Editor’s note: This year, our Thanksgiving meal is a virtual potluck. Writers and editors signed up to provide one of 11 dishes, then tested recipes and brought contenders to a final taste-off for a vote. Here are the winning desserts.
Really, what is Thanksgiving without pie? A loaded holiday table without one — or two or three — is just . . . sad.
There are certainly tropes. You have your apple, your pumpkin, maybe a sweet potato or pecan. Funny enough, my own family did not subscribe to any of those. Our favored dessert for years was a gelato pie from a local shop, and it wasn’t until I entered the fold of my in-laws’ Thanksgiving that from-scratch pies made an annual appearance on my plate.
I started making the pie crusts for the pumpkin pie filling my father-in-law mixed together and would also lend a hand to the decidedly nontraditional chocolate peanut butter pie (graham cracker crust, peanut butter cream cheese mousse, chocolate ganache) that at some point became a time-honored treat.
But when you are as obsessive a baker as I am, the quest for novelty and mastery never ends. For our Post Food potluck meal, could I find the best versions of the staples? Could they be made ahead and transported to someone else’s house? Familiar but with a classy twist? Might at least one dispense with the anxiety-inducing rolled pie crust?
The first recipe that caught my eye was a pumpkin-caramel tart from Bon Appétit. It met almost all my requirements, with a press-in crust, a two-day lead time and a promising variation on a filling whose traditional iteration I was never that crazy about to begin with.
Dispensing with the advice that on important occasions, you shouldn’t serve a dish you’ve never tested, I foisted the tart on my husband’s family at Thanksgiving last year. It was a resounding success. People who normally didn’t indulge in dessert couldn’t resist. Others went for seconds. The nutty crust was a perfect match for the creamy and not overly sweet filling, cut with a bitter edge of dark caramel. And even before the big meal, I had to tape a note of warning to stay out of the container of addictive caramelized hazelnuts destined to be the tart’s garnish.
Apple pie seemed like the other natural fit, and as I scouted for and solicited recipes, the cranberry-apple number offered by Jenna Huntsberger of D.C. bakery Whisked! was hard to resist. I was particularly intrigued by how much of it could be made in advance — not only the crust and filling, but also the pie as a whole — and the idea of prebaking the sliced apples. I’d never made a lattice pie and was up for the challenge.
It, too, was an immediate smash. The roasted apples (further fortified with Instant ClearJel) made the interior less runny than usual, and a cranberry-red-wine compote tinted the filling a pretty red and gave it a refreshingly tart and sophisticated edge over what are often too-sweet pies.
Then came the hard part. For our staff potluck, everyone else ended up with one ultimate recipe to contribute, but no one could decide between my two contenders. So they wanted both. But would it be too much pie?
Oh, right. There’s no such thing.
Scale, print and rate the recipe in our Recipe Finder:
8 to 10 servings (makes one 9-inch tart)
Traditional pumpkin pie may not stand a chance against this tart, with a silky filling that gets a sophisticated addition of caramel. Plus, a press-in crust, short bake time and do-ahead option liberate you (and your oven) on Thanksgiving Day.
You’ll need a 9-inch springform pan.
MAKE AHEAD: The tart (without the nuts on top) can be made 2 days in advance; cover and refrigerate. Hazelnuts can be caramelized 2 days ahead; store in an airtight container at room temperature.
Adapted from a recipe in the November 2015 issue of Bon Appétit.
For the crust
8 tablespoons (1 stick) chilled unsalted butter, cut into pieces, plus more for greasing the pan
3/4 cup hazelnuts, skinned and toasted (see NOTE)
1 cup flour
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
3 tablespoons ice water, or more as needed
For the filling
Pinch cream of tartar
1 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons water
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup canned pumpkin puree
2 tablespoons light brown sugar
1 tablespoon flour
1 1/2 teaspoons peeled, finely grated fresh ginger root
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
For the caramelized hazelnuts
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon water
1/2 cup hazelnuts, skinned, toasted and coarsely chopped (see NOTE)
For the crust: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Use some butter to grease the sides and bottom of the 9-inch springform pan, and line the bottom with parchment paper.
Combine the hazelnuts, flour, granulated sugar and salt in a food processor; pulse to the consistency of coarse meal. Add the butter and pulse until there are only a few pea-size pieces of butter remaining. Transfer the mixture to a mixing bowl; drizzle the ice water over and mix, adding another splash or so of water, as needed, just to bring dough together.
Use your fingers to press the dough evenly 11/2 to 2 inches up the sides and to cover the bottom of the pan; compact and smooth with a flat, straight-sided measuring cup or glass. Chill in the refrigerator for 20 minutes.
Bake (middle rack) for 15 to 20 minutes, until golden but not totally baked through. Transfer to a wire rack to cool for 10 minutes.
For the filling: Combine the cream of tartar, granulated sugar and water in a medium saucepan over medium heat, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Increase the heat to medium-high and cook for 8 to 10 minutes, swirling the pan occasionally (do not stir), until the caramel is a deep amber color. Remove from the heat.
Whisking constantly, carefully add the cream (the mixture will be extremely hot and will bubble vigorously), to form a smooth caramel. Let cool slightly.
Whisk together the pumpkin puree, brown sugar, flour, ginger, cinnamon and salt in a mixing bowl. Gradually add the caramel, and then the eggs, whisking until well incorporated. Scrape the filling into the crust.
Bake (middle rack) for 35 to 40 minutes, rotating the pan from front to back halfway through, until the filling is set around the edges and the center barely jiggles. Transfer to a wire rack to cool (in the pan).
Meanwhile, caramelize the hazelnuts: Line a baking sheet with a silicone liner or parchment paper.
Combine the granulated sugar and water in a small saucepan over medium heat, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Increase the heat to medium-high, and cook for a few minutes, without stirring, to form a dark golden caramel. Remove from the heat; immediately add the hazelnuts, swirling to coat, then spread them evenly on the lined baking sheet. Let cool; once the nuts are firmly set, coarsely chop them. (If not using right away, cool and store in an airtight container.)
To ensure they stay crisp, scatter the caramelized hazelnuts over the tart just before serving.
NOTE: To skin hazelnuts, bring a few inches of water to a boil in a small saucepan over medium-high heat. Add about 1 teaspoon of baking soda and then the hazelnuts. Boil for several minutes, until the water turns dark brown and the skins begin to easily peel off the nuts. (You can test one by removing it from the pot, running it under cool water and seeing how well the skin slips off.) Drain the nuts from the water, let them cool until you can handle them, and then use your fingers to remove the skins. Toast the nuts on a baking sheet in a 350-degree oven for 8 to 10 minutes, until golden and fragrant, shaking the pan about halfway through. Cool completely before using.
Nutrition | Per serving (based on 10): 460 calories, 7 g protein, 46 g carbohydrates, 30 g fat, 13 g saturated fat, 115 mg cholesterol, 200 mg sodium, 3 g dietary fiber, 32 g sugar
10 to 12 servings (makes one 9- or 9½ -inch pie)
The pie takes on a lovely blush and slightly tart flavor, thanks to a red-wine-and-cranberry compote. Pre-baking the apples makes for a filling that won’t be runny with juices.
We tested this recipe with both a 9- and 9½ -inch Pyrex pie plate. (We prefer deep-dish.) Both worked, but the 9½ -inch held the filling in a more even layer. If you use the larger plate, roll out your dough rounds an extra inch or so. You may have a little extra filling left over. Spoon it over yogurt, ice cream or oatmeal.
Instant ClearJel is available through online retailers, including Amazon, King Arthur Flour and Nuts.com.
MAKE AHEAD: The wrapped disks of dough need to be refrigerated for 1 hour. The rolled-out pie bottom pie dough needs to be frozen (in a pie plate) for at least 1 hour and up to 2 weeks. The lattice strips of dough need to be refrigerated (flat) for at least 1 hour, and up to a few days. Let the lattice strips sit at room temperature for 10 minutes before assembling the pie; they need to be pliable enough to work with. The filling can be refrigerated a few days in advance as well. The baked pie can be covered and stored at room temperature 1 day in advance.
Adapted from Jenna Huntsberger, founder of Whisked! bakery in the District.
For the crust
2 cups (10 ounces) flour
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons (7 ounces; 13/4 sticks) unsalted butter, very cold and cut into 1/4-inch cubes, and more as needed for the foil
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons ice water, or more as needed (up to 1/2 cup)
1/4 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
For the filling
4 pounds Granny Smith apples or other baking apples, peeled, cored and sliced into 1/8-inch-thick slices
2 1/2 cups (83/4 ounces) fresh or frozen cranberries
1 cup dry red wine
1 cup (7 ounces) sugar, plus 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons (about 6 ounces)
2 tablespoons Instant ClearJel (see headnote)
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
Pinch kosher salt
1 large egg beaten with 1 teaspoon water, for the egg wash
1 tablespoon sugar, for sprinkling
For the crust: Combine the flour, sugar and salt in a mixing bowl. Use your fingers or a pastry cutter to quickly work the butter into the flour mixture, reducing it to lumps no larger than pea-size. Lightly flour a work surface.
Remove the ice from the water; combine the water and vinegar in a medium bowl. Use a spatula or wooden spoon to gradually work the wet ingredients to the flour mixture, adding only enough for a dough to come together with no dry spots (you may need more or less than that amount of water-vinegar).
Turn the dough out onto the work surface; divide in half and shape it into two equal disks. Wrap each one in plastic wrap and chill for 1 hour.
Roll out one disk on the work surface into a 12-inch round and fit it in the 91/2-inch glass pie plate, folding or crimping edges as you like. Use the tines of a fork to gently poke holes all over the bottom of the crust (this will prevent it from rising when you par-bake it). Use a little butter to grease one side of a piece of aluminum foil and press that over the crust. Freeze for at least 1 hour (and up to 2 weeks).
Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper. Roll the remaining disk of dough into a 12-inch round on it, then cut into 1-inch-wide strips. Separate them a little, cover and refrigerate for 1 hour (and up to a few days).
For the filling: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line two baking sheets with aluminum foil.
Divide the sliced apples between the two baking sheets, then cover each portion of apples with foil. Bake until softened, 20 to 25 minutes. Uncover and let cool.
Meanwhile, combine the cranberries, wine and 1 cup of the sugar in a medium saucepan over medium heat; cook, stirring occasionally, until the cranberries have popped and the sauce thickens, 20 to 25 minutes. Let cool.
Stir together the 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons of sugar, the Instant ClearJel, cinnamon and salt in a mixing bowl. Add the baked apples, then the cranberry mixture, stirring to incorporate.
When ready to assemble, preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
Transfer the baking sheet with the chilled lattice strips to the counter so they soften enough to be pliable. (Aim for about 10 minutes before you’re ready to use them.)
Place the bottom pie dough (still covered with the foil) on a baking sheet and fill it with pie weights, dried rice or dried beans. Bake (middle rack) for 20 minutes, then remove the pie weights and foil; bake for 5 to 7 minutes, or until the pie shell is lightly browned and starting to look dry.
Lightly brush the bottom of the hot crust with the egg wash. The hot crust will cook the egg wash slightly, sealing the crust. Let it sit for a few minutes, then add the cranberry-apple filling. Top with the lattice strips in a crosshatch pattern (or any pattern you like). Trim off excess pieces, and use a little egg wash to adhere the strips on top to the bottom crust. Brush the rest of the lattice with egg wash and sprinkle with sugar. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until the lattice is nicely browned all over and the filling is bubbling a bit.
Let the pie cool completely and serve, or cover and keep at room temperature for up to 1 day.
Nutrition | Per serving (based on 12): 410 calories, 3 g protein, 68 g carbohydrates, 14 g fat, 9 g saturated fat, 35 mg cholesterol, 110 mg sodium, 3 g dietary fiber, 44 g sugar
Recipes tested by Becky Krystal; email questions to firstname.lastname@example.org
More from Food: