Sunday, October 11, 2009

Interlude: vegan pumpkin pie

(As noted yesterday, I spent a traditional Thanksgiving supper with my family, taking a brief holiday break from my VeganMoFo 2009 all-Japanese-food-all-the-time personal challenge.)

My mom makes the best pie crust. Whatever ingredients she happens to have or not have, whatever the limitations imposed on her by circumstances, she can turn out a light, flaky, golden crust. After I became vegan, she experimented with vegetable shortening crusts, oil crusts, Earth Balance crusts, and even the oil crusts were fantastic. Here's part of one of her saskatoonberry pies from tonight; and check out the stylish venting slashes:

Unfortunately, I didn't inherit this trait, and don't make enough pies to hone my pastry skills by practice. So pie-making for me is not the relaxed, fun, spontaneous kind of activity that, for instance, stir fries, or flatbreads, or even yeasted breads are. My mood when I'm baking pies or cakes generally veers wildly between anxious and panic-stricken, especially when I'm baking for a crowd, which is almost always the case. I've tried all kinds of piecrusts, and never settled on one I really like (that's a euphemism for one that I can count on being able to put together with any kind of consistent success). This time, bedazzled by the bourbon peach hand pie recipe on Smitten Kitchen (do click on the link; the pictures and accompanying text are both so gorgeously decadent you can almost taste the bourbon), I tried Deb's recipe. The version I'm giving below is simply veganized; the instructions are hers. I doubled it and froze what I didn't need today, with the idea that once October is over, a bit of pastry dough will come in handy now and then. Of course, today I only used the dough for bottom crusts, so it didn't have much of an opportunity to shine, but I was still impressed, and if you make it, I would encourage you to double it as I did, because, seriously, add up all the hours and half hours of chilling and ask yourself if pie is really worth it…on the other hand, if all you need to do is thaw out a little pastry dough from the freezer, why, that's another matter.

Vegan pumpkin pie

For the pastry:
(makes two pie shells or the top and bottom to one large pie)

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup Earth Balance, cut into pieces
1/2 cup vegan sour cream (purchased or homemade; I used a homemade tofu-based version)
4 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup ice water

To make the pastry, place the flour in a large bowl. Place the Earth Balance in another bowl, and put both bowls in the freezer for an hour. Remove the bowls from the freezer and make a well in the center of the flour. Add the Earth Balance to the well and, using a pastry blender (or, since I don't have a pastry blender, something else, like a potato ricer, just another reason to go out and acquire one of these handy gadgets), cut it in until the mixture resembles coarse meal.
Make another well in the center. In a small bowl, whisk together the sour cream, lemon juice and water and add half of this mixture to the well. With your fingertips, mix in the liquid until large lumps form. Remove the large lumps and repeat with the remaining liquid and flour-butter mixture. Pat the lumps into a ball; do not overwork the dough. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour. If preparing ahead of time, the dough can be stored at this point for up to a month in the freezer.

Divide the refrigerated dough in half. On a lightly floured work surface, roll out one half of the dough to 1/8-inch thickness and lay into the bottom of a pie plate. Crimp the edges, then trim around the outside of the crimps. Chill the dough and pie plates in the refrigerator for another half hour or so while you make the pie filling.

Now the filling you can count on every time. Pumpkin pie isn't that hard to veganize, and you don't need a lot of skill to make the filling set with the right texture. This also looks and tastes exactly the same as a pumpkin pie made with eggs and milk/cream, so if you're hesitating about trying it because you're afraid of a "tofu" taste, go boldly forth, because the tofu is undetectable. You'll find many recipes online very similar to this one, but this is the one I use, and have done for years, though I've refined it over time, and it hasn't failed me yet. I can hardly wait to get the pie into the oven so I can lick the bowl, it's that tasty.

For the filling:
(makes one medium-large pie)

3/4 lb soft tofu, pressed (you want ¾ lb after pressing)
16 oz pumpkin (canned is fine)
1 tsp cinnamon
3/4 tsp ginger
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla
1 tbsp cornstarch
1/2 cup brown sugar, packed
3/4 cup white sugar
1/3 cup oil
2-3 tbsp candied ginger, minced (optional)

Preheat the oven to 350F. Place all the ingredients in a food processor and blend until as smooth as possible; this may take several minutes. You actually can use firm or extra-firm tofu in this recipe, but just make sure there aren't any microlumps of tofu in the finished filling. Be patient, and process until they're entirely gone, or you'll be sorry.

You can sprinkle some very finely minced candied ginger in the bottoms of the prepared pie crusts at this point if you like. I love candied ginger and think it adds a sophisticated touch to a pumpkin pie, but not everybody will agree. If you enjoy a little nibble, you'll like it in pie; if it's too powerful for you or you find the taste unpleasant, just leave it out.

Pour the filling into a prepared, chilled pie shell and bake for between 1 and 1.5 hours, checking often in the last half hour. The filling will be soft, but a knife inserted into the middle should come away clean when it's done. Remove from the oven and cool before serving. I set mine out on the patio in the snow (sigh).

And here's a beauty shot of the vegan version of the meal all of North America is eating tonight. Everyone who came to my parents' brought something. My contributions: salsa verde for the Brussels sprouts that everybody ate and loved—not a sprout was left over, I'm proud to report—and some mushroom gravy that nobody tried but me, but it was pretty good too:

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