A lighter alternative to pumpkin pie

No pumpkin pie is ever going to match the taste I remember from childhood. So why not try something just as “pumpkin” but a little different?


Thanksgiving Dessert Recipe: So Much Simpler Than Pumpkin Pie

Iconoclastic though it may be to oust the Thanksgiving classic in favor of a French recipe, one taste of this silky, souffléed pumpkin dessert and you’ll never go back

ZIP IT UP A splash of rum and a sprinkling of orange zest balance the sweet pumpkin. Photo: Dylan + Jeni for The Wall Street Journal, Food Styling by Caroline K. Hwang, Prop Styling by Aneta Florcyzk

By Aleksandra Crapanzano Nov. 4, 2020 3:28 pm ET

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IN AMERICA, pumpkin pie is nearly as entrenched a ritual as apple pie—despite the fact that so many people don’t actually like it. Most of my family falls squarely in that camp, so I’ve experimented with alternatives over the years. Finally I stumbled upon an old Burgundian cookbook with a recipe for a “flamusse” of pumpkin. This looked promising.

A flamusse is a custardy regional specialty perhaps best described as a cross between a soufflé, a flan and a clafoutis. It’s almost always made with sliced apples, so this pumpkin variation surprised me. The recipe was labor intensive, included no measurements and involved baking several baby pumpkins. But it was everything I hoped it would be. Cooked pumpkin grows dense once it cools to the temperature at which pumpkin pies are often served, so this hot souffléed whisper of a dessert was a revelation. So, too, was the absence of the ubiquitous spice mix that nearly always masks the taste of the fruit. The flamusse revealed the pure taste of pumpkin, lightened with egg and enriched with cream. It was sweet, but not overtly so, rich, but not heavy. A heady dose of rum and a grating of orange zest gave it just the edge it needed.

After some trial and error, I recalibrated the recipe to work with canned pumpkin purée, making this among the easiest of Thanksgiving desserts. The dark rum the French often bake with is a welcome addition to this flamusse. Cognac has the right richness for it, too. As an American, however, I find it hard to separate pumpkin and bourbon in my head, particularly around the holidays. So I tried the recipe with bourbon and it had a certain down-home je ne sais quoi.

Though just the thing for those eager to banish leaden pumpkin pies, it is not for anyone who simply doesn’t care for pumpkin. This recipe is all about the pumpkin. And it’s not a dish you can make in advance. You must eat it hot, right after it comes out of the oven. That said, it takes almost no time to prepare, requires no skill or experience to get right and bakes in under 30 minutes.

Spoon the flamusse into small bowls or serve it on dessert plates. It needs no accompaniments. I’ve found, too, that if you reduce the granulated sugar by half, it can be served along with the Thanksgiving turkey as a sort of easy, savory soufflé. Have you ever known a pumpkin pie to be so accommodating?

Pumpkin Flamusse

Total Time: 40 minutes

serves: 8

Dylan + Jeni for The Wall Street Journal, Food Styling by Caroline K. Hwang, Prop Styling by Aneta Florcyzk


  • 4½ tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 4 eggs, yolks and whites separated
  • ½ cup granulated sugar
  • 4 tablespoons dark rum, Cognac or bourbon
  • Zest of 1 orange
  • 4 cups pure pumpkin purée
  • 4 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 3 tablespoons raw sugar


  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Butter a 6-quart gratin dish with ½ tablespoon butter.
  2. In a small bowl, whisk together yolks, granulated sugar, rum and orange zest. Set aside.
  3. In a heavy-bottomed skillet over low heat, melt butter. Add pumpkin and cook, stirring, until warm to the touch. (You can also use a whisk or electric beaters on low to break up and smooth out the canned purée.) Add flour and salt, then cream. Whisk to combine. Remove from heat and whisk in yolk mixture.
  4. Use an electric mixer to beat egg whites until stiff, about 5 minutes. Stir a quarter of the stiff whites into pumpkin mixture. Then gently fold remaining whites into pumpkin mixture. Pour into prepared dish and bake until just set, 25-27 minutes.
  5. Sprinkle with raw sugar and serve immediately in small bowls or on dessert plates.

2 thoughts on “A lighter alternative to pumpkin pie

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