For my husband, Pumpkin Dream Pie was a childhood favorite at Thanksgiving. Our kids adopted the same affinity for this lighter, creamier version of traditionally baked pumpkin pie, so it is our Thanksgiving standard.
Unlike custard-style pie, this dessert lives up to its promise of a dreamy, delicate texture—ideal after a holiday dinner.
How To Make Pumpkin Dream Pie from Scratch
For many years, I made the original recipe because during the holidays we don’t mess with beloved food memories.
But label reader that I am, my conscience got the better of me. I had to figure out a way satisfy my family and make this dessert without instant mixes with questionable ingredients.
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 you feel bad about shortcuts.
In the side-by-side ingredient comparisons below, the exact ingredient lists from the products are shown.
Start with Homemade Vanilla Custard
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.
Learn to make your own Homemade Roasted Pumpkin Puree.
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) .
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 it in a Homemade Graham Cracker Crust (Gluten-Free Options Below)
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. 😉
Make your own graham cracker too!
One of these days I’ll make graham crackers to see if they would pass the flavor test.
Here’s a promising recipe: Homemade Graham Crackers
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.
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 crumbled on the top.
- 24 (2-inch square) graham crackers -- 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
- 3/4 cup sugar
- 1/3 cup cornstarch -- organic (Non-GMO)
- 1/8 teaspoon sea salt
- 5 large egg yolks
- 1 cup whole milk
- 15 ounces cooked or canned pumpkin -- pureed , smooth
- 1 1/2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 1/2 teaspoon unflavored gelatin powder
- 1 1/2 tablespoons water
- 1 1/2 cups heavy whipping cream , chilled
- 1 tablespoon powdered sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
- Note: Refrigerate the mixing bowl and beaters for the whipped cream to chill while preparing the crust and custard.
- For the Crust: Mix cracker crumbs with sugar and then mix in melted butter until blended. Press crumbs into 9-inch or a 10-inch pie plate. Gently brush egg white on crust in a thin coating (this will give the crust more stability when sliced).
- Bake at 350° 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 sugar, cornstarch, and salt to combine. Gently whisk egg yolks into the milk then slowly add to the saucepan, stirring to combine.
- Add the pumpkin and pie spice to the saucepan and stir to combine. Cook over medium heat, continuing to stir until soft bubbles begin to pop on the surface, about 10 minutes.
- Reduce heat to medium-low and continue to cook 4 to 5 more minutes, until mixture is very thick. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla. Transfer to a mixing bowl and set bowl in an ice water bath; allow to cool completely (about 30 minutes), stirring occasionally.
- (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: Put the water in a small, microwave-safe bowl, sprinkle gelatin over the water and set aside for 3 minutes. After gelatin has softened, microwave on full power in 5-second increments until the gelatin is dissolved.
- Whip the cream, sugar, and 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 gelatin and increase speed to high. Continue to whip until cream forms medium peaks. (See examples here: Tips for Whipping Cream)
- Once the custard is cooled, gently fold in 1 cup of the whipped cream and pour into pie crust. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 3 hours. Cover and refrigerate extra whipped cream to serve with pie.
Use this trick anytime whipped cream is made in advance of serving: Unflavored gelatin is used to stabilize the whipped cream and the pie, but it doesn't affect the flavor or texture of the cream. This keeps it from separating when stored and firmer when sliced. If you want to keep it vegetarian-friendly, add 1 teaspoon agar-agar to the whipped cream once it reaches the soft peak stage.
Total Time includes chilling time.
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]
Tips for Hosting Thanksgiving: Thanksgiving Dinner: 7 Tips for Hosting, Prepping, & Menu Basics
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