pumpkin custard: holiday pie, minus the crust

THE RECIPE’S A CINCH (and easier on the tummy already full from that big holiday meal): Take whatever pumpkin pie filling you like to make, but skip the crust, spooning the blended squash-eggs-dairy-sweetener-spices into ramekins instead, then bake.  The result: crustless individual pumpkin pies, or maybe pumpkin custard. Whatever you call it, I’ll happily eat it for dessert—and breakfast, too.

Again, use any pumpkin pie filling version you like—lighter and airier, such a chiffon style with beaten egg whites folded into the mix and probably some gelatin, too, or more dense and humble (and lazy, admittedly) the way I make it, without much fuss. Rustic—that’s the word. Rustic, and less sweet, rich and sinful. Good for you, even. Really.

If you don’t have a favorite pie-filling recipe, try these guidelines but remember: Every variety of winter squash (a.k.a. pumpkin) is different in texture, moisture and sweetness, so you may have to adjust the flavorings accordingly. Most recipes call for unsweetened canned pumpkin, which is more consistent; I don’t use it, but instead have fun seeing what each garden beauty will turn into.

Play with different dairy ingredients and sweeteners to make it your own, and suit your dietary philosophy and palate. I like yogurt and maple syrup, creating a heavier, less-sweet, less calorie-laden version, but the traditional modern American pumpkin pie is probably lighter-textured, laced with cream and sugar.

my rustic pumpkin custard


  • 2 cups cooked, mashed winter squash (use a fine-grained and sweet variety such as ‘Hubbard,’ ‘Buttercup,’ above, or ‘Butternut;’ stringy, wet pumpkins such as jack-o-lanterns make terrible pie)
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1/3 cup dark maple syrup or to taste (if using sugar, start with ½ cup and taste to adjust)
  • pinch of salt
  • ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon ground ginger
  • pinch of nutmeg and cloves
  • 1 cup whole-milk yogurt (I used goat), or up to 2 cups milk or half-and-half or a combination of milk and cream


  • Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
  • Mash the cooked, cooled squash in a large bowl. (Note: You can steam the pumpkin first, or roast it, the scoop meat from the skin.)
  • Add the sweetener, spices and dairy, blend well by hand or with a mixer.
  • Taste and adjust sweetness and spices.
  • Beat eggs, and mix into the batter.
  • Scoop mix into oven-proof custard cups, enough to nearly fill each cup.
  • Set into a pan of water (seen below, ready to pop into the oven) and bake for 30-50 minutes (as below), until the custard is set and rises up (it will fall once cooled). A note on baking time: My latest batch, made from that ‘Buttercup’ up above with yogurt and maple syrup, took about 50 minutes; I have made lighter versions with milk and a different squash, like ‘Butternut,’ that cooked in 30.

Yield, 6 ramekins.


Feeling another inch of appetite room to spare? (Remember, you saved by leaving out the pie crust.) Serve each cup of deliciousness with a ginger snap jauntily stuck in the custard—a great combination.

Prefer sweet-potato to pumpkin? Swap out the squash for mashed, cooked sweet potatoes instead.

Want a savory side dish, and not a dessert? Change up the spices, and forget the sweetener. The eggs and dairy will allow the pumpkin to set up, anyhow; experiment.

Substitute ¼ cup dark rum for some of the milk/cream (so ¼ cup rum and 1½ cups half and half, for instance), and top with rum-laced whipped cream.

Toppings: whipped cream, of course, or vanilla ice cream (but not for breakfast, which is when I plan to have my next serving of pumpkin custard).

November 20, 2012


  1. Penny W says

    Great idea! I’m going to have a lot of pumpkin left over after making the pie for Thanksgiving. I’m using a crookneck pumpkin this year, which is different than the usual garden variety pumpkin that I normally use. I was told it’s sweeter and makes the best pie filling, so we’ll see. Thanks for this idea! :)

  2. Burndett Andres says

    Dear Margaret! Your posts are ALWAYS so timely! How did you know that I have two pumpkins to roast today in preparation for making pumpkin pie? Since I’m the only one in the house who eats it (Ralphie prefers mincemeat pie), I’m going to do just as you suggest and turn these two beauties into Pumpkin Custard. Hummm…and I think I’ll try the rum additive. What a great idea! Thanksgiving dinner is looking better and better. Hope your Thanksgiving is bountiful on all levels. All the best. XOXO

  3. says

    Hi Margaret, I made a very light chiffon ish pumpkin pie one year with a good ginger crust but we all decided we prefer without the crust, I put a little praline crumble on top.
    Happy Thanksgiving everyone !

  4. says

    I’ve done this for gluten-free friends. Then I developed a wonderful and flaky gluten-free pie crust. But now I have a group of friends who have gone on a not just gluten-free but totally *grain*-free diet, so it’s time to get out my custard cups again! Love your gorgeous squash photo.

  5. Bonnie says

    Oh my gosh, I owe my neighbor a huge apology. She gave me what she said was a pumpkin and I corrected her, saying pumpkins are round and orange, and this was obviously a squash. Turns out it was a crookneck pumpkin, which I only learned the existence of from Penny W. just now. Gadzooks! It’s going into a pie today, so I hope it’s good. I’ve only used round orange things before, whatever they’re called.

  6. Cary says

    Mixed the batter yesterday, but ran out of gas and with only us this time, was easy to forego pumpkin pie. Custard cups in oven now and house smells terrific. Did sneak a taste of the batter yesterday, and am blown away. Always used to stock up on evap milk cans in order to make pumpkin pies all season. Never used them up and didn’t realize they have a shelf life, argh. This time forgot to pick up cans and was tickled to see your custard uses real dairy, not canned. Much more flexible. I made your yogurt version with maple and oh my goodness, who know yogurt could taste this festive :)! Thank you Margaret!!!

  7. says

    We don’t have enough sun here to grow pumpkins/squash productively, so I picked up an organic pie pumpkin and made custard instead of pie for the first time. Ours was done in an 8″x*8″ ceramic baking dish and it turned out great in there too. Topped with fresh whipped cream from our herd share, and it was heaven. I also baked a small sampler custard in a ramekin to test it before serving on the big day.

    Delicious, healthful, so much easier than bothering with a pie crust, held together well for slicing and serving, had a nice caramelized ‘crust,’ and was a treat for gluten-free, and gluten eaters alike.

  8. Dahlink says

    We always spent Thanksgiving with my mother’s mother and father and extended family. Grandmother always had several pumpkin and mincemeat pies on her bedroom dressers, but she also made lots of pumpkin custards for the kids at the “kid table.” I think her recipe was similar to yours, Margaret, except that she would not have used yogurt 50 or more years ago. Great memories–thanks!

  9. says

    We did this last year with extra pie filling. It even works if you make them in small canning jars. I never really liked the the crust anyway.

  10. Carol Spade says

    I was thinking of making just plain custard instead of pumpkin pie with the decadent, flakey, delicious unhealthy butter pie crust (a Martha Steward recipe I’ve used a lot), but I REALLY dislike making pie crust and was dreading it to the point of stressing myself out and wishing Christmas would just go away because it’s not relaxing….maybe I’ll make this instead. There. enough over-sharing!

  11. kim says

    All of the ideas sound yummy! My daughter requested pumpkins in our garden
    this year so we planted three seeds and all three came up so I have been looking
    for recipes for future use but all I really needed is right here!

  12. Linda B says

    Just reading this column here in Nov 2014… but still enjoying crustless pumpkin pie too. It is so forgiving. I often just put the recipe in an 8×8 or 9×11 pan and just cook til the knife comes out clean. Cutting it into squares is great. All my pans are glass, so I cook at 350. Recently made it for a friend who can eat eggs, but not dairy, and used a coconut “drink” from Trader Joe’s and it still came out perfectly. Actually, I think I prefer it now without the dairy. Seems to be easier for me to digest. Sounds like adding some rum is worth trying too! Oh, and I always grate the fresh ginger. It makes it so much better! Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

  13. Jewels says

    I’ve used soy milk in the past, or nut milks. If you are don’t eat whole milk and/or cream on a regular basis, like our household, it’s plenty rich to our palate.

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