Vegan pumpkin pie

Vegan pumpkin pie with coconut whipped topping

I came across an article about vegan Thanksgiving desserts recently.  Some of them were just traditional dessert dishes, such as fruit crisp, tweaked slightly to omit butter.  One was a god-awful invention that was going to involve hours of preparation, lots of dirty dishes, all for a very questionable result: Coconut Parsnip Tart.  Why?  Why make vegan cuisine sound weird, off-putting and complicated?  Why give vegan and vegetarian diets a bad name?  It’s not a strategy that’s going to win converts.

What really says Thanksgiving is pumpkin pie.  And frankly making a vegan pumpkin pie really isn’t all that different from normal pumpkin pie, which is vegetarian by the way (most desserts are).  So I started investigating vegan pumpkin pie recipes on the web.  One critical pumpkin pie ingredient is eggs, which would not be used for a vegan pie.  Eggs hold the pumpkin custard together with a nice texture.  Without that, it’s just pureed pumpkin and spices, which would sort of slump into a puddle.  What to do?  Aquafaba to the rescue!  Aquafaba is a promising new ingredient on the egg-free-cooking radar screen.   Last spring, one of my interns wrote about using aquafaba to make vegan macaroon cookies.  You drain the liquid off a can of chickpeas and whip it up like egg whites, using an electric mixer and slowly adding sugar.  The liquid whipped up into a very impressive white froth, looking exactly like beaten egg whites.  So why not use that as a binder and texturized for vegan pumpkin pie?

The other issue for pumpkin pie would be the crust.  Fortunately that’s easily solved, as long as you’re not a gluten-free true believer (or have actual celiac disease).  In which case, you can find pie crust recipes that use alternative flours online.  But vegan pie crust is easily made with vegetable shortening instead of butter.  You can find trans-fat free shortening for this purpose in the baking aisle.  Be sure to chill it thoroughly before using.  Alternatively, you can use coconut fat.  I decided to go with that after examining the ingredients’ lists for shortening, which include palm oil, a No No in my kitchen.  Here’s the recipe for a 9″ pie crust:

1-1-2 cups unbleached flour

1/2 tsp salt

1 TB sugar

10 TB chilled coconut fat or vegetable shortening

1/2 cup ice cold water, as needed

In a food processor, pulse the flour, salt and sugar briefly.

If you use coconut fat, I suggest putting the measured amount in a bowl and chilling it until it’s quite firm.  Don’t worry if it’s in flakes and pieces, that’s preferable.  If using vegetable shortening, chill it before using.

Add the chilled vegetable shortening or coconut fat in chunks distributed around the top of the flour in the processor bowl.  Pulse briefly to blend the shortening and flour, maybe 4-5 times at 5 seconds each.  Do not over mix!  There will still be small pieces of the fat in the flour.

With food processor running, add 1/4 cup of the water quickly, and add up to 1/4 cup more to get the dough to form a lumpy ball as the processor runs.  Immediately turn it off.  This should take about 30 seconds, maybe less

Dump the contents of the food processor onto a piece of wax paper or plastic wrap.  Pat it into a rounded ball, wrap tightly and refrigerate to chill, at least an hour, or overnight sealed in a plastic bag so it doesn’t dry out.

Make the pie

Set oven to 350º.

Roll out the pie crust to fit a 9 inch pie pan and some over hang.  Crimp the edges around the rim of the pan and put back in the refrigerator.

one 14-oz (or 15-oz) can pureed pumpkin

3/4 cup full-fat (not Lite) coconut milk (shake the can well before opening it).  Or use coconut creme which will make a richer custard.

1/2 cup dark brown sugar

2 TB cornstarch

1/2 tsp cinnamon

1/2 tsp ground ginger

1/4 tsp nutmeg

pinch of ground cloves

1/2 tsp salt

3/4 cup cup of aquafaba — the drained liquid from one 15-oz can of garbanzo beans

10 TB granulated sugar

1/2 tsp cream of tartar

Whisk the cornstarch into the coconut milk to dissolve.  Mix together the pumpkin, coconut milk, spices and salt in a large bowl, mix to combine thoroughly. Make sure there are no lumps of cornstarch.

Put the aquafaba and cream of tartar in the bowl of an electric mixer.  Beat on high until soft peaks form, 2-5 minutes.

Continue beating and add the sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time, a total of about 10-15 minutes until you have glossy stiff peaks.

With a spatula, stir about 1/4 of the aquafaba into the pumpkin mixture to lighten.  Add half of the remaining aquafaba and mix gently to combine.  Reserve the unused whipped aquafaba for a meringue-type topping.

Put the filling in the pie shell.  Bake for 60 minutes until the custard is set but not dried out.  It will still seem a bit jiggly, but will set up as it cools.

Toppings:

  • The internet has recipes for vegan “whipped cream”, which is not cream; it’s actually a whipped topping made with coconut cream.  You can buy it ready-to-use in aerosol cans, or make your own, but be sure to buy coconut creme, not coconut milk, to do that.  I tried it and it worked very well (see top photo).
  • Another option is finely chopped candied pecans scattered over the pie after it has cooled, or toasted sweetened coconut flakes.
  • Make meringue to top the pie.  Spread the remaining whipped aquafaba over the cooled pie.  Put under the broiler (not too close!) for 1-2 minutes to lightly brown the top of the meringue before serving.  Alternatively use a kitchen butane torch to brown the meringue.

Note: I used a heavy duty stand mixer and the aquafaba whipped up very quickly.  Your mixer may product different results.  That said, I was extremely impressed by how quickly and reliably the aquafaba whipped up.  This is a pretty impressive use of a simple liquid that used to be poured down the drain.

So how did it taste?

Like pumpkin pie.  Or rather like any one of dozens of variations on pumpkin pie. The texture was more creamy than pies made with eggs.  The aquafaba helps, but can’t really replicate the effect of eggs.  I prefer a less sweet, more spicy pie, and I’d use more ginger next time.

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