Perhaps the only thing that I can say with certainty about pumpkin pie is that I could live on it, probably forever. In fact, years ago when I had a seasonal pumpkin pie business, I survived on it for weeks at a time. We even made crusts, flaky, buttery, and delicious crusts that were tedious and messy to prepare. I don't miss them one bit.
For a while I called my crust-free creations pumpkin pudding. Then I went through a pumpkin custard phase. Now I'm into pumpkin pot de crème. Or pots de crème, in the plural form.
Pumpkin pot de crème — or crustless pumpkin pie, if you wish — is a flexible and forgiving dish. It handles chocolate very well. Cocoa powder can be added to extra-sweet fillings, while chocolate chips or chunks can be added when extra sweetness is in order. Adding cracked tapioca or tapioca pearls will add suppleness to the filling. (Tapioca is my secret weapon for many fruit pies, from apple to blackberry.)
A friend recently sent me a recipe for a Southern-style pumpkin pie that contains "cocoanut." When I asked him about that unusual word, he said it was "coconut" and apologized for his spelling. Interestingly, the Internet is full of examples of the cocoanut spelling in the South. However it's spelled, cocoanut, like cocoa, makes a fine addition to most any pumpkin pie filling. My friend's pie, made with a cup of shredded fresh coconut, is almost more macaroon than pie.
Since tasting that cocoanut pumpkin pie, I've been playing around with other coconut products, like coconut flour, coconut cream (as a partial or total replacement for cow cream), and shredded dried coconut. Shredded fresh coconut is my favorite, but you have to be OK with a little extra fiber, as it definitely changes the custardy consistency for which pumpkin pie is known.
With so many important variations to try, who has time for crust? And even if a crusted pie on the Thanksgiving table is your ultimate goal, testing your filling in pudding or pot de crème form will be a lot more efficient than making a crust for each experiment.
There is a pumpkin pot de crème recipe that I've practically become monogamous with since first trying it. Spiced Pumpkin Pots de Crème With Pistachios and Spiced Apples comes from the French blog "La Tartine Gourmande." It includes the very cool trick of steaming the squash with a split vanilla pod.
Despite my fascination with this pot de crème recipe, I can't stop experimenting. I've been doubling the pumpkin/squash amount, adding coconut and tapioca, and omitting the sautéed pistachio and apple topping (which admittedly sounds good, but who has the time?).
I guess with me and pumpkin pie, monogamy isn't really in the cards. That's another thing I can say with certainty. But here is the recipe, anyway.
1 cup red kuri squash or pie pumpkin, cut into chunks (optional: double that amount, and add an extra egg)
1 vanilla pod, split, with seeds scraped out
1 cup milk
1 cup heavy cream
¼ cup sugar
2 large eggs
½ teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ginger
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
(optional: ½ cup grated, fresh coconut)
(optional: 1 tablespoon cracked tapioca)
Steam the squash with the split vanilla pod. When soft, allow to cool. Puree.
Preheat oven to 320.
Beat eggs and sugar together in a bowl.
In a heavy-bottom saucepan, heat milk and cream and spices to a simmer.
Stir the pureed squash into the milk and cream. Stir the milk/cream/squash into the egg and sugar.
Pour the mixture into little cups, jars, or ramekins.
Bake creams in a covered water bath for about an hour. Let cool to room temp, and refrigerate overnight to set completely.
Serve with sliced apples and pistachios sautéed with butter and sugar or whipped cream.
Serve. Freak out. Eat more.