The Nosher's Non-Dairy Pie Hacks for Thanksgiving

I’m not sure who coined the phrase, “easy as pie,” but I’m almost certain she was not familiar with baking them. Making pie crust — for most of us, I’d wager — is not a walk in the park. And if you’re making a dairy-free piewell, that’s a challenge that many prefer to leave up for the professionals. But if you’re committed, like us, to making a dairy-free pie of your own, you’ve found the right place.

There are dozens of reasons to make dairy-free pies — you might be keeping kosher on Thanksgiving (no dairy after meat, including turkey), or maybe you’re lactose intolerant, or vegan. Whatever the reason, we’re here to help make your pie-baking just a little bit easier, and we promise it will taste as good, and maybe even better, than what the recipe calls for.

So if you’ve found the perfect Thanksgiving pie, and discovered that it’s laden with dairy, fear not. We’ll walk you through how to take that recipe and transform it into the pareve pie of your dreams.

Let’s start with the crust. The basic rule-of-thumb is that butter or lard can be replaced 1:1 with vegan butter, vegan shortening, or coconut oil or some combination of the three. Mark Bittman, food writer and author of How to Bake Everything, uses nothing but coconut oil when making a dairy-free crust, because vegan shortening and butters are highly processed and not as healthy (and usually include palm oil, which is linked to rainforest deforestation). Here is a list of butter alternatives to use in a dairy-free pie crust:

Coconut Oil: Unrefined or virgin both work equally well.

Dairy-Free Butter: Earth Balance Soy-Free sticks are great for baking with. When a recipe comes for butter, consider using half Earth Balance and half coconut oil.

Vegan Shortening: We recommend shortening without hydrogenated oils. Nutiva makes a good option.

Butter Flavor: If you’re using a vegan butter, but you want the taste of real butter, try adding 1/2 tsp of Imitation Butter Flavoring to your dough.

You can use these pie crust recipes for any kind of dessert pie:

Tips:

  • Make sure to refrigerate your butter alternative(s) for 3 hours before using (or in the freezer for 5-10 minutes), making sure they’re as cold as possible. You may want to cut them into small pieces before refrigerating, to make mixing easier.
  • Dairy-free dough tends to fall apart and crack with too much flour. Instead of flouring your work surface, try rolling it out between two layers of plastic wrap, wax paper, or parchment paper.

Let’s move on to pie fillings… 

Most fruit fillings are dairy free, except for when it calls for butter in the filling. In that case, use either imitation butter or solid coconut oil. Custard-based fillings–like pumpkin pie–or cheesecakes, of course, can present challenges. Here are some tips for substituting a variety of milk products.

Cream

When a sweet or savory recipe calls for heavy cream (not for whipping), simply use coconut cream. You can substitute it 1:1. Just get a can of full-fat coconut milk, and let it sit on your counter for at least 30 minutes so that it settles. You can scoop of the cream on top for heavy cream.

Alternatively, you can combine a dairy-free milk with butter or oil. ⅔ cup dairy-free milk blended with ⅓ cup oil yields 1 cup of “cream.” We recommend using a high-speed blender for smooth, even emulsification.

Evaporated Milk

When pumpkin pie calls for evaporated milk, substitute with full fat coconut milk (usually found in a can) in a 3:2 ratio. A 12-oz can of evaporated milk, for example, can be replaced with 8 ounces of full-fat coconut milk.

Cream Cheese

There are three really good options for replacing cream cheese:

  • You can purchase Tofutti Non-Hydrogenated Better Than Cream Cheese spread and use 1:1 with any dairy cream cheese.
  • Silken tofu, with the addition of some oil and salt, can become cream cheese in a blender. Here’s a recipe for Silken Tofu Cream Cheese from GoDairyFree.com. Once you blend this together, use it just like cream cheese for cheesecakes or pumpkin pies.
  • Cashews make the closest home-made substitute for a block of cream cheese. Cashew “cheese” is simple and has ingredients we can actually pronounce: cashews, lemon juice, salt, coconut oil and vanilla extract. Now go forth and make that pumpkin cheesecake.

Cashew Cream Cheese Recipe: Soak 1 cup of raw cashews in water for at least 5 hours, overnight is best. Drain, and place in a powerful blender or food processor with the juice of 1 lemon, 1 tsp vanilla extract, and 1/3 cup raw coconut oil, melted. Blend on high speed for a few minutes until smooth and creamy. This makes just over 8 ounces, so double the recipe as needed.

Whipped Cream

If you are in search for an easy, affordable dairy-free whipped cream, all you need is a can or two of chickpeas. No, really! Drain 2 cans of chickpeas and pour the liquid into the bowl of a standing mixer (or a sturdy bowl to use with a hand-held mixer). Then blend on high speed for 15-20 minutes or until stiff peaks form. Aquafaba Whipped Cream from The Kitchn is just what your pumpkin pie needs.

And finally, there are plenty of tried and true recipes for dairy-free Thanksgiving pies that don’t require any substitutions at all!

Dairy-Free Thanksgiving Pies

Sweet Potato Pie with Macaroon Crust
Vegan Gluten-Free Pumpkin Pie from Minimalist Baker
Vegan Pumpkin Pie from the Food Network (calls for tofu)
Vegan Pumpkin Pie Parfaits (no need to fuss with crust!)
Coconut Macaroon Pumpkin Pie from Tory Avey

Vegan Pecan Pie with a Double Dose of Pecans (and a little booze) from the Washington Post
Bourbon Pecan and Chocolate Gelt Pie
Maple Pecan Pie from Isa Chandra Moskowitz
Pecan Pie from Deliciously Ella (gluten-free)
Chocolate Pecan Tart (vegan, gluten-free)

Article as featured on The Nosher.

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