January is a weird month, with the turning from one year to another arbitrarily offering a moment where we can wipe the slate clean, and pledge to ‘be better’ in myriad ways. It offers people, and especially women, a chance to reinforce their perpetual disliking for themselves through the setting of often unachievable goals. Less cynically, it can serve as an opportunity to kick bad habits, like smoking, or act as an incentive to push yourself to try something new – starting the vegan food blog that you’ve been banging on about for the last few months, for example. I personally jumped on the ‘dry January’ bandwagon, albeit rather half heartedly, and pledged to reduce my drinking to weekends only after a 10 day long Christmas binge had left me broken, ill, and in a perpetual state of hangover. I managed to stick with it for over a week, and I was pleasantly surprised with my ability to abstain (I’m not really a will-powery kind of gal), and with the sense of satisfaction – a.k.a. smugness – that came with it. Who knew resistance to temptation could be so rewarding! Perhaps I should become a catholic; I bet they’re having a great time.
The 31 days of January – 30 really, as we all know that the new year starts on the 2nd – have also become a traditional time for people to give veganism a try. The popularity of Veganuary, as the portmanteau has it, has rocketed, with an expected 150,000 people engaging in a cruelty-free start to 2018. Shops and restaurants are of course desperate to get a slice of the pie, extending their ranges and taking poor newbies for a ride. M&S have been forced to withdraw their cauliflower steak from the shelves after it was met with outrage; at £2 a pop, you could be waist deep in whole caulis for not much more.
Regardless of people’s motivation for doing Veganuary, and whether it sticks or not, I definitely think that it has the potential to make an impact on the way that people approach their meat and dairy consumption, especially if they sack off the pre-packed cauliflower steaks and get cooking. I first decided to become vegan last April, having considered it for a while, but mostly because I wanted to overhaul my diet before going on a (very non-vegan) holiday to Spain with my friends. Again, I gave myself plenty of wiggle room: ‘vegan in the week, one day to cheat’. But after I’d sailed through the first few days, spending any free moment hunting for ideas and recipes online, the cheat day seemed unnecessary. And while I’ve had a few short breaks and cheesy moments over the last 9 months – I may have cried tears of joy whilst eating a freshly made shortbread biscuit over Christmas – my breaks now are vegetarian, with no meat at all. I’m actually very proud of seeing through my first ever vegetarian Christmas with not one, but three Christmas dinners to contend with.
One of my all time favourite Christmas foods that I’ve struggled to resist this year is of course the Gregg’s Festive Bake. Anyone who knows me well knows I fucking love festive bakes; how I spend each November counting down the days until they appear, lying there steaming and golden beside the other, far inferior, pastries. Greggs might as well have a red light behind the counter in the festive season, such have I exoticised those sweet, salty, latticed pieces of pastry perfection, trapped behind glass.
Festive bakes however, are not vegan. They aren’t even vegetarian. And thus my Christmas, my entire winter really, was doomed. It was only when I found myself on the Greggs website, looking at the ingredients in horror that I realised just how unnatural these things are. Not only are they crammed full of probably very low quality meat and dairy, they’re also packed full of chemicals. And with that my misery at going without was replaced with relief, and then excitement – why not make my own delicious, cruelty free, additive free (within my own control), Festive Bake? These fuck you moments are what keep me going. And so the Vegan Festive Bake was born.
So if, like me, you’re lamenting the end of the festive season, or perhaps you’re after a familiar treat to keep you going through Veganuary, have a go at making these rich, flakey bakes and enjoy with mash, greens and a light gravy made from the mushroom cooking liquid (see below).
Note: This is my first time posting and my first time recipe writing from scratch, so you might have to bear with me on some of the measurements and just go with feeling. 2 of my friends have tried this, and they said they came out well so fingers crossed! Any leftover mushroom mixture that you have tastes great mixed in with the white sauce on top of pasta, so don’t waste anything!
Ingredients – Serves 4
1 sheet of vegan puff pastry
Splash of olive oil
1 small jar of cranberry sauce
1 large white onion
2 large cloves of garlic
Splash of white wine
1 punnet of mushrooms, roughly chopped
250ml of oat milk (plus extra for glazing) (this is an approximation, sorry I never measure liquids for sauces)
Fresh thyme (few sprigs)
Fresh rosemary (one big sprig, picked and chopped finely)
1 packet of stuffing mix
2 tablespoons of vegan butter
2 tablespoons of plain flour
Preheat your oven to 180 degrees centigrade.
Start by dicing a large white onion, and then fry it on a low heat in a splash of olive oil with some chopped, fresh rosemary and some sprigs of thyme.
Meanwhile, following the packet instructions, make your stuffing and get it in the oven while the onions are cooking. Spread the mix fairly thinly (max 2 cm) on a flat oiled metal tray/oven dish. Peak the mixture with a fork to ensure it catches on the top and gives you crunchy bits. This should take less than 20 mins to cook in a 180-200 degree fan oven. If you’re unhappy with the crispiness, whack it under the grill for a few minutes. Once cooked, turn out the stuffing onto a plate or piece of baking paper to cool slightly.
After about 10 minutes of frying, or once the onions are cooked completely and translucent, add two cloves of finely chopped garlic. Stir and fry for 2 mins.
Deglaze the onion pan with a splash of white wine, let it cook off for a minute, and then add your mushrooms. Still on a low heat, keep an eye on them and let them cook very gently, stirring often to ensure they are coated in the onions, herbs and garlic.
Once they have started to soften, after about 5-10 mins, add a pinch of salt, a tsp of dried sage, and pepper. The salt will draw the water out of the mushrooms and the mixture will now get quite wet. Season and turn off the heat.
Whilst the mushrooms are cooking, make a roux, using plain flour and butter, in a separate pan. Add the butter first, allowing it to melt to liquid, then add the flour, and stir feverishly. It’ll make a kind of paste, which you should keep stirring and cooking for a few minutes until it’s no longer grainy. This process ensures that the flour is cooked through, and that your sauce won’t taste of it. Add your milk (I used oatly barista which is super creamy), plus a few sprigs of thyme and then whisk over a medium heat until it thickens nicely and goes a smooth and medium thick consistency. Add a tsp of nutmeg and a half a tsp of sage. Season well, heavy on the pepper. It should taste ridiculously good. Allow it to reduce until it’s a fairly thick sauce (custard thickness). If it over thickens, simply add a splash more milk to loosen it.
Using a slotted spoon, transfer the mushroom mixture into the white sauce and combine thoroughly. Transfer a couple of desert spoons of the remaining juice into the pan, but leave the rest as a basis for a gravy if you’re having this roast dinner style. Make sure that you fish out the thyme sprigs.
Using a large knife, cut up your stuffing so it is in small, bite size pieces.
Unroll your puff pastry sheet onto a floured surface or directly onto a baking tray lined with baking paper. The long edge should be parallel with the edge of the kitchen counter, i.e. it is like a landscape piece of paper. Divide each sheet into 4 lengthways, leaving 4 rectangles. You will be filling the bottom half of the rectangle with filling, ensuring that you leave a 1cm edge so you can join the pastry together once filled. It’s better to overfill upwards, in a vertical manner, rather than towards the edges.
In a small bowl, shmush up the cranberry sauce so it is a loose, spreadable mixture. Using a teaspoon, spread the sauce over the lower half of the pastry slice. Greggs FB’s are actually pretty sweet, so I used about 2 teaspoons, but depending on how sweet you want it you could use less. Then cover the jellied area with pieces of stuffing. Cover this layer with as much of the mushroom and sauce mixture that you can fit in.
Lift the top half of the pastry sheet over the mixture to connect with the bottom section. Press the edges together firmly on all 3 clear edges, using the long, flat edge of your finger to push the mixture firmly into the middle section where the filling is. If there’s a bit of overspill, don’t worry, just wipe it away and press again. Go round the edges with the teeth of a fork to make it look nice.
Score the top of the bake lightly with a knife so that any excess moisture can escape.
Repeat for your 4 bakes, then transfer onto the grease proof paper lined baking tray, if you haven’t already, ensuring they have plenty of room. Glaze them all with milk, pepper them, and sprinkle dried sage over them before putting in the oven at 180 for approx 25 minutes.
Remove from oven when golden brown and you’re too excited to wait any longer.
Serve with mash, veg and gravy. To make a gravy from the leftover mushroom cooking liquid, reduce it on a high heat whilst the bakes are cooking to thicken it, adding cornflour and whisking if necessary. I find usually that vegetarian gravies need a little sweetness to offset the salt, so try adding some Henderson’s Relish if you have some, or a little bit of the cranberry sauce if you have any left over.