No instant mixes! This light and creamy no-bake pumpkin pie with a graham cracker crust made entirely from scratch.
Unlike custard-style pie, Pumpkin Dream Pie with Graham Cracker Crust lives up to its promise of a dreamy, delicate texture—ideal after a holiday dinner.
For my husband, Pumpkin Dream Pie was a childhood favorite at Thanksgiving. Our kids adopted the same affinity for this lighter, creamier version over traditionally baked pumpkin pie, so it is our Thanksgiving standard.
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How To Make Pumpkin Dream Pie from Scratch
For many years, I made the original Dream Whip pumpkin pie recipe because during the holidays we don’t mess with beloved food memories.
However, label reader that I am, my conscience got the better of me. I had to figure out a way to satisfy my family and make this no-bake pumpkin pie dessert without instant mixes.
In other words, the only way I was going to make a healthier version acceptable is if it tasted exactly like the original.
Note: My goal is to demonstrate how to avoid processed foods and make Pumpkin Dream Pie from scratch, not criticize any brands or make anyone feel bad about shortcuts.
In the side-by-side ingredient comparisons below, the exact ingredient lists from the products are shown.
Pumpkin Dream Pie STEP BY STEP
- Prepare the graham cracker crust so it can bake and cool.
- Cook the custard by whisking sugar, cornstarch, salt, egg yolks, and milk in a saucepan. Add pureed pumpkin and pumpkin spice; heat just until it forms soft bubbles and thickens.
- Cool custard in an ice water bath.
- Whip heavy cream with gelatin water, sugar, and vanilla.
- Fold 1 cup whipped cream into the cooled custard.
- Pour into the cooled graham cracker crust, cover, and chill for at least 3 hours.
- Slice and serve with a dollop of whipped cream.
Start with Homemade Vanilla Custard Instead of Instant Pudding
The base for the pie is vanilla pudding or custard. In our made from scratch version, it’s the egg yolks and cornstarch that provide the stability and ultimate creamy texture.
Pureed pumpkin and spices are added to the vanilla custard to create a creamy pumpkin custard delicious all by itself.
Want to make your own pumpkin puree? Check out this easy recipe from A Beautiful Plate: Homemade Roasted Pumpkin Puree.
Compare Homemade Custard and Instant Pudding Ingredients
As you can see from the comparison of vanilla instant pudding and homemade custard (below), a short list of whole food ingredients sets the stage for dreamy pie.
Fold in Real Whipped Cream
The original recipe was introduced in 1959 highlighting the new Dream Whip product, hence Pumpkin Dream Pie.
One glance at the ingredient list was all the motivation I needed to go back to the basics with real whipped cream. Just for fun, I thought you’d like to see the comparison with Cool Whip too (below).
Heavy whipping cream is unmatched in texture and simplicity, creating billowy clouds of bliss with a balloon whisk, mixer or immersion blender.
Using a whisk will double as a stellar arm workout if you’re up for it. Otherwise, grab a mixer to whip it up in about 5 minutes.
Cradle the Creamy Pumpkin Filling in a Homemade Graham Cracker Crust (Gluten-Free Options Included)
This is still an area I compromise just a little. When comparing graham cracker ingredients, I was satisfied to find an organic brand that didn’t use soybean oil or artificial flavors.
However, as you can see by the comparison chart, homemade is still fewer ingredients.
I’ve been tempted to swap out Ginger Snaps for the graham crackers, but that’s not the kind of change we can deal with at Thanksgiving. 😉
TIP: Brushing egg white on the crust before baking helps hold it together when slicing to serve.
Make your own graham crackers too!
One of these days I’ll make graham crackers to see if they would pass the flavor test. Here’s a promising Homemade Graham Crackers recipe from Brown Eyed Baker.
Curious about graham flour? It’s a special type of whole wheat flour. Bakepedia has handy tips about graham flour and how to get the right stuff.
How To Make Gluten-Free Pumpkin Dream Pie with Easy Substitutions
The pumpkin custard and whipped cream are naturally gluten-free, so we only need to remedy the crust.
My friend Alea at Premeditated Leftovers recommends Vanilla Honey Graham Crunchy Cookies for her Gluten-Free Graham Cracker Pie Crust.
Otherwise, here are two recipes for homemade gluten-free graham crackers with brown rice and teff flour from Strength & Sunshine or with buckwheat flour from The Work Top.
Another option: Serve the pumpkin custard in individual dessert cups with whipped cream and gluten-free cookies crumbles on the top.
Pumpkin Dream Pie with Graham Cracker Crust
For the Crust:
- 24 graham crackers (2-inch square), crushed (about 1 1/3 cups)
- 1/4 cup coconut palm sugar , or brown sugar
- 1/3 cup butter , melted
- 1 egg white , lightly beaten, yolk reserved for custard
For the Pumpkin Custard:
- 3/4 cup sugar
- 1/3 cup cornstarch , organic (Non-GMO)
- 1/8 teaspoon sea salt
- 5 large egg yolks , use the one from the crust here
- 1 cup whole milk
- 15 ounces cooked or canned pureed pumpkin
- 2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
- 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
For the Whipped Cream:
- 1/2 teaspoon unflavored gelatin powder
- 1 1/2 tablespoons water
- 1 1/2 cups heavy whipping cream , chilled
- 1 tablespoon powdered sugar , or honey
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
Refrigerate the mixing bowl and beaters for the whipped cream to chill while preparing the crust and custard.
For the Crust
- Mix 1 1/3 cups cracker crumbs with 1/4 cup sugar and then mix in 1/3 cup melted butter until blended. Press crumbs into a 9-inch or 10-inch pie plate. Gently brush egg white on crust in a thin coating (this is optional, will give the crust more stability when sliced). Bake at 375° for 8-10 minutes until set, but not brown. Set on a wire rack to cool while making the custard and whipped cream.
For the Pumpkin Custard
- In a medium saucepan, whisk 3/4 cup sugar, 1/3 cup cornstarch, and 1/8 teaspoon salt to combine. Gently whisk the 5 egg yolks into 1 cup milk then slowly add to the saucepan, stirring to combine.
- Add 15 ounces pureed pumpkin and 2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice to the saucepan and stir to combine. Cook over medium heat, continuing to stir until steam forms on the surface and soft bubbles begin to pop, about 10 minutes.
- Reduce heat to medium-low and continue to cook 2-3 minutes longer, until the mixture is very thick. Remove from heat and stir in 2 teaspoons vanilla. Transfer to a mixing bowl and set a bowl in an ice-water bath; allow to cool completely (about 30 minutes), stirring occasionally. NOTE: You can skip the ice water bath if you have 2 to 3 hours to allow the custard to cool completely before mixing with the whipped cream.
For the Whipped Cream
- In a small microwave-safe bowl, add 1 1/2 tablespoons water and sprinkle 1/2 teaspoon gelatin over the water; set aside for 3 minutes. Once the gelatin has softened, microwave on full power in 5-second increments until the gelatin dissolves (this can take 3-4 cycles).
- Whip 1 1/2 cups heavy cream, 1 tablespoon powdered sugar, and 1/2 teaspoon vanilla in a chilled mixing bowl on medium-low speed until you see small bubbles form and the cream starts to thicken.
- Increase mixer speed to medium, and once a soft trail starts to form in the cream, slowly pour in the dissolved gelatin and increase speed to high. Continue to whip until cream forms medium peaks. (See photo in Post.)
Finishing the Pie
- Once the custard is cooled, gently fold 1 cup of whipped cream into the custard and then pour it into the pie crust. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 3 hours. Cover and refrigerate extra whipped cream to serve with pie.
Video Displays Here or In Post
More Thanksgiving Dessert Recipes:
- Easy, Fresh Berry Crumble with Orange Cream
- New York-Style Cheesecake with Blueberry Topping
- Pumpkin Spice Tea Cake with Maple Candied Walnuts [GF]
- Cream Cheese Fruit Tart with Almond Crust [GF]
- Mint Chocolate Cream Pie with Chocolate Cookie Crust
Judy Purcell says
This was such a nice change last year at Thanksgiving, so much lighter than regular pumpkin pie. I even separated out some of the pumpkin custard for a friend that needed gluten free and she loved it. Thanks for this recipe!
Just stopped back by…hope you had a wonderful Christmas.
Judy Purcell says
Hi Agness, I use coconut sugar as much as possible, but for this pie, especially the custard, I use organic refined sugar since it is a holiday meal. At the holidays we have what we call “compromise” foods, like refined flour or sugar in some things. I think honey would be a fine alternative to the sugar in the custard if a little more cornstarch is used to thicken it properly.
Agness of Run Agness Run says
Yum! This seems like a perfect kind of pie, especially great idea for the upcoming holiday season, Judy. What kind of sugar do you use for this recipe?
This had to be a hit at your Thanksgiving dinner. I like the tip about adding the gelatin in this recipe as well as others…thanks.
Wow, this looks amazing! LOVE pumpkin pie, and gosh, you’ve really done it right. Good stuff — thanks so much.
That filling looks AMAZING! And so much yes to the clean whipped cream. I love that it’s made with gelatin!
This looks appropriately titled! What a delicious looking pumpkin pie! Have never been a big fan of traditional pumpkin pie but this one I could eat in a heartbeat. Happy Thanksgiving Judy!
Diane Hyde says
This recipe looks great! Thanks for taking the time to investigate and do the comparisons, Judy. I want to try this. It doesn’t look any harder or more time consuming than the original. I, too, read ingredient lists and health magazines so I’m skeptical about what’s in “convenience” foods. I don’t always know how to substitute. Thanks again for the work that went into this.