Friday, October 12, 2012

Trying my hand at Pie

I almost made a pie once.  But then I didn't.  I turned it into a maple oat crumble and ate it on the day before labour day while watching In the Name of the Father and lamenting about school beginning again. Bummer.

This summer I tried making a pie again. What, you don't believe me?  Here's the proof.

This was a strawberry, rhubarb crumble pie. The filling was delicious, but that's never the hard part. The hard part is always the crust, which I always want to make vegan. In this particular case, the edges of the crust were perfect, but that bottom fell apart, turned soggy and in some spots, didn't even cook properly.

So I tried again this long weekend, on the dreary Sunday that got a little wet and chilly later on in the day, when making pie seemed like the perfect excuse to not to work that I brought home with me. I was totally inspired by the lovely vegan baking goddess over at have cake will travel. Her plum and almond tarts looked so delicious, but I wanted something with apples. While browsing foodgawker, I stumbled upon this dutch apple pie over at Beyond Sweet and Savory. The almond press-in crust totally sold me. It was decided from there.  Apple pie it was.

I made mine with a almond spelt crust, using canola oil and almond milk to bind it instead of butter, and a nice spelt flake crumble on top. To keep the crust from turning soggy, I stuck it in the freezer for a bit, and then pre-baked it for 20 minutes before adding the apples and crumble topping. That totally did the trick. No soggy, uncooked pie bottom. The crust held together nicely and was crispy and flavourful from the ground almonds. If you're expecting a buttery, flaky crust, this isn't the place to look, but it was still delicious enough to merit a mound of cinnamony lemon-kissed apples being piled on top.

A note about the apples: the original recipe calls for 1 cup of brown sugar! If you like your pie super super sweet, go for it, but I put in about 1/4 cup and found it plenty sweet. But then, I had just found perfect Jonagold apples at the market that didn't need much help in the sweet department.

This has been the most successful vegan pie-making experiment to date. Do you think I could pull of vegan pumpkin pie, with a vegan pumpkin custard filling?  Whoa... that's a tricky one.  Stay tuned!

Vegan Apple Crumble Pie with Spelt Almond Crust
inspired by have cake will travel, and Beyond Sweet and Savory

For the Crust:
1 cup of spelt flour
1 cup of almond meal
1/4 cup of natural cane sugar
1/4 cup of canola oil
3-4 tablespoons of almond milk, as needed

For the Filling:
3 large to medium apples (I used one Matsu and 2 Jonagolds)
1/4 cup of brown sugar
1 teaspoon of cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon of nutmeg
juice of half a lemon

For the Crumble Topping:
1/2 cup of spelt flakes
1/2 cup spelt flour
1/4 cup of brown sugar
juice of half a lemon
2 tablespoons of canola oil

1. Make the pie crust. Blend the flour, sugar, and almond meal together. Add the canola oil and stir gently with a wooden spoon or rubber spatula. Slowly, a little at a time, at the almond milk, stirring between additions, until the dough stays together when pinched. You can do this in a food processor too, and pulse until you get the right texture.

2. Bring the dough together with your hands, just enough so that it chunks off, and then press it into the bottom of a 9 inch pie plate, making sure that you're going up the sides evenly.  There's a perfect pie crust. No rolling!  Woo hoo!  Place your pie crust in a freezer for about 15 minutes.

3. Make your filling. Peel and core your apples and slice them thinly (the original recipe suggest 1/4 inch thick .. I'm not sure how thick mine were..). Sprinkle with brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg and lemon juice. Toss with together and set aside.

4. Your pie crust is ready for the oven now! Bake it for about 15-20 minutes in a 350 degree oven, or until it just starts to firm up and get some colour.

5. In the meantime, make your crumble topping. Place the spelt flour and flakes in a bowl. Add the brown sugar, lemon juice and canola oil and mix to form a crumble.

6. Take the pie crust out of the oven. Pile your apples on top and sprinkle over the crumble. Throw it all back in the oven and bake for about 35-45 minutes, or until the apple juices start bubbling up, and the crumble topping is a deep golden brown.

7. Yay!  Vegan apple pie!

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

New Berry!

Check out these little babies.  These are cape gooseberries, or ground cherries.  I first saw them being used by Chuck when watching foodtv at the gym (yeah .. don't ask!). He was making a compote to go with one of his dishes. Then, I saw them on sale at No Frills, but I resisted buying them because I had no idea what they tasted like, and even though I should have probably taken Chuck's word for it that they're delicious, I hesitated -- there were still local strawberries and blueberries abound, no to mention watermelon. So I skipped the ground cherries.

Then, in late August, when the winds were about to change, we took a short trip to Ottawa, and during one of our walks around the market, we bought a mixed fruit bowl to snack on. Low and behold, sitting on top of the blueberries, strawberries, and raspberries, was one lone ground cherry. We shared it -- each bit half of it -- and it really was delicious. I didn't think much about it, until this weekend, when I saw them on sale at our local farmer's market, and I decided that I couldn't pass them up this time. While walking home, we peeled away the little paper-like jackets and bit into the juicy fruit. What does it taste like, besides delicious? Well, to me, they taste like an impossibly sweet and fruity cherry tomato. A trustworthy second opinion said they tasted like pineapple (which, when I thought about it.. was true). Wikipedia describes them as tasting like a cross between .. you guessed it .. a tomato and a pineapple. Go figure.

In any rate they are impossible to stop eating, highly addictive, but totally worthy of being baked into something more delicious. I wanted to bring out the pineapple flavour, so I paired it with orange zest and honey in a simple, fruit-topped, sugar crusted cake. I used spelt flour for this cake, which made the texture very unique -- airy and light, almost like a sponge. The ground cherries get sliced and scattered on top of the cake, where some of them sink to the bottom during baking, and some of them stay on top. The berries on top caramelize with the help of a sprinkling of raw sugar, and ones that sink get lovely, sweet and jammy. The orange really worked well to bring out the pineapple fruitiness of these berries. I considered adding a spice -- maybe cinnamon or cardamom -- but on second thought, I wondered if it might take away from the unique flavour of the ground cherries, and so left it out in the end. I also had some leftover coconut milk hanging around, so I threw that in. Because coconut milk is so rich, there was no need to add any oil. If you don't want to open a whole can just for this recipe, I would suggest using two tablespoons of plain milk, and two tablespoons of canola oil or melted butter.

Although I chose to go the cake route (hey .. who doesn't like cake?), I saw lots of lovely recipes on the web for ground cherry salsas, salads, compotes and jellies. You totally need to try them for yourself. Hurry to the market before they're gone -- you won't regret it!

Sugar-Topped Ground Cherry Cake
makes one small loaf

1 egg
1/4 cup of honey
1/4 cup of plain yogurt
1/4 cup of coconut milk
2 tablespoons of orange juice
1 cup of spelt flour
a pinch of salt
1/2 teaspoon of baking powder
1/4 teaspoon of baking soda
1 cup of ground cherries, sliced in half
1 tablespoon of raw sugar (for sprinkling)

1. In a large bowl, whisk together the egg, honey, yogurt, coconut milk and orange juice until smooth and well-combined.

2. Sift in the flour, salt, baking powder and soda and mix gently until just combined. Pour into a prepared loaf pan.

3. Add the ground cherries on top of the cake batter, and sprinkle with raw sugar. Bake at 350 degrees for about 45 minutes, or until the top gets a nice golden brown crust, and a cake tester inserted comes out clean.