[Photograph: Elizabeth Barbone]
For the last few months, I’ve been playing with gluten-free, dairy-free, and egg-free recipes for Thanksgiving. One of the bigger challenges turned out to be pumpkin pie. Several times I wondered if I could make a tasty custard, and that’s what pumpkin pie filling basically is—a custard.
After making many pies, I finally created one I loved. How much do I love it? It’ll be the only pumpkin pie on my Thanksgiving table.
I knew that creating a dairy-free pumpkin pie filling would be relatively easy. I could swap gluten-free rice milk* for the dairy used in a traditional pumpkin pie recipe. But instead of using a dairy-free milk substitute, I wondered if the more flavorful coconut milk would be a better choice.
If you’ve ever had coconut-pumpkin soup, you know that these flavors work incredibly well together. The coconut seems to coax more flavor out of the pumpkin, making this the most pumpkin-y pumpkin pie I’ve ever eaten. However, if you are allergic to coconut (or just dislike the flavor) feel free to replace it with an equal amount of gluten-free, dairy-free milk.
With the dairy conundrum solved, I focused on the eggs. Eggs play an important role in custard, providing texture and lending a delicate flavor. I knew the coconut milk would more than make up for the missing flavor of the eggs, so I focused on the texture. Without eggs to set up the custard, the filling would not require baking. But if you go the totally no-bake route, using gelatin to set the filling, the result is more like a Jell-o pie than a true custard. Not only did I dislike this texture for the filling but I realized that if I got rid of the gelatin, the filling would be vegan, making the pie even more accessible to those on special diets.
So instead of a no-bake filling, try a stove-top cooked filling using cornstarch as the thickener. The cooked and cooled “custard” has a smooth texture, somewhere between pudding and, surprisingly, a soft custard. While the filling requires no baking, it does need to chill overnight; so be sure to make it the day before Thanksgiving.
As for the crust, you have some choices. You could make a crumb crust by grinding allergen-safe gingersnaps (or other cookies) or a traditional gluten-free crust or a gluten-free and allergen-free crust.
*Soy milk also works but I have a soy allergy and was unable to taste the final filling. My tasters enjoyed it; noting that it had a bit of a “grain-like nuttiness.”