Silky Vegan Chocolate-Hazelnut Pie

This decadent dessert was a big hit at the UC-VEG potluck last week. The first recipe I used came from Julie, who was seated at our table at last year's UC-VEG Valentine's Potluck. She gave me an envelope with the ingredients hastily written down and a few verbal instructions. It was basically a blended filling of silken tofu, almond milk, maple syrup, melted vegan chocolate chips, and cocoa powder poured into a store-bought crust and chilled. Julie topped it with sliced almonds just before serving. The pie was absolutely amazing! Even my teenage son couldn't believe how rich and satisfying it was.

When I went looking for the envelope/recipe last week, I couldn't find it anywhere. In desperation, I resorted to the internet. A quick google search turned up a very similar recipe from the Pinch Of Yum blog. It included almond butter, which I didn't recall from Julie's recipe and it used chocolate almond milk and no cocoa powder, but it was close enough, so I decided to use it as the basis for a variation. I'm always looking for new ways to support our local farmers. Almonds don't grow around here, but hazelnuts do. I adore hazelnuts! Hazelnuts plus chocolate equals Nutella, right? I gather my hazelnuts at Norm Lehne Garden and Orchard every fall and stash them in my freezer. I roast them for snacking on or topping My Favorite Salad. I make my own hazelnut milk (perfect as a base for hot cocoa!) and I make hazelnut butter. I knew they'd be a great substitute for almonds. I also wanted to make my own crust using whole food ingredients. Here's what I came up with:

 Silky Vegan Chocolate-Hazelnut Pie

To make the crust:

1 1/4 cups (5 ounces) hazelnuts, to be divided
1 cup, packed (6 ounces) pitted dates (12 large Medjool dates
1 tablespoon cocoa powder
pinch of salt

Preheat the oven to 275 degrees. Place the nuts in a shallow baking pan and roast for 20 minutes. Stir the nuts and continue roasting for another 15-20 minutes, just until they are very fragrant and the centers turn a deep brown. Be careful not to let them burn or they will become bitter. Remove from the oven and allow to cool.

When cool, place 1 cup of the nuts in a food processor with the steel blade and process to a fine meal. Add the dates, cocoa powder, and salt and process until well-combined, stopping and scraping down the sides as necessary. Chop the remaining nuts finely and set aside to garnish the top of the pie.

Press the mixture firmly onto the bottom and about an inch up the sides of a non-stick 8-9 inch springform pan or into the bottom and sides of a regular pie pan. Set aside while you prepare the filling.

For the filling:
1 bag (10 ounce) vegan chocolate chips
1 (12.3 ounce) box organic, firm silken tofu, undrained (this is the shelf-stable kind)
1/4 cup hazelnut milk
1/4 cup pure maple syrup
1/4 cup hazelnut butter
1/2 teaspoon hazelnut extract (optional, but it bumps up the hazelnut flavor even more)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
pinch of salt

Carefully melt the chocolate chips in a double boiler or by microwaving in a glass bowl in 30-second increments, stirring frequently (about 90 seconds total). Place the melted chocolate and all the remaining ingredients in a high-speed blender and blend until smooth. Pour into the prepared crust, smooth the top with a rubber spatula, cover well, and chill overnight. Just before serving, sprinkle the chopped nuts over the top and press down lightly. Cut into wedges and serve. Makes 12-14 servings.

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