Tuesday, January 4, 2011

A Vegan Christmas

Christmas Eve dinner at my sister's house has been a (drunken) vegetarian affair for a long time.  The first year that I can remember included the strange entree that is the Tofurkey, but they've only improved since then.  The boyfriend (now fiance!!!), a carnivore if ever there was one, says that he doesn't even miss meat if he knows that Kate and Calvin (the brother in law, not the dog) are cooking.  There have usually been a couple of vegan dishes, but this year they decided to go completely animal-free and make it vegan, with everyone bringing something along to share.  I got dessert and decided to go with a pie that's a little tart and a little sweet and totally vegan.  It was pretty yum, if I do say so myself.  I went with a layered version of a tarte tatin using pears combined with a cranberry layer in the middle to cut the caramelized sweetness of the cooked pears.  Note: this does take a while, but in the main it's fairly simple and can be completed more quickly if you do both batches of pears simultaneously.

Mmmmm, pie.  Flaky, sweet, tart pie.

Vegan Pear Cranberry Pie

Pie dough before adding milk
For the pie crust:

2 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp salt
3/4 cup butter-flavored Crisco, refrigerated
1/3 - 1/2 cup very cold almond or soy milk

To make the pie dough, start by mixing together the flour and salt.  Drop the Crisco into the bowl in pieces and cut it into the dry ingredients with a pastry blender (if you don't have one, you can use two knives, one between your index and middle finger, and one between your middle and ring finger) until the mixture makes small balls.  When it reaches the correct consistency, mix the almond milk in with a fork until it's just incorporated.  You don't want it to be too blended or you won't get a flaky crust.  Divide into two balls of equal size and refrigerate until you're ready to roll it out.

For the pears:

The pears are done in two batches, so double this recipe.  If you have two large pans you can cook them at the same time to save on your overall prep time.

3 d'Anjou pears or other light-tasting pears, peeled and chopped into eighths
2/3 cup raw sugar
Scant 1/3 cup water
2 Tbsp. Earth Balance or other vegan butter substitute
1 Tbsp. lemon juice
1 inch piece of ginger, peeled and grated
1 tsp. bourbon vanilla (or regular vanilla)

For each batch of pears, combine water and sugar in a large skillet over medium heat and cook, stirring.  The sugar will first dissolve, then begin to bubble, and finally caramelize and thicken.  If you're using raw sugar it will be hard to estimate the right color, so just go by a thick consistency.  Don't taste test it unless you want to burn your tongue.  When the mixture has turned to caramel, add the butter sub, the lemon juice, ginger, and vanilla and stir in.  When it is well blended, arrange your pears in the skillet.

Cook the pears for about 10-15 minutes, then turn them over using a fork.  Cook for another 10-15 minutes until the pears are soft and sugary.  Transfer them to a large bowl to cool a bit, making them easier to arrange in the pie shell without sustaining caramel burns.

Cranberry layer:

1 bag (12 oz.) fresh cranberries
Water as needed to thin
Juice of one large orange
2 Tbsp maple syrup
1-2 Tbsp corn starch

Heat orange juice and maple syrup in a small sauce pot.  Once it is simmering, mix in corn starch.  Start with 1 Tbsp and add another Tbsp as needed to thicken the sauce.  Add cranberries and simmer for about 10 minutes until they start to break down.  At this point, add water if needed to thin out the mixture.  The finished product should look like this:

The cranberries should have broken down enough that they're soft, but not so much that they resemble a cranberry sauce that you would serve at dinner.

Setting up the pie:

Now that everything is cooked, preheat your oven to 375 and roll out half of the pie dough and press into a pie pan.  It helps if the rolling pin is floured slightly and the dough is cold before you start.  Warm pie dough is persnickety and sticks to everything.

Add your pears, arranging them as you did in the skillet so that one half covers the bottom of the pie shell.  Next add your cranberries in a second layer.  Finish off the pie with remainder of the pears and as much of the caramel sauce as remains in the bowl/you want to put in.  When the layers are complete, roll out the second half of the pie dough and place over top in one sheet or as a lattice top.  Crimp the edges together with a fork, brush with almond milk, and sprinkle with some more sugar.  Bake pie in the oven for about 40 minutes or until the crust is golden.  If your edges are getting too brown, which mine always do, cover just the edges with aluminum foil so that the crust bakes more evenly.  Et voila!

This pie isn't too sweet, despite the caramelized pears.  There's a little bit of sweet and a little tart in each bite, so it's not too heavy after a big meal like Christmas dinner.  If you like your pie with a little more sweet, just add more of the caramel that will be left in the bottom of your bowl as the pears cool.

Calvin hopes that you like your pie.

1 comment:

  1. Yay!to drunken vegan Christmas Eve dinners!!! Yay!to engagements with pretty rings and lovey dovey boyfriends! Yay!to almost peeing my pants seeing Calvin in a Santa cap!

    Your pie was incredibly delicious. It was the perfect tartness to kick the tastebuds into a nice after dinner watering. I give it a 10.

    And, once again, congrats on your engagement, darlin'.