Pies are nothing more than crust and filling, making them an easy dessert to update with unique flavors and gourmet flair. You can modify the crust, filling or both.
Simple substitutes: For a quick and tasty exchange, substitute a graham cracker or chocolate cookie crust for the usual pastry crust. Swap pumpkin puree for another winter squash puree. Opt for pears instead of apples or hazelnuts for pecans.
Give tradition a twist: Take your classic Thanksgiving pie recipe -- for example, the 50-year-old recipe for your grandmother's apple pie -- and switch out the apples for pears and dried cranberries, or give it a granola topping instead of a pastry crust top.
Add a savory element: The salty and sweet gourmet craze should be inspiration enough for you to give your usual Thanksgiving desserts a salty or savory edge. Bits of prosciutto and blue cheese in a pear pie, shredded cheddar cheese in a pastry dough for apple pie, or a light sprinkle of sea salt over a pumpkin pie are simple but amazing additions to traditional pie recipes.
Reach for your herbs and spices: A hint of fresh or dried herbs gives Thanksgiving pies a subtle, yet tasty, change. Add a bit of rosemary to apple pie or sage to pumpkin pie. Give your pumpkin pie a grind of black pepper and your chocolate pecan pie a pinch of cayenne. You can also add a bit of herbs and spices to the pastry dough as you are rolling it out.
One word of warning: Just be sure to give your updated Thanksgiving pie recipes a test run before the big day; you don't want to end your Turkey Day feast with unpalatable Thanksgiving pies.
Makes 12 servings
For the pie crust:
1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted
2 cups graham cracker crumbs
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
For the pie filling:
3/4 cup golden raisins
3 tablespoons brandy
6 ounces thick-cut pancetta, diced
3/4 cup dark brown sugar
12 ripe pears (about 3 pounds), peeled and thinly sliced
1-1/4 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/4 cup unsalted butter, cubed
1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. For the crust, combine butter with graham cracker crumbs, sugars and salt. Mix until all crumbs are moist. Press into a pie plate and set aside.
2. Soak the raisins in brandy for a few minutes or until plumped. Meanwhile, cover pancetta in brown sugar, place on a waxed covered baking sheet and bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until caramelized and crispy. Remove pancetta and let cool for a few minutes.
3. Place half of the pears on the bottom of the prepared pie plate, top with half of the cinnamon, half of the raisins, and half of the pancetta then layer again using all of the remaining ingredients. Dot with butter and bake for 30 to 35 minutes or until pears are softened and filling is gooey.
Makes 12 servings
For the pastry dough:
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon finely minced sage
1 cup butter, chilled and diced
1/3 cup cold water
1 egg yolk
1 tablespoon vinegar
For the pie filling:
1/4 cup plus 2 teaspoons granulated sugar
1/4 cup water
2 large leaves fresh sage plus 1 teaspoon finely snipped fresh sage
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
6 cups cored, peeled and sliced apples
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 cup ground pecans
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 egg white, beaten
1. Make the pastry dough. Whisk together flour, salt, sugar and rosemary. Add chilled butter and blend in with a pastry cutter or two knives until coarse crumbs are made.
2. In a separate bowl, mix water with egg yolk and vinegar then gradually mix liquid into flour mixture until a soft dough forms. Shape dough into two balls, wrap in plastic wrap, and chill until ready to use, at least 30 to 40 minutes.
3. Meanwhile, make a simple sage syrup. Mix 1/4 cup granulated sugar with water and 2 sage leaves in a small pot. Gently heat, stirring until water and sugar become syrupy. Remove from heat and let sit for 30 minutes.
4. Make the filling. In a small bowl, mix brown sugar, flour, salt and 1 teaspoon snipped sage. In another bowl mix apples with lemon juice then toss with brown sugar mixture. Mix in pecans, vanilla and sage syrup.
5. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Roll out dough into two flat circles. Place one on the bottom of a pie plate and top with apple mixture. Place other piece of dough on top and brush with egg white and sprinkle with remaining 2 teaspoons granulated sugar. Cut slits in the top to vent.
6. Place pie on a baking sheet and bake for 50 minutes or until apples are bubbly and tender and crust is lightly browned. If crust begins to brown too quickly, cover edges with foil. Remove from oven and let cool.
Makes 8 servings
1 cup crème fraiche
1 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs, beaten
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
3 tablespoons white vinegar
1 cup dried cranberries
1 (9-inch) pie crust
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
2. In a large bowl, beat crème fraiche and sugar. Beat in eggs, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and vinegar. Stir in cranberries.
3. Spoon mixture into pie crust and bake 40 to 45 minutes or until heated through. Cool on a wire rack then chill before serving.
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