Vegan Sausage Rolls, Puff Pastry & Politics

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It has been a while…

When we last spoke, the U.S. election was really getting ugly. The horror crescendoed, the election was a travesty, and we Democrats watch with jaws on the ground as new layers of muck are added to the pile every day.

In short, writing about food, has seemed beside the point. Eating, necessary, but photographing cupcakes and talking about the nuances of butter versus coconut oil, strange.

This is not a political site, and it’s not about to become one. But I feel very strongly about what just happened to our country. I supported Hillary Clinton, and am grieving her loss. I am terrified by what is about to happen to our schools, medical care, seniors–basically all the provisions for people who aren’t billionaires. Not to mention the environment.

After the election I found it hard to cook. I was too angry. But eventually cooking helped me work out some of my feelings, as creative pursuits often do. And the pleasure a new recipe gives me is something worth sharing, and has transformed the way I look at this site.

Comfort food is a powerful thing. Decades after the fact, I can still remember the night my best friend Shani made me a grilled cheese sandwich with a side of tomato soup. We had both just lost our jobs and were having to make painful financial sacrifices. It was so much more than soup and a sandwich; it was medicine. Right now I would like nothing more than to crawl under the covers with a casserole full of macaroni and cheese, buttered soft white bread, and a sack of chocolate peanut butter cups. Every day. For four years. But food that’s bad for you makes you feel good for about five minutes before it makes you feel terrible for a very long time. At this juncture, I am determined to eat well, to keep my body and mind sharp. To that end, the category for this post and those to come is Comfort Food That Won’t Kill You.

So here we go…

I used to be a vegan, and during those years I never had any success with pastry. Most were oil-based and leaden, and not worth the calories. Later, commercial vegan shortenings worked well enough, but they–with palm oil as their main ingredient–made the list of products that come at too high a price to the environment. And then I found this recipe. I have used it in pie crusts and rough puff and it worked brilliantly. The pastry was light and flaky and tender, just the way you want it. It was a bit paler than butter-based dough, but it does brown and the taste is very good. Whatever pastry you make, it will likely look like a greasy mess when you peek in the oven halfway through the bake, but be patient. In the end it will all come together.

Vegan Sausage Rolls (makes about 24)

For the shortening:

I make it by the cup and freeze it in ice cube trays. 3/4 cup (18ml) coconut oil to 1/4 cup (60ml) canola oil. If the coconut oil is solid, heat it in the microwave until it is soft but not totally liquid. Add the canola oil and mix thoroughly. Freeze.

For the Pastry:

As far as the ingredients go, this is Gordon Ramsay’s recipe for rough puff pastry, and it’s the right amount for the filling below. But use the shortening as you would in any pastry recipe.

The important ingredients–fat and flour–are by weight, and it’s the best way to do it. A small digital scale is inexpensive and worth the investment. I guarantee you will use it again and again.

250g coconut/canola shortening, frozen, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
250g white flour
1 teaspoon (5ml) salt
Approximately 5 oz. or 150ml ice cold water

Add the flour and salt to a processor and pulse a few times. Add the shortening and pulse until the shortening is the size of small peas. Add 2/3 of the water and pulse a few times. You want a firm dough that holds together. Add more water if necessary. I used the full 5 oz.

Knead gently on a lightly floured surface to bring the dough together. Don’t knead too much. Wrap in plastic and let rest in the refrigerator for 20 minutes.

The dough will be stickier than one with butter so I recommend rolling on floured wax or parchment paper.

Roll into a rectangle measuring about 20 x 8 inches or 50 x 30cm. Fold one third of the dough to the center and the other third over that. Rotate one quarter and roll to three times the length. Fold again. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for 30 minutes and repeat. Wrap and refrigerate for at least an hour before using.

For the Filling:

1 cup green lentils, rinsed
1 medium onion cut in half, one half left whole, the other chopped
1 carrot cut into quarters
1 stalk of celery cut into quarts
1 bay leaf
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
A few grinds of fresh black pepper
Olive oil
4 oz. button or cremini mushrooms, trimmed and roughly chopped
1 Tbsp. (15ml) Worchestershire sauce
Salt and pepper

Put the lentils, half the onion, carrot, celery, bay leaf, thyme and pepper in a saucepan and cover with at least an inch of water. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer and cook until the lentils are tender but firm. You don’t want them mushy. Drain, remove the bay leaf, onion and celery and set aside to cool.

Saute the chopped onion and mushrooms in a few tablespoons of olive oil until cooked and starting to turn golden. Add the Worchestershire sauce and cook another minute. Let cool.

Pulse the lentils, carrot, and onion and mushroom mixture for about 3-4 1 second pulses. You want the mixture to have some texture, not be a paste. Unless you want a paste… then that’s fine. Season with salt an pepper to taste.

To Assemble to Sausage Rolls:

The rough puff pastry will be much softer and easier to work with than regular puff pastry. So it’s a good idea to work quickly so you don’t allow things to get too warm and break down the layers. You won’t see the layers as distinctly as you would with butter-based pastry, but they’re there.

Keep whatever pastry you’re not using in the moment cold in the fridge.

There are different ways to make the rolls. You can cut the dough into four pieces, roll each one out to a long thing rectangle, form the filling into a line down one side of the pastry, fold it over, crimp the one edge and cut into pieces.

What I did was cut the pastry in two. Dust a sheet of waxed paper with flour, roll one of the pieces into a large very thin rectangle on the paper and move the paper to a baking sheet. Mark the pastry with a knife or pasta crimper. Place balls of filling in the marked areas. Run a pastry brush dipped in water along the marks. Place the baking sheet in the fridge. Roll the other piece on another sheet of waxed paper. The waxed paper makes it easier to pick up and handle the dough which can be stickier than regular puff pastry.

Place the second sheet over the first. Gently press the dough down between the mounds of fillings and cut into rolls with knife or pasta crimper.

Freeze or bake at 350F/175C degrees for 10-15 minutes, until golden. Watch that you don’t burn the bottoms. If they’re frozen, they will take about 5 minutes longer.

filling