Of all the possible Thanksgiving desserts, pies are the most classic.
But what if your band of Thanksgiving merrymakers doesn’t actually like pie? (Is that even possible?) Or perhaps your pies are yearning for some less crusty company on the dessert buffet. Maybe you simply need a change.
With that in mind, these three desserts are not only guaranteed to harmonize with the turkey-and-sides splendor of your dinner, but they can also all be made ahead. And, if you’re not hosting, they’re very convenient to take to a holiday gathering.
The easiest is a riff on Marian Burros’s plum torte. I’ve zipped up the straightforward batter with some cardamom and grated orange zest, but otherwise left the velvet-crumbed cake as it is. It’s a bit lighter than a poundcake, and just as moist.
Then, instead of plums, I’ve topped the cake with pear slices that have been sautéed in red wine and butter until they soften, caramelize and turn darkly rosy. Like the original torte, this cake is good served plain or dolloped with whipped cream, crème fraîche or sour cream.
Butterscotch pudding isn’t traditional on most Thanksgiving menus, but I adore its brown-sugar creaminess anytime it’s on offer. In this more sophisticated take, I infused a baked butterscotch custard with pumpkin purée, giving it a supremely autumnal character. The pumpkin also makes the rich custard slightly lighter, which is exactly what you want after turkey and all the trimmings.
To make this as fragrant as possible, I added a sprinkle of pumpkin spice blend to the whipped cream topping. I also baked the custard in one large dish instead of individual custard cups, which makes it easy to transport.
Finally, although they have the word “pie” in their name, whoopie pies are far closer to cookies or hand-held cakes. I’ve miniaturized my version, using two-bite, cinnamon-scented oatmeal cookies to sandwich tangy, fluffy cream-cheese filling swirled with cranberry sauce. There are more cranberries in the cookies — chewy dried berries that stand in for the usual raisins.
Any of these desserts would make excellent finales to your Thanksgiving meal — whether you serve them cozied up next to the pies — or instead of them.