Anyone can make pumpkin, pecan, or mincemeat pie for Thanksgiving, but a creative cook will branch out and consider other ways to showcase seasonal ingredients. Complicated is not necessarily better – the best way to save time and hassle is to use fresh, quality ingredients and simple recipes.
Pudding, Mousse, and Other Smooth Desserts
One alternative to heavy pies and cakes is a smooth, creamy dessert. Some options, like mousse or some puddings, don’t require baking, which is convenient for Thanksgiving Day when oven space is at a premium. Other smooth desserts, such as sabayon or custard, can be made on the stovetop. For those living in warm climates or Americans living in the Southern Hemisphere, ice cream or semifreddo can help guests cool down.
Baked smooth desserts like crème brulee, crème caramel, or flan, can be prepared in small ramekins and baked in the toaster oven. The key to including any of these smooth desserts in a Thanksgiving meal is using autumn ingredients – pear, apple, pumpkin, ginger, cranberry, and sweet potato are all good candidates. A simple flan or pudding can easily be jazzed up with a spiced whipped cream or crème anglaise, or paired with a brandy or bourbon sauce. Even warmed eggnog makes a surprisingly good “cheater” sauce.
Pear, Apple, Cranberry, and Other Fruit Desserts
Another simple alternative is to prepare some seasonal fruit for the dessert table. The great thing about fruit is that fresh, seasonal options don’t require a lot of preparation to shine. Fruits can easily be chopped and simmered with a little brandy, or sprinkled with brown sugar and broiled to caramelize. Crumbles or crisps also work well with apples or pears. The following recipe is very easy, uses dried fruit, and can be served either warm or cold:
- 1 cup dried figs, stemmed and diced
- ½ to 1 cup water
- 2 tsp cinnamon
- ½ tsp nutmeg
- 2-4 T whisky
- Combine the figs and water in a small saucepan and simmer over medium heat until the mixture becomes thick and goopy.
- Season with cinnamon and nutmeg. Cloves or ginger can also be used if preferred.
- Finish it off with a few tablespoons of whisky, to taste.
- Let cool ten to fifteen minutes before serving or chill and serve as a spread.
Of course at the end of the Thanksgiving meal, everyone is going to be stuffed. Sometimes a slice of pie is just a little bit too much, so it’s good to have a little taste of something sweet around as an alternative for guests whose eyes were bigger than their stomachs. Fudge and truffles are both very easy to make and impressive. Another easy option is chocolate dipped nuts or dried fruit. Here’s a tasty recipe for candied pecan fudge:
Candied Pecan Fudge
- 3 cups melted dark chocolate
- 1 can sweetened condensed milk
- 1 tsp sea salt
- 1 cup sugar
- ½ cup water
- 32 pecans, halved
- In a small saucepan over medium heat, stir together the sugar, the water, and half a teaspoon of sea salt until dissolved.
- Let this syrup cook without stirring until a rich golden colour, then remove from heat.
- Line a baking sheet with parchment.
- Dip each pecan half in the caramel, or alternatively dump all the pecans in a bowl and stir with caramel.
- Put the individual pecan halves on the baking sheet and let cool until hardened.
- Stir together the chocolate, condensed milk, and the rest of the sea salt.
- Pour into an 8 x 8 baking pan lined with parchment and smooth out the top.
- Press pecan halves in eight even rows and columns, so that they are in the center of one-inch squares.
- Let rest until set, chilling in the fridge if in a hurry.
- Slice the fudge into one-inch squares and serve.