Pumpkin Pie

Have Your Pie and Eat It, Too

November  1, 2012

Gena Hamshaw of the blog Choosing Raw eats a mostly raw, vegan diet without losing time, money, or her sanity. Let her show you how to make "rabbit food" taste delicious and satisfying every other Thursday on Food52.

Today: Gena teaches us to veganize pies, tarts, and crumbles, one ingredient swap at a time, with recipes for Vegan Pie Crust and Vegan Pumpkin Pie.

When I first took the vegan plunge, I made a mental tally of foods I expected never to eat again. They included: shepherd's pie, lasagna, a perfect latte, meatloaf, whipped cream, and, since I'm Greek, moussaka and avgolemono. Now that I've perfected vegan avgolemono, I have officially eaten (and eaten often) every single food I thought I'd kissed goodbye for good. If this comes as a surprise to you, believe me when I say that it comes as a surprise to me, too.

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One of the most important lessons being vegan has taught me is that the dishes we love to eat are often less dependent upon ingredients than we think they are. I don't mean that quality of ingredients isn't crucial, of course; I mean that the essence of a beloved food often resides more in its taste, texture, and the feeling it evokes than in any one featured ingredient. In my last column, I hope I made a good case that shepherd's pie can be perfectly satisfying without meat; if one can create the same heartiness with lentils and the same creaminess in mashed potatoes, the dish feels utterly authentic. So too with so many of our most beloved dishes.

And so too with pie.

Yes, pie. No matter how quickly it makes your mind turn to butter, milk, eggs, and whipped cream, pie lends itself easily to vegan interpretation. Today, I'll show you that vegan pie is infinitely easier than you may think, starting with one simple substitution: coconut oil instead of butter in your crust.

Coconut oil, like butter, is a saturated fat, which means it stays solid at room temperature. If your kitchen happens to be quite toasty, you'll see the oil melt and become clear, but you can easily keep it solid by giving it a quick refrigeration. As any lover of pie-making knows, the secret to perfect crust is to keep everything solid and cold. I've tried some fine olive oil crusts in my day, but the best vegan crust I've tried so far is crust made with coconut oil, which seems to replicate perfectly the flaky texture and even the buttery scent of traditional pie crust. When I first made it at home, I was stunned by how easy and authentic it was.

The next trick to vegan pie is to think about how you can create fillings that don't rely on butter or milk. A few tips that may come in handy:

• Crumbles? Easy: Coconut oil is also marvelous in crumble toppings. Use it just the way you'd use butter; one of my favorite tricks is to pulse rolled oats, brown sugar, sea salt, and coconut oil in a food processor for a rustic, hearty oat and sugar crumble.

• Try a fruit pie: Most fruit pies need little or no fancy substitution to be made vegan. Just toss your berries or apples with some brown sugar, some cornstarch (or tapioca starch, which is my personal preference, and can be easily found in health food stores or Whole Foods Markets), and whatever spices you like (cinnamon, nutmeg). Fill the pie, and bake!

• Switch up your sugars: Choose brown sugar, cane sugar, or demerara sugar over white. This may be preferable from a health standpoint, but more importantly, if you're modifying a pie recipe to be vegan, it's worth noting that white sugar isn't actually vegan! The refining process for white sugar includes bone char, so it, along with gelatin, is off limits. I personally love liquid sweeteners -- agave syrup, maple syrup, blackstrap molasses, and brown rice syrup -- but cane sugar is a safe bet, too.

• Don't forget the toppings: Full-fat coconut milk makes incredible whipped cream. Just let the can separate (as it naturally will when left standing), and use the thick, full-fat layer that is suspended on top. Whisk it briskly and thoroughly with a touch of maple syrup and vanilla for a rich cream that will melt over your pie like magic.

• Creaminess without dairy: Cashews, coconut milk, and silken tofu all make for rich, creamy pie fillings. Of these, soaked cashews may be my favorite, because they add creaminess while also keeping the mixture thick (as in the pumpkin pie you're about to see!). But silken tofu and coconut cream work nicely too, and are also useful for any kind of cream pie.

Need proof? Try this 100% vegan pumpkin pie, made without cream, eggs, condensed milk, or butter. I hope you'll find that it's just as indulgent and satisfying as the "real" thing, and that it inspires you to think about other favorites that can stand to be veganized, one ingredient swap at a time.

Perfect Vegan Pie Crust
Makes 2 crusts

2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup (and more if necessary) cup coconut oil, cold enough to be solid
1 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon cane or demerara sugar
1/3 to 1/2 cup ice water

See the full recipe (and save and print it) here.

You Won't Believe It's Vegan Pumpkin Pie

Serves 8

2 1/2 cups pumpkin puree
1 cup cashews, soaked 3+ hours and drained of soaking water
3/4 cup demerara, brown, or cane sugar (extra if you like a sweeter pie)
2 tablespoons tapioca starch
2 tablespoons blackstrap molasses
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon dried ginger
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
Dash cloves
1/2 recipe Vegan Pie Crust

See the full recipe (and save and print it) here.

Photos by James Ransom

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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Beverly
  • AntoniaJames
  • Betty Rocker
    Betty Rocker
  • KathrynP
  • aa1893
Gena is a registered dietitian, recipe developer, and food blogger. She's the author of three cookbooks, including Power Plates (2017) and Food52 Vegan (2015). She enjoys cooking vegetables, making bread, and challenging herself with vegan baking projects.


Beverly November 25, 2013
I really want to make this but I cannot add the cashews because of allergies, is there anything I can substitute for the cashews or am I just out of luck once again?
Beverly November 25, 2013
Oh yes, how well does rice flour work in substitution of the all purpose flour? (wheat allergies)
AntoniaJames November 28, 2012
Excellent recipe, though I don't recommend making this pie in an earthenware pie plate, as the crust was sadly undercooked when the filling was done. It tastes delicious; several declared it the best pumpkin pie ever. In fact, I used this recipe, without the crust, and using freshly roasted butternut squash, to make a luscious pudding which we enjoyed with T-Day leftovers over the weekend. Definitely a keeper. Thanks for another outstanding recipe, Gena! ;o)
Betty R. November 13, 2012
Hi! You are awesome. Kale, kale, kale and more raw kale for me too. This recipe is great. I am going to try it out tonight! And I've been trying gluten free pie crusts all week - so far the best one I"ve found that works well and allows me to make a few mods is here: http://www.wholefoodsmarket.com/recipe/gluten-free-pie-crust - happy baking, and thank you for all the inspiration!
KathrynP November 8, 2012
How many days before thanksgiving could I make this?
aa1893 November 5, 2012
Great, thanks for the ideas!
Alexandra Z. November 5, 2012
aa1893, Spectrum brand makes expeller (mechanically) pressed refined coconut oil. The extra virgin or virgin versions are always more nutritious, but the filtered one (refined) doesn't have any coconut flavor at alll, and is still better than shortening. You can also try using half coconut oil and half mild-tasting evoo (measured and then frozen for at least 1 hour, so it's as solid as possible, if using for a pie crust), and even some vanilla seeds and/or spices into the dough.
Gena, I agree that coconut sugar is $$$, but the price has definitely come down quite a bit in the last couple of years, don't you think so?
Gena H. November 5, 2012
It has! For sure. In a recipe like this, where I'm already recommending one rather pricey ingredient (coconut oil) I try to see if I can keep other ingredients less pricey (and demerara sugar, while not cheap, is cheaper). That said, I totally agree that coconut crystals are delightful, and healthier than other vegan sugars.

Fantastic tips on subbing for coconut oil!
Alexandra Z. November 5, 2012
Thanks! I hope they are useful! Gena, have you made the crust recipe with other kinds of flour (spelt, oat, etc)? If so, have any worked?
Gena H. November 6, 2012
Spelt and whole wheat pastry work like a charm -- I wanted to do something really classic for my first vegan pie crust for the site, but I do love the rustic results with spelt flour. I'm working on a GF version but it will involve some fine tuning. And a different, no-bake version of pumpkin pie (no bake crust AND filling) will be on my blog shortly before Thanksgiving.
Alexandra Z. November 6, 2012
Thanks you so much! Can't wait to try all of them!
DJBWA November 4, 2012
Try using Earth Balance (vegan) products. I have had good luck using their products to replace butter.
aa1893 November 4, 2012
I'm interested in the whole raw food, vegan world, but I dislike coconut. Strongly. And this seems to present a major roadblock with many of the recipes for "yummies" that I've seen, especially with raw recipes. Any thoughts?
Gena H. November 5, 2012
In that case I'd either take Alexandra's tip, above, or use Earth Balance, for sure. It's shockingly authentic!
Alexandra Z. November 4, 2012
Can't wait to bake this pie! Two suggestions: for sweetening, coconut palm sugar (granulated) and nectar (liquid) are incredible vegan options and are becoming more widely available. As for whipping coconut milk into cream, I suggest refrigerating the can (still closed) overnight, which separates the cream more efficiently and whips with the use of a whisk, you won't even need an electric mixer. Flavored with vanilla bean, turns into deliciousness!
Gena H. November 4, 2012
I agree, Alexandra, about coconut sweetener. It's just so expensive! I wish it were less so, but I do enjoy it when I can afford it.
DJBWA November 4, 2012
My local Costco now sells large jars of pure coconut oil (the same brand sold at Whole Foods). It's a great buy! This is the best oil to use for stir fry dishes as well.
AntoniaJames November 1, 2012
This will be on our Thanksgiving table. Thanks for another great recipe. Your column here is (and your recipes are) the best! ;o)
lazychef November 1, 2012
Am I missing something - is Crisco not vegan? Plenty of traditional pie crust recipes already call for crisco as the only shortening...seems like that's an easier to find and cheaper alternative to coconut oil.
honestcookin November 1, 2012
Hi lazychef! You're right, Crisco is a blend of only vegetable oils. But there are many reasons why health- and environment-conscious cooks choose not to stock it on their shelves. Crisco is a blend of fully and partially hydrogenated oils. While the brand-name stuff changed their formula a few years back to reduce trans fats, hydrogenated oils are still thought to be quite bad for our digestion, cellular health, liver and kidney functions, and organ resilience. Even if you don't believe that, they are heavily processed and have many ingredients. One of those ingredients is palm oil, which has been linked to severe deforestation--particularly in areas of protected rainforest--due to it's ubiquitous use in commercialized processed foods. Coconut oil is a pretty magical saturated fat; though it is hard at room temperatures, it does not have the same artery-clogging properties as butter. Nutrition scientists have actually found that rather than being blocked at cell walls, it permeates them, transporting nutrients efficiently and effectively. It is also easily found in organic varieties that are not much more pricey than non-organic. Overall it can be a much better choice, especially when using for special occasions, like pie making! If it's too expensive at your local health food store or co-op, check ethnic stores like asian or latin markets. Have fun with holiday baking experimentation!
Nozlee S. November 1, 2012
honestcookin totally nailed it here. Crisco is indeed vegan, but whenever possible we like to encourage using ingredients made from whole foods -- and coconut oil is no exception. Let us know your results if you try out the pie!

(And a note: Trader Joe's has a great jar of coconut oil that is much less expensive than its counterpart at Whole Foods Market. And as honestcookin pointed out, ethnic markets are another great place to look!)
Gena H. November 1, 2012
Hi LazyChef!

Yes, Crisco is cheaper, and there are other brands of vegan shortening, so you can substitute it if your budget demands. That said, I echo honestcookin and Nozlee about the health concerns, and also would say that coconut oil actually has a buttery flavor and smell that enhance the taste immensely. So it's worth a try! Amazon has good deals on coconut oil, and Nozlee's TJ option is great, too.