This year, at Thanksgiving tables all over the country, we’ll see smaller casseroles and fewer guests. But the sweetest part doesn’t have to change — and shouldn’t.
It’s time to preheat the oven, throw some flour around the kitchen and bake something special. It’s time to make pie. I pound the pavement on behalf of pie all year long, as I truly believe it deserves a spot on dessert tables, whatever the season. But Thanksgiving is to pie what cake is to birthdays, and this year I could pass on the turkey all together: but I’ll still be baking. Yes, I want to indulge and tuck in to the fruits of my labor, but as many who have ventured into the kitchen this year have found, baking is so much more than the end result. It’s part project, part creative, meditative for some, and always with a dash of science sprinkled in. It makes your home (and you) smell good — and feel good, too. As we close a year where not much has been certain, eating some pie during the third week of November seems like an achievable, celebratory and delicious necessity we all deserve.
At its core, pie is a filling tucked inside a crust. What’s beautiful about breaking it down this simply is that it suddenly becomes clear just how natural and easy it is to mix and match them. Choose a crust, choose a filling, and if you’re feeling fancy (and even for a socially distant feast, why shouldn’t you?) choose a topping to dress it up even more. Whatever your level of pie-baking comfort, we have a recipe (or a few!) for you.
Start by picking a crust. Looking for the lightest lift? Try the press-in cookie crust (it’s foolproof). Looking to satisfy a gluten-free sweet tooth? Try the nut crust, which can be made with any kind of nut and lends a beautifully crunchy, toasty texture. If classic is more your style, my all-butter crust is the way to go: always flaky, always tender.
Next, it’s on to fillings. If you’re a purist, head to my apple filling, which is precooked on the stove top to help ensure the ideal texture post-bake. If tart is your thing, you’ll love the roasted cranberry filling, made on a sheet pan in the oven with no additional thickener (like starch) needed. If cream pies float your boat, my fall takes on classic pudding-style fillings are sure to please. These fillings all share something unique: an adaptability to nearly any kind of crust. Make any of these in a regular 9-inch pie plate, or get even bolder by preparing one in a deep-dish pie plate, then layering one of the pudding-style fillings on top. A little more prep yields a stunning layered slice (either two layers of custard, or a fruity layer below topped with creamy filling).
You could stop there: You’ve got a nice crust and a flavorful filling. But even for the tiniest of holiday celebrations, more is still more when it comes to dessert. Keep it simple with whipped cream, or take it to the next level with a mile-high meringue (toasted or not, it’s the stuff of perfect pastry dreams). Or get creative by covering your pie with beautiful hand-painted cutouts in whatever design you choose.
No matter what else is different about the foods coming out of your kitchen this year — or even if you’re skipping the feast all together — you should still bake a pie. Bake your favorite flavor for yourself, or bake someone else’s and leave it on their front porch. Make a pie, bake a pie, eat some pie: not because it’s tradition, but simply because it’s just about the sweetest thing you can do.
Build your perfect pie
crust: 1 out of 3
Press-In Cookie Crust
No rolling required for this sweet, simple dough that is mixed and pressed directly into the pie plate.
Variations: Oatmeal Press-In Cookie Crust, Spiced Press In Cookie Crust
crust: 2 out of 3
All-Butter Pie Crust
This four-ingredient buttery recipe delivers a crust that works well with cream-filled and fruit-filled pies.
Variation: Chocolate Pie Dough
filling: 1 out of 3
Caramel Apple Pie Filling
Thinly sliced apples swirled with butter and dark brown sugar, flavored with cinnamon and nutmeg create a luscious fruit pie.
filling: 2 out of 3
Fall-Spice Pudding Pie Filling
Cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg flavor and scent this spicy, sweet pudding enriched with cream and whole milk.
Variations: Vanilla Pudding Filling, Pumpkin Pudding Filling
topping: 1 out of 3
Mile-High Meringue Pie Topping
It is all about the drama with this billowy topping of whipped egg whites. Use a kitchen torch to burnish the edges if you like.
Variations: Honey Meringue Topping, Cinnamon Meringue Topping
topping: 2 out of 3
Painted Cutouts for Topping Pies
A four-ingredient buttery pie crust creates the palette for painted cutouts that form a “top crust” for pies.
topping: 3 out of 3
Whipped Cream Pie Topping
Well-chilled cream and an electric mixer turn out freshly whipped pie topping in just minutes.
Variations: Chocolate Whipped Cream Topping, Whipped Cream “Sauce”