Baking is fun – and sometimes frustrating. Putting hours into a recipe can be completely rewarding, or result in a complete pastry-nightmarish disaster. I took a chance this Thanksgiving and went online looking for pie inspiration. I wanted something new, something bold, something delicious, yet kinda healthy.
I found a crazy-sounding recipe on veganbaking.net, and decided to give it a whirl, with my own touches and tweaks. The crust recipe is inspired by a famous Cook’s Illustrated vodka pie crust recipe: so this is an inspiration from an inspiration.
ALEX’S VEGAN VODKA PIE CRUST
Yield: 2 crusts
2 pie plates
2 cups white spelt flour
1/2 cup whole spelt flour
2 tablespoons sucanat unrefined cane sugar (pulverize in a spice grinder or clean coffee grinder to make very fine)
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups cold trans-fat free Earth Balance vegan margarine (I like the soy-free version)
1/4 cup cold water
1/4 cup cold vodka
1. In a large mixing bowl whisk together the flour, sugar and salt. *HINT: I used a metal bowl and kept it in the fridge for an hour before using it so it would be really cold. Using a fork or pastry blender, cut the margarine and shortening into the flour until mixture resembles coarse sand. Don’t over mix, or you’ll start developing the gluten in the flour, which will make the crust gummy, or you’ll melt the margarine. We don’t want to melt the margarine, we’re going to little pockets of fat to make a flaky texture.
2. Drizzle half of the chilled water and vodka over the mixture then gently toss using a fork. Drizzle the other half in and toss again. Now use the open palm of your hand to press down the dough to compress it. Break up the dough with your fingers and compress it again. HINT: If you think the dough is getting too warm because of your hands or the heat of the kitchen, stick the entire bowl in the fridge so it won’t tip over for a few minutes to chill out. Cut the dough in half inside the bowl with a spatula.
3. Wrap each piece of dough in plastic wrap, compress it to a 4 inch disc and chill in the refrigerator for at least one hour. This dough can be kept in the freezer for up to 6 months for later use. If you’re working in extremely hot weather conditions, don’t be afraid to put things in the freezer for a few minutes while you’re working. To get a flaky crust, you need cold dough with cold pockets of fat going into a hot oven. This way the moisture from the fat puffs into flaky nooks and crannies in the crust.
4. Cut two pieces of parchment paper at least 12 inches long. Unwrap one of the dough disks, place the dough on a sheet of parchment paper and cover it with the other sheet of parchment paper. Roll the dough out from the center until it goes out to the edges of the parchment paper. You can gently remove one piece of parchment and dust with a pinch of flour, then flip over and begin rolling again. Hold your pie plate just above the rolled out crust to make sure the dough is about 1 inch larger in diameter than the pie plate. Remove the top layer of parchment paper and carefully flip the dough over into a pie plate. Now remove the other piece of parchment paper and gently press the dough into the pie plate. If you make a little tear, don’t worry – this crust can be patched and repaired by lightly wetting each part to be joined with water or plant-milk then grafting on an extra piece of dough.
5. Now go around the perimeter and tuck and fold the outer edge under the crust so that it’s clean with the edge of the pie plate. Flute the dough with your fingers or press the edges down with the end of a fork to shape. Save any larger pieces that were hanging over to cut into heart, leaf, or other shapes. (see picture of finished pie)
6. Refrigerate the pie plate with the crust for at least 20 minutes. Preheat the oven to 425.
7. Remove the pie from the refrigerator, poke the bottom of the pie crust with a fork about 10 times to create steam holes, and gently press a large pice of foil onto the pie crust. Fill with 3 cups of uncooked beans or pie weights.
8. Place the pie on a cookie sheet and set it on the lowest rack in the oven. Bake for 15 minutes, then remove the foil and pie weights. Rotate the pie 180 degrees and bake it for another 5 to 10 minutes until the crust is golden.
Allow the pre-baked pie crust to cool completely before filling with the sweet potato mixture below.
HINT: To create the little hearts as seen in the picture of my pies, cut out heart shapes from extra dough and bake on a cookie sheet while pre-baking the crusts. Set aside until the filled pies are baked, then gently press into the top of the sweet potato.
SWEET POTATO PIE FILLING
Food processor or blender
2 cups mashed, cooked, peeled sweet potato (HINT: I like to bake my sweet ‘taters in foil for dinner the night before, and bake a few extras for pie the next day)
3/4 cup coconut butter (cashew butter could also work, but I haven’t tried it)
2/3 cup sucanat
1/4 cup agave syrup
2 tablespoons arrowroot powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon allspice
1/4 teaspoon fresh nutmeg
1. Preheat oven to 400F.
2. Combine sweet potato puree, softened* coconut butter, sucanat, agave, arrowroot, salt, cinnamon, allspice, and nutmeg in a food processor fitted with a standard s-blade. Process until smooth and creamy. HINT: you can also combine ingredients in a good blender, although you might need to blend in batches.
*To soften coconut butter, which can be solid at room temperature, place the entire jar in a bowl with enough hot water to come up to within 1/2 inch of the top of the jar. Allow to soften for 20 minutes.
3. Pour the mixture into the pre-baked pie crusts and bake for 45 minutes.