Thanksgiving Side Dishes: Desserts Aplenty!

Pleasing everyone, including yourself, with Thanksgiving dessert

I have to admit, one of my least favorite parts of Thanksgiving Dinner is dessert. Is that a shock? It’s not because I don’t like sweets, au contraire, but because it may be the place people experiment the least when it comes to Thanksgiving side dishes.

Mission Impossible: Please everyone with dessert? I’m a staunch experimentalist in my cooking—an unrepentant tweaker. I prefer not to do something the same way as I did it previously. That means if someone’s expecting pumpkin pie, I want to give them anything but pumpkin pie—not to be ornery (well, not entirely to be ornery), but to expand their horizons as an eater and mine as a chef.

After all, they can get pumpkin anything everywhere during this season.

But, I’m also a people pleaser and like to give people what they want. What to do?

A diplomatic solution

There is freedom in conformity. Bet you weren’t expecting that! If you’re asked to bring a pumpkin, or apple, or chocolate pie (the traditions in my particular family), you could bring a Different Pumpkin Pie, a Rustic Apple Tart, or a Chocolate Pecan Pie (recipes below) instead. But, you could also bring a Traditional Pumpkin Pie, All American Apple Pie, or Chocolate Cream Pie (recipes below). After all, there’s really no such thing as too much dessert, right?

Still too much conformity for your little rebel heart? Well, nudge, nudge, wink, wink you could take Mini Pear and Ginger Cheesecakes with Walnut Shortbread Crust or Cook’s Country Italian Cream Cake (recipes below) and just shrug your shoulders, laugh, and cry out gaily, “Oh, you know me!”

Then, when the first brave soul tries your option and declares how fantastic it is, you can just smile, say “thanks,” and know that you’ve done your part to expand everyone’s dessert horizons. Well done, soldier.

Dessert recipes

Your mission, should you choose to accept, is to take one dessert with a red printer icon (for the more adventurous) as well as a fallback dessert with an orange icon (for the traditionalists).

Different Pumpkin Pie

A crisp and crunchy topping over the smooth pumpkin filling elevates this pie to new heights.

Print A Different Pumpkin Pie recipe at Ingredients

Pumpkin Filling

  • 1 1/2 cups evaporated milk
  • 1 tablespoon (about 1 1/4 envelopes) unflavored gelatin
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3 eggs
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 2 cups pumpkin purée


  • 1 cup finely chopped walnuts
  • 2/3 cup brown sugar
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  • pinch of salt

Cooking Instructions

CHEFS Pie Plate at The unorthodox system of cooking the filling on top of the stove and then pouring it into a fully baked, crisp pie shell alleviates the tendency for the crust to be damp under the pumpkin filling. It is inspired by a winning recipe from a contest sponsored by the Borden Company in 1931. Apparently, cooks are always looking to improve on a classic. The broiled topping, crisp and crunchy over the smooth pumpkin filling is optional, but it elevates this pie to new heights.

Preheat the oven to 425 F. Roll out the dough and fit in into a 9-inch pie pan. Trim and flute the edges, then bake the pie shell fully. Cool completely before filling.

To make the filling, whisk together the evaporated milk and gelatin in a medium, heavy-bottomed saucepan. Let stand for a few minutes to soften the gelatin. Add the cinnamon, ginger, cloves and salt then whisk until blended. Add the eggs and sugar and whisk again until blended and smooth.

Cook over moderate heat, whisking almost constantly, for 7 to 10 minutes, until the mixture thickens slightly and you see wisps of steam rising, but do not let it boil.

Remove from the heat and add the pumpkin, then whisk until completely smooth. Pour the filling into the prepared pie shell and refrigerate for at least 4 hours or overnight if you prefer. The filling will become firm as it cools.

To make the topping, preheat the broiler and position a rack so that the surface of the pie will be about 4 inches from the heat. Combine the walnuts, brown sugar, salt, and butter in a small bowl and stir briskly with a fork until evenly mixed. Spread over the surface of the cooled pie.

Broil for about 2 minutes, or until the topping is lightly browned and bubbly. Watch the pie closely during this time, and rotate it once or twice as necessary so the topping browns evenly.

Let cool before serving. The topping may be broiled several hours ahead; although it will lose a little of its crunch, it will still be very good. Makes one 9-inch pie.

John Phillip Carroll, pie pie pie (Chronicle Books, 2005).

Traditional Pumpkin Pie

Print Traditional Pumpkin Pie recipe at Ingredients

  • 2 eggs
  • 1 (16 ounce) can pumpkin puree
  • 1 (14 ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
  • 1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
  • 1 pie shell

Cooking Instructions

Preheat the oven to 425 F.

Combine eggs, pumpkin puree, sweetened condensed milk, and pumpkin pie spice and mix well. Pour the mixture into a pie shell.

Bake for 15 minutes at 425 F, then reduce the heat and bake for 35-40 minutes longer at 350 F.

Rustic Apple Tart

Print Rustic Apple Tart recipe at Ingredients


  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon sea salt or 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 12 tablespoons (1-1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, cold and diced
  • 3/4 cup ice water


  • 4 Granny Smith apples
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • Zest from one orange
  • 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, cold and diced

Glaze – Option 1

  • 1/2 cup apricot jelly or jam
  • 2 tablespoons Calvados, rum or water

Glaze – Option 2

  • 1/2 cup simple syrup

Cooking Instructions

Note: Because pastry dough requires cold ingredients, chill the flour, salt, sugar, and butter in the freezer about 30 minutes before you’re ready to begin. If you do not have a food processor, use a hand-held pastry blender or blending fork to cut butter into the flour mixture. Add ice water per the directions and mix lightly with a fork or spatula until dough comes together.

Cuisinart Food Processor at Set up food processor with multipurpose blade. Into food processor bowl, add flour, salt and sugar. Pulse a few seconds to combine. Add the chilled butter and pulse 6 to 8 times in 1-second pulses. Mixture will resemble coarse meal with pea-sized bits of butter.

Sprinkle 1/4 cup plus 4 tablespoons of ice water over the dough. Pulse 3 times. Dough will begin to clump. Add more ice water, 1 tablespoon at a time. After each addition, pulse 2 times, remove lid and pinch dough. If dough holds together, it’s ready. If it doesn’t, add another tablespoon of water, pulse and test again until dough holds together.

Remove dough and place on a floured board. Gather dough into one mound, kneading gently. Do not over work the dough. Shape dough into a disk and wrap in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for 1 to 2 hours. Do ahead: dough will keep for 3 or 4 days in the refrigerator or up to 2 months in the freezer.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Remove dough from refrigerator and let sit at room temperature for 5 minutes to soften slightly. Place dough on a pastry board lightly dusted with flour. Roll into a rectangle or oval shape, about 10 inches by 14 inches. Gently wrap the dough around the rolling pin and place it carefully on a baking sheet lined with a large sheet of parchment paper. Place baking sheet with dough in the refrigerator while you prepare the apples.

Peel and core apples. Cut apples in half and slice crosswise in 1/4-inch thick slices. Remove baking sheet with dough from the refrigerator. Starting at one side, layer apples in rows, making sure the apples overlap slightly to create a shingled look. Leave a 1-inch border of dough all the way around. Dice cold butter into small pieces. In small bowl, mix together sugar, cinnamon and orange zest. Sprinkle sugar mixture evenly over the apples and dot with butter. Carefully roll-up the pastry edge to create a raised border that will help prevent juices from leaking.

Bake 45 minutes to 1 hour, rotating baking sheet halfway through the baking cycle. When done, the crust is golden brown and the apples are caramelized.

Make glaze. To make the apricot glaze, heat jam or jelly with Calvados, rum or water in small saucepan. If using simple syrup for the glaze, heat syrup in small saucepan.

Brush glaze over hot apples and crust.

Slide tart off parchment paper and onto cooling rack. Let cool for about 15 minutes. Slice and serve.

We adapted this recipe from the French Apple Tart recipe by The Barefoot Contessa (Ina Garten).

All-American Apple Pie

Print All American Apple Pie recipe at Ingredients

  • 2 9-inch pie crusts (buy frozen or make your own)
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 6 cup apples, cored and sliced

Cooking Instructions

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Line bottom of pie pan with one pie crust, defrosted per package instructions.

Mix apples, flour, sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt, lemon juice, and butter in large mixing bowl. Pour apple mixture into pie-lined pan.

Top apple mixture and crust with second pie crust, defrosted per package instructions. Seal edges of two crusts together and flute. Cut 4-5 slits in top of top crust. Cover edge of crust with 3 inch strip of aluminum foil.

Put pie in oven and bake 40 minutes. Remove from oven and cool on rack for 2 hours before serving.

Chocolate Pecan Pie

Chocolate lovers reinvent the pecan pie!

Print Chocolate Pecan Pie recipe at Ingredients

  • 4 eggs
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup dark corn syrup
  • 3 squares unsweetened chocolate
  • 2 cups pecan halves
  • 1 pie shell

Cooking Instructions

Preheat the oven to 350 F.

In a mixer bowl place eggs, sugar, and dark corn syrup. Attach a flat beater and turn to medium-high speed for 1 minute. Stop and scrap the bowl.

Reduce the speed to a lower speed and gradually add melted unsweetened chocolate and beat for 1 minute until well blended. Reduce the speed further to stir and add pecan halves.

Pour mixture into an unbaked pie pastry in an ungreased pie plate. Bake for 35 to 45 minutes or until its slightly soft in the center.

Chocolate Cream Pie

Print Chocolate Cream Pie recipe at Ingredients


  • 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup butter, chilled and diced
  • 1/4 cup ice water


  • 1-2/3 cups water
  • 3 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 5 tablespoons cocoa
  • 14 ounce sweetened condensed milk
  • 3 egg yolks, beaten
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla

Cooking Instructions

CHEFS Mixing Bowls at Crust: Chill all ingredients 30 minutes prior to making crust.

In a large mixing bowl, sift together flour and salt. Using a pastry blender, cut butter into flour until mixture resembles coarse sand. Stir in water, a tablespoon at a time, until comes together. Form dough into a ball and wrap in plastic. Chill thoroughly, up to overnight, before rolling out.

Pre-heat oven to 350 F.

On a lightly floured surface with a rolling pin, roll dough out to fit a 9-inch pie plate. Place crust in pie plate. Press the dough evenly into the bottom and sides of the pie plate. Flute the edges, if desired.

Line the crust with aluminum foil and add pie weights or dry beans. Bake in preheated oven for 10 to 15 minutes until golden brown. Remove from oven, and remove foil and pie weights. Cool in the pie pan on a wire rack until room temperature, before filling.

Filling: In a medium sauce pan, add water, cornstarch, and cocoa and whisk together until smooth. Stir in sweetened condensed milk and egg yolks. Cook over medium low heat, stirring constantly, until thickened, 8 to 10 minutes. Remove from heat, and stir in butter and vanilla. Allow to cool 5 to 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Pour into baked pie shell. If desired, top with meringue or whipped cream once chilled.

Mini Pear and Ginger Cheesecakes with Walnut Shortbread Crust

Mini cheesecakes are too good to have just one!

Print Mini Pear and Ginger Cheesecakes with Walnut Shortbread Crust recipe at Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1/4 cup walnuts
  • 1 tablespoon + 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1/8 teaspoon kosher salt, plus a pinch
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  • 12 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Pear & Cranberry Compote

  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1/3 cup light brown sugar, firmly packed
  • 1 medium (8 ounces) pear peeled, cored and cut into 1/4″ dice
  • 1 cup cranberries
  • 1/3 cup sweet white wine, such as a late harvest Riesling or Gewürztraminer
  • 2 tablespoons diced candied ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • pinch of salt

Cooking Instructions

Have all cheesecake ingredients at room temperature. Preheat the oven to 350 F. Lightly butter the wells of a miniature cheesecake pan.

In a food processor, combine the flour, walnuts, 1 tablespoon of sugar and 1/8 teaspoon salt and pulse until the nuts are ground. Transfer the mixture to a small bowl and stir in the melted butter. Divide the mixture among the prepared wells and press evenly into the bottoms.

KitchenAid Artisan Stand Mixer at Bake until the crusts are set and golden brown around the edges, about 12 minutes. Transfer the pans to a wire rack and let cool completely.

Reduce the oven temperature to 250 F.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the flat beater, combine the cream cheese and 1/3 cup sugar and beat on low speed until smooth, about 8 to 10 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl. Beat in the egg, scraping down the sides of the bowl after adding it. Add the ginger, cinnamon, and pinch salt and beat until completely blended, about 1 minute. Pour the filling into the crusts, dividing it evenly among the wells.

Bake until the filling is set, about 30 minutes. Transfer the pan to a wire rack and let cool to room temperature. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 4 hours before removing the cheesecakes from the pan.

Pear & Cranberry Compote: In a medium sauté pan over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the brown sugar and stir until dissolved.

Add the pear and cranberries and cook until softened, about 3 to 4 minutes. Increase the heat to high and add the wine, candied ginger, cinnamon and salt. Cook until the mixture has reduced and become syrupy, about 5 to 7 minutes. Remove from the heat.

Spoon about 1 tablespoon over the top of each mini cheesecake. Compote should be served warm or at room temperature.

Makes 12 miniature cheesecakes.

Cook’s Country Italian Cream Cake

Print Cook’s Country Italian Cream Cake recipe at Ingredients


  • 1-1/2 cups sweetened shredded coconut, toasted
  • 1 cup buttermilk, room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2-1/2 cups (10 ounces) cake flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 12 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 12 pieces and softened
  • 4 tablespoons shortening, cut into 4 pieces
  • 1-3/4 cups (12-1/4 ounces) sugar
  • 5 large eggs, room temperature
  • 2 cups (8 ounces) pecans, toasted and chopped


  • 12 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
  • 2-1/4 cups (9 ounces) confectioners’ sugar
  • 1/2 cup cream of coconut
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Pinch salt
  • 16 ounces cream cheese, cut into 8 pieces and softened

Cooking Instructions

For the cake: Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350 F. Spread toasted coconut and nuts on baking sheet and toast in oven until golden brown, 10 to 12 minutes. Watch carefully and stir occasionally to prevent burning. Cool.

Process cooled coconut in food processor until finely ground, about 1 minute.

Combine coconut, buttermilk, and vanilla in 2-cup liquid measuring cup and let sit until coconut is slightly softened, about 10 minutes; reserve.

Combine flour, baking powder, salt and baking soda in bowl. Using stand mixer fitted with paddle, beat butter, shortening and sugar on medium-high speed until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add eggs, one at a time, and beat until combined. Reduce speed to low and add flour mixture in 3 additions, alternating with 2 additions of reserved coconut-buttermilk mixture, scraping down bowl as needed. Add 3/4 cup pecans and give batter final stir by hand.

Your turn: What is your "go to" dessert at Thanksgiving? Scrape equal amounts of batter into prepared pans and bake until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean, 28 to 32 minutes. Cool cakes in pans on wire rack for 10 minutes. Remove cakes from pans, discarding parchment, and cool completely, about 2 hours. (Cooled cakes can be wrapped with plastic wrap and stored at room temperature for up to 2 days.)

For the frosting: Using stand mixer fitted with paddle, mix butter and sugar on low speed until combined, about 30 seconds. Increase speed to medium-high and beat until pale and fluffy, about 2 minutes.

Add cream of coconut, vanilla and salt and beat until smooth, about 30 seconds.

Add cream cheese, one piece at a time, and beat until incorporated, about 1 minute. Refrigerate until ready to use.

When cakes are cooled, spread 1-1/2 cups frosting over 1 cake round. Top with second cake round and spread remaining frosting over top and sides of cake. Press remaining pecans onto sides of cake. Serve. (Cake can be refrigerated for up to 2 days. Bring to room temperature before serving.)

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