On Making (Vegan) Pizza

Until 18 months ago I was making pizza using such techniques as:

  • Rolling out the dough with a rolling pin
  • Preparing the pizza and baking it on regular a baking pan/tray
  • Baking the pizza in a 400 or so degree oven for 25 minutes

However, after being prompted by a friend, I read up on pizza making, and I’ve never looked back.

Specifically, I read about the pizza Neapolitan style and to say I have made some changes to my technique would be an understatement. The way I now make pizza bears almost no resemblance to my former method and the resulting pizza reflects that.

My main source for information has been Jeff Varasano’s Pizza Recipe page which I would highly recommend spending some time with to get the technical details of the recipe. For now though, I’ll give a high level overview of the principles.

Za I

Sourdough

Starting at the beginning, the first thing I do differently is to rise the dough with not only dry yeast but also sourdough starter. The majority of the rising is still done by the dry yeast, the main reason for the addition of the sourdough is for the flavour it provides.

A sourdough starter is very easy to make. It’s simply a case of mixing flour and water and leaving it on your counter for a few days. The bacteria and yeast that are naturally present in the flour and water will do their thing and you’ll end up with a bubbling mass. S. John Ross has the details; I used his instructions when I started my sourdough culture in San Francisco.

Turn up the heat

Regardless of whether you are trying to get vegan cheese to melt or not, I’d recommend turning the dial on your oven all the way up.

I make pizza at around 575 F using my standard gas oven you’d find in most rental apartments with a $20 pizza stone on the bottom shelf. With this setup, the pizza cooks in around 7 minutes and you end up with a crispy crust yet the inside is still super soft. The charring on the outside of the crust really improves the flavour and the combination of crisp and soft makes the texture much more interesting.

You may wonder how it’s possible to get an oven up to 575 F when its temperature dial stops at 450. The secret is knowing that when you continue to turn the dial past 450 and all the way to the broil setting, the oven simply supplies more gas to the heating element which allows the oven to become even hotter. You will find that you have to have the oven preheating for around an hour to reach the absolute maximum, but it is well worth it. However, it’s not necessarily a great idea on a hot summer day with no air conditioning.

Za II

Wetter dough

The dough I make now has a much higher water content than previous attempts. The additional water aids in the texture of the crust. The aim is to end up with a crust that is crispy and partially charred on the outside, yet still soft in center. The wetter dough has a suppleness that helps in the shaping process and while it is in the oven, the stone draws moisture from the layer of sough in contact creating that charred, crispy exterior.

Wet dough is certainly more difficult to work with, however. You will almost certainly need a stand mixer (I use a Kitchenaid) to mix and knead the dough as its consistency is probably as close to pancake batter as it is to the bread dough you’re used to.

The techniques I’ve found to help working with wet dough are fairly obvious; use a liberal amount of dough on your hands, and on your work surface.

Vegan cheese

This post is not going to be a round up of commercial vegan cheeses (of which there are many), there have already been several vegan cheese showdowns. Nor do I have a homemade recipe to recommend. I will say, however, that if you’ve had difficulty coaxing your favourite store-bought cheese to melt, the extra 100 or so degrees should have it melting in a matter of minutes.

For a in-depth look at the whole process, I would fully recommend reading Jeff Varasano’s page.

Vegan DIY sausages

I came across Julie Hasson’s recipe for Spicy Italian Sausage some time ago and was impressed, along with a lot of others by the sound of it, by the result of the method she had put together. Her recipe is a seitan-based sausage that is shaped in aluminium foil and then steamed to cook.

DIY Vegan Bratwurst 3There are several reasons I like the recipe. First of all, it’s very easy to make. I think when people see a package of Field Roast sausages in the store, they seem somewhat unattainable to make at home. But this is not the case! You mix the wet and dry ingredients separately, combine the two, form the sausages in the foil and steam. Simple.

I also like that all of the herbs, spices and other flavours you add to the seitan stay in the final product, unlike the simmer-in-a-broth seitan methods where I feel there is a lot of potential for the flavours to be lost in the broth.

Finally, and most importantly, the texture is very good. Seitan has a tendency to be rubbery and overly chewy but these sausages are very tender. I put this down in part to the fact that she balances the vital wheat gluten with chickpea flour and the fact that the seitan is steamed rather than simmered or roasted.

Having tried out Julie’s recipe, I have since used her basic recipe to make a number of variations. Admittedly, some of the attempts, such as the vegan blood sausage, were disasters. For this one, I substituted as many of the ingredients with darker colored alternatives as possible. Salt was replaced with soy sauce, water with homebrewed stout, vegetable bouillon became marmite and the checkpea flour was replaced with buckwheat. To top it off, I added some deep purple beets to give it that dark red color. Unfortunately, the sausages came out bright pink and not only that but they just did not want to cook. They came out of the steamer still doughy in the middle each time I tried them. They didn’t taste that great either.

DIY Vegan Bratwurst 4There have, however, also been some successes. The hawaiian sausage with pinapple, sesame and ginger was sweet and delicious. It also went great with Eva’s hawaiian kechup on the 4th of July. The sun dried tomato and fennel sausage makes a great pizza topping. The apple sage potato is also a winner, especially in the colder winter months.

My basic recipe remains similar to Julie’s, although I’m keen on adding extra bulk (e.g. apple, onion, pineapple or whatever makes sense for the recipe) to increase tenderness of the finished sausages. These ingredients can either be chopped finely so they are still distinguishable in the final product (recommended for ingredients such as sun dried tomato) or pulverized in a food processor for a more consistent texture (recommended for onion).

Since I’ve now promised these recipes to several people over the last few months, it’s time to publish them. The recipes are available and include successful recipes, unsuccessful attempts and works in progress.

Food I made over Memorial Day weekend

1. Friday night | Pizza (Recipe)
2. Saturday night | Soba Noodles (Recipe)
3. Sunday morning | Crepes (Recipe)
4. Monday morning | Croissants (Recipe)

Every meal that was not one of the above either involved eating leftovers of the above, or was skipped entirely due to eating too much of the above.

Vegan Corn Cakes Recipe

Corn Cakes I

Eva and I took a trip to Oregon back in September. On our last day in Portland before driving back down the 5, we met up with our friend Ryan and ate breakfast at Paradox Cafe.

Eva got their “Corn Cakes” and they were super awesome. We’ve had a craving for them ever since so I decided to try and recreate them. At this point I have no idea how these compare to the corn cakes we had at Paradox but after a couple of tries, I have a pretty good version. Below is the recipe I came up with.

Ingredients

  • 2 cups soy milk
  • 2 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
  • 1 1/4 cup corn meal
  • 3/4 cup + 2 Tbsp all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 Tbsp sugar
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 Tbsp margarine
  • 1 Tbsp egg replacer
  • 1/4 cup luke warm water

Method

Corn Cakes II

Mix the apple cider vinegar with the soy milk and let rest for 10 minutes. This is the standard method for vegan buttermilk and you will find the liquid thickens quite a bit*.

Sift the dry ingredients into a bowl and mix.

Add the margarine to the dry ingredients and cut in with a pastry blender until you have a crumb texture**.

Whisk together the egg replacer and water with an electric whisk until fluffy.***

Add the soy milk mixture and “eggs” and whisk by hand until fairly smooth.

Cook on a cast iron (or non-stick) pan on medium heat until golden brown on each side. Serve with margarine, maple syrup and fruit or nuts.

*When using buttermilk it is necessary to use baking soda in place of some of the baking powder to ensure a complete chemical reaction. If only baking powder were used, some of the additional acids in the baking powder would be not be consumed by the reaction, imparting an unpleasant taste.

**This is my preferred method for mixing fat into pancakes. See my pancake recipe for more details.

***This line was added on June 12 2009 after being omitted from the original post!

Barbara Streisand has good tastes

It was Eva’s birthday on Saturday and she celebrated with a potluck. Her chosen theme was “Celebrity favorites”. Or, less confusingly, the favorite food of celebrities.

Blackout cakeI decided to go with Barbara Streisand’s favorite, which is apparently, chocolate blackout cake. It’s worth noting that there are only two references on the entire internets that link Barbara Streisand to blackout cake. One being the page where we found the original, non-vegan recipe, and another page that mentions that Rosie O’Donnell once sent her a “genuine” Ebingers Blackout Cake. The word “genuine” is in quotes because there is some debate as to whether the Ebingers brand baked goods that resurfaced in the early ’90s were the real thing, or not. The original Ebingers went bust in the ’70s.

Anyway, enough about the validity of my choice. It clearly doesn’t matter since Eva decided to push the definition of the actual word celebrity. She made Garfield’s lasagne. Does that count? At least no one is contesting that lasagne isn’t Garfield’s favorite food.

The point is, that I made blackout cake from Vegan With A Vegeance and it turned out to be totally awesome. The cake was super moist and had really nice structure! The raspberry goes really well with the chocolate and the ganache frosting is super velvety but not too sweet (which is my common gripe with frosting). If you don’t have the book you can find the recipe online, but I suggest you buy it anyway because it’s awesome.

The best vegan pancake recipe

First of all, there are many types of pancakes out there but this post only concerns american pancakes. No crepe pans, or scotch pancake griddles around here.

american pancake

I’ve been using the pancake recipe from the Joy of Cooking for some time now. The recipe is veganized by replacing the non vegan ingredients with their vegan counterparts. Besides the obvious, eggs are replaced with Ener-G egg replacer. I’ve been fairly happy with the results but it could definitely be better.

Read the rest of this entry »

Vegan Dim Sum.

So sometimes I get home from work and can’t bring myself even to figure out what to make for dinner, let alone make it. Other times I spend from 6-10pm cooking, eating and cleaning up the mess. Last Thursday was one of the latter occasions. I decided to make some kind of Dim Sum. I ended up adapting this recipe to make char siu bao. I didn’t have all of the ingredients and it was kind of a spur of the moment decision so I made the following substitutions:

  • I used firm tofu instead of pork, to make it vegan, duh! i was gonna use frozen but i remembered when i no longer had time to thaw it. I cubed it before marinating and fried it for longer than the recipe said. I also added green onions into the filling.
  • It was hard to tell what consistency the dough was meant to end up as I hand mixed it. I ended up using about 1/2cup +2Tbs water in the dough instead of 3/4cup. It worked fine.
  • Sunflower instead of sesame oil
  • Cranberry juice instead of pomegranate
  • Agave instead of molasses
  • 1Tbsp white wine + 1Tbsp mirin instead of sake

Here are the results:

dim sum!

dim sum!

Apple and pine nut stuffed winter squash + herbed rice + steamed chard

Apple and pine nut stuffed winter squash + herbed rice + steamed chard

This was really awesome and totally marks the start of fall cooking.

Last night I made yorkshire puddings and for some reason they came out really bad. They just seemed to take forever to cook and were still not really cooked enough in the middle after over 20 minutes (the recipe said 10-12mins). So i had to make something good to make up for it.

Tonight’s dinner went something like this: Half the squash and remove inside (saving seeds for roasting). Roast at 350 degrees with 1/2c water in the pan for 1/2hr. Meanwhile dice 2 apples and mix with 3T brown sugar, some roasted pinenuts and some grated nutmeg. Take out the squash and sprinle with salt, pile on apple mixture and drizzle a little olive oil on top. Put back in the oven for 30 mins. The rice was plain cooked rice mixed with 4 cloves garlic and a diced tomato that i sauteed in olive oil for a while with salt, pepper, oregano and parsely. Totally good and totally seasonal!

it’s been a while

so due to moving house and not having an internet connection for 2 months, it’s been a while since my last post. here’s a quick lowdown on what’s happened.

1. Eva and I moved to the Bay Area.

2. Eva got a job the day after we moved up here. TCB!

3. We went on a 5 day road trip upto the redwoods in real NorCal. Went hiking, did a jaunt on our cyclocross bikes and got scared by a herd of elk and made tasty food on a fire.

ocean rulz

purdy light

4. I found out that it’s possible to get groceries by bike, even when you live in the ‘burbs, but it’s easier with a crate than in a bag.

unloaded messenger bag

grocery getter

5. I earned my chip as a vegan baker by making croissantes. They were as amazing as they sound. (and look:)

vegan croissants!!

6. Did my first cyclocross race of the season, the dfl #2 race. I was heckled by other competitors and i lost my chain for the first time since running a single ring with a jump stop. There was someone playing punk 45s on a portable turntable in amognst all the dirt. Brian Welton (visiting from philly) predicted the records were all 1st pressings of first releases. Dont give a shit!

me at dfl

masi track bike

eva and i made dinner together tonight. it was barbeque tofu, kale, chard, biscuits and miso gravy. it was good. the kale and chard were growing in the garden 1/2 an hour before we ate them.

dinner, May 13th, 2006.

ryan was in town from portland for the weekend. we went on a ride today and it was fun, despite the flats. the first one ryan got on the climb up to golden hill park. as we were changing it i noticed the spare tube that had been sat in my bag for the last 6 months had suffered an abrasion from being there so long. it didn’t look like a hole so we risked it. of course it didn’t hold. at this point i had a patch kit but no more co2 or a presta adapter to use at a gas station. we walked over to thomas bikes, got his fixed and as i pumped up my tires a little to avoid any pinch flats on the way home i noticed my front tire was at 20psi. then ryan saw a goathead sticking out of it. awesome. at least i noticed it in the shop and not half way back though. so we were $20 down.

i’m not used to having other people work on my bike and i felt bad beedily watching the mechanic fix my flat. i pointed out that the tire wasn’t seated right when he started to inflate the tube. and then i asked for my old tube back too so i can patch it. i’m a horrible, picky customer. the rest of the ride was uneventful thankfully. we came home and ate cookies and talked about portland and san francisco.

ps please note that in the 24hrs previous to the getting the flats, i commented not once, but twice how i hadn’t had a flat for a year. take heed.