Reviewer’s Note: I descend from a long line of fabulous cooks, and all of them had their signature pies. Growing up in a very active kitchen, our go-to desserts were always pies. In the spring, we could pick rhubarb from the garden and pull a pie out of the oven in less than an hour. Our pie crust recipe consists of all-purpose flour, milk, canola oil, lemon juice, and a dash of salt – all meticulously measured for a perfect crust every time. New tasters to our pies rave about the crust’s flaky nature and great taste and are delighted to learn that it’s relatively healthy and very easy to make. So, basically, I’m a pie snob.
Because of my bias, the goal of reviewing a pie-making cookbook filled with vegan recipes sounded especially challenging for me and my family. When my sister, who is trying a vegan diet to eliminate frequent migraine headaches, planned a week’s visit with us, I knew I had a willing audience.
Pies and Tarts with Heart: expert pie building techniques for 60+ sweet and savory vegan pies by Dynise Balcavage is designed to teach the basics of pie making and offers some good information on stocking your pantry. The author explains why she chooses different ingredients she keeps on hand and gives specific brands if she feels strongly that they are the best product and I learned some things. For instance, I didn’t know that not all white sugar is vegan; some is processed with bone char.
The book’s introduction is quite an entertaining read. To encourage the novice she writes,“I promise that after you make four or five crusts (sooner, if you are a prodigy), you will have a ‘light bulb’ pie crust moment: the magical instant, when the culinary universe decides to conspire with you and it will all come together. Instead of clumsily fumbling with the mixing, rolling, and crimping, juggling ingredients, dropping utensils, and ending up with more flour on your jeans than on your rolling surface, you will, in that flash, feel like a ballerina in a froufrou apron as you effortlessly turn out crust after crust, tiptoeing around your kitchen leaving a trail of fairy dust wherever you go. Well, maybe not exactly.”
On page 26, Balcavage has created a chart entitled, “Pie Crust Whys: step by step”. It gives valid explanations for the pie making steps with tips to make the steps easier. There are three pages with excellent photographs explaining and illustrating decorative finishing touches for your pies. Following that are nine different recipes for crusts ranging from traditional, to gluten free, to grain based crusts. The remaining chapters divide the pie recipes into categories:
- · Traditional Pies
- · Decadent and Creamy Pies
- · Citrus Pies and Tarts
- · Pies in the Raw
- · Nutty Pies
- · Arty Tarts and Free-Spirit Pies
- · Savory Pies and Tarts
- · Imposter Pies
- · Pie Toppers
My sister looked through the book and chose two pies to try. The classic pecan pie on page 88 proved a grand success. No eggs, only 2 T of corn syrup, and three other forms of sweetener made for a pie that held together well and tasted great. Three days later, the pie was still appealing.
We also made the Caramelized Onion Tart on page 126. The apple-chile chutney didn’t appeal to my sister, so we skipped that component of the dish and didn’t miss it at all. This savory tart has a creamy layer of vegan cream cheese, nutritional yeast, and fresh basil topped with caramelized onions. It was pretty easy to make, but you do need to allow yourself plenty of time to cook the onions until they are just right. The whole family sampled a piece and was very complimentary about the dish. My sister commented that she’d be willing to eat this pie every day of her stay (we only managed two repeats out of it). Still, it was good the second day.
There is a beautiful photograph accompanying every recipe in the book. Each recipe features clear directions and tips to make the pie-building process easier. My only complaint about the book is the size of the print for the list of ingredients in each recipe. I could read the directions just fine, but to decipher the fractions accurately required reading glasses or bringing the book up close to my face. No one wants to do that with messy fingers.Lisa George is Chef and co-owner of Latigo Ranch in Kremmling, Colorado.
Real Bottom Line: If you are avoiding animal products and have felt that pies must be eliminated from your diet, Pies and Tarts with Heart might just open up a whole new culinary chapter in your life.– Review by Lisa George, chef Latigo Ranch and RFT Contributor, Photos by Hannah George