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 as 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 365 degrees F.
  • Mash the cooked, cooled squash in a large bowl. (Note: You can steam the pumpkin first, or roast it, then 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).

  1. Verna Sadowski says:

    Now that it’s late autumn again, & garden chores are done, I’ll make a batch of pumpkin custard once again. I wish my Mom, who died in 2005 @ 95 years old, had known computers, the joys of podcasts & your “A Way to Garden”. She would have been a so happy. She was an avid gardener in her time.

  2. Theresa Keller says:

    I make a similar pumpkin pudding with canned pumpkin, and evaporated milk. I add some pumpkin pie spices along with a tbls of molassas and a tbls of apple jack brandy…… so easy and so good.

    1. Marcia Krauza-Martin says:

      Wow- I was eating my microwave version ( please don’t judge) of crustless pumpkin pie for 1 while reading this at breakfast. I’m going to try your variation with yogurt, and maybe a savory one, too!

  3. Michele Faison says:

    Margaret, I alzalways enjoy your e-columns, but this one was timely because I had it in the back of my mind that I wanted to make crustless pumpkin pie in ramekins this year, and sweeten them with maple syrup. This was absolutely perfect because I even had goat yogurt in the fridge. (Not a big seller here so sometimes can find it reduced.) Used half goat, half 0% Siggi’s–didn’t want to shock folks too much! Delicious beyond belief! Next time all goat for me. Now, if only I hadn’t dropped one ramekin in the oven when removing them…
    Thanks so much for posting the recipe. Happy Thanksgiving to you!

  4. Janice Brewer Smith says:

    Can’t wait to give this recipe my first try this week. Think I shall try pumpkin then squashes then maybe sweet potatoes

  5. Kathy O says:

    The desert version of this recipe was so, so good! I would love to see a recipe for a savory squash custard. I am going to try with sage, garlic and Parmesan cheese.


      We love a sweet potato dish that is simply mashed sweet potatoes and some Thai Red Curry paste from a jar! I think it would work much the same way with winter squash. Just add the curry paste a spoonful at a time until it tastes good to you. How did your custard work? Sounded great.

  6. Kathleen Rochester says:

    I’ve been making these for years — even with Splenda and egg whites only and non-fat evaporated milk in my youthful dieting days. A pretty good dessert even that way. Love the gingersnap idea!

  7. Ellen Johnson says:

    my mom (age 94 in december) has been making these all my life – (and i’m 71 now)
    great for little kids!

    so fun to see you like it too!

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