How silly. Almost immediately I realized the answer: dessert.
The only real problem with a later Thanksgiving meal was it didn’t leave much time or room in my stomach for dessert. When you eat earlier in the day, by the time late afternoon or, let’s be honest, evening rolls around, you’re ready to eat again. And, yes, there have been plenty of years when my “dinner” has been a combination of pumpkin-caramel tart, chocolate peanut butter pie and peppermint ice cream (a seasonal favorite of my husband’s late grandfather).
Regardless of when your main meal is, these desserts from our archives are worth saving room for. They’re just a mere sampling of the more than 80 options we’ve published in recent years. You’ll find many classic flavors and ingredients, including pumpkin, apple, pecan and sweet potato — some in ways you’ll recognize, some totally unexpected. So while you have the time now, pick a few recipes, make a plan and then eventually get baking. One of the many great things about Thanksgiving desserts is that they can often be made in advance. Less stress, more sweetness.
Whiskey-Laced Pecan Pie, above. A shot of whiskey (or rum) adds just the right amount of electricity to this recipe from Toni Tipton-Martin, the cookbook author and journalist who was recently appointed editor in chief of Cook’s Country magazine.
Creole Pecan Praline Bars. These bars are inspired by the New Orleans treat and capture the spirit of the pie in an easy, slab format.
Apple Sharlotka. No one will complain about the ease with which you can throw together this one-bowl cake — it’s that delicious. Serve with some cinnamon whipped cream, perhaps?
Apple Tarte Tatin. Consider this stunning dessert as a pie alternative. You do use pie dough (homemade or store-bought), which is draped over the top of the apples while baking, before the whole thing is flipped over for serving.
More apples: Apple Cranberry Crumb Pie. (from our Voraciously Baking Basics newsletter series by Joy “the Baker” Wilson); Albemarle Pippin Apple Cobbler (perfect for any tart apple); Tiffany MacIsaac’s Double-Crust Apple Pie (classic!); Apple Gingerbread Cake (one-bowl, mix-by-hand).
Libby's New-Fashioned Pumpkin Pie With Dulce de Leche and Cardamom: This isn't your grandma's back-of-the package recipe. We tweaked the newly updated Libby's recipe by swapping in dulce de leche for sweetened condensed milk to achieve an ultrasmooth, flan-like texture. The spice blend is very much up to you, but we will never say no to cardamom.
Pumpkin Creme Brulees. These elegant little desserts are steamed under pressure in a multicooker (such as an Instant Pot) before getting browned under the broiler or with a kitchen torch.
Other pumpkin ideas: Maple and Pumpkin Custard (just the filling, baked in a cast-iron skillet); Fluffy Pumpkin Buttermilk Pie (gingersnap crust, light and fluffy filling); Vegan Pumpkin Pie With Coconut Cream (with molasses and pureed pecans!); Pumpkin-Caramel Tart With Toasted Hazelnut Crust (featuring a short bake time and a press-in crust); Pumpkin Hazelnut Bars (easier to transport than a pie).
Roasted Cranberry Pie With Meringue and a Press-In Cookie Crust. I challenge you to find a more stunning pie to slice, with a bright-red filling and mile-high meringue.
More cranberries: Tiny Tim Cranberry Tarts (two-bite tarts with a cream cheese pastry); Cranberry Apple Lattice Pie (with a red wine and cranberry compote); Apple Cranberry Brown Betty (a lighter take on a classic); Cranberry Tart With Hazelnut Crust (lets the berries really shine).
Sour Cream Maple Cake With Maple Buttercream Frosting. It’s not the first Thanksgiving ingredient you might think of, but maple syrup screams fall to us. This cake would be an unexpected yet very welcome addition to your holiday table. Also, it’s one-bowl, which is just the thing you need to cut back your dishwashing on such a busy day.
More maple: Frozen Maple Mousse (like a no-churn ice cream); Maple Bread Crust Pudding With Salted Caramel Sauce (thrifty and tasty).
Sweet Potato Pie With Macaroon Crust. Enjoy coconut two ways in this pie, incorporated into a gluten-free nut crust and piled on top with zesty crystallized ginger.
Patti LaBelle’s Sweet Potato Pie. Some people may say that pumpkin and sweet potato pies are basically the same thing, but some people may also be wrong. Sweet potatoes lend more flavor, and this pie — you may recall it from its video fame — has more nutmeg than you might be used to. Go with it; it works.