My mother’s strawberry pie is the one dish I remember from my childhood with so much love that I’ve never tried to veganize it for fear of messing it up. The recipe is simple–spread a layer of sweetened cream cheese in a pie crust and pour over it a layer of strawberries in a cornstarch glaze–and through the magic of Tofutti cream cheese, I know it could be easily made vegan. Still I resisted attempting it, in part because I don’t like the taste of raw Tofutti and in another part because I don’t like its main ingredients, soybean, palm, and olive oils. So it comes as a surprise to me that for the last two weeks I’ve become obsessed with not only making that cherished dessert but also making it without using vegan cream cheese, oil, or even sugar. You could say that I got over my fear of messing up my favorite childhood dessert by totally messing it up, recreating it from the pie crust up. The end result is similar to my mother’s pie but different enough to be a new creation, lighter and healthier but still a delicious summertime treat.
I tested this pie three times before arriving at the “final” version (as final as anything can be in cooking). Like Goldilocks’ experience with the Three Bears’ beds, the first pie was too soft, the second was two hard, but the third was just right. Unfortunately, I don’t have photos of the “just right” pie–the single slice you see below is the “too hard” version; you’ll just have to trust me that the final version is firm enough to hold together but still manages to have a airiness about it.
Finally, I know someone is going to ask about leaving out the cashews, and I apologize to those of you who are following a nut-free diet and can’t eat them. I used them because plain silken tofu has a chalky flavor by itself; lemon and vanilla can only go so far to mask it, so I used cashews to add depth of flavor and creaminess. The pie would be much lower in fat without them, but I haven’t made it that way and can’t recommend that you substitute anything for them. At least the fat comes from natural, whole ingredients, and 6.2 fat grams per slice is a pretty good deal for an occasional indulgence. If you’d like to lighten it up even further, try making it without the crust.
- 1/2 cup raw cashews
- 8 medjool dates, pitted and roughly chopped
- 1 cup old fashioned rolled oats (use certified gluten-free oats if gluten is a concern)
- 2-3 tablespoons apple juice
- 1 12.3-ounce package Morinu organic firm silken tofu
- 2 medjool dates, pitted and chopped
- 3 tablespoons lemon juice
- 1 tablespoon chia seeds, ground in a blender or coffee mill
- 1 teaspoon grated lemon rind
- 1 vanilla bean (or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract)
- 1/2 cup apple juice
- 2 teaspoons agar powder (or 2 tablespoons agar flakes)
- stevia, erythritol, or other sweetener to taste
- 12 ounces strawberries, stemmed and sliced
- Before You Begin: Place the cashews in a small bowl and add water to cover them by about 1 inch. Set aside to soak for at least 2 hours or in the refrigerator overnight.
- Crust: Place the 8 chopped dates into a food processor fitted with a metal blade. Add the oats and process until crumbly. With the machine running, add 2 tablespoons of apple juice. Continue to process until mixture begins to adhere together. If necessary, add more juice a teaspoon at a time, but be careful not to add too much. You want it to be sticky but not wet. Press into the bottom of an 8-inch pie pan and up the sides about 1 inch. Set aside.
- Filling: Drain the cashews and place them in the blender (a Vitamix or other high-speed blender works best, but others should be able to do a good job). Add the tofu, 2 dates, lemon juice, chia seeds, and lemon rind. Split the vanilla bean lengthwise and use a spoon to scrape out the seeds inside; add them to the blender. Blend on high speed until completely smooth, stopping to scrape down the sides to make sure all ingredients are incorporated.
- Taste the filling mixture and add sweetener to taste. (I increased the lemon flavor by using NuNaturals Lemon Stevia.) Leave the mixture in the blender as you continue with the next step.
- The next steps require you to work quickly. Heat the 1/2 cup of apple juice in a small sauce pan. As it’s heating, sprinkle it with the agar powder. Stir and heat until agar dissolves and juice begins to boil. Cook, stirring, for 1 minute after boiling. Quickly, add the agar mixture to the contents of the blender. Put the top on the blender and blend at high speed until well-blended. Scrape down the sides and blend again briefly. Pour into the prepared crust and smooth the top. Refrigerate until chilled and set.
- Top with sliced strawberries before serving.
If being sugar-free isn’t important to you, consider using a strawberry glaze instead of plain strawberries.
Nutrition (per serving) without crust: 135 calories, 44 calories from fat, 5.2g total fat, 0mg cholesterol, 58.9mg sodium, 281.9mg potassium, 18g carbohydrates, 2.6g fiber, 11.4g sugar, 6.5g protein, 4 points.
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