To my mind, there is no doubt about the choice for Thanksgiving dessert: It is going to be pie, and pies must have a crust.

Pie-crust makers seem to fall into two categories. There are those who think that making a crust is perfectly natural. Then there are those who can easily whip up a feast for 10 but panic at the thought of making a basic pie crust. For years, I was in the panic group, until I realized that my family recipe file held the solution to a foolproof pie crust.

My mother had often made a cream cheese press-in crust for her miniature pecan tarts. The dough was rolled into little balls and pressed into mini-muffin pans. I decided to try to roll this never-fail buttery crust and to use it for a pie. After sifting the flour (for lightness) and adding a little salt (to enhance the flavor), I mixed the usual dough and tried rolling it.

It worked. The method is as easy as beating butter and cream cheese to blend them smoothly, then mixing in flour and salt. It takes less than two minutes. It rolls out easily and bakes into an especially tender crust.

Both butter and cream cheese should be full fat and not whipped. The dough can be prepared a day ahead and chilled overnight, but it must sit at room temperature until it can be rolled easily.

This crust works for both a bubbling, deep-dish apple and cranberry pie and a sophisticated pear and almond tart. Both can be made one day ahead and refrigerated. Take them out of the refrigerator about 30 minutes before serving, just as Thanksgiving dinner is winding down.

Cream Cheese Pie Crust

Makes enough crust for one 9-inch pie pan or a 91/2-inch tart pan

An electric stand mixer makes quick work of this crust, and a hand-held electric mixer will do a fine job. The dough can be refrigerated overnight, but it will have to sit at room temperature until it is soft enough to roll.

1 cup flour

1/4 teaspoon salt

8 tablesooons (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature

3 ounces cold cream cheese, cut into 3 pieces

In a small bowl, sift the flour and salt and set aside.

In a large bowl, using an electric mixer on low speed, combine the butter and cream cheese until smooth, about 45 seconds. Mix in the flour mixture until the dough holds together and forms large clumps that come away from the sides of the bowl, about 30 seconds.

Form the dough into a smooth ball, flatten into a 6-inch disk, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes, or overnight. The dough is now ready to roll.

Deep-Dish Maple

Apple Cranberry Pie

8 to 10 servings

Maple syrup sweetens the filling and enhances the flavor of this generously filled deep-dish pie, which has the fruit on the bottom and the crust on the top. Because the apple-cranberry mixture is not overly sweet, taste it after mixing it together and add sugar, if you prefer a sweeter version. Vanilla or cinnamon ice cream makes a good accompaniment.

For the filling:

7 cups (about 7 large) apples (a mixture of sweet and tart), peeled, cored and sliced 1/8-inch thick

1 cup cranberries

1/3 cup maple syrup

1 tablespoon flour

1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 to 2 tablespoons sugar (optional)

For the topping:

1 recipe Cream Cheese Pie Crust (see recipe above)

1 tablespoon maple syrup

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

For the filling: Place the apples and cranberries in a 2-quart baking dish. Add the maple syrup, flour, melted butter, cinnamon and sugar, if desired, stirring to combine. The filling should come to the top of the container (the apples will shrink during baking). Set aside.

For the crust: Lightly flour the rolling surface and rolling pin. Roll the dough to a shape that is 1 inch wider than the top of the baking dish. Roll up the pie crust over the rolling pin and unroll it over the filling. Fold 1/2-inch of the edge of the crust under itself to form a smooth edge. Use a fork to press the dough firmly onto the rim of the baking dish. Cut four 2-inch-long slits in the top of the crust to release steam while the pie bakes. Lightly brush the crust with maple syrup.

Bake for 25 minutes. Reduce the temperature to 325 degrees and bake for about 15 minutes more, or until the crust is lightly browned and the apples test tender when a toothpick is inserted. Cool for about 20 minutes and serve warm or at room temperature. Use a large spoon to cut through the crust and scoop out servings of crust and filling.

Per serving (based on 10): 268 calories, 2 g protein, 34 g carbohydrates, 14 g fat, 39 mg cholesterol, 9 g saturated fat, 86 mg sodium, 4 g dietary fiber

Recipe tested by Randy Richter; e-mail questions to

Pear and Almond

Frangipane Tart

8 servings

Frangipane is a butter and ground almond mixture that bakes into a soft macaroon-like filling.

1 recipe Cream Cheese Pie Crust (see recipe above)

For the filling:

3 Bartlett or Bosc pears, peeled, cored and cut into 1/4-inch slices

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1 cup blanched almonds

2/3 cup sugar

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 teaspoon almond extract

1 large egg

4 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature

For the crust: Lightly butter a 9- or 91/2-inch tart pan with a removable bottom.

Lightly flour the rolling surface and rolling pin. Roll the dough out on a lightly floured work surface to a round about 3 inches larger than the bottom of the tart pan. Transfer to the pan. Fold the overhang in and pat it into place to form double-thick sides. Cover and refrigerate the crust until it is cold and firm, 30 minutes or up to overnight.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Place the tart pan on a lined baking sheet. Line the cold tart crust with heavy-duty aluminum foil and fill with dried beans or metal pie weights. Bake for 15 minutes. Remove the weights and foil and continue to bake until the crust is golden, about 5 minutes. Set aside.

Reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees.

For the filling: In a medium bowl, toss the pears and lemon juice. Set aside.

In a food processor, process the almonds until they are finely ground. Add the sugar, salt, vanilla and almond extracts and egg, and process to combine. Add the softened butter and process until smooth. Using a rubber spatula, scrape the frangipane mixture into the partially baked crust, spreading it evenly.

Arrange the pear slices in overlapping slices on top of the frangipane. There should be 2 circular rows. Bake until the filling is golden and set, and any moisture from the pears has evaporated, about 40 minutes. Let cool for about 1 hour. Cover and refrigerate. Serve cold.

Per serving: 477 calories, 8 g protein, 38 g carbohydrates, 33 g fat, 87 mg cholesterol, 15 g saturated fat, 189 mg sodium, 4 g dietary fiber

Recipe tested by Diane Weeks; e-mail questions to

Elinor Klivans's newest book is "Cupcakes!" (Chronicle Books, 2005).