It’s time for the KS test kitchen to get some action again!
Today we’re testing a few different ways to make healthy pumpkin pies, deemed “healthy” because even though the pumpkin pie still contains sweetener, it’s farrrrrr less than your average pie and all the other objectionable non-food ingredients have been removed. It’s still not as healthy as a salad or chicken soup with homemade chicken stock or anything, but it’s so much better than what we’re used to seeing this time of year.
Healthy Pumpkin Pie?
Pretty darn close.
This recipes includes pumpkin, which is a super food, eggs (don’t let anyone tell you those aren’t healthy), heavy cream instead of canned milk (clear improvement; I believe in saturated fat), yummy spices, and only a quarter cup real maple syrup per pie. Compare that to a cup of sugar in most pumpkin pie filling, and I’m tickled to serve this for dessert (or, um, breakfast, day after Thanksgiving, baby!!).
The crust is whole wheat and uses your choice of healthy fats (even though some say a pie crust is the one place one should always just use white flour!). It’s good, and I’ll even show you how to roll out a crust using my grandma’s tips (she is a totally amazing pie maker).
Now…enough chit chat. Let’s get to the pie-making.
Nailing the Perfect Pumpkin Pie Filling
I’ve been fiddling with a homemade pie filling that is both easy and delicious for the last few years. (It’s always my job to make the family Thanksgiving pumpkin pies.) I knew basically the spices I wanted and the big change that I was testing this time was leaving the eggs in the filling whole vs. separating the eggs, whipping the whites into a meringue, and then adding the yolks later, or also separating the eggs and whizzing them into foam, but not quite meringue.
Egg whites whipped into a meringue
Can you tell which one is fluffier? Ha!
Whole eggs, my grandma’s crust
Meringue eggs, barley crust
In the photos above, you can tell the one with separated eggs because it is in a crumbly crust (I was testing another blogger’s barley crust, and it didn’t go so well), plus the filling is so much fluffier.
That step makes a HUGE difference. Without separating, it’s like a traditional pumpkin pie. Custard-ish. Normal. With the whipped egg whites, it’s truly lighter and more airy. Can you tell the difference in the slices?
The meringue egg whites are in the piece with the whipped cream.
I’m going to go out on a limb and say that it’s worth the extra time and dishes to separate the eggs, especially since you probably don’t make pumpkin pies all too often. If you’ve been following KS very long, you’ll know that that’s a big deal. Extra dishes, and I’m saying they’re worth it?
Uh huh. This pie is that good.
No cans needed for this pumpkin pie – perfect flavor and crust every time without any processed ingredients. Healthy enough to eat for breakfast!
for one pumpkin pie (filling)
- 3 eggs, separated
- ¼ c. pure maple syrup
- 1 ¾ c. fresh pumpkin puree (or 1-15oz can pure pumpkin, but I don’t recommend it)
- 1 tsp. cinnamon
- ¼ tsp. cloves
- 1/8 tsp. nutmeg
- ¼ tsp. ginger
- ½ c. heavy cream
Ingredients for single whole wheat pie crust:
To make your own pumpkin puree, which may very well be the step upon which the success of this recipe depends (I cannot guarantee results with a can, as I’m convinced I’ll never make a pie with canned pumpkin again after trying this one):
- Turn the oven on to 350 or 400F. Scrub a whole pie pumpkin.
- Put the entire pumpkin into oven for 10-15 minutes as it preheats.
- Remove pumpkin, which will now not break your knife. Slice pumpkin in half – any direction will do.
- Scrape out the seeds and stringy stuff, reserving seeds for making crispy pumpkin seeds.
- Place pumpkin halves, cut side down, in a baking dish or cookie sheet with at least a half inch of water. Bake for 30-60 minutes until you can pierce the rind with a fork. Allow to cool.
- Scoop out pumpkin flesh and puree. I doubt this would work in a blender unless it’s a high-powered blender like a Vitamix or Blendtec. I used the food processor* here mostly only because I was going to use it to make the crust and filling anyway. On a non-pie day, I much prefer the ease of use and cleanup with an immersion blender for pureeing mushy orange vegetables of any kind. Scoop the pumpkin out of the machine and set it aside.
- Rinse the food processor or scrape very well with a spatula.
To make pie crust:
- In the bowl of the food processor, pulse the 1 ½ c. whole wheat pastry flour (mine happened to be freshly ground), ½ tsp. , and ½ tsp. sugar, for the pie crust a few times.
- Cut ½ cup extremely cold leaf lard or butter into about 8 pieces and add to mixture, pulsing until it looks like cookie crumbs.
- Dribble 4-5 Tbs. ice water into the food processor while it’s running, but stop it when the dough begins to stick together. Make sure there’s enough hydration to form a ball without handling the dough very much.
- With your hands, finish pressing all the dough together. Add more water if absolutely necessary, but try not to if you can. Also try to handle the dough as little as possible; this will ensure a flakier crust.
- Form dough into a ball and place in refrigerator for at least 30 minutes.
To make pumpkin pie filling:
- In the meantime, work on the filling, also using the food processor. If a little pumpkin gets in your crust or a little crust in your filling, it’s no big deal.
- Separate egg whites and yolks. Whiz egg whites in the food processor until frothy* and then remove to a separate bowl.
- Process the egg yolks, maple syrup, pumpkin puree, spices and cream until evenly mixed. Fold in the egg whites with a spatula.
To assemble the pie:
- Roll out pie crust and form into a single pie plate, fluting the edges. (See below for a photo tutorial. Freezing the pie crust for 15-30 minutes may help bake up a perfect crust.)
- Pour filling into unbaked pie crust.
- For best crust, place a metal cookie sheet on the bottom rack to radiate heat (also protects oven from a mess if the pie bubbles over).
- Bake in a preheated 425F oven for 15 minutes, then reduce the heat to 350F for another 40-45 minutes or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool on racks.
- If the crust begins to brown too much on the edges, move the pie down a rack OR cover crusts with aluminum foil.
Even better, believe it or not: Use a stand mixer with a whisk attachment (or a really strong whisking arm) and whip the egg whites all the way into a meringue with stiff peaks.
Need crustless? Pour into a greased pie plate or 8×8 glass dish, and bake at 375F for 45-60 minutes (until knife inserted in center comes out clean).
You might want to taste the filling before baking – I didn’t use salt, and it was really good, but I noticed that the recipe on “the can” that I used to like calls for 1/2 tsp. salt per pie. I hate for your flavor to fall flat because of no salt…I think I’ll add 1/4 tsp. this year and I bet it’s even better!
No heavy cream? Whole milk will work in a pinch.
For a creamier yet tangy sort of flavor, use about 1/3 c. sour cream in place of part of the milk in the substitution above. It’s good!
Got an extra half hour? Freeze the crust after it’s in the pan for 30 minutes before filling/baking and it will taste even better.
Need a gluten-free crust? This one is unique and really yummy: walnut oat pie crust
Pie filling adapted from Out of the Box Food; pie crust adapted from my grandma.
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How to Roll Out a Homemade Pie Crust
- Make the dough in a food processor following the directions above or use a pastry blender and fork to toss in the water. Either way, try not to handle the dough for even a second longer than necessary.
- Put pie dough in an airtight container and allow to rest in fridge about 30 minutes before rolling out.
- Very, very thoroughly flour all your surfaces. Flatten the disk of dough in the center and roll out from the center to the top and bottom, and then from the center to each side.
- Roll just bigger than your pie plate; imagine it going up the edges:
- If you’ve managed to roll it more or less evenly, you’ve done better than most people think they can handle (but it’s really not that hard!). Moving the pie crust, however, can be very tricky if you don’t know how to move it without tearing the dough.
- Fold the pie dough circle in half, then in fourths.
- To do this, pick up the edge with one hand and flip over about an inch or two into your other hand, palms flat and facing each other, then back to the first hand, then flip again, so that you’re passing the dough back and forth, gently easing it bit by bit off the rolling surface.
- Stop when it’s folded in half, then do it again vertically.
Place into the pie plate, arranged like this:
Open in the pie plate, using the same passing back and forth that you did to get it folded:
You can cut off the edges, leaving about an inch hanging over, if you choose. I didn’t have an excessive amount, so I just tucked. Fold the excess toward the outside, tucking under like so:
There are lots of ways to finish off the edges, from using a fork to special tools to your knuckles, like I do. The purpose of this technique is to make a pretty crust, of course, but also to seal the edges – which is more important on a 2-crust pie than a one-crust pie so all the filling doesn’t ooze out.
I didn’t think I’d be able to demonstrate this part but was going to ask you to use your imagination to fill in the blanks – see the imaginary other knuckle between these two?
Then I decided to risk it, set the camera on 10-second delay, and hold it under my chin:
I actually switched to using my right index finger and left knuckles after the photo so I could sneak between the pie dough and the glass plate better, but I figured I’d drop the camera if I tried again.
What Fat is Best for Pie Crust?
This was the first time I’d tried making a pie crust with lard, and I was hoping for the moon…
- It was stiff, a bit difficult to roll out but not impossible (compared to butter, which is what I usually use).
- The dough held together really well and so did the baked crust.
- It tastes good, but nothing to write home about, and I’m not sure I’d say lard is the only way to make a pie crust.
My friend, whose last hold out on Crisco was pie crusts, says that lard and butter don’t hold a candle to Crisco – and then she tried palm shortening. She was won over!
If you’ve got a love of baking or a passion for flaky, light pie crusts, try it. It’s very easy to work with, not hydrogenated like Crisco but naturally solid, and it goes on sale quite often at Tropical Traditions.
Other Thanksgiving Resources for Real Food:
- Healthy Pumpkin Cookies
- Gluten-free Pumpkin Cookies
- The Whole Thanksgiving Feast, Real Food Style
- Homemade Cranberry Orange Juice
- Thanksgiving Recipes on a Budget
- Nourishing Holiday Side Dishes
- My Favorite Party Appetizer: Probiotic Avocado Dip
- Grab those bones! Don’t forget to always make nourishing bone broth with the turkey bones…