Preparing a Thanksgiving dinner can be a tightrope walk between preserving tradition and mixing things up enough to keep it interesting.
Some things are sacrosanct. The turkey being the main thing. You can deep fry it or you can barbecue it or if you really screw up and forget to thaw it out, you can quick thaw it with cold water and then butterfly it so that it will cook faster. It’s called a spatchcocked turkey. That’s a word your guests can have fun with while they’re sitting around waiting for it to finish cooking. But there really needs to be a turkey.
There’s a lot more leeway with the sides. As long as you’ve got mashed potatoes, gravy and cranberries of some sort, nobody will care if you experiment with some new vegetables. Some families tolerate change as far as stuffing better than others. Let your experience be your guide.
Desserts are another good place to experiment a little. Stick with pies. There have to be pies. But even within the structure of the classic Thanksgiving pies; pumpkin, pecan and apple, there is some wiggle room for innovation.
It’s hard to believe that pumpkin pie with a gingersnap crust hasn’t already become a classic. Ginger pairs perfectly with pumpkin and would make a nice change for folks who either don’t like regular pie crust or want to steer clear of it to reduce fat.
Now if your taste runs in the opposite direction and you can never get enough pie crust, a Rustic Apple Pie ought to do the trick. The apple pie is piled really high and then totally enveloped in buttery pastry; folded and draped all over the top. When it bakes, the apples will cook down but the crust will still stand proud. If you want to avoid that empty space between the filling and the crust, cook the filling down a little first. To still get that piled high look, make about 50 percent more filling. This pie is not very sweet which lets the flavor of the apples and the buttery crust shine through and also makes it a good candidate to be served with a nice big scoop of vanilla ice cream.
To really mix it up with apple pie, embrace the recent salted caramel trend. That should shake the family up. Making caramel at home is not for the faint of heart but what’s a Thanksgiving dinner without setting off the smoke alarm at least once?
In case pecan pie is not quite decadent enough for you, go the New Orleans route this year and add some bourbon and chocolate. That should do the trick.
When you’re finished with all of your new twists on old favorites, take a few minutes to relax with a pumpkin pie martini. You deserve it.
Rustic Apple Pie
3 pounds Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, and cut into thin slices
2 tbsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
1/8 tsp. salt
1 tbsp. unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 large egg yolk
1 tbsp. heavy cream
On a lightly floured work surface, roll out a double crust of pastry dough into one big disc of pastry dough. Drape dough over a deep dish 9-inch pie plate. Preheat oven to 400°F. In a small bowl, whisk together egg yolk and heavy cream; set aside. In a large bowl, toss the apples with the lemon juice, granulated sugar, flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt. Fill pastry draped pie pan with apple mixture. Pile it high. Dot with butter. Fold excess pastry up over pie leaving an opening in the center for steam to escape. Carefully brush the top of the pastry with the reserved egg wash. Place pie plate on a baking sheet, and bake until crust just begins to brown, about 20 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 350°F. and continue baking until crust is golden brown and juices are bubbling, 35 to 45 minutes. If the crust begins to get too dark, drape a piece of aluminum foil over the top. Transfer to a wire rack to cool.
Pastry for double crust pie
2 1/2 cups flour
2 sticks butter
4 to 6 tbsp. ice water
Cut butter into 1/4 inch slices and put in freezer until firm. Put ice and water into a glass ready for use. The secret for a flaky crust is for everything to be really, really cold. Place flour into bowl of a food processor and add frozen butter. Pulse until mixture looks like cornmeal. Drop ice water through the feed tube while processor is running. Resist the temptation to use extra water. It will come together. The processor will start to thunk a little bit and all of a sudden, the mixture will come together and make an awful racket. It is done. Handling as little as possible, form into a flattened disc for a rustic apple pie or into two discs for a traditional double crust or lattice pie. Refrigerate, wrapped in plastic wrap, for at least a half hour before rolling out.
Gingersnap Pumpkin Pie
Gingersnap Pie Crust:
25 gingersnap cookies
6 tbsp. melted butter
2 tbsp. sugar
Pinch of salt
Heat oven to 325 degrees. Place cookies in a food processor and pulse until fine, yielding 1 cup of crumbs. Transfer to a mixing bowl. Stir in melted butter, sugar and salt. Press mixture into the bottom and sides of a 9 inch pie pan. Bake and set until slightly darkened (about 10 minutes). Set aside to cool.
2 eggs, beaten
1 cup packed light brown sugar
1 tbsp. corn starch
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. ground ginger
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp. ground cloves
1 1/2 cups pumpkin puree
1 1/2 cups evaporated milk
Increase the oven temperature to 375°F. In a large bowl, whisk together brown sugar, corn starch, salt, ground ginger, ground cinnamon, ground cloves, and pumpkin puree. Add evaporated milk. Whisk to combine. Pour filling into crust. Bake until edges are set and browned, but center is still wobbly (approximately 45-50 minutes). Set aside and allow to cool completely.
New Orleans Chocolate Bourbon Pecan Pie
2/3 cup white sugar
1 cup corn syrup
2 tbsp. bourbon whiskey
1/3 cup melted butter
1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup coarsely chopped pecans
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 (9 inch) refrigerated pie crust
Preheat oven to 375°F. Beat the sugar, corn syrup, bourbon, eggs, butter, and salt together in a mixing bowl until smooth and creamy. Fold in the pecans and chocolate chips. Pour the mixture into the prepared pie crust. If desired, cover the edges of the pie with aluminum foil strips to prevent excessive browning. Bake in preheated oven until the center sets, about 50 minutes. Cool before serving.
Pumpkin Pie Martini
1 1/2 oz. vanilla vodka
1/2 oz. pumpkin puree
1/2 oz. half and half
1/2 tbsp. brown sugar
1/4 tsp. pumpkin pie spice
extra brown sugar for rimming the glass
In a shaker, add ice and all of the ingredients above except the “extra brown sugar for rimming the glass”. Shake up your mixture very well. Strain your cocktail into a brown sugar rimmed martini glass.
Salted Caramel Apple Pie
Pastry for double crust pie (recipe above)
1 cup white sugar
1/4 cup water
1 stick (1/2 cup) fresh unsalted butter
1/2 cup fresh heavy cream
1 1/2 tsp. sea salt (recommended: Maldon sea salt flakes)
4 to 6 lemons
5 to 6 medium to large apples (a mixture of Crispin, Granny Smith and Cortland)
Apple Filling Seasoning
1/3 cup raw sugar (castor, unrefined, large granule sugar)
2 tbsp. flour
1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. ground allspice
1/8 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
2 to 3 dashes Angostura bitters
1 egg beaten
Raw sugar, for sprinkling on top
1 teaspoon sea salt (flake)
Prepare one 2-crust batch of butter pie crust (recipe above). Roll the bottom crust to fit a 9-inch pan, and cut the top crust as a lattice, approximately 1-inch in width or as desired. Chill the rolled crust while you prepare the salted caramel and apple filling.
To make the salted caramel: Cook the sugar and water together over low heat until just dissolved. Add the butter and bring to a slow boil. Continue cooking at a low boil until the mixture turns a deep, golden brown color, almost copper. This process can take awhile depending on the heat source. Keep an eye on it, if the caramel begins to smoke, you’ve burned it and you’ll have to start over. Once the mixture has turned a copper color, remove it from the heat and immediately add the heavy cream – the mixture will bubble rapidly and steam – be cautious as the sugar will be very hot. Whisk the final mixture together well over low heat and sprinkle in the sea salt. Set the caramel aside while you prepare the apple filling.
To make the apple filling: Juice the lemons into a large mixing bowl. Core, peel and thinly slice the whole apples. A mandolin works great for producing very thin slices. Dredge all the apple slices in the freshly squeezed lemon juice to prevent browning and to add flavor. Set the prepared apples aside.
To make the apple filling seasoning: In a large measuring cup or small mixing bowl, combine the sugar, flour, cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, and Angostura bitters. Sprinkle this mixture over the apples in the mixing bowl. Use your hands to gently mix and coat the apple slices.
To assemble the pie: Preheat the oven to 375 to 400°F (depending on the hotness of your oven). Gather your rolled pie crust, salted caramel, and apple mixture. Begin by layering 1/3 of the apples in the bottom of the crust so that there are minimal gaps. Pour 1/3 of the caramel over the apples. Add 1/3 of the apples and caramel for a second layer, and then add a third layer of apples, and then the caramel again. Save a small portion of the caramel to pour on top once the lattice is assembled. Assemble the lattice crust and flute the edges of the crust. Pour the last bit of caramel on top. Brush the crust with the beaten egg and lightly sprinkle with raw sugar and sea salt. Bake the pie on a baking sheet larger than the pie pan for 20 minutes (otherwise the caramel will bubble over and burn on the bottom of your oven). Reduce the oven temperature to 325 to 350 and bake for 25 to 35 minutes. You can test the apples for doneness with a long toothpick or small knife. The apples should be just soft. Let the pie cool before slicing.
Sweet-Potato Meringue Pie
The Southern counterpart to pumpkin pie comes topped with a sugary cloud of meringue for extra appeal.
For the sweet-potato pie:
2 pounds sweet potatoes
1 single layer pie crust
All-purpose flour, for surface
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 cup whole milk
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup light-brown sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
For the meringue:
3 large egg whites
Pinch of salt
1/4 tsp. cream of tartar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
Make the sweet-potato pie: Preheat oven to 425F. Pierce sweet potatoes in a few places with a fork, and bake until very soft, about 1 hour 15 minutes, depending on size of potatoes. Meanwhile, roll out dough into a 12-inch round on a lightly floured surface. Fit into a 9-inch pie plate, and trim edge, leaving a 1/2-inch overhang. Refrigerate until firm, about 1 hour. When sweet potatoes are cool enough to handle, scoop out enough flesh to measure 2 cups (reserve any remaining flesh for another use), and transfer to a food processor. Add eggs, milk, cream, sugars, salt, nutmeg, and vanilla, and process until smooth. Reduce oven temperature to 375°F. Pour filling into crust. Bake until filling puffs and cracks around edge and pie is just set, 50 to 55 minutes. Let cool completely on a wire rack, about 2 1/2 hours. Pie can be kept at room temperature for 1 day, covered loosely with parchment or foil. Make the meringue: Beat egg whites, salt, and cream of tartar in a bowl with a mixer on low speed until foamy. Raise speed to high, and add granulated sugar in a slow, steady stream. Whisk until stiff, glossy peaks form, about 5 minutes. Spoon meringue on top of pie. Lightly brown meringue in places with a small kitchen torch (or broil about 7 inches from heat source about 45 seconds).
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Reach Bill Colvard at 336-415-4699, on Twitter @BillColvard.