You don’t need a psychic to tell you that Thanksgiving will be a smaller gathering this year. So do you still want to bother baking pies?
There’s another option if you’re serving just a few people: a frozen dessert that can echo the flavors of that Thanksgiving pie, pecan or pumpkin (or both), something that you’ve made well in advance and can have ready to scoop.
But you will need an ice cream maker and some forethought, as several hours must be devoted to chilling and freezing. (The ice cream mixture needs to be very cold before you begin to churn, and the churned dessert must then be frozen.) Though it would be possible to freeze a sorbet in a shallow pan, stirring it every hour or so as it solidifies to keep the texture smooth, that method is far from ideal and will yield an icier consistency, like a granita. There’s just no substitute for the texture a machine can offer.
This pecan pie ice cream is built on a base of French vanilla, with toasted pecans, cloaked in maple syrup, swirled in. Making the custard is a delicate operation, like producing hollandaise, because of the fragile nature of eggs when heated. Perform this part of the recipe when you can give it your full, undisturbed, text-free attention.
For the pecans, chopping them by hand with a sharp knife, instead of using a food processor, will yield more uniform results. Though many pecan pie recipes call for dark corn syrup, I make mine with maple, which I find to be lighter, so that’s what I used for the ice cream.
The pumpkin-ginger sorbet is a lighter option that can be made vegan-friendly by substituting agave syrup for the honey. Though canned pumpkin would be perfectly fine, try roasting little honeynut squashes, 40 minutes at 400 degrees, then scraping out the insides, which become a smooth purée under the heat.
Honeynuts are a delicious, relatively new variety of squash, dulcet of flavor and dense of flesh, with none of the stringiness of some other types of winter squash or pumpkin. For one cup of purée, two of them are perfect. Butternut squash would be another option.
The sorbet is excellent served with slivers of candied ginger on top or with pieces of pumpkin seed brittle. And it’s surprisingly amenable to tracings of chilled dark chocolate sauce.
The desserts can be prepared up to a week in advance. Whatever containers you use for freezer storage, place a circle of parchment paper directly on the top surface of the ice cream or sorbet to keep the air out. If you tackle both varieties you could serve a scoop of each side-by-side. And should you bake those pies after all, these frozen desserts will be your à la mode.