Monday, 9 May 2016

Vegan Pizza: A Cookbook Review

I received a free digital preview copy of this cookbook from Net Galley. I have not received any compensation for this review. 
I remember one time going to Toronto with a friend to give her moral support during a hearing regarding her son's custody. After the hearing, she took me to what she regarded as the best pizza place ever. She was pretty aghast when I ordered pizza without cheese, however, but I have to admit that it was pretty awesome pizza, cheese or no cheese. And the best thing was that the restaurant had an extensive list of toppings from which to choose. Within the parameters of the vegan/vegetarian diet, I like being adventuresome. If I remember correctly, I chose eggplant and broccoli. And it was great. So, having 50 different pizzas to choose from in this cookbook was pretty exciting to me.
Before reading this review, you might want to click on the Cookbook Criteria tab above to see what I look for in a cookbook as I'm going to refer to those points in this review.
1. Plant-based or vegan: The title of this book is Vegan Pizza, and for the most part, that's 99.9% true. But vegan purists would not use granulated sugar, brown sugar or confectioners' sugar because generally they've been bleached using charcoal made from animal bones. Yes, there are some vegan substitutes, but the odd thing is that the author states specifically vegan margarine, when it's called for in a recipe, but doesn't do the same for the sugars. She does, however, point out the difference in the Pantry section under "sugar." And most vegans are aware of the concerns regarding sugar and can make their choices accordingly.
2. Whole foods: Vegan Pizza definitely fails on this category. None of the crust recipes utilizes whole grain flour, with the exception of the 1/4 cup of brown rice flour in the gluten free crust.
3. Limited use of meat (and cheese) analogues: This also fits under the whole foods category, as most of these are not whole foods. And, once again, Vegan Pizza is a definite fail in this category. While the author does give a few recipes for home-made cheeses near the beginning of the book, the majority of the actual pizza recipes call for "shredded vegan cheese." There is a fairly liberal use of "fake meat" as well.
4. Limited use of obscure, exotic and specialty ingredients - check.
5. Easy to follow instructions, simplicity of preparation - check.
6. Limited use of ingredients I don't like - yes, lots of recipes without mushrooms! (Why does everyone think pizza has to have mushrooms?)
7. Awesome food photography - no, very disappointing food photography. The only photographs of pizza are on the cover. Inside are only occasional "greenscale" (is there such a thing?) photos of ingredients.
8. A glossary of unique ingredients and cooking techniques - yes.
In order to review this cookbook, I chose 2 crust recipes (each recipe makes two 14" pizza crusts) and 4 pizzas to go on the crusts. I have to admit that I was really tempted to make my own whole grain pizza crusts, and just follow the pizza recipes from there. However, in order to do a more complete review, I decided to use the recipes in this book. I chose the Easy-Peasy Pizza Dough and the Cornmeal Dough. I followed her recipes, instead of my good sense, and I really regretted it. The author tells you to just stir the ingredients together and then let it rise for 2-3 hours: no need to knead. Ugh - a wet, sloppy, sticky mess that I had to grease my hands liberally in order to be able to spread out. I have no idea how the author was able to spread it out into a pizza shape, transfer it to parchment paper and then transfer it to a pizza stone in the oven. I would have been peeling pizza dough off the floor. Initially, I tried spreading the dough out on the parchment paper, but the dough stuck to it so badly that I was convinced the paper would bake right into the crust. I then tried wax paper and it was no better. That's when I greased the pizza pans and my hands and just formed the crusts in the pans. The most successful crust was the very first one that got stuck to the parchment paper first and then the wax paper. I finally set it aside, deciding to use it for my last pizza as I wanted to get at least one into the oven before I started fighting to separate it from the paper. I believe that all the handling it received developed the gluten more fully and it had a little more substance when I finally got it into the pan. I definitely would not use her crust recipes again.
The first pizza into the oven was the Garlic, Sausage and Onion Pizza. In order to assemble this one, I first had to make a recipe of Sausage Crumbles. I have used TVP numerous times over the years, but never have I had such a tasty result. I didn't have the sweet rice flour and it was not available locally. I did a quick google search and found that potato flour can be substituted, and it worked. I was very pleased with this pizza.
Up next was the Sweet Potato and Kale Pizza - really healthy ingredients, but not a great pizza. This was the only pizza I tested that had a home-made cheese on it: Smoky White Cheese Sauce. The cheese sauce was good, but one odd thing about the pizza recipes in this book is that the instructions say to put the cheese directly on the sauce (or crust, in the case of the Sweet Potato and Kale Pizza), underneath the toppings. The author's rationale is that vegan cheese melts better this way. However, I found it difficult to keep the toppings on. And in the case of this pizza, the toppings really started to dehydrate. The Kale turned into dry flakes and the sweet potato got more dehydrated than cooked. It ended up being rather tasteless and unappetizing. This particular pizza is actually in one of the cover photos on the cookbook and I'm wondering how the author managed to keep her kale so moist. Perhaps drizzling a little olive oil on might have helped. Without a mandolin slicer, I'm not sure how I could have made my sweet potato slices any thinner so that they could have actually cooked. In the cover photo, they look like they might have had a dash of olive oil as well.

Finally came the Cowboy Pizza, which included making a batch of Sweet and Smoky Soy Curls. I just have to say that this author's treatment of both TVP and soy curls really impressed me. If nothing else, this cookbook is likely worth the price to know how to use these products "tastefully." My grandson was quite delighted with the "chicken" on the pizza and was picking it off the pizza and nibbling away before I even had a chance to cut him a slice. This pizza was also a hit with my daughter. I think it won the vote as family favourite of the 3 savoury pizzas.
Last, but not least, I made a dessert pizza: Babka Pizza, substituting carob for the chocolate/cocoa. While it was delicious, it was definitely not healthy: too many refined products and much too sweet. Eat sparingly. And, as the recipe says, this pizza is best eaten the day that it is made. It's still delicious the next day, but it hardens up a little too much. Best eaten warm.
While I have some definite issues with this cookbook, I really like the fact that it presents a lot of unique and out of the ordinary ideas for pizzas, not just the same tired old toppings. I also like it's treatment of TVP and soy curls. I'd definitely make my own whole grain crust and maybe switch back to putting my (mostly home-made, rather than store-bought) cheese on top, but there are still a lot of interesting ideas to try in there.