Let me be clear here: My first words were “more meat!” – shouted across the table to my parents who thought it cute to feed bits of filet mignon to their infant daughter – so there’s really no conceivable way I could ever become a strict vegetarian, let alone vegan. Seems to me that doing so would be akin to denying the innermost bit of my soul, the very crux of my being.
All that said, I have found after a quarter of a century of carnivorous habits that animal products and I don’t actually get along all that well. For the past few years I have seriously cut back on meat intake, and more recently have swapped out cow’s milk for the almond kind.
From Thanksgiving to Christmas this year I have decided I will try my hand at a vegan diet. This is partly out of a desire to resist the holiday season urge to fill my body with as much buttery baked goods as I can get my hands on, and partly out of sheer interest – can I really eat vegan and not be famished after two days?? Even though the thought of butter-less pie does make my soul cry a little, I decided to venture into some seriously unknown territory and bake this vegan blackberry/raspberry/pear creation.
Let’s just say it was somewhat of a disappointment. I was keeping my expectations low, and I intend to give vegan crust another go before I send it packing (and go crawling back to butter who never did me wrong). But on this rainy Sunday, despite being the perfect clime for donning my apron and staying in the kitchen all day, I found that sometimes pie can let you down.
Don’t get me wrong, this pie tastes freaking good. I chose pears, blackberries, and raspberries because I love each of them dearly and the thought of them waltzing together between a couple of pie crusts made me grin. But the combination of butter-less crust and a runny center (juicy berries + not enough corn starch) made for one less than perfect pie. I had hoped my first pie post would be a real winner. Alas, I’m giving this lil buddy the consolation prize – the “nice try, but you kinda suck” award. The A for effort. The “thanks for playing ” trophy (also known as the reason I never played softball again after I stood awkwardly in the outfield for a whole season in 4th grade). But hey, we’ve all been there before, right?
*** UPDATE: Blackberry, raspberry, pear my dear I am SO SORRY for the harsh words I have said about you. Ladies and gentlemen: this is one good little pie. I was the one at fault for not allowing it to properly set before cutting into it. So please, give this pie a chance. Add some extra corn starch or flour if the juicy fruits are a tad too juicy, and let this little gem sit overnight before you have at it. That is all. I have made my peace. ***
Vegan pie crust (adapted from Tea Time with Lin):
2 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 c. vegan butter substitute
1/2 c. ice water
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1. Mix flour, salt, and brown sugar together in a bowl with a fork. Place the pastry blender in the bowl and stick the bowl in the freezer. Pie crust requires arctic temperatures to be pulled off.
2. Measure 1 c. earth balance, cut it into pieces, put into a small bowl and stick this bowl in the freezer to chill (heh heh) with the flour mixture. Wait 20 or 30 minutes until everything’s real cold.
3. Take the flour mixture out of the freezer & add the vanilla. Sprinkle the earth balance over the flour mixture and use the pastry blender to cut it in. Work quickly, since the earth balance will start to warm and become harder to work with. Blend until it looks like course crumbs.
4. Add the ice water a couple tablespoons at a time, and using a rubber spatula press the flour mixture together, working it into a ball. Use only enough water (probably not the full 1/2 c.) so that the dough becomes cohesive enough to form it into a rough ball. Work it a bit with your hands and form into a packed ball (it gets easier as your hands warm the earth balance). Wrap it in plastic wrap and send it back to the freezer. Let it chill for at least a couple hours before making the actual pie.
5. When you’re ready to make the pie, take half the dough ball and set it on a generously-floured surface. With the base of your palm, work the dough into a thick, flat, round shape. Flour your rolling pin and roll out the dough, working from a different angle with each roll (this is the secret to a perfectly round pie crust – only took me 10 years after my grandma demonstrated it to me to get it down pat).
6. Gently fold the dough in half, and in half again (you may need to flour some of the stickier bits of the crust so they don’t pull apart). Place the point of the crust in the center of your pie dish, and then unfold. Press the crust into the dish so it’s flush with sides and bottom. There should be a bit hanging over the edge. Place this crust-filled pie dish back in the freezer to firm up a bit. Now’s a good time to make the filling…
3 ripe pears, peeled and sliced
1 1/2 c. blackberries
1 cup raspberries
1/4 c. brown sugar
juice from 1 lemon
1/3 c. corn starch
1-2 tablespoons almond milk (to brush the top of the crust)
1 tablespoon sugar + cinnamon mixture (to sprinkle atop the crust)
Preheat oven to 425
1. Place pears, blackberries, and raspberries in a big bowl. Add the brown sugar, corn starch, and lemon and gently mix it all together. If the mixture becomes really juicy, you may want to add more corn starch. I didn’t add enough, which made for a very leaky pie once I cut into it. I also should have let it cool for a few hours before I cut into it. But I was just too excited to try my very first vegan pie. Must.practice.willpower.
2. Take the other dough ball out of the freezer, and roll out as before.
3. Take the pie shell out of the freezer. Pour the fruit mixture into the dish, spreading it evenly.
4. Fold the pie crust as before and place it on top of the fruit mixture. Fold the overhanging edges of the bottom part of the crust up over the top part and pinch together. The crust was a little more difficult to work with than traditional pie dough – it didn’t press together as well as I hoped, so I brushed it with a bit of water so it would become more cohesive. Using the thumb and forefinger of one hand and the forefinger of the other, go around the crust pinching together to form little ridges (this is easier said than done with this kind of crust, since it doesn’t hold the ridges very well – but I gave it a good go, and it turned out okay).
5. Poke some holes for ventilation – you can do this in an artistic manner if you feel so inclined.)
6. Finally, brush the top and the rim of the crust with almond milk, and sprinkle cinnamon-sugar mixture on top.
7. Place in center rack of oven and bake for 45-55 minutes (rotating once) until the crust is golden brown. You may need to create a foil tent over the pie at about 35 or 40 minutes into it if the crust edges start to turn brown too fast.
8. Let the pie cool for at least 3 hours before cutting into it.