This is my first holiday season since I lost my ability to eat wheat and holiday pies feel very of reach for me this year. That flaky, crispy, buttery crust I have been mastering since my grandmother first handed me a rolling pin? I can make that for you! But not for me.
This year, in order to keep pumpkin pie on my own table, I tried something I’ve never considered; baking pumpkin pie in a graham cracker crust. It’s certainly not an original idea, just one that’s new to me. Graham crackers are easy to make gluten free, especially if you are just grinding them up for crumb crusts. I like to use some buckwheat flour, it’s got that earthy, grainy quality that whole wheat graham flour does, but teff flour is also great.
I don’t know that I had considered baking pumpkin pie in a graham crust before, but I’m sure glad I did. It’s down right tasty, and I think I prefer it to the blind baked pastry shell. A classic flaky pastry or all-butter crust never really benefits from sitting beneath the moist, custardy pumpkin filling, especially if it sits for more than a day. Graham cracker crusts don’t have the same issue. In fact, they seem to improve as they sit under the custardy filling, soaking up a little moisture and flavor.
Over the years I’ve rotated through a variety of pumpkin pie fillings. I wrote about pumpkin cheesecake pie last year, and my current favorite, pumpkin dulce de leche, is sweetened with caramelized milk. I grew up enjoying the classic pumpkin pie gleaned from the back of a can, and my high school best friend Julie Rohner taught me that you can double the eggs and double the vanilla for an extra creamy pie. Once working as a pastry chef, I started cooking my own pumpkins, and learned from Gordon Ramsey’s dessert book to freeze my home made pumpkin puree and thaw it over a basket strainer, and all the extra pumpkin liquid would fall through, leaving a super thick pumpkin puree. The farmers we worked with introduced me to long island cheese wheel pumpkin, which looks like a big cinderella pumpkin and a butternut squash had a baby. I assure you, it is the pumpkiniest pumpkin in town. I’ve toyed around with deep orange Kabocha squash as well, it’s puree is so thick and creamy you can slice through it when it’s cold, with an extra nutty flavor, and pies made from this thick squash are extra velvety.
Every which way I turned pumpkin pie for the guests and friends I’ve cooked for, the one constant was it’s presence on my own table every thanksgiving. Thanks to a buckwheat graham cracker crumb crust, this first year without gluten will be no different. Give it a try! Even if you can eat wheat, you might be a crumb crust convert after this.
Notes on these recipes
The recipe for buckwheat graham cracker is one of the few I’ve found cup-4-cup flour actually translates cup for cup, and I can’t say I’ve tested it with anything of the other gf flour blends out there. I do know this recipe works with the same amount of all-purpose flour as well, so the buckwheat graham cracker recipe provided here can be made with or without wheat flour. I’ve given our bakery ratio for a crumb crust. Because the graham crackers we make are so butter rich, they tend to need less butter to bind them. If you opt for another recipe, or buy your graham crackers, you’ll have to use your pastry intuition and give the crumb mixture a squeeze; if it holds it’s shape, press it into your pie tin. If it crumbles back up, add some more melted butter.
As for the dulce de leche pumpkin pie filling, you’ll notice the only spice I include is cinnamon. It’s a personal preference, if you prefer pumpkin pie spice, add that instead, or throw in a big pinch of ginger and a little pinch of clove. If you can’t find dulce de leche in your grocery store, grab a can of sweetened condensed milk. You can simmer that can in a pot of water for 4 hours, just make sure you replace the water as it evaporates. And if you don’t have 4 hours to spare, just use the sweetened condensed milk instead. Either way, this recipe is a nice, rich improvement on the recipe from the back of the can.
When I first pulled this pie from the oven, I anxiously observed the filling seemed to separate from the crust a little. I pushed the warm crumbs back into place, and became more anxious when I noticed they were quite crumbly and didn’t seem like they would hold their shape. I put the pie in the fridge overnight, and sliced it in the morning. The butter in the crust firmed up overnight, and the pie sliced like a dream. So if this happens to you too, try what I did, cross your fingers, chill the pie, and in the morning you should have an intact gluten free pie!