Nut butter pastry

It’s day 18 of my Sensitive Foodie Advent Calendar – only a week until Christmas! It’s also my son’s birthday, so I will be whipping a chocolate birthday cake for him – all plant-based of course.

Back on day 6, I shared my recipe for mincemeat. Full of unrefined sugars and no added fats, it still tastes, and works, like traditional mincemeat, just slightly healthier.

But of course, mincemeat by itself is no good. It can be used in various recipes, but the key one for this time of year just has to be mince pies. The challenge is what pastry to use?

If you are not managing a health problem, then it is easy – buy ready-made pastry! Brands like Just-rol are dairy-free, using various vegetable fats instead of butter (just make sure you don’t buy an all-butter pastry by mistake!). There are gluten-free alternatives available now too, including one by Just-rol which is also vegan. But they do use palm oil, so if you are trying to avoid that then this might not be the option for you.

You can make pastry at home using Trex, a vegetable fat with similar properties and looks like lard. Similar effects on your body too! This also contains palm oil. It does however make great pastry, so the choice is yours.

None of these options work for me. Following the OMS (Overcoming MS) programme means avoiding products containing saturated fats like palm oil and coconut oil. So I make my own pastry. In the past I’ve used olive oil; it works but it’s a little bland. Christmas is a time of rich, luxurious flavours; nut butter does the job really well, especially pecan nut butter.

You may not have seen pecan nut butter on the supermarket shelves. That’s probably because they are more expensive than other nuts. I bought a jar from an artisan market stall and hid it in the cupboard as it was too much for general usage! You can make your own by lightly toasting a few handfuls and popping them into a high-speed blender or food processor. It takes a little while as you have to keep stopping the machine and scrapping it off the sides to blend again, but once the oils are releases it all comes together beautifully.  

I use the minimal amount of pecan nut butter as a fat replacement as possible. Partly because of the expense, but mainly because it is super rich and I don’t want it to dominate as a flavour over the mince meat. It’s not essential to use pecan nut butter. It will work with almond or cashew nut; I would avoid peanut butter though. And if you are nut-free, then try it with sunflower seed butter instead. 

This pastry comes together as any pastry would, but it bakes a little firmer and is somewhat solid. So please don’t expect to get a light and fluffy casing for your mince pies. It does however taste delicious. Plus, when it’s hard to find a pastry to eat, it somehow tastes even better! It also works just as well with gluten free flour, just make sure there’s a little xanthum gum in the mix to help it stay together.

So if you are struggling to find a pastry to meet your needs, or just fancy trying something a little different, then why not give this a go? If you do, don’t forget to let me know how you get on.

Pecan nut butter pastry mince pies (makes 7-8)

  • 125g wholemeal or gluten free flour
  • pinch of salt
  • 2 tablespoons coconut sugar (optional but good)
  • 2 tablespoons pecan nut butter (or chosen alternative)
  • 5 tablespoons cold water
  • mincemeat to fill

Sift the flour and salt into a bowl and stir in the coconut sugar. Add the pecan nut butter and lightly rub in with your finger tips until it’s incorporated and has a bread-crumb like texture.

Pour in 4 1/2 tablespoons of the water and bring together with your hands to form a soft dough. Add the final drops of water if required. Knead gently to make sure everything is well combined, then place in the fridge for 30 minutes to rest.

Pre-heat the oven to 180ºC. Roll the dough out on a silicon mat or sheet of greaseproof paper and cut out circles to fit whatever baking tin you’re using to make your mince pies. Place in the baking tray inserts and fill with mincemeat. Roll out the remaining pastry and cut out enough lids to top. Brush with soya milk and place on top of each of the pie bases. Press gently to seal and repeat until everything is used up. Cut a small hole in the centre of the pastry lids to let the steam escape and brush with a little more soya milk. 

Bake in the oven for 15 minutes, then turn the tray and bake for another 5 minutes or so until the top is golden brown. Remove from the oven and transfer to a rack to cool. 

Mighty fine Sunday pie

Four days down in the veg box challenge and we are gradually munching our way through the gorgeous produce that arrived on Wednesday. The squash has all gone, as have the carrots and the cherry tomatoes. There’s still a couple of onions though, most of the leeks and mushrooms, the lettuce, one parsnip and a handful of chard as well as potatoes.

So to Sunday dinner – what to have? There’s plenty of curry leftover from Saturday night, but those big fat juicy leeks are just begging to be eaten, so it just has to be a leek and mushroom pie.

I know some people aren’t keen on pie, especially as a thick layer of butter pastry can result in a serious case of indigestion afterwards. But I’ve always been a fan, and ended up missing out for a while when I first went dairy free. It then got more complicated when I went plant based and then nigh on impossible when I went gluten free. But where there’s a will there’s a way, and a desire for pie can overcome all obstacles!

Ever since grain was milled, people have made some sort of crust to stuff a filling into! First it was more of bread or pancake. Then the Greeks developed pie pastry, and the Romans started documenting pie recipes. Apparently the most popular recipe was called ‘placenta’ – somehow that doesn’t sound too appealing to me……..

Pie has been a feature of British cuisine since Roman times, and take different forms all round the world. We noticed the Aussies are particularly fond of pie when we were over there at Christmas, and I always think of Twin Peaks when anyone has cherry pie!

For a plant based pie filling, in my mind there is no better than a simple leek and mushroom one, especially if they are firm, nutty chestnut mushrooms, which is fortunately what was in the veg box. They go together brilliantly with tarragon and a creamy sauce, making such a delicious filling you might just prefer it to a meat pie!

You may not think of leeks as being particularly special, but being part of the allium family they are packed full of phytonutrients such as flavonoids and polyphenols that help protect and support our blood vessels and help protect against oxidative damage and stress. And mushrooms, although in lesser amounts, have a whole range of vitamins and minerals, particularly selenium, and lots of fibre. On top of that, they produce their own natural antibiotics that can help boost immunity.

I made my own pastry for this pie as I haven’t found a gluten and dairy free alternative in the shops. If you’re ok with shop bought pastry, then go ahead and use it if making it is not your thing – JustRol is dairy free and definitely easy to use. I’ve not included my recipe for gluten free pie pastry here – I’m well chuffed with it though, and will save that for another day.

To make the creamy sauce, I kept it really simple and used some soya cream -it works brilliantly and is no hassle. If you don’t do soya, then there are some other dairy free creams on the market such as oat or rice. You could of course make a white sauce, but I was too busy making rhubarb crumble (dessert is most important!).For a complete Sunday night feast, our pie was accompanied by crushed potatoes (mash with skins on!) and some steamed cabbage, admittedly not from the box, but perfect anyway.

Mighty fine leek and mushroom pie
4 medium leeks, washed and trimmed
150g of chestnut mushrooms (more if you have them)
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 1/2 teaspoons tarragon, fresh or dried
1 carton dairy free cream
salt and pepper
1 portion pastry, enough for a double crust
Pre-heat the oven to 180ºC. Slice the leeks and mushrooms, then heat a dash of olive oil in a large pan and sauté the leeks for a few minutes, then adding the mushrooms. Cook for a couple of minutes, then add the garlic for a couple more. Pour in the cream, add the tarragon and seasoning and simmer until everything is cooked through. Let it stand for a few moments.
In the meantime, divide your pastry in two and roll out the first half and cover the base of a pie tin or dish. Wet the rim with a little water. Then roll out the second half of the pastry, making it big enough to cover the top. Spoon in the leek mixture, then place the pastry on top, pressing the edges together. Make two small slits in the middle to allow the steam to escape, brush the top with a little water or dairy free milk, place on a baking tray and pop in the oven for approximately 20 minutes until the pastry is firm and light brown (remember you might not get this brown with gluten free pastry). Remove from the oven, let it sit for a couple of minutes then serve and enjoy!

Pastry solution

When you have to adapt your favourite foods to accommodate an intolerance, it’s great to be able to find ready made placements in your local supermarket. I always assumed that ready made pastry contained butter or some form of dairy, so life was much easier when I found that most of the products contained no butter at all. The fact they contain lots of hydrogenated fat is not so good health wise, but sometimes you just have to ignore that when you fancy a mighty fine pie.

In India, however, I’ve not managed to find any pre made shortcrust or puff pastry. Filo can be found in some imported stores for a phenomenal price and who wants to defrost a whole box as once? Home made is the only option and for this you need 1) dairy free “butter” which I’ve not found here and has to be snuck in suitcases (it’s heavy too!) and 2) a delicate hand, which I do not! And as for trying to make it with oil, well that was just a complete disaster. Plus it really is too hot in the kitchen to spend too long mixing and kneading a sticky ball of goo.

The solution came one day in the form of my lovely friend Mandy – vegetable suet. It provides the right fat base to work in to flour with a good dollop of cold water to form a firm, kneadable pastry. I’ve still not found it in the shops here, but it’s fits quite comfortably in a spare suitcase corner!

All you have to do is mix 100g of self raising flour with 50g of suet, add a little salt and pepper. Stir in 2-3 tablespoons of cold water (more if you’re using wholemeal flour as it absorbs more water) to form a firm but flexible dough. Knead until the texture of the suet has been broken down into the flour and you have a smooth dough. This makes enough for 4 individual tart tins or the top of one bigger pie. You don’t need to chill it as it doesn’t seem to shrink in the same way normal pastry does, but equally it doesn’t do any harm. You can then cook it as per whatever recipe you are doing. If you want a sweet pastry, you can add 25g of caster sugar before the water.

Unfortunately, this is not an option for those who are gluten intolerant as the suet contains wheat. And if fat is something you are trying to avoid, then you should definitely think twice as despite the 25% fat claim there’s still over 60g of fat in every 100g – yikes! But then again, if you’re avoiding fat, pastry really is not the way to go.