Only 3-letter dessert will do

 , The New York Times  |  Updated: November 28, 2013 14:07 IST

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Only 3-letter dessert will do
Thanksgiving is all about excess, and that is why you need at least two or three pies. And yes, it needs to be pie. Save your cakes for birthdays, your cookies for snack time and your ice cream for summer. Pie is an icon of the Thanksgiving table. (If you really want to have cake, cookies or ice cream, serve them alongside.)

Here we offer three updated classics. I made the tangy apple-cranberry with fresh ginger and rum as a slab pie, which is nothing more than a regular pie writ large. Baked in a 9-by-13-inch pan, this pie feeds up to 24 and is easier to make (and to carry) than three separate pies.

And it's hugely impressive. The filling was inspired by an email from Pete Wells, who mused about his ideal Thanksgiving dessert; the combination of brown sugar, ginger and rum gives it a complex and more autumnal flavor than most apple pies. Serve with whipped creme fraiche and small glasses of good, aged rum. The second is a particularly creamy brandied pumpkin. You can make this pie with canned pumpkin if you're in a hurry. But if you have time, homemade roasted butternut squash puree will give you a fresher, sweeter and more distinct flavor.

Finally, there is a fudgy chocolate pecan spiked with bourbon. If you can't live without chocolate, this is the pie for your table. I used a combination of chocolate and cocoa powder, both to temper the usual cloying pecan pie sweetness and to lift the bittersweet factor. You can substitute any other nut for the pecans: walnuts, almonds, cashews or a combination. Choose two, or make all three, which will ensure leftovers. As good as pie is for dessert, it's even better for breakfast the next day.
Apple cranberry slab pie with ginger and rum


Time: 2 1/2 hours, plus 1 hour's chilling
Yield: 18 to 24 servings


thanksgiving-pie_article.jpg

For the crust:


3 3/4 cups all-purpose flour (450 grams)

1 teaspoon fine sea salt (6 grams)

3 sticks plus 6 tablespoons butter, preferably a high-fat, European-style butter, chilled and cut into 1/2-inch pieces (15 ounces/425 grams)

6 to 8 tablespoons ice water, more as needed

For the filling:

6 3/4 pounds apples, preferably a mixture of Gala, Golden Delicious and Granny Smith, peeled, cored and sliced 1/4-inch thick (21 cups/about 3 kilograms)

1 1/2 packed cups light brown sugar (300 grams)

3/4 cup maple syrup

1 cup dried cranberries (150 grams)

6 tablespoons instant tapioca (75 grams)

3 tablespoons dark rum

1 1/2 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest (3 grams)

2 tablespoons lemon juice

1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger (18 grams)

1 1/4 teaspoons fine sea salt (9 grams)

2 1/4 teaspoons ground cinnamon (6 grams)

3/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, diced small (1 ounce/28 grams)

1 large egg, lightly beaten

1 tablespoon heavy cream

1 1/2 tablespoons Demerara sugar (20 grams)

1. Make the crust: In a food processor, briefly pulse together flour and salt. Add butter and pulse until mixture forms chickpea-size pieces. Add ice water, 1 tablespoon at a time, and pulse until mixture is just moist enough to hold together. Form dough into two balls, one about 2/3 of dough and the other the remaining 1/3 of dough. Wrap each with plastic and flatten into disks. Refrigerate at least 1 hour and up to 2 days before rolling out and baking.

2. Lightly flour a work surface and remove the plastic wrap from the larger dough ball. Using a lightly floured rolling pin, roll out the dough ball to a 12-by-16-inch rectangle, dusting with flour if dough sticks. (Leave smaller dough ball in the fridge.) Transfer rolled-out dough to a 9-by-13-inch baking dish. Carefully line the pan with dough, pressing it into bottom of pan and completely up the sides. Crimp the top edges. Chill dough in fridge until ready to fill.

3. Roll out remaining dough ball to a 10-by-13-inch rectangle, dusting with flour if dough is sticking. Using a decorative cookie cutter (like apples, leaves or hearts), cut out dough shapes. Reroll scraps if necessary to use up as much dough as possible. Transfer cutouts to a small baking sheet. Return baking pan and sheet to refrigerator to chill while you prepare filling.

4. Heat oven to 425 degrees. Arrange a wire rack in the lowest position in the oven. Place a large rimmed baking sheet on the floor of the oven to preheat.

5. Make the filling: In a large bowl, combine apples, sugar, maple syrup, cranberries, tapioca, rum, lemon zest and juice, ginger, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg. Let mixture stand 10 minutes. Pour filling into bottom pie crust and dot with 2 tablespoons diced butter. Arrange dough cutouts on top of apple mixture, overlapping them slightly and making sure several cutout edges touch sides of pan. Whisk together egg and cream. Brush over crust; sprinkle with Demerara sugar.

6. Move rimmed baking sheet from oven floor to lowest rack. Place pie pan onto baking sheet and bake for 20 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 375 degrees. Continue baking until crust is golden brown and juices are bubbling thickly, 40 to 60 minutes longer. Loosely tent top of pie with foil if crust browns before filling is ready. Transfer pie to a wire rack to cool completely before serving.

Note: To turn this slab pie into a standard 9-inch pie that serves 8 people, use 1/3 of the amount of each ingredient. (The exceptions are the whole egg and the tablespoon of cream for the egg wash; use the same amount as you would for the slab pie.) A smaller pie will bake more quickly, so watch it carefully; it should need about 50 to 60 minutes in the oven. It's done when the juices bubble up thickly and the apples are tender. And don't forget when dividing into thirds that a third of a tablespoon equals a teaspoon.


Brandied pumpkin pie

Time: About 2 hours, plus 1 1/2 hours' chilling
Yield: 8 servings

thanksgiving-pie_article2.jpg


For the crust:

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour (150 grams)

1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt

10 tablespoons unsalted butter, preferably a high-fat European style, chilled and cut into cubes

2 to 4 tablespoons ice water, as needed

For the filling:
1 3/4 cups squash or pumpkin purée (see note)

3 large eggs

1 cup heavy cream

3/4 cup dark brown sugar (153 grams)

2 tablespoons brandy

2 teaspoons ground ginger (4 grams)

1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon (3 grams)

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt (3 grams)

1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg

Pinch ground clove

1. Make the crust: In a food processor, pulse together the flour and salt. Add butter and pulse until the mixture forms chickpea-size pieces. Add ice water, 1 tablespoon at a time, and pulse until the dough just comes together. It should be moist but not wet. On a lightly floured surface, gather the dough into a ball. Flatten into a disk with the heel of your hand. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour and up to 2 days.

2. Remove plastic wrap from dough. On a lightly floured surface, roll out dough to a 12-inch circle. Transfer crust to a 9-inch pie plate. Fold over any excess dough, then crimp edges. Prick crust all over with a fork. Chill crust for 30 minutes. While the crust chills, heat oven to 375 degrees.

3. Line chilled crust with aluminum foil and fill with pie weights or dried beans. Bake for 20 minutes; remove foil and weights and bake until pale golden, 5 to 10 minutes more. Cool on wire rack until needed.

4. Lower oven temperature to 325 degrees, then make the filling: In a large bowl, whisk together pumpkin puree, eggs, cream, brown sugar, brandy, ginger, cinnamon, salt, nutmeg and clove. Pour mixture into cooled pie shell. Place pie pan onto a large rimmed baking sheet. Bake until crust is golden and center jiggles just slightly when shaken, 50 to 60 minutes. Cool completely on a rack before serving.

Note: To make butternut squash puree, peel, halve and seed a 2 1/2- to 3-pound squash. Cut flesh into 1 1/2-inch chunks. Coat with melted butter or oil and roast at 400 degrees, stirring once or twice, until tender, 30 to 45 minutes. Let squash cool, then purée in a food processor.

Chocolate pecan pie

Time: 1 1/2 hours, plus at least 1 hour's chilling and 4 hours' cooling
Yield: 8 servings

For the crust:


1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour (150 grams)

1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt

10 tablespoons unsalted butter, preferably high-fat European style, chilled and cubed

2 to 4 tablespoons ice water, as needed

For the filling:
1 1/2 cups pecan halves (170 grams)

6 tablespoons unsalted butter

2 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped (56 grams)

3/4 cup dark corn syrup

4 large eggs

1/2 cup packed light brown sugar (100 grams)

1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder (5 grams)

2 tablespoons bourbon

1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt

1. Make the crust: In a food processor, pulse together the flour and salt. Add butter and pulse until the mixture forms chickpea-size pieces. Add ice water, 1 tablespoon at a time, and pulse until the dough just comes together. It should be moist but not wet. On a lightly floured surface, gather the dough into a ball. Flatten into a disk with the heel of your hand. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour and up to 2 days.

2. Remove plastic wrap from dough. On a lightly floured surface, roll out dough to a 12-inch circle. Transfer crust to a 9-inch pie plate. Fold over any excess dough, then crimp edges. Prick crust all over with a fork. Chill crust for 30 minutes. While the crust chills, heat the oven to 375 degrees.

3. Line chilled crust with aluminum foil and fill with pie weights or dried beans. Bake for 20 minutes; remove foil and weights and bake until pale golden, 5 to 10 minutes more. Cool on a wire rack until needed.

4. Lower oven temperature to 350 degrees. Spread pecans on a rimmed baking sheet. Toast nuts, shaking pan occasionally, until fragrant, 8 to 10 minutes. Cool.
5. Make the filling: In a small saucepan over low heat, melt butter and chopped chocolate, stirring until smooth; cool.

6. In a large bowl, whisk together cooled chocolate-butter mixture, corn syrup, eggs, sugar, cocoa powder, bourbon and salt. Pour the mixture into the prepared crust. Arrange pecans over filling. Place pie pan onto a large rimmed baking sheet. Bake until the filling is just set when the pan is jiggled, 30 to 40 minutes. Cool completely on a wire rack before serving.

Regarding Pies


Make your pie ahead, in stages:  Unless you're making pie only to bring to someone else's house for Thanksgiving dinner, chances are you're going to need to make it in stages in advance. Here's what you can do ahead, and when.

Make the dough up to five days ahead and refrigerate, or up to one month ahead and freeze. (If frozen, thaw it in the refrigerator overnight.)

You can make the pumpkin pie and pecan pie fillings up to five days ahead (but don't mix in the pecans until just before baking). Store in the fridge.

You can roll out the crust and line your pie plate a day before baking it. Cover lightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate.

You can also bake your crust a day ahead, before filling and baking it again. Just leave it on the counter and cover it with a clean dish towel once it has cooled. (I like to bake the crusts and make the fillings the day before, then finish and bake the pies before the turkey goes into the oven on Thanksgiving morning.)

You can fully bake any of these pies the day before. Store at room temperature, not in a fridge.

Skip the pumpkin in favor of squash: Last fall, I set out to discover which variety of winter squash is best in pumpkin pie. I knew from experience that the beach-ball-size jack-o'-lantern types were out of the running; too watery and bland. And I had played around with cheese pumpkins, sugar pumpkins and acorn and butternut squashes, using whatever I could get, without being methodical about it.

After testing nine varieties, I now swear by butternut squash. Not only is it the easiest to handle (just slip the skin off with a vegetable peeler), but it also has the most velvety, honeyed flesh. Save any extra puree to use for pumpkin bread (or butternut squash bread, that is).

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Keeping the pie alcohol free: You may have noticed that we used a dark, flavorful spirit in all of the pie recipes. There's a reason for this. In each case, the spirit (be it dark rum, Bourbon or brandy) adds a warm top note and a slight bite to the sugary richness of the filling. And in all cases, some (though not all) of the alcohol is baked off when the pie is in the oven. But if you'd rather avoid alcohol, substitute orange juice or a combination of apple cider and lemon juice. (You need a bit of acid to make up for the lost tang, so don't use all cider.) By the way, you can use this substitution in any booze-spiked pie recipe you like.

© 2013 New York Times News Service

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