It wouldn’t be a true Thanksgiving without some pie after your turkey. But, at least in my house, which is probably true for many others, the Thanksgiving dessert spread hasn’t changed at all during my 20 years of existence (and probably for even longer than that). Classic desserts such as apple, pecan, and pumpkin pie are as important to Thanksgiving as the Macy’s Parade, the green bean casserole, or the yearly anticipation for Black Friday sales. But of late, I’ve grown restless with these traditional baked goods, and so I’ve decided to revamp the Thanksgiving dessert table.
My quibble with the usual turkey day desserts is their predictability – their sugary predictability, that is. Every year it’s the same assortment of pumpkin, apple, pecan, or chocolate pies. Each and every one often tastes like a single droll note of sweet. No real spice, no interesting or unexpected flavor pairings, and no plays on texture. Just the same plain crust and standard sugary fillings – the only real difference is whether your whipped topping came from a can or a tub.
After a coma-inducing overload of tryptophan from gorging myself on turkey, the last thing I need is a simultaneous sugar buzz from also eating too much pie. As a baker, I love sweets, so I look forward to dessert after a big meal. But the sharp turn from a savory and filling Thanksgiving feast to the cloying traditional pie spread is too much for me. Not wanting to face another dessert disappointment this Thanksgiving, I’ve decided to take pies into my own hands.
I started brainstorming some more savory, less sweet pies to round out a perfect Thanksgiving meal. I thought of ways to enhance the classics either by introducing interesting and unexpected flavors or by altering textures. I spiced up my grandmother’s favorite chocolate pie with a kick of heat from jalepeños. I also experimented with my least favorite of all pies, pecan, by adding bacon. Both pies were a success, especially (and most surprisingly of all) the pecan pie, which actually turned out to be my favorite. But I have also included a completely different type of dessert for those wanting to branch out a little farther this Thanksgiving. The Cranberry Gorgonzola Tart is a savory and unexpected pairing of traditional Thanksgiving cranberries and sharp, tangy blue cheese. Myself, and the tasting panel here at Table Matters, declare all three recipes successful. So if you’re looking for a different take on pies this Thanksgiving, don’t be afraid to get a little savory.
(Not Mémère’s) Spiced-Out Chocolate Mousse Pie
My mémère, my father’s mother, was a homemaker of the ’50s. This meant that, although her cooking included meals like American Chop Suey and toaster-oven hamburgers, her desserts were phenomenal. Boy, could that woman bake. My sister was a die-hard for her peanut butter fudge, but I drooled thinking about her Thanksgiving chocolate cream pie. I’m pretty sure it was just milk chocolate pudding plopped in a graham cracker crust, but as a budding chocaholic, it was my favorite treat. So for this recipe, I took inspiration from Mémère. Instead of using plain pudding, I changed the base to a more sophisticated dark chocolate mousse. And to wake up the tastebuds, the mousse incorporates jalepeño-infused butter and cayenne pepper. I also changed the traditional graham cracker crust to a more complex gingersnap crust spiced with extra cayenne. And best of all, no baking is required.
For 9 inch pie crust:
8 ounce bag (1½ cups crushed) hard gingersnap cookies
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
3 tablespoons butter, melted
For the mousse:
3½ tablespoons unsalted butter
1 jalepeño pepper, seeded and chopped
5 ounces dark chocolate (at least 70%)
2 egg yolks
¼ cup sugar
¾ cup heavy cream
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional)
Begin by making the crust. Crush the gingersnaps in a food processor or in a freezer bag using a rolling pin until fine crumbs are reached.
Add crumbs to pie pan along with cayenne pepper and melted butter.
Mix all ingredients using a spoon until crumbs are well-coated in butter. Using back of spoon, press crumbs into pan mold along the bottom and sides. Refrigerate while making the mousse.
In a separate pot, melt the butter with the chopped pepper. Remove from the heat and let cool for 30 minutes to infuse. Then strain the pepper pieces from the butter.
In a double boiler or a bowl over a pot of simmering water, melt the chocolate with the infused butter. Remove from heat and cool.
Combine egg yolks, sugar, and 2 tablespoons of cold water in another bowl. Place bowl over pot of simmering water and beat mixture until it thickens producing a yellow cream that forms ribbons. Be careful to keep water just simmering as boiling water could overheat the bowl and scramble the egg yolks. Remove from heat and fold into the melted chocolate. If desired, add ¼ teaspoon of cayenne pepper. Cool to room temperature.
Whip the cream in a separate bowl and then fold into the chocolate-egg mixture. I recommend whipping the cream by hand using a whisk to prevent over-whipping the cream. It’s quite simple to do, but to make it easier make sure everything (cream, whisk, bowl) are well-chilled before whipping.
Gently pour the mousse into the cooled crust and refrigerate for at least 2 hours before serving. Dust with cinnamon immediately before serving.
Adapted from Gordon Ramsey’s Home Cooking, “Chocolate Mousse with Chiles and Mango”
Bacon Pecan Pie
I have always hated pecan pie. Maybe it was because I’ve only had store-bought versions, but I find it cloying. When thinking of twists to classic Thanksgiving pies, I thought adding bacon to pecan pie might help round out the sweetness while the smokiness would complement the nutty pecans. Well upon researching pecan pies, I found that the filling is basically corn syrup and pecans. Although I am a food writer and baker, I am also a Nutrition major, and I draw the line at corn syrup – no pie of mine will be wholly made of corn syrup! I also figured the corn syrup was probably the reason for why I found pecan pies nauseatingly sweet. So, I scoured my cookbooks and the internet for corn-syrup-free recipes. I really wanted the bacon flavor to come through in this pie, so not only are there chopped bacon pieces in the filling, but the pie crust itself is made with reserved bacon fat (yes, I know I made a fuss about corn syrup and then added bacon fat instead, but hey that’s just being resourceful!) This pie will be sure to please as it is surprisingly addictive – that’s coming from a former pecan pie hater.
For 9-inch pie crust:
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, cubed
4 tablespoons reserved, hardened bacon fat
1 cup flour
½ teaspoon salt
up to ¼ cup ice water
For the filling:
5-6 strips bacon, chopped
1 cup brown sugar
¼ cup granulated sugar
½ cup browned butter
2 room temperature eggs
1 tablespoon flour
1 tablespoon milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups chopped pecans + optional 1 cup candied whole pecans
Preheat oven to 400°F.
Cook 1 pound (approx 12 strips) of bacon, making sure to reserve the fat. It is very convenient to use a George Foreman-type grill if you have one for this. Cool the reserved bacon fat in the fridge until it has hardened. Chop 5-6 strips of bacon for the pie filling.
For the crust, combine flour and salt in a bowl. Then, add cubed butter and bacon fat. Begin crumbling fat and flour by hand, in a food processor, or using a pastry blender until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Slowly add the ice water one teaspoon at a time until the dough barely sticks together.
Form dough into a ball, wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.
Once the dough has chilled, roll it out onto a well-floured surface then transfer to a 9 inch pie pan. Return to fridge while making the filling.
Brown the butter by slowly melting it in a small saucepan over low heat. Watch for slight color changes. Browned butter will also produce a nutty aroma. Immediately remove from heat.
Beat eggs in a large bowl until they become lighter yellow and foamy. Stir in the cooled browned butter and both sugars. Then add the flour, milk, and vanilla.
Add the 2 cups of chopped pecans and chopped bacon.
Remove pie pan from fridge and pour in the filling. If desired, carefully add the candied pecans on top. I like to do this to form elegant designs or patterns.
Bake in 400°F oven for 10 minutes then lower heat to 325°F and bake for another 40 to 50 minutes.
Pie is done when filling is no longer soupy, or doesn’t jiggle in the pan.
Adapted from “Alton Brown’s Pie Crust” from FoodNetwork.com and “Pecan Pie V” from Allrecipes.com
Cranberry Gorgonzola Tart
I’ve made this tart before for a past Thanksgiving and it is the most savory of the three. It can be served as a not-so-sweet dessert or even as an appetizer. I love this tart for the complexity of flavors and textures, and also for the striking deep crimson color of the filling (which also makes it perfect for Christmas).
For 9 inch pie crust:
¾ cup walnuts
2 cups flour
⅔ cup sugar, divided
¾ teaspoon salt
¾ teaspoon finely chopped sage
1 cup cold unsalted butter, cubed
For the filling:
1 cup cherry jam
12 ounces fresh cranberries
2 tablespoons kirsch or 100% cherry juice
6 ounces gorgonzola, or bleu cheese
Preheat oven to 300°F
Grind the walnuts in a food processor until fine crumbs are reached. Combine in a bowl with flour, ⅓ cup of the sugar, salt, and sage.
Add the cold butter cubes and crumble to form the dough – it will be very crumbly. Press it into a 9 inch tart pan and chill for at least 30 minutes.
Prick chilled crust with a fork, then bake for 55 minutes or until golden brown.
For the filling, begin by melting the cherry jam over low heat.
Add cranberries, ⅓ cup sugar, and kirsch or juice. Simmer for 30 minutes or until cranberries have lost their shape and the filling has thickened.
Cool for one hour.
To assemble the tart, spread the cheese onto the bottom of the tart crust. Then layer the cranberry filling over the cheese. Chill for one hour, then serve.
Taken from “Cranberry-Gorgonzola Tart on Savory Walnut Shortbread Crust” on YankeeMagazine.com
Photos by Rachel Wisniewski