When I think of Thanksgiving, I think of pumpkin pie. Even before I stopped eating meat, turkey was never the main event of my day. Give me that sweet, cinnamon-spiced goodness in a crunchy crust topped with thick, fluffy whipped cream and we’d be friends for life! Since becoming more health conscious and cutting down on my consumption of dairy, refined-sugars, and processed foods, I still have a huge taste for pumpkin pie, but have yearned to make a healthier version. The old-fashioned recipe that I’m used to consists of evaporated milk, refined sugar, eggs, a butter-filled crust, and topped with heavy whipping cream with powdered sugar. While I enjoyed the taste as a kid, my taste buds and body have felt the impact of these less-than-healthy ingredients with a headache and bloating--not the best state to be giving thanks! Now, finally, I’ve created a healthier alternative to this recipe that is vegan, gluten-free, and refined-sugar-free. My version tastes as good (better, actually) than the original, plus leaves you feeling alive and well!
In my opinion, the crust of a pie is one of the most crucial parts in it’s success. Too thin and it won’t support the pie filling; too thick and the flavor takes the spotlight away from the pumpkin! My favorite kind of crust has a nice crunchy texture that balances the smoothness of the filling, while having a touch of salt to show off the natural sweetness of the pumpkin. I use whole buckwheat groats in this crust recipe, which I process down a bit with almonds, dates, and coconut oil, but feel free to use buckwheat flour to give it a less crunchy texture--everyone has their own perfect pie crust! Also, feel free to swap out pecans or hazelnuts for the almonds; or if you have a nut allergy, try using sunflower seeds or using twice the amount of buckwheat. Make this your own.
The filling of this pie is to die for and quite easy to make. By substituting coconut milk for evaporated milk, you get the same creaminess without the mucus-building effects of dairy. Other non-dairy milks can be used, but I highly recommend the coconut milk for it’s thickness. I use coconut sugar in this recipe, which I’ve talked about before. It’s a wonderful white-sugar substitute because it’s minimally processed, is low on the glycemic index, and is rich in vitamins, nutrients, and amino acids which make it easier for your body to process. It can be found at Whole Foods and other health food stores. Instead of using eggs as a binding agent in this recipe, I use arrowroot starch. Arrowroot is derived from a tropical South American plant and helps to thicken recipes without adding a cloudiness or a distinct taste. It can be found at Whole Foods, health food stores, or online. If you can’t find arrowroot starch, you can use cornstarch, though it’s not my first choice because most cornstarch these days is made with genetically modified corn and can add a very strong flavor to dishes. Once the filling is poured into the crust, baked, and cooled, it’s very important to allow it to set in the fridge for a few hours at the very least. The longer it sets in the fridge, the better the taste and texture. I had a bit of this pie 3 hours after putting it in the fridge and it tasted amazing, but after having it in the fridge for a whole day, it was like heaven. Those thoughts of Thanksgiving leftovers came rushing back to me!
Now, it may be strange to think of making a vegan whipped cream, but, trust me, it’s amazing. The trick is to keep your coconut milk or coconut cream in the fridge for a long period of time. The colder the ingredients and the whipping equipment, the fluffier the whipped cream! Who can argue against fluffy whipped cream? I use maple syrup as a light sweetener, but feel free to add a little more or a little less to satisfy your own tastes. Even if you’re not a coconut fan, the maple syrup and vanilla help to mask that flavor.
So far, the reactions to this pie have been pretty darn good… My love was the first to try it and kept saying “Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah.” I think that’s a pretty good sign. A few other friends have gotten a slice and expressed equal excitement. I, myself, think of this recipe as a bit of a masterpiece. I can’t lie, I like this pie better than the one I had as a kid. Not only does it taste fresher and keep me from feeling completely run-down afterwards; it also comes with the knowledge that I've learned to create a healthier version of something I used to think couldn't be matched. The memory of having a piece of pumpkin pie with whipped cream is very dear to me. It’s nostalgic. Sitting by a fire, wearing pajamas, doing a puzzle, and giggling with family, all while savoring my pumpkin pie. Creating this recipe is a transformation of sorts because it’s my new, more-informed way of life converging with these memories. I can still enjoy those sacred moments, but now I have a tool to navigate them with a more health-conscious attitude: a healthier pumpkin pie recipe. Am I overreacting? No way. Come on, guys; it’s pumpkin pie.
Pumpkin Pie with Vanilla-Maple Whipped Cream
Makes one 9-inch pie or 10-inch tart
1 c. raw almonds
1 c. buckwheat groats, or buckwheat flour
10 dates, pitted
2 tbs. coconut oil, plus more for greasing pan
1 tsp. cinnamon
¼ tsp. salt
15 oz. can pumpkin puree
⅓ c. coconut sugar, sucanat, or other granulated sweetener
¼ c. coconut milk, almond milk, or other non-dairy milk
1 tbs. coconut oil
1 tbs. pumpkin pie spice
1 tsp. vanilla extract
3 tbs. arrowroot starch or cornstarch
¼ c. maple syrup
Vanilla-Maple Whipped Cream
5.4 oz. can of coconut cream or 13.5 oz. can of coconut milk, refrigerated overnight
2 tsp. maple syrup
1 tsp. vanilla extract
Cinnamon for garnish
For the crust: preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease a 9-inch pie pan or 10-inch tart pan lightly with coconut oil. In a food processor, pulse the almonds and buckwheat groats together until a slightly crunchy flour forms (for a finer flour, use buckwheat flour instead of groats). With the processor running, add the dates one by one through the opening in the top. A sticky dough should start to form. Add the coconut oil, cinnamon, and salt, scrape down the sides with a rubber spatula, and process again, until everything is incorporated, but still a bit crunchy. At this point, scoop the dough into the pie or tart pan and press it down firmly, then up the sides to form a crust. Place the crust into the oven and cook for 15-20 minutes, or until it firms up and browns slightly. Remove from the oven and place on a wire rack to cool for at least 15 minutes.
For the pie filling: while the crust is in the oven, wipe out your food processor. Then, pulse together the pumpkin puree, coconut sugar, coconut milk, coconut oil, pumpkin pie spice, and vanilla extract until incorporated. In a separate bowl, whisk together the arrowroot powder (or cornstarch) and maple syrup. Add this to the pumpkin mixture and pulse together to combine. Once the crust has cooled slightly, pour your pie filling in and smooth the top. Place in the oven for 35-45 minutes, or until the top has become firm and brown. Remove from the oven and let cool on a wire rack for 1 hour. Then, place in the refrigerator for at least 3 hours or overnight to set; the longer, the better!
For the whipped cream: place a large (preferably metal) bowl and the wire whisks you will be using in the freezer for at least 20 minutes. You want all of your equipment and ingredients to be very cold to produce the best whipped consistency. If using the coconut milk, remove it from the fridge without shaking it. Remove the lid and scoop out the top, thick layer into your chilled bowl--this is your coconut cream. The opaque liquid underneath can be saved for a different recipe. If using pre-canned coconut cream, simply remove it from the fridge and scoop it into the cold bowl. Using an electric mixer and the chilled wire whisks, start whipping at a low speed, then increase to the fastest setting. In 2-3 minutes, you should have soft, fluffy peaks of whipped cream. Turn off the mixer and add in your maple syrup and vanilla. Whisk to incorporate. This is best served right away, but can also be stored in the fridge and re-whipped before serving.
To serve, cut a piece of pumpkin pie, top with the whipped coconut cream and sprinkle with cinnamon. Enjoy!