Friday, July 30, 2010

Pie Crust- A Beginner's Tutorial

I've given you guys a couple of pie recipes now, but haven't talked about crusts at all. And they're so important. I mean really, even the best pie filling in the world can't save a crappy crust. So let's get to it.

Pies aren't meant to be quick and easy. They're a process. But the rewards are so wonderful. And when you give someone a homemade pie, they know you really really love them. It's like a love letter you can eat. Does it get any better?
You'll find as the recipe goes along that pie pastry is all about COLD. Cold butter, cold water, and chilling your dough before baking. This things are REALLY important to making delicious pie crusts, so don't skip them!

Pie crusts were the last hold out on my vegan baking transition. Sure, it's easy to veganize a pie crust in theory, just substitute the butter with Earth Balance. But because my pie crust typically got SO MUCH of its flavor from the butter, a vegan version just never tasted right to me. Vegan crusts tend to be softer, and lack that certain something that makes people's eyes roll back in their heads. I'm still working on the perfect vegan pie crust, but for now, this recipe works really well. Like I mentioned, it makes a big difference keeping everything cold, and chilling the crust in the freezer for about an hour before baking it. And if you're not vegan and plan to use butter, then plan for people to start harassing you to make a pie every day. 
We'll start simple with a one-crust pie recipe. Besides the ingredients below, you'll need a 9" pie pan and a rolling pin. A pastry blender and pie weights are helpful, but not necessary.

Basic Pastry Dough
recipe for one 9 inch pie shell

1 1/4 cup of Flour
1 tbsp sugar
1 tsp salt
1/2 cup cold butter, cut into cubes (use Earth Balance Butter to make it vegan)
3 tbsp ice cold water.

Make the Dough:
Cut the butter into cubes, place in a bowl, and put back in fridge or freezer to chill. Measure out the flour, sugar and salt, and stir together to combine. Add chilled butter, and using pastry blender or two knives held together, cut butter into flour quickly, until pea-sized lumps appear. Add cold water one tbsp at a time, mixing together with a fork until it just comes together (you may not need all 3 tbsp). Gather dough into ball and smooth together.
Roll the Dough:
Many pie crust recipes call for chilling the dough after mixing. This recipe is best if rolled right away, and chilled later. If not using right away, form into a small circle, or rectangle, wrap in plastic wrap, place in a freezer bag, and freeze for up to 2 months. If using now, flour your surface and rolling pin well. Form dough into a round, and pat down to flatten into a disk about 4 inches in diameter. Place on floured surface, and sprinkle some flour on top. Start in the center and roll out to the edges, stopping just before the edge. Lift dough and turn 1/4. Continue rolling and turning until the dough is about 12 inches in diameter. If your kitchen is very hot, you may need to stick the dough in the fridge to chill during the rolling process.
Rolling dough is one of the hardest parts of the process and takes the most practice to find the right amount of pressure to roll it out evenly. Take your time, and don't be discouraged if it doesn't look perfect! If the dough happens to rip or tear at any point, wet your finger, and piece it back together using the water as "glue". 

Transfer the Dough:
I like to fold my dough loosely into quarters and then place into a 9" pie pan. Some people like to roll the dough around the rolling pin, but I've never had luck with that method. Unfold pie dough into pan and allow the dough to fall down to the bottom of the pan. Do not stretch the dough, but rather lift up the dough one side at a time, and press it gently into the bottom and sides until it is smooth and even. Trim off excess dough, leaving about 1-2 inch overhang.

Crimp the Dough:
If this has already been too much work for you, you can simply tuck the excess dough under the top rim, and run a fork around the edge to crimp together. If you'd like to get extra OOOHs and AHHHs, now would be the time to crimp the edge. Fold excess dough under itself along the top of the dish. There are several methods of crimping. Smitten Kitchen uses this V version. Mine is similar, though I place both hands perpendicular to the rim, and with both hands' pointer finger and thumbs making a V shape, place them on the dough and push them together and up slightly to create a sharp ridge, and continue this process all the way around. Crimping takes some practice to get used to, and once you find a method that works for you, just stick with it!
Chill the Dough:
Now you need to chill the dough for at least a half an hour. Chilling at this point keeps the dough from shrinking, and helps to maintain all that crimping work you just did. If you're using regular butter, 1/2 hour to 1 hour in the fridge will be fine. If you're using vegan Earth Balance, I think it works best if you wrap it lightly and stick in in the freezer for about an hour. While the dough is chilling, you can start prepping your pie filling.
Partially and Pre-Baked Crusts:
Once your pie crust is done chilling, depending on the recipe you're using, you can then fill with ingredients and bake away. Some recipes call for Partially baked or Blind Baked crusts. When partially baking a crust, you're baking it part of the way, then adding filling and baking the rest together. This is usually done for fillings that are extra wet so that the crust bakes properly and doesn't become a soggy mess. For no-bake fillings (like this blueberry pie), you need to completely bake the crust before you add the filling, which is called "blind baking." For both of these methods, you need to weigh down the crust so that it doesn't bubble up while baking. There are several methods to use, and all require lining the pie crust with either aluminum foil or parchment paper. You can then add uncooked rice, dried beans, or pie weights. Pie weights are one of those things that aren't exactly necessary, but they sure do impress people when they see them on your shelf.
Once your crust is lined and weighed down, place pan in a oven pre-heated to 350 degrees, and bake for about 20 minutes. If you're partially baking the crust, you can remove the dish at this time, remove the foil or paper and weights, then follow the recipe for further baking. If you're blind baking, you're still going to remove the weights, and then bake for another 10 minutes, or until the crust looks browned and smells delicious. You'll want to cool the crust completely before adding any no-bake filling.
Well, you did it! I knew you could! If the first one (or ten) happen to be a flop, remember that tomorrow is another day. Patience and persistence are the keys to becoming a master pie maker. Just keep practicing, and you can be pumping out homemade crusts in ten minutes or less, just like your Grandma, or your Aunt Betty, or whoever it is in your family that wins all those blue ribbons for pies.
And trust me, the payoff is TOTALLY worth it. And until then, imperfect pie crusts are cute, and let people know for sure that they're homemade and filled with love!

Have you been bitten by the pie bug? Here's some other resources to check out:
A friend gave me Williams-Sonoma's Pie and Tart cookbook as a birthday gift two years ago, and I learned a lot of what I know from that book. Their pastry dough recipe is still my go-to for any pie and I've had rarely any problems with it that weren't heat or weather related. If you're new to pies or a seasoned pro, I recommend this book to either get you started in the wonderful world of pastry or to improve your game. 

Pie by Ken Haedrich is also a very thorough tomb that will get you excited about about everything pies! It's big, it's hefty, and it's got 300 recipes for every pie imaginable (and those you've never thought of before). 

And here's some other blogs who've written extensively and much more coherently about crust making than this post: Smitten Kitchen (she's got lessons 101, 102, and 103), Joy the Baker, and Joe Pastry

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Post-Flea Market Hangover

So, the flea market was Sunday. I'm still recovering. It was a little intense. My friends and I all agreed that at our tables, which were all the way in the back, the temperature was probably at least 110 degrees, no exaggeration. We stepped out into the 95 degree weather outside, and it felt cool and chilly. The delicate flower that I am, I had a rough time with this.

I guess I'm getting older and not as punk rock as I used to be.  Well, really, I was never very punk rock.  I dabbled for a minute in high school and again in college, but I've really always been an indie rock girl at heart. I'll take Modest Mouse over the Dead Milkmen anyday. But let's get back to the market.

It was hot. It was dirty. It was sweatier and smellier than ever before. Who wants to eat baked goods on such a gross day? Hardly anyone. I've got a lot of cookies left over. But sales were low everywhere because it was too hot to even THINK. Thankfully small children will always want a cookie, no matter what the temperature is, and my wallet thanks their hungry little bellies. A big thank you to the rest of the people who said YES to the Lil' Whoopies and heat be damned.

Let's take a look at everything. (Note: all the desserts you are about to see are vegan)

I was pretty proud of the table display. I thought it looked extra cute.
I had mini-donuts in a couple of different flavors. Plain with glaze or sprinkles. Lemon donut with blueberry glaze. And a donut version of the Casbah cupcake: Cardamom donut, rosewater glaze, dipped in pistachios. Yumskers AND fancy pants.
Zucchini Muffins and Blueberry Muffins
Lots of different cookies. Chocolate Chip. Oatmeal Raisin.
Oatmeal Cream Pies: So much better than Little Debbie's. These sold out first.
Grapefruit Shortbreads. And the Dirty Money cookie, which has oatmeal, banana, coconut, cinnamon and walnuts.
There were some Lil' Whoopie Pies too. Chocolate with vanilla and Chocolate with peanut butter. They were a pretty big hit.
I didn't even realize until I set it all up, but almost everything was mini. Unintentionally ADORABLE. So sue me.
There were so many tables, and the heat made it really hard to stop and look at much. But I ran into blogger friend Angela over at Brave New Baker, and her stuff looked great! I'm a total dummy though, and didn't take any pictures of it. Oh well. Hope you unloaded all of those cupcakes, Angela!

Now that the market's over, I can focus on the next big project: a dessert table for my friend's wedding! More to come on this soon...

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Punk Rock Flea Market- Summer 2010

I know, I know. I've been slacking on pies in July. I haven't gotten that crust tutorial to you yet. (It's almost done! Really! There's just so much I want to share!) But I've been preoccupied. The Punk Rock Flea Market is this Sunday, and I've got a table.

Are you in Philly, or can you easily get to Philadelphia? Then you should definitely be there. Don't let the name fool you. It's more than just punk records and old ramones t-shirts (though you probably will find plenty of those). There's tons of vintage clothes and accessories, hand-made items, screen-prints, art, random old appliances and decorations, and all of that regular flea market fair.

R5 has a bigger location this year, so it's going to be huge. There's over 250 tables. You won't find any grandmas selling ceramic nicknacks, but you will find cute girls peddling delcious treats. Like me. This is why you should come. I'll have things like this:
and this:
and this:
and some of these:
definitely these:
and maybe, if you're lucky, some of these:
And a couple of other things I don't have pictures of. It's probably going to be ridiculously hot there, so I had to ditch cupcakes, peanut butter cups, things dipped in chocolate, and any other baked good I figured would be too delicate. But I'll still have some pretty delicious stuff for you to choose from!

So seriously guys, no excuses. This is the best flea market in Philly. It's worth the trip. And when you're weary from looking at all that stuff, come find me. I'll have a donut waiting for you.

Punk Rock Flea Market- Summer Edition
Sunday July 25 10am-5pm
At the Punk Rock Flea Market Dome (461 N 9th St- Right across from Starlight Ballroom)
Just south of the intersection of 9th and Spring Garden
All Ages to Enter/ 250+ Vendors/ Re-entry all day long!
$3 Admission Donation

Thursday, July 15, 2010

There is Nothing More Adorable Than Mini Donuts

We interrupt Pies in July to bring you this very special message:

A few weeks ago I bought a mini donut pan, because... well, why not?? Then I tried to find some vegan donut recipes, and there aren't many to choose from. 

I tried to make some chocolate cake donuts, and I wasn't too impressed. 
Then I found this recipe on Vegan Yum Yum for not-chocolate cake donuts. It was repeated on several other blogs and declared as being supremely delicious. That's always a good sign. 
I may have put too many sprinkles on them. But is that ever really a problem?

The real problem was getting them out of the house before I ate them all. A few made it out alive. 
On a completely unrelated note, Yes, my nails are teal blue. It's called Mermaid to Order. So sue me. Let's get back to donuts. 
They're pretty tasty. Light, moist, and with a little spice, almost like an apple cider donut. Not my favorite donut, but a pretty good place to start. Once I perfect a vegan chocolate cake donut, I'll report back here immediately. Until then, these will do. 
And I mean, really, look how freakin' adorable they are. MINI DONUTS. With Sprinkles. 
For once, I followed a recipe EXACTLY, so just go to Vegan Yum Yum and do what she did. She was pretty thorough in her instructions. Then try not to eat them all. 

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Chocolate Peanut Butter Pretzel Pie

No need to check again, you read that right the first time. Chocolate. Peanut Butter. Pretzel. PIE. It's creamy. It's smooth. It's crunchy. It's decadent and rich. It's VEGAN. Believe it, folks.

Whoa Nelly! This is the kind of pie that sneaks up on you. You start with one teeny tiny slice. Which quickly turns into two slices. And before you know it, you've got your fork in the dish picking at the sides. Soon after, you throw all caution to the wind, and you end up with your finger in the pie. These things happen.
If you're lucky, you've got a good friend there to share in the indulgence, and to help rein each other in when faces start getting dangerously close to the pie.
Seriously, this thing should come with a warning: DO NOT EAT ALONE. But, y'know, if you do happen to go it alone and get half-way through the pie before you know what happened, I won't judge you. Pinky swear.
Of course there's some things I'd try differently next time: lightening up the peanut butter filling, making a harder ganache, tweaking the crust. But the recipe got eaten up pretty quickly as is, so no complaints here.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Pretzel Pie
adapted from Vegan Nom Noms

1 cup of finely ground pretzels
5 tbsp of Earth Balance vegan butter
3 tbsp of sugar

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. In a small saucepan, melt butter slowly over medium heat. Mix together pretzel crumbs and sugar in a small bowl. Once butter is melted, add to pretzel crumbs and mix until completely moistened. Press crumbs into 9 inch pie pan and up the sides. Bake for 10 minutes, or until crust is set. Allow to cool completely.

Peanut Butter filling-
1 12 oz container of Extra-firm silken tofu (I like Mori-Nu brand in the aseptic packs. You can find them in the asian aisle, or at the asian market.)
1 cup smooth peanut butter
1/3 cup powdered sugar
1/4 - 1/3 cup maple syrup (you can also use agave or brown rice syrup in its place)
1 tsp vanilla extract

Drain tofu and remove excess water. Combine all ingredients in a food processor and blend until smooth. (Since I used natural peanut butter, I used 1/3 cup of syrup. If you're using PB that's already sweetened, use less syrup to keep it from getting too sweet. ) Pour filling into prepared crust, and keep in fridge while you make the ganache.

Chocolate Ganache-
1/4 cup almond milk (or your non-dairy milk of choice)
3/4 cup of vegan chocolate chips
2 tbsp maple syrup (or agave, etc)

In a small sauce pan, heat milk on medium heat until it comes to gentle boil. As soon as it boils, remove from heat and add chocolate and syrup and mix until well-combined and smooth. Allow to sit for 10-15 minutes while it begins to solidify. You may drizzle the ganache on top of the peanut butter filling or cover it completely like I did. I also crushed up some pretzels with my hand and sprinkled it over the top of the ganache while it was still wet. Allow the ganache to set for at least one hour before serving.
Makes 1-12 servings depending on who's watching and if you're sharing.