BitterSweet

Sweet Musings with a Bitterly Sharp Wit


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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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Pie-Giving

For all their fussing, planning, and maddening preparation, hosts and hostesses across the country would have you believe that Thanksgiving is all about the turkey, but let’s be real: It’s a holiday built around pie. Although food historians now suggest that there was no pie on the menu for the first Thanksgiving, alleging that early colonists had no flour nor butter at their disposal, that simply strikes me as a terribly shortsighted judgement. What if they just went gluten-free and vegan for the final course? Or perhaps they simply went sans crust and opted to fashion impossible pies for the event instead.

Truly, a life without pie is one too dreadful to imagine, especially on this pie-centric holiday. One thing that scholars can agree on is that an assortment of native pumpkins could have indeed been found, so at least we’ve got the building blocks of a modern dessert in place right there.

My apologies to the pilgrims, but Thanksgiving is really more like Pie-Giving in my book, and I don’t make any concessions to tradition. My version of the holiday is filled with lavish sweets and a veritable parade of pies.

This year, I’m still stuck on marshmallows and pumpkins alike, so joining the two for a grand finale seemed all but inevitable. This rendition isn’t the typical baked custard affair, however. Aiming for a loftier consistency and cooler presentation, this chiffon filling is the dreamy antidote to even the most unimaginative, conventional Thanksgiving meal.

Celebrate the holiday to the fullest by gracing your festive table with these fluffy, ephemeral orange slices. Had any of the components been a glimmer in a wily baker’s eye, I have no doubt that the pilgrims would have definitely partaken in a generous helping or two as well.

Marshmallow Chiffon Pumpkin Pie

Graham Cracker Crust:

1 1/2 Cup Graham Cracker Crumbs (About 12 Full Rectangle Sheets)
6 Tablespoons Non-Dairy Margarine, Melted

Marshmallow Chiffon Pumpkin Filling:

1 Cup 100% Pumpkin Puree
1 10-Ounce Bag Dandies Pumpkin Spice or Original Marshmallows
1 1/2 Teaspoons Coconut Oil
1 Teaspoon Ground Cinnamon
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Ginger
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Nutmeg
1/4 Teaspoon Salt
1 (14-Ounce) Can Full-Fat Coconut Milk, Chilled

To make the crust, break up the graham crackers into smaller pieces before pulsing in a food processor until very finely ground.Drizzle the melted margarine into the crumbs, and stir thoroughly to moisten the ground cookies.

Transfer the mix to a 9-inch round pie pan, and use lightly moistened fingers to firmly press it down on the bottom and along the sides. Use the bottom of a flat measuring cup or drinking glass for smoother sides.

To prepare the filling, place the pumpkin puree, marshmallows, and coconut oil in a large saucepan over medium-low heat. Stir gently but frequently until the marshmallows completely melt and the mixture is homogeneous. This can can get sticky, especially at first when the marshmallows are reluctant to join forces with the pumpkin, so stir carefully and be patient. Once smooth, stir in the spices and salt. Remove from the heat and cool for at least 5 minutes before proceeding.

Meanwhile, open the can of coconut milk without shaking it and skim off the top layer of thickened cream. Place it in the bowl of your stand mixer and begin beating it on a low speed. Gradually increase the speed, whipping in as much air as possible. Continue whipping for about 8 – 10 minutes, until greatly increased in volume.

Using a wide spatula, gently fold the whipped coconut cream into the pumpkin mixture, trying not to knock out the air bubbles you just created. Transfer the resulting filling into your prepared crust and smooth it out into one even layer.

Place the pie in the fridge and chill for at least 4 – 6 hours before serving, but overnight is best. To serve, simply slice the pie into wedges and top with additional dollops of whipped coconut cream, if desired.

Makes 8 – 10 Servings

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Rawkstar Apple Pie

It’s one thing to follow a recipe, trying to imitate the work of a talented chef, and quite another to enjoy their interpretation straight from the source. At best, you might be able to seek out a particular restaurant, but even then, it’s unlikely that the chef will actually be in the kitchen, carefully chopping the onions or searing the tofu destined for your plate. That’s why it was such a treat to see Chef Lisa Brooks-Williams herself in action, demonstrating a selection of her inspiring raw dishes.

Chef Lisa wears many hats, working as a personal chef, caterer, and teacher throughout the bay area. Committed to proving how easy a healthful, vegan diet full of whole foods can be, her raw apple pie is a perfect example of how flavor and nutrition are seamlessly combined into one crowd-pleasing dessert. Sweet but not saccharine, spices emphasize the natural autumnal essence of the apples, complemented by a creamy cashew sauce. Although the timing is perfect for the upcoming holiday season, I wouldn’t hesitate to whip one up any time of year.

Lisa’s Raw Apple Pie with Almond Crust and Maple Cream
Adapted from Chef Lisa Brooks-Williams

Crust:

2 Cups Raw Almonds
1 Teaspoon Ground Cinnamon
1/4 Teaspoon Salt
10 Pitted Dates
1/2 – 1 Teaspoon Water
1 Tablespoon Coconut Sugar (Optional)

Apple Pie Filling:

2 Pounds Fuji or Gala Apples, Quartered and Cored
2 Pears, Peeled and Cored
2 Tablespoons Ground Psyllium Husk
2/3 Cup Dried Currants or Raisins
1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
1/8 Teaspoon Salt
1 Teaspoon Ground Cinnamon
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Nutmeg
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Cloves
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Ginger

Maple Cream:

2 Cups Raw Cashews, Soaked for 2 Hours and Drained
1/2 Cup Grade B Maple Syrup
1/2 Cup Water
1 Whole Vanilla Bean
1/2 Teaspoon Ground Ginger
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Cinnamon
1/8 Teaspoon Ground Nutmeg
Pinch Salt

For the crust, place the almonds, cinnamon, and salt in the food processor and pulse until the nuts are ground. Add dates and coconut sugar (if using) and pulse once more until the dates are finely chopped and incorporated. Add 1/2 teaspoon water or more for a moister crust, if desired. Set aside. Note: Moister crusts are easier to press into a pie plate or pan. However, a more crumbly consistency works better for this recipe.

For the filling, place the apples in the (rinsed and dried) food processor and pulse until chopped into small pieces. You may need to process your apples in two separate batches, depending on the size of your food processor. Place in a bowl and set aside.

Place the pears, salt, spices, and vanilla extract in the food processor and blend until completely smooth. Pour the pear sauce over the chopped apples. Add the psyllium husk and currants, stirring gently to makes sure all the ingredients are incorporated. Allow the mixture to rest for 20 minutes to gel.

For the maple cream, place the entire vanilla bean, cut into smaller pieces, into the blender along with the water and maple syrup. Process until the vanilla bean is completely broken down. Add the soaked cashews, spices, and salt, and blend until completely smooth and creamy. Add more water if the consistency is too thick.

To assemble, press the crust into a pie pan or casserole dish to make more traditional slices, or crumble into individual serving glasses to make parfaits. Spoon the filling on top, and finish each serving with a dollop of maple cream. For a full pie, chill thoroughly for at least two hours for best results when slicing.

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Pi Day, Gone to the Dogs

Pushed to the back of my recipe archives, this one has been a long time coming. Despite the fact that the results were well-received, immediately devoured with glee and appreciation, it didn’t seem worthy of sharing on this public platform. Why withhold this treat from others, designed for the four-legged friends among us, who truly don’t receive their fair share of culinary attention in the first place?

I was disappointed with the photos. Such a silly, shallow, and misconstrued excuse.

Now I treasure these images. There’s no “action shot” as I had envisioned, but who can argue with that trail of crumbs, the sign of a satisfied customer? That kind of approval is all I could ever hope for.

This post is dedicated to Isis.

Carrot Custard Pup Pies

No-Fuss Whole Wheat Crust:

1 Cup Whole Wheat Pastry Flour
2 Tablespoons Wheat Germ
1/4 Cup Oil
1 Teaspoon Apple Cider Vinegar

Carrot Custard:

1/2 Cup 100% Carrot Juice
1/4 Cup Unsweetened Applesauce
2 Tablespoons Unsweetened Non-Dairy Milk
1 1/2 Tablespoons Powdered Kudzu Starch

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and lightly grease a dozen mini muffin tins.

Combine the flour and wheat germ in a medium bowl before slowly drizzling in both the oil and vinegar. Mix until the dough comes together without any pockets of dry ingredients remaining. Pinch off walnut-sized balls and press them into the bottom and up the sides of your prepared muffin tins. A wooden tart tamper would be especially helpful for this task, but lightly moistened fingers will certainly get the job done all the same.

Bake the tiny crusts for 12 – 14 minutes, until dry and lightly golden brown all over. Let cool and begin to prepare the filling.

Whisk together all of the components for the carrot custard in a medium saucepan over moderate heat. Stir vigorously to break up any lumps of starch. Continue to whisk every couple of minutes, until the mixture comes to a boil. Cook for about a minute longer, until fully thickened, and turn off the heat. Divide the filling equally between the baked mini crusts and let cool completely before moving them into the fridge to set. Store in an air-tight container in the fridge for up to two weeks.

Please note: As written, these pies are intended for canine consumption only, which means there is no sugar added and they are not actually sweet. If you’d like to share them with your furry friends, add 2 – 3 tablespoons of maple syrup, to taste, in the filling.

Makes 12 Mini Pies

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