Meet the best vegan pumpkin pie–it may also be the best pumpkin pie, period!
How was it made? By veganizing and, dare I say, improving the best non-vegan pumpkin pie: the fabled Cook’s Illustrated pumpkin pie recipe from 2008. I don’t know of anyone else who has done this, probably because all vegans have been told that you “can’t” replace 5 or more eggs in a recipe.
Just like Roger Bannister and his 4 minute mile, I’m here to show you that nothing’s impossible. In fact, replacing the eggs wasn’t the hard part. We’ll talk about the challenges and how I overcame them, so that you can get the best vegan pumpkin pie on your first try!
Pumpkin pie is important in Pennsylvania Dutch cuisine. We’ll do it justice. Plus, you’ll be able to wow your friends with your encyclopedic knowledge of pumpkin pie making!
How I Made it Vegan
First off, the recipe calls for heavy cream and whole milk. No problem. You can substitute full fat coconut milk for heavy cream. That’s the type of coconut milk you buy in cans, in the Thai section of the grocery store. Get the one with the highest fat content. Or, for an even heavier version, get Trader Joe’s coconut cream. I substituted regular coconut milk (the type you buy in paper cartons like soy milk) for whole milk, again to mimic the fat content.
The original recipe also calls for canned sweet potatoes/yams, and the ones I’ve found–“candied” or not–come in a syrup that has sugar. Unfortunately, refined sugar is often processed using animal bones, so this ingredient needed to be replaced. I just microwave a sweet potato using the Better Homes and Gardens method until the potato is tender. Then I slice open the skin, discard the skin, and use the cooked sweet potato in this recipe. You don’t even need to mash it first.
Now, on to the eggs. The Cook’s Illustrated recipe calls for 3 large eggs and 2 egg yolks. I just wrote a post about how to choose the right egg substitutes for a recipe. Let’s go through the 5 questions to figure out what eggs are doing for the original recipe:
1. Are eggs the only, or almost only source of liquid in the recipe? Nope, we’ve got 2 cups of dairy liquid in this recipe, so the eggs aren’t there to add moisture.
2. Are the eggs the only raising agents in a dish that’s supposed to rise? Nope, pumpkin pie filling is a type of custard, and it’s not supposed to rise. The eggs aren’t there for leavening.
3. Is there a substantial amount of both oil/butter and water-based liquid in the recipe? Nope, there’s no oil and no butter. So the eggs aren’t there as emulsifiers.
4. Is there anything else in the recipe that can bind, or hold the other ingredients together? Now we’re on to something. There’s a lot of liquid in the Cook’s Illustrated recipe, but there’s no flour or cornstarch. It looks like the eggs are being used as binders.
5. Are there more eggs in the recipe than necessary to serve any of the first 4 functions? I’d say so, since you probably don’t need 3 eggs plus 2 yolks just to bind the filling for one pie. This suggests that the eggs, especially the yolks, are being used for taste and/or color as well as binding in this recipe.
Knowing this makes it pretty easy. To replace the binding action of the eggs, I replaced 2 of the whole eggs with 2 Tbsp. cornstarch each. To add more binding as well as compensate for the lost protein, I replaced the last whole egg with 1 Tbsp. soy flour (which is a high protein flour) mixed with 1 Tbsp. water. You can also use chickpea flour if you don’t have soy flour; I couldn’t tell the difference. Finally, to replace the taste and color of the 2 egg yolks, I used The Vegg Vegan Egg Yolk, which looks and smells so similar to egg yolk that it’s eerie. If you don’t have time to order The Vegg, have no fear–just omit it and omit the water it’s blended with. You’ll still have an exceptional pie!
Other Changes that I Made
Remember how I said that the eggs were the least of my problems? Here are the solutions to the other problems I faced.
Issue #1: Pie filling didn’t set
The original recipe says to bake the pie until the edges of the filling are set, and the center looks firm but jiggles slightly. The original recipe also says that it is best to use the pie’s internal temperature to test when it’s done baking. I would change those instructions to say that the only way to test if the pie is done baking is to measure its internal temperature. A couple times I thought the pie met the visual and “jiggle” test, so I let it cool down–only to find hours later that the pie filling was not set at all. It tasted great but had the consistency of purée. Apparently this is not just a problem with my veganized version–I’ve read reviews of the original Cook’s Illustrated recipe that also suggest the other tests are unreliable.
When I started using the internal temperature to test for doneness, everything worked fine–and the baking time was much longer than the recipe said! For this recipe and for pumpkin pie recipes in general, it’s a common complaint that people often have to bake the pie much longer than the recipe says. This may be because of differences in oven temperatures, oven rack positions, and the height of the pie crust. For a reference, my oven temperature for the rack I use to bake these pies is true to the programmed temperature listed in this recipe, and I’m using 9-inch pie crusts that are 1 and 1/4 to 1 and 1/2 inches tall.
Since the baking time varies so much from person to person, and the visual test isn’t reliable, it is necessary that you have an instant-read thermometer for this recipe to work the first time you try it. Otherwise, you’ll still get a great tasting pie, but the consistency may or may not be right.
Issue #2: Cracking
In my oven at least, some substantial cracks formed on the surface of the pie filling during baking. They don’t cause any problems, but you may not like the cracks if you’re particular about the presentation and don’t want to top the pie with vegan whipped cream or baked pie dough cut-outs.
Cracks are common in pumpkin pies, and they happen during baking when some parts of the filling have cooked faster than others. It really helps to bake the pie above a pan of hot water, so I’ve put that into my instructions. Temperature changes during cooling can also cause cracks. So instead of cooling the pie at room temperature, I turn the oven off, crack the oven door with a wooden spoon, and leave the pie in the oven to cool slowly. Further, higher temperatures also cause cracking. I’ve lowered the oven temperature to 275F throughout the baking of the filling. The original recipe says to bake at 400F for the first 10 minutes, probably so that the pie crust does not get soggy from holding all that liquid-like filling. I simply pre-bake (blind bake) my crust a bit longer to prevent this problem.
These remedies greatly reduce the number of cracks, but unless you’re baking a pretty shallow pie, you’ll still have a few. When I used half this recipe to bake a shallower pie, I didn’t have any cracks.
The original recipe calls for a little cinnamon and nutmeg, plus 2 tsp. fresh ginger. Instead, I’ve simply called for pumpkin pie spice. Like many Cook’s Illustrated recipes, this one is labor intensive. The results are totally worth it, but I simplified where I could. I also know that not everyone’s a ginger fan, so I cut the fresh ginger for that reason as well. For deeper flavor, I use more spice than the original. But don’t worry–this vegan pumpkin pie is not too spicy.
On the other hand, the recipe calls for canned pumpkin purée. Although it’s convenient, I can’t recommend this. When I used canned instead of homemade pumpkin purée, the taste was not as good. Granted, I have not yet tried this pie with the Libby’s canned pumpkin purée–some people say it’s particularly good. I’ll let you know how the pie turns out when I do try Libby’s. For now, it’s easy to make your own pumpkin purée, and it’s fun having pumpkins around the house! Make sure to use little sugar or pie pumpkins, not the Jack-O-Lantern type. The night before I make the pie, I make the purée and let it drain overnight. If you want to simplify, and have a pie that tastes more “pumpkiny” than pumpkin, use roasted and puréed butternut squash. It has less water content than pumpkin, so you don’t need to let it drain overnight. I think the taste is slightly better with butternut squash, too, and it turns out that many brands of canned “pumpkin” are actually made from butternut and other types of squash!
I also use a stockpot instead of a large saucepan to simmer the pumpkin puree. This is because you bring the puree to a sputtering simmer, so I like the tall sides for protection. Also, the larger surface area of the bottom allows me to cook more of the moisture out of the puree, so that I end up with an extremely rich filling. After I fill my 9 inch by 1 and 1/4 or 1 and 1/2 inch pie crust, I have little to no filling left over.
Phew! All this knowledge is from a ton of research plus making 11 pumpkin pies. May your first try be your best pumpkin pie ever!