Handling Holidays: Pies

website pies

“As American as apple pie.”

As the story goes, the Pennsylvania Dutch invented the two crusted fruit pie as we know it today, and apparently being able to have pies regularly with your meals was seen as a status symbol.  Whether this is all true or not, I don’t know, but I do know that my husband would rather have a pie than a birthday cake; that my members of my extended family would think Thanksgiving had gone horribly wrong if no pies were present; that figures say 700 million dollars in pies are sold every year in the U.S.; and that students everywhere are thrilled to celebrate Pi Day with pies of every type every year.

Ironically, though, pies, which are made with “good for you” ingredients like fruit and vegetables, are full of fat, sodium, and allergy triggers like wheat, nuts, and dairy.

Fortunately, when it comes to desserts, however, pies are probably the easiest to adapt for healthier eating or for an allergy restricted diet.  They usually don’t require very exact ratios of ingredients, and because you don’t need to make anything “rise”, you can pretty much substitute any ingredient with another without worry of disastrous results.

Healthier Pies

If you simply need to eat healthier, here are a few easy fixes to try:

For Crusts:

1.  Swap the white flour in the crust for whole wheat.  100% whole wheat has a higher fiber content, but you can also use white whole wheat if you want something closer to white flour.  Since 100% whole wheat flour is denser than white, you should use about 1/4 cup less in your recipe.

2.  Swap out the butter or shortening with coconut oil, which is actually a solid, not a liquid as the name implies.  It’s considered a healthier fat than butter and shortening.

3.  Make a crust using a liquid healthy oil as opposed to a solid fat.  A general recipe:  1 1/3 cup flour, 1/2 tsp salt, 1/3 cup oil, 3 tbsp “milk”.  I have used safflower oil, grapeseed oil, canola oil, etc… and almond milk, soy milk, and rice milk — all to success.

4. Substitute part of the flour in the recipe with a nut flour, coconut flour or soy flour.  You can substitute up to half of the flour with  a nut flour, about 1/4 of the flour with coconut flour, and up to 1/3 of the flour with soy flour.

For Fillings:

1.  Use Agave or Stevia or Coconut sugar in place of the sugar in the recipe.  For every cup of sugar use about half of any of these substitutes.  If you use the Agave and it’s simply a couple of tablespoons to 1/4 cup, don’t worry about it being a liquid.  If you’re using a cup or more, though, decrease any other liquid by at least 1/4 cup to 1/2 cup or increase a flour ingredient by 1/4 to 1/2 cup.

2.  Swap out any “whole” milk product (milk, yogurt, cream cheese, etc….) for a lower fat, lower sodium variety.

3.  Substitute egg whites for any whole eggs.  If you’re worried about the texture of a certain type of pie like pecan pie, use half whole eggs and half egg whites.

4.  Use date molasses instead of regular molasses.  You can use the same amount of date molasses as regular molasses.

Allergen Friendly Pies

If you need to substitute traditional ingredients, here are a few things you can try:

For Pie Crusts:

1.  Make a gluten free crust instead of a wheat flour type.  There are tons of recipes online you can follow.  Companies like Bob’s Red Mill also have their own pie crust mixes which you just add water to and roll out.  HINT:  These always need slightly more water than the instructions indicate, though, and you’re best rolling them out between wax paper.

2.  Substitute water or your type of “milk” (soy, rice, almond, coconut, etc…) for any milk in a crust recipe.

3.  Substitute vegan butter or coconut oil for any butter called for in a recipe.

4.  Use a recipe that calls for a liquid oil as opposed to butter so you can use safflower, canola, grapeseed, walnut, pumpkin, etc… oils instead.   A general recipe:  1 1/3 cup flour, 1/2 tsp salt, 1/3 cup oil, 3 tbsp “milk”.

For Fillings:

1.  Substitute vanilla soy milk for evaporated milk.  1 1/2 cups is equal to those 12 oz cans usually called for in a pumpkin pie recipe.

2.  Substitute vegan butter or a liquid oil or coconut oil for any butter called for in a recipe.  If you’re making a fruit pie that calls for “dotting with butter”, you can just omit the butter altogether and still have a tasty pie.

3.  Use a gluten free flour like garbanzo bean instead of a wheat flour.

4.  Make your own dairy free sweetened condensed milk.  This recipe only works for a pie that is going to be baked:  Beat 2 eggs until thick.  Add 1 cup brown sugar and mix well.  Add 1 tsp vanilla and mix well.  Add 2 tbsp of a flour and beat for one minute.  Add 1/2 tsp baking powder and 1/4 tsp salt.  Beat for another minute.  Set aside until you need to add it to your recipe.  This is equivalent to one 14 oz can of sweetened condensed milk.

You can also try making homemade sweetened condensed milk by mixing about 2 1/2 cups of your type of “milk” (rice, nut, coconut, soy) with 8 tbsp sugar or agave.  Stir well and simmer over low heat until the “milk” has reduced and thickened.  This will take a couple of hours.  Keep the heat low and stir frequently.  When it’s thickened, you can add 1/8 tsp of salt and/or 1/2 tsp vanilla, if you’d like.  Put a clear plastic wrap up against the mixture before cooling in the fridge to prevent a “skin” from forming.

5.  Use a frozen non-dairy dessert to replace the vanilla ice cream as a topping.

6.  Make a dairy free whipped cream.  Chill a can of full fat coconut milk overnight.  Turn the can upside down and drained out the liquid.  Put the cold cream into a cold mixing bowl and whip into it’s light and fluffy.

7.  Make a soy cream:  Mix one pint soy creamer, 1/2 cup soy sour cream, 1/4 cup Agave, 2 tablespoons cornstarch, and 1/4 teaspoon salt.  Cook over low heat until it thickens, stirring constantly.  Remove from the heat and add 2 teaspoons vanilla.  Scrape into a heat safe bowl and press plastic wrap directly against the cream to prevent a “skin” from forming.  Cool in the fridge.  Before serving, whisk the cream to make it lighter and fluffier.

8.  Substitute eggs with 1 tbsp ground flaxseed meal mixed with 3 tbsp water for every egg needed in the recipe.  Simply mix up the meal with the water and let it sit for at least five minutes to thicken to an egglike consistency.

Crustless Dairy Free Gluten Free Pumpkin Pie


2 cups cooked, pureed pumpkin or 1 15 oz can of pumpkin

1 1/2 cup vanilla soy milk (or milk of your choice: evaporated milk, rice, almond, coconut)

1/2 cup liquid egg whites (or two whole eggs or 2 tbsp flaxseed meal mixed with 6 tbsp water)*

1/2 cup Agave

1/2 cup garbanzo bean flour (or other gluten free or wheat flour of choice)

1 tsp ground cinnamon

1 tsp dried orange  peel

1 tsp gluten free baking powder

1/2 tsp ground ginger

1/2 tsp ground nutmeg

1/4 tsp ground cloves

1/8 tsp salt

1/2 cup gluten free whole grain rolled oats

1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

1 tbsp Agave

1 tbsp melted vegan butter or oil such as grapeseed

Baking Instructions:

1.  Preheat an oven to 350 degrees.  Lightly grease a 9.5 or 10 inch pie pan with your preferred method.

2.  Mix the pumpkin with the soy milk, egg whites, and Agave.

3.  Mix the garbanzo bean flour with the cinnamon, orange peel, baking powder, ginger, nutmeg, cloves, orange peel, and salt.

4.  Mix the dry ingredients into the pumpkin mixture and pour into the prepare pie pan.

5.  Mix the rolled oats with the cinnamon.  Add the Agave and melted “butter” or oil, and combine well to make an oat topping.

6.  Use clean hands to evenly top the pumpkin mixture with clumps of the oat topping.

7.  Bake in the preheated oven for about 50 minutes.  The pie will be puffed and golden.

8.  Cool for 15 minutes on a wire cooling rack.  Then put into the fridge to cool completely.

* If you like your pumpkin pie denser, simply whisk in the egg whites with the rest of the liquid ingredients.

If you prefer a lighter, creamier version, though, whip the egg whites with 1/8 tsp of cream of tartar until they’re stiff. Mix the wet and dry ingredients together, and then gently fold the egg whites into the batter until they’re fully incorporated.

To fold egg whites:  Used a large curved spatula and be sure to put your batter into a large bowl.  Gently scoop your egg whites on top of the batter.  Then go along the curve of the bowl along the bottom of the batter with your spatula to gradually get some of the batter.  Scoop the batter gently into the center of the egg whites.  Then scoop your spatula back up toward the top of the batter and start all over again.  Essentially you’re just really, really gently incorporating the batter into the egg whites.


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