day pick for this year? Don’t let the numbers trip you up. It doesn’t take a mathematician to know good food when you taste it.

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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.

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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

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Clear-Cut

Alinea set the internet on fire once again with another avant-garde culinary masterpiece, drawing on the pumpkin spice craze to further propel it into a viral hit. Perfectly clear pumpkin pie, glossy and ethereal, gently quavered in the brief Instagram video, a tiny wedge being turned over and examined by a disembodied hand. Mesmerizing, confounding, the attraction is instant and irresistible.

#surrealism, indeed.

I tried to look away, to ignore the hype, but curiosity got the best of me, as it always does. A homemade rendition would never be able to stand up to the original for lack of fancy equipment, unless you happen to have a centrifuge and rotary-evaporator lying around to extract clear, condensed liquid from pumpkin puree, but that doesn’t mean we can’t play with the concept. Drawing inspiration from this wild idea and combining it with the pumpkin spice trend that ignores the actual gourd, my take is admittedly more translucent than transparent, but nonetheless a whimsical departure from the ordinary orange slice.

Translucent Pumpkin Spice Pie

1 (8-Inch) Graham Cracker Crust, Baked
3 Cups Water
1 Cup Granulated Sugar
1 1/2 Tablespoons Pumpkin Spice Extract
1 Tablespoon Agar Powder
1/8 Teaspoon Salt

Combine the water, sugar, pumpkin spice extract, agar, and salt in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Whisk periodically until the sugar has fully dissolved. Bring to a rolling boil and cook for 2 more minutes. Gently pour the mixture into your prepared crust so as not to kick up lots of loose crumbs. Let the pie cool to room temperature before moving it into the fridge to chill. Once fully set (about 1 to 2 hours), slice and serve!

Makes 8 Servings

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Mathematically Impossible Pi

There are “math people,” and then there’s everyone else. Math people breeze through tabulations for group dinners, factoring in precise tip percentages and taking individual drink orders into account, while the rest of us are still fumbling to pull up the calculator app on our phones. Math people relish real-life opportunities to crunch numbers when others can only feebly chew on their finger nails. To me, those skills are a sort of magical, superhuman power that I can only admire from afar, left behind in the dust as soon as we advance beyond basic multiplication and division. Needless to say, I am NOT a math person, but for the enviable folks who are, this day is for you.

Pi Day, March 14, 3.14, is the most mathematically sound day of the year to indulge in a slice of pie. At least that’s what the experts seem to say, and with my shaky analytical understanding, who am I to question the specifics?

Anything beyond the most basic math is an impossibility in my hands, but despite the name, this pie is not. The title merely refers to the way it “impossibly” forms its own crust as it bakes, no pastry needed to support a luscious custard filling. Riffing off my favorite childhood sandwich, stacked thick with gooey marshmallow cream slathered over crunchy peanut butter, this reinterpretation skips the bland bread and gets right to the good stuff. Deceptively simple, it takes little more effort to assemble than the classic school lunch inspiration itself.

Prepare for a decadent peanut butter and marshmallow onslaught; just a small slice will satisfy the most intense cravings, and it doesn’t take a math person to figure that out.

Impossible Fluffernutter Pie

1 Cup Crunchy Peanut Butter
1/2 Cup Vegan Vanilla Yogurt
1/2 Cup Plain Non-Dairy Milk
1 Teaspoon Apple Cider Vinegar
1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
3/4 Cup Dark Brown Sugar, Firmly Packed
1/3 Cup all-Purpose Flour
1 Tablespoon Arrowroot Powder
1/2 Teaspoon Baking Powder
1/2 Teaspoon Salt*
1/2 Bag (5 Ounces) Dandies Vegan Mini Marshmallows
1/2 Cup Roughly Chopped Roasted Peanuts

*If you’re using salted peanut butter to begin with, dial back the additional salt or omit entirely, to taste.

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and lightly grease a 9-inch pie pan.

Whisk together the peanut butter, yogurt, non-dairy milk, vinegar, and vanilla in a small bowl, and set aside. Separately, combine the sugar, flour, arrowroot, baking powder, and salt. Mix thoroughly so that no lumps remain and all of the dry ingredients are completely incorporated. Add in the liquid mixture and stir until smooth.

Pour the batter into your prepared pie pan, and bake for 40 – 45 minutes. It should be set around the edges but quite wobbly in the center, much like a cheesecake. Pile the marshmallows on top in an even layer and return the pie to the oven. Set the broiler to high and cook for just 5 – 10 minutes, until the marshmallows are lightly toasted and golden brown.

Let cool to room temperature before garnishing with peanuts, slicing, and serving.

Makes 8 – 10 Servings

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Pie-Eyed

Pie, a beloved comestible known in countless forms across the globe, is as ubiquitous across cultures as it is indefinable. Sweet or savory; open-faced or closed; family-style, or single-serving; ornate, or humble; there is no single definition for the concept of pie, but I think we can agree that all permutations are entirely delicious. Every 14th day of March, otherwise known as Pi Day (3.14,) gives the otherwise mathematically averse a reason to bust out the rolling pins and embrace the pastry of honor.

Food historians generally agree that the earliest pies were more closely related to enriched flatbreads with various toppings than deep-dish desserts, which illuminates the link between pie and yet another universally cherished provision: Pizza. In fact, old school establishments still refer to them as hybrid “pizza-pies.” The lines become increasingly blurry depending on who you ask, the general consensus being that all pizzas are pies, but not all pies are pizzas. Got that?

Nomenclature notwithstanding, I was inspired by my Connecticut roots on this particular Pi Day, recalling the inimitable New Haven invention known as white clam pie. Leave the tomatoes behind and instead load up on the cheese, garlic, and herbs. Adding squishy morsels of seafood into that matrix might sound downright repulsive on paper, but once veganized with briny marinated mushrooms, the combination suddenly makes perfect sense.

Re-imagined as a genuine pastry-clad pie, a flaky pastry crust supports a base of soy ricotta, generously seasoned with satisfying umami flavors. Skewing ratios to favor the filling, what was once a decadent, buttery pastry is now a rich yet balanced dinner entree. Even the thinnest slice will prove surprisingly filling, considering the serious protein packed into every square (or should I say circular?) inch. Though not a perfect mock for mollusks, the cruelty-free clams bear an impressive oceanic flavor profile, adding all the right salty, savory notes.

No doubt, there will be a plethora of crusted wonders for dessert today, but why wait for the last course to begin the festivities? A savory dinner pie will start things rolling in the right direction.

White Clam Pie

Vegan Clams:

1/2 Pound Small Cremini or Button Mushrooms, Quartered
1 Tablespoon Vegan Butter
1/4 Cup + 2 Tablespoons Vegetable Stock
2 Tablespoons Vegan Fish Sauce
1 Tablespoon Capers
1 Clove Garlic, Minced
1 Bay Leaf
1/4 Teaspoon Celery Seeds

Okara Ricotta:

1 Cup Plain, Unsweetened Vegan Yogurt
6 – 8 Cloves Roasted Garlic
3/4 Pound Dry Okara*
1/4 Cup Olive Oil
1/4 Cup Nutritional Yeast
2 Tablespoons Lemon Juice
2 Tablespoon Rice Vinegar
1/4 Cup Fresh Parsley, Finely Chopped
3 Tablespoons Fresh Basil, Finely Chopped
1 Teaspoon Dried Oregano
1 Teaspoon Salt
1/2 Teaspoon Crushed Red Pepper Flakes

For Assembly:

Your Favorite 9-Inch Pie Crust, Rolled and Shaped but Unbaked
Fresh Parsley, Finely Minced
Lemon Zest (Optional)

*If you can’t find okara in local markets and don’t make your own soy milk, you can substitute one 14-ounce container or super-firm tofu instead. Press it for at least two hours to extract as much liquid as possible, and crumble it finely before using.

To prepare the “clams,” begin by melting the vegan butter in a small saucepan over moderate heat. Add the mushrooms and saute for a few minutes, until softened and aromatic. Introduce the remaining ingredients, stir to combine, and cover the pan. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for about 20 minutes to infuse the mushrooms. Uncover, and continue to cook gently until any remaining liquid has evaporated. Discard the bay leaf and set aside.

Meanwhile, preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

For the filling, mix together the vegan yogurt and roasted garlic in a large bowl, mashing the cloves thoroughly into a rough paste in the process. If you would like a smoother finished texture, move everything into the bowl of your food processor, but if you’d something with a bit more character, continue stirring by hand. Add in the okara and mix thoroughly to incorporate, being sure to break up any clumps. Introduce all of the remaining ingredients for the ricotta, stirring well until the mixture is is homogeneous. Fold in the mushroom “clams” last.

Transfer the white clam filling into your prepared pie crust and smooth it out into an even layer. Bake for 55 – 60 minutes, until the crust is golden brown and the filling is set but slightly wobbly, almost like a firm cheesecake. Let cool for at least 15 minutes before serving. Top with freshly chopped parsley and lemon zest, if desired, and enjoy.

This pie is an ideal make-ahead meal, since the flavors only improve with age and it’s easier to slice after it’s had more time to rest. Simply cover and chill after baking for up to 5 days. To reheat, pop it back into the oven at 350 degrees for 10 – 15 minutes, until heated all the way through.

Makes 8 Servings

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