We Try It! Homemade, Lactose-Free Pumpkin Pie

During the Thanksgiving through Christmas onslaught of eating, I sometimes become more motivated to cook foods that I normally would not be able to eat. I’ve been lactose intolerant since age 15, and though lactase supplements help with some foods, other rich treats overpower the capabilities of those little white pills. Pumpkin pie is usually one of the desserts I avoid, as it is often made with condensed milk, and if the crust has real butter, I can extra-forget about it. So despite having never made a pie since I was seven years old and in Girl Scouts, I decided I would try making my own this year. The results were … interesting.

Pinterest, that bastion of Good Intentions, alerted me to a recipe for vegan, gluten-free pumpkin pie squares, which used coconut milk in place of condensed. Gluten is not a problem for me, but I thought I could use the filling recipe as a model for my own pie.

For the crust, I baked a pre-made Pilsbury crust according to package directions. If there is any dairy content in it, it hasn’t ever been enough to bother me, and I don’t even own a rolling pin, so no way was I making my own crust. I let it do its pre-bake thing in the oven while I prepared the filling:

Pumpkin Pie filling ingredients
Behold! A chaotic assembly of some ingredients!
  • 1 (14-ounce/400 mL) can pumpkin puree
  • 1/3 cup natural cane sugar
  • 1/4 cup pure maple syrup
  • 1/4 cup full-fat canned coconut milk (use only the white cream portion, see note)
  • 1.5 tablespoons whole wheat flour (reg. white flour would be fine too)
  • 2 tablespoons almond milk
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 2 teaspoons pumpkin pie seasoning (a mix of nutmeg, cloves, ginger, and cinnamon)
  • pinch of ground cloves
  • pinch fine grain sea salt

Note about the coconut milk: My can ended up evenly mixed to where no part was thick with cream, nor watery. I measured out 1/4 cup all the same, and it worked fine. You won’t use much of the can, so you can save the rest for another recipe. I used mine to make chocolate pudding.

To mix:

  1. Whisk together the maple syrup and flour until there are no clumps. The original recipe called for arrowroot powder, and though I’ve never cooked with arrowroot powder, it appeared to be acting as a thickening agent, and I thought flour would work just as well.
  2. Add the rest of the ingredients and mix until smooth. I used a spoon, but I would recommend using a hand mixer or a food processor, as getting all the clumps out and making sure everything mixed evenly took awhile with the spoon. Still, it’s possible if a spoon is all you have to work with.
  3. Pour filling into the pre-baked crust and smooth the surface.
A picture of a pre-baked pie crust
Wow. That turned out… interesting.

So let’s take a look at my pre-baked crust that I tried to roll out evenly and position well in the pie plate… Oh.  Well, then. Look, no one said this pie had to LOOK GOOD, okay? It’s fine.

I poured the filling into the crust, smoothed it out, and baked it in the oven at 350° for 42 minutes.

The original directions said:

Bake, uncovered, for around 41-43 minutes at 350F until the filling has darkened slightly and it’s semi-firm to the touch (although the filling will still be very soft and sticky!). Place on a cooling rack for about 60 minutes and then into the fridge to set overnight, or for at least 8 hours.

While it baked, I thought about how it’s interesting that some people are bakers and some people are cooks, and a lot of time, those skills do not overlap. I can cook all sorts of things, but often the precision of baking is outside of my grasp.

So how did the pie turn out? Let’s have the reveal…

A picture of a homemade pumpkin pie.
The World’s Ugliest Pumpkin Pie

I mean, Wow. That is one strange-looking pumpkin pie. Still, let us not judge on appearances, right? It smelled great, the firmness seemed correct, and I’d followed the directions to the best of my ability. How did it taste?

Really good.

It tastes really close to “real” pumpkin pie, and would likely be even better if I use a hand mixer next time to improve the texture of the filling. Although I used coconut milk, the spices are the main taste here; I didn’t taste the coconut flavor at all. Even if my baking skills still leave much to be desired, I do feel a certain amount of satisfaction in knowing I pulled off a pumpkin pie, well, adequately. No one is ever going to request it for a bake sale, but that’s fine — More for me.

slice of pumpkin pie

By Sara Habein

Sara Habein is the author of Infinite Disposable, a collection of microfiction, and her work has appeared on The Rumpus, Pajiba and Word Riot, among others. Her book reviews and other commentary appear at Glorified Love Letters, and she is the co-manager of Electric City Creative.

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