Saturday, December 20, 2014

Vegan pumpkin pie filling minus most of the gloopy starch (egg-free, milk-free, nut-free)

Introduction:
This may not be a cooking blog, but occasionally a little science can help solve a very real problem - a better vegan pumpkin pie filling! The starchy, gloopy, blobby pumpkin pie filling found in most vegan pumpkin pie recipes has much to be desired. In fact, I like to joke that I can chuck a scoop across the room and watch it slowly bleb down the wall. We deal with many allergies that won't allow using certain egg-replacing binders (e.g. flax seed gel, corn starch, tofu, etc.), so after coming up null with internet searches for workable recipes given our allergen set, necessity became the mother of invention! Welcome to my test kitchen!

Question: 
Could I use chia seed, some combination of chia seed and tapioca starch, or a combination of chia seed and course oat flour to improve the texture of the existing gloopy pumpkin pie filling (tapioca starch-based)?

Hypothesis: 
I predicted that either the combination of chia seed and oat flour or the combination of chia seeds and tapioca starch would significantly improve the texture of the gloopy pumpkin pie filling. I predicted that the chia seed alone would not provide enough binding to make an adequate filling.

Rationale: 
Chia is often touted as an egg substitute. Soaking 1 Tbsp of chia seeds in 3 Tbsp water for ~20 minutes makes a mucilaginous gel resembling the texture of raw egg in quantity. While the texture seems on par with raw egg, the real magic of egg binding in recipes doesn't happen until after it is cooked (think of a hard-boiled egg. The uncooked "white" is primarily protein, whose structure changes to the opaque, hard but slightly pliable white after cooking. Now imagine that same structure distributed throughout your pie filling!). Chia has a combination of polysaccharides (complex sugar chains - aka carbohydrates, some protein, and some fat). I reasoned that chia alone wouldn't have the same protein binding "magic" as an egg based on its protein content (1 large egg = 6.3 g of protein; 1 Tbsp chia seed = 3 g protein). Although it is possible that chia may compensate for a lack of protein a bit by providing more carbohydrates that can "gel" (1 large egg = 0.4 carbohydrates; 1 Tbsp chia seed = 5 g carbohydrates). Oats have a good deal of both protein and carbohydrates, though! So I figured grinding rolled oats into a coarse flour with a food processor may expose more of the protein/carbs contained within to serve a really good "binding" function (1/2 cup of rolled oats = 5 g protein, 27 g carbohydrates, 3 g fat).

Making chia seed gel. 1 egg substitute = 1 Tbsp chia seeds + 3 Tbsp water. Let sit ~20 minutes before using.
Materials and methods:
In order to waste as little food as possible, I mixed a large pumpkin pie base whose ingredients were common to all conditions and added 3/4 cup of the "base ingredients" to each of four tempered glass cups. 

Base ingredients common to all conditions
2 cups pureed pumpkin
1 cup light coconut milk
1/4 c. packed light brown sugar
1/4 c. maple syrup
1/4 tsp. sea salt
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. ground ginger
1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg

I then scaled down the unique ingredients I wanted to add to each of the four separate conditions, fully mixed, and baked in the oven at 375 deg. F for 45 minutes. Note, I would have loved to test additional conditions, but I didn't have enough ingredients to test them all! In theory, I should have included a proper "negative control" that would have baked the "base ingredients" with no additions. I would have also included an "egg based" version for good measure, but hey, we deal with an egg allergy in our house - it just didn't seem right. After baking and cooling, my husband and I taste-tested each condition to obtain results based on our personal texture preferences.


Results:
Chia seed + oat flour was the clear winner for binding and texture. Both the tapioca starch alone and the chia seed + tapioca starch had the gloopy starch binding texture instead of the soft texture associated with traditional egg-based pumpkin pie filling. Chia seed alone was quite delicious, but did did not have enough binding for pie filling. It makes a fabulous pudding, however! (Yes, two recipes in one!!!).

Pumpkin pie recipe:
Use your favorite crust recipe and line a 9 in. pie pan with crust. Mine happens to be Claire's quick and easy pie crust using spectrum organic shortening. You could easily substitute a different recipe to make this gluten-free.

Pumpkin pie filling ingredients:
2 c. pureed pumpkin (I used a can of Trader Joe's)
1/2 c. of coarsely ground oat flour (I used a food processor to grind rolled oats)
1 c. coconut milk light (I used canned from Trader Joe's)
Chia seed gel (1 Tbsp chia seed + 3 Tbsp water, sit for ~20 minutes before use)
1/4 c. light brown sugar, firmly packed
1/4 c. maple syrup
1/4 tsp. salt
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. ground ginger
1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
Pumpkin pie filling thoroughly mixed.

Instructions:
1. Pre-heat oven to 375 deg. F. 
2. Combine all pumpkin pie filling ingredients and thoroughly mix.
2. Pour filling into pie shell (I covered my crust edges with aluminum foil for the first 30 minutes of baking and removed foil for the remainder of the bake time).
3. Bake for ~60 minutes (ovens may vary, so please check your pie sooner!).
4. Cool on rack and enjoy!





14 comments:

  1. Love it! I've had luck with agar to get the texture I wanted but that may make you think if petri dishes. :)

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    1. Thank you! And yes, as a scientist, it creeps me out to think about using agar as food... although there really should be no reason why :). Thanks for a new idea (and I of course will be buying food grade agar for that purpose)!

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    2. Yay! I liked to the recipe I used here: http://ohmahdeehness.wordpress.com/2012/04/02/from-the-archives-holiday-baking-2011/

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  2. Great post, Jessica. We had pumpkin pie that's mostly made up of oatmeal flour both pie crust and filling. It turned out pretty well. I was surprised. Chia seed sounds great, too! I tried to make mayonnaise once with flex seed, but it didn't come out right. Jayden hated the taste of flex seed. Chia seed give less taste, which should be better choice! Merry Christmas!

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    1. Thank you Julia! Yes, I loved the oat texture, and I would love to try a pie crust with it as well. Merry Christmas to you and your family as well!

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  3. As someone who was lucky enough to get a slice of this pie, I can attest to its deliciousness.

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    1. Awe... thank you Jessie! Perhaps we should have a pie baking extravaganza together!

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  4. Great experiment and fantastic results! I was also on the hunt for a good pumpkin pie filling, but everyone requests my pumpkin bundt cake, so I stopped looking. :-D

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    1. Thanks, Libby! I'll have to check out your pumpkin bundt cake - yum!

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  5. Great recipes! My dad is allergic the sunflower seeds and avocados so we are always trying to look for new recipes for him so that he can still enjoy amazing food that usually contains the things he can't eat. I will be trying this recipe for sure. http://www.allergypartners.com/midlands/SitePages/Allergist.aspx

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  6. Okay, if this pops up a second time, I apologize. But, in my first attempt I was professing my admiration for you Jessica. This was a fun and awesome post. Now I get how chia works and I better understand why so many use flax seed. I just need to become your neighbor.

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    1. Thank you, Caroline! I think you're pretty wonderful :).

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