10 Tips for Baking Vegan Pie (and a Recipe for Dark Chocolate Mousse Pie)

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When you think of vegan and gluten free baking, you may be under the impression that limited options exist that could fulfill such seemingly restrictive parameters. Yet, the opposite could not be more accurate. Whether you have adopted an animal friendly lifestyle, have dairy and/or egg allergies, or are simply trying to reduce your cholesterol, vegan baked goods can easily be added into your rotation. There is no need to give up your favorite treats, especially at the holidays. And if the fifth annual Chow Bella Pie Social on Saturday, November 15th doesn't inspire you to try your hand at pie making, you will certainly be on your way to mastering the dark chocolate mousse pie recipe below after learning a few methods for replacing dairy and eggs. Your heart -- and guests -- will thank you.

See also: Dana Stern of Bragg's Factory Diner: Pie Social Celebrity Bakers 2014

Tips for Successful Vegan Pie Baking

1. The primary ingredient in pie dough that requires a vegan-friendly substitution is butter. Butter imparts not only flavor but lends to the flakiness of a pie crust (water trapped in the cold butter converts to steam when the crust reaches a certain temperature in the oven but I digress; there is a lot more science to pie crust than just steam!). In order to achieve this with non-dairy ingredients, coconut oil and non-hydrogenated shortening can be used in combination to achieve both the flavor and flaky texture qualities of a butter crust.

2. Do not fear traditional pie crust; make sure your shortening is very cold (you can also freeze the cubes to ensure a sufficient chill) as well as work quickly to get the finished pie dough into the refrigerator. (I've known some chefs to even rub their palms with ice cubes before handling the crust.) The same adage goes for rolling out the dough (and subsequent freezing before baking). It's all about keeping the ingredients and finished crust as cold as possible throughout the process, from assembly to baking.

3. The second ingredient in any cream or mousse pie that requires a non-dairy counterpart is, well, cream. The best substitution for this is coconut milk and coconut cream (from a can). What's the difference? Coconut milk is a thinner consistency and resembles dairy milk. Coconut cream is a much thicker consistency and can be whipped gently to replace whipped cream. Cream of coconut is usually sweetened, and is not recommended for use in this recipe (due to a high sugar content). Don't worry if you aren't a fan of coconut flavor; the rich chocolate content disguises any residual coconut flavor in this recipe.

4. Not all coconut milks and creams are created equal however. Look for coconut products that include only coconut and water in the ingredients, avoiding ingredients such as guar gum, polysorbates, cellulose, or any other word except for "coconut" or "coconut extract" and "water" (additives can negatively impact the "whipping" quality as well as impart undesirable flavors). Asian markets tend to have an excellent coconut milk selection. Typically the higher the coconut percentage, the thicker the milk/cream (look for at least 60%-70%).

5. If you can't find coconut cream, buy the highest percentage of coconut milk you can find and refrigerate the cans overnight. Resist the urge to shake; open each can and pour out the thinner coconut water/milk from the top of he can and use in the first part of the mousse recipe. Reserve the thicker, creamier coconut that has settled to the bottom for whipping into topping or folding into the cooled chocolate portion of the mousse recipe below.

6. The last ingredient to replace in vegan baking are eggs. Eggs serve multiple purposes in traditional baked goods from providing moisture, to leavening, to acting as a binding agent. There are different vegan ingredients that can fulfill each of these roles in baking. In the following recipe, the eggs are replaced with chia seed powder in lieu of using a cooked starch method; the resulting texture is much creamier and richer.

7. Don't be intimidated by ingredients such as chia and flax seeds. Not only can they naturally replace certain traditional ingredients, they also impart nutritional value that you may not find in conventional desserts. If these aren't ingredients you use regularly or foresee incorporating into your baking repertoire, I suggest buying a small amount from the bulk foods section at your local market before you commit to a larger and more expensive size.

8. In general, when baking, look for whole-food ingredients that don't have anything added - no emulsifiers, unnatural thickeners*, derivations of soy (i.e. lecithin), or processed sugars. Pure coconut milk and unsweetened Baker's chocolate are two such examples (and are used in the following recipe).

*8a. The one exception to this rule, in my opinion, is xanthan gum. It is the only thickener/binder I use in moderation when making both gluten free and vegan baked goods. Unlike the headless monster my father created of the same name when I was a child, xanthan gum is derived from a polysaccharide (long chain sugar) secreted by a certain strain of bacterium that is then dried and powdered. Although widely used in gluten free products, some consumers with digestive issues choose to avoid this ingredient altogether. Go with your gut - if you have digestive issues or nutritional concerns about adopting a particular diet, be sure to consult your physician, registered dietician, or certified nutrition specialist.

9. Don't forget to incorporate the guidelines from the previous post on Tips for Successful Gluten Free Pie Baking!

10. And, as always, have fun discovering new recipes! I suggest keeping a small notebook with handwritten notes and recipes so you can reflect and learn from your kitchen experiences. Enjoy the process of culinary exploration and share what you learn!

Recipe: Vegan and Gluten Free Chocolate Mousse Pie

This recipe contains several components, only one of which can be successfully made ahead of time. The pie dough can be made several days in advance, and it can be blind baked a day in advance. The mousse filling and whipped coconut cream should be made on the day that the pie will be served. This pie is incredibly rich and would be delicious served with chopped salted almonds, chocolate curls, or candied nuts sprinkled on top. (This recipe is easily made with a regular crust so if you or your guests don't have any gluten intolerances or allergies, feel free to substitute your favorite pie crust recipe at your discretion.) Yield: one 9-inch pie (8-10 servings)

Vegan and Gluten Free Pie Crust

¾ cup tapioca starch (3 oz) ½ cup plus 2 tablespoons rice flour (3 oz) ½ cup corn flour (2 oz) ¼ cup coconut flour (1 oz) 1 teaspoon xanthan gum ½ teaspoon cinnamon ½ teaspoon kosher salt 2 tablespoons maple, palm, or granulated sugar (1 oz) 1 tablespoon orange zest, finely grated (from 1 medium orange) ½ cup non-hydrogenated vegetable shortening, cold and roughly chopped (4 oz) ¼ cup coconut oil, melted and cooled to room temperature (2 oz) 1 ½ teaspoons apple cider vinegar ¼ to ½ cup ice cold water

Directions 1. Place all the dry ingredients (including sugar and orange zest) into the bowl of a food processor fitted with the blade attachment. Pulse several times to combine. 2. Place the cold chopped shortening into bowl of food processor with dry ingredients and pulse several times until only small pea-sized pieces of shortening remain. Add vinegar and melted cooled coconut oil and pulse once or twice to incorporate. 3. With food processor running on low speed, drizzle in ¼ cup of ice cold water. Stop here if the dough has come together. Drizzle in a tablespoon of water at a time until dough comes together and releases from the side of the bowl (a little crumbly is ok). 4. Turn dough out onto a piece of parchment paper or plastic wrap. Working quickly and gently, pat dough into a 4" disk. Cover with wrap, refrigerate 30 minutes (or more, if making ahead of time). 5. After dough has chilled, place disc onto a large square of parchment paper (paper should be slightly larger than the pie plate). Place a square of plastic wrap on top of dough disc. 6. With a rolling pin, roll dough into 1/16-inch thickness periodically readjusting top plastic wrap as needed. Invert parchment paper with crust into pie plate and press down gently, especially into corners. Remove parchment paper. 7. Cut off excess dough around edges and either crimp crust using your favorite method or use the leftover dough scrap to cut out shapes and affix to top edge of dough. (I like cutting small shapes from the dough and baking them separately like cookies to use as a garnish with each slice of pie.) 8. Once crust is prepared, place in freezer for at least 20 minutes before baking.

Blind Baking the Crust 1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. 2. Remove crust from freezer and cut a round of parchment the same size as the top of the pie plate. Fit parchment onto crust and smooth into corners. 3. Fill parchment with pie weights or beans (enough to fully cover the bottom). 4. Bake crust at 375 degrees for 20 minutes. Remove pie from oven and remove parchment and pie weights or beans. Reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees and continue to bake for 10 more minutes. 5. Remove pie crust from oven and let cool on a cooling rack. If making crust ahead of time, wrap with plastic wrap once completely cooled and store at room temperature until ready to fill the pie.

Dark Chocolate Mousse Filling

2, 14 oz cans chilled coconut milk or cream, divided 1 cup maple syrup, Grade B preferred (11 oz) 8 oz unsweetened Baker's chocolate, chopped ¼ cup chia seed powder* 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract ½ teaspoon espresso powder (or 1 tablespoon strong coffee/espresso) ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon 2 pinches kosher salt


1. Prepare the coconut milk/cream; you will need to divide the two cans into 2 containers. Following tip no. 5 above, pour off the thinner coconut milk into one bowl and reserve the thicker coconut cream into another bowl. You need 1 cup of the thinner coconut milk, and 2 cups of the thicker coconut cream. Set aside the thinner coconut milk for now and in the chilled bowl of an electric mixer, place the thicker cream and whip with the whisk attachment until whipped. Divide the whipped coconut cream into 2, 1 cup portions. Refrigerate both until needed at step 5 and for the sweetened whipped coconut cream topping. 2. Place the maple syrup into a heavy medium saucepan and heat on medium high until smoky and reduced slightly (or registers 240 degrees on a candy thermometer), about 5 minutes (watch carefully so the syrup doesn't burn). Remove saucepan from heat and pour in the 1 cup of reserved thinner coconut milk (maple syrup may bubble). Return to medium heat and stir until milk and maple syrup are combined. Continue to cook for 5 minutes at a low simmer. 3. Remove from heat and add chopped Baker's chocolate. Let sit for 2 minutes, then whisk until the chocolate is melted. 4. Add chia seed powder, vanilla extract, espresso/powder, cinnamon, and salt. Whisk to combine. The chocolate mixture will begin to thicken almost immediately. Set chocolate mixture aside to cool at room temperature for about 20 minutes. 5. Remove 1 cup of whipped coconut cream from the refrigerator. Fold one quarter of the cold whipped coconut cream into the chocolate mixture, then fold the chocolate mixture into the remaining whipped coconut cream. Fold gently and be careful not to deflate the whipped coconut cream. It's ok if a few pockets of cream don't get folded in completely. 6. Pour chocolate mousse into prebaked and cooled pie crust. Refrigerate uncovered for at least 2 hours to set.

*If you have whole chia seeds and not powder, place 150% of desired amount of seeds into a clean coffee or spice grinder and pulse until ground into a fine consistency. Sift using a fine mesh sieve, using only the fine powder for this recipe.

Whipped Coconut Cream

1 cup cold coconut cream powdered sugar to taste, sifted 1 tsp vanilla extract pinch kosher salt


1. Right before serving, rewhip the reserved cup of coconut cream. Add the powdered sugar to taste along with vanilla extract and salt. (You may notice some water has settled out of the whipped coconut cream; pour off before rewhipping.)

Pie Assembly

1. Remove chilled pie from refrigerator. 2. Spoon, spread, dollop, or pipe sweetened whipped coconut cream on top of the pie. 3. Cut pie into desired number of slices and top with chopped salted almonds, chocolate curls, or candied nuts. Serve immediately. Any leftovers will keep in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.

Marisa Lown is a pastry chef specializing in whole food recipes for consumers with food allergies or restrictive diets. Her nutritional focus includes gluten-, grain-, dairy-, and refined sugar-free treats. You can follow her tips, resources, and recipes at www.theradicalcupcake.com.

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