Yes, there are great Thanksgiving desserts that aren’t pie

By Melissa Clark, The New York Times

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’ plum torte. I’ve zipped up the straightforward batter with some cardamom and grated citrus 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.

Mini Oatmeal-Cranberry Whoopie Pies

Yield: About 2 dozen sandwich cookies

Total time: 1 hour 15 minutes, plus cooling


For the Cookies:

  • 3/4 cup/170 grams unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup/210 grams dark brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup/66 grams granulated sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 cups/190 grams all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 3/4 teaspoon fine sea or table salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 3 cups/350 grams rolled oats (not instant)
  • 1 1/2 cups/225 grams dried cranberries

For the Filling:

  • 8 ounces/227 grams cream cheese, softened
  • 2 cups/230 grams powdered sugar
  • 1 cup/228 grams unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1/8 teaspoon fine sea or table salt
  • 1/3 cup/100 grams whole-berry cranberry sauce, preferably homemade but canned is OK (don’t use jellied sauce, as it’s too thin)


1. Heat the oven to 350 degrees with racks in top and bottom thirds, and line 4 baking sheets with parchment paper.

2. Prepare the cookies: In a large bowl, use an electric mixer to beat together butter, brown sugar and granulated sugar until fluffy, about 2 minutes. Beat in eggs, one at a time, until fully combined, then beat in vanilla.

3. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, cinnamon, salt, nutmeg and ginger. Beat into egg mixture just until combined, then fold in oats and cranberries.

4. Scoop out heaping tablespoons of dough and place on a baking sheet at least 2 inches apart. Bake (in two batches) until the edges are golden brown, 10 to 14 minutes, rotating halfway through. Remove from the oven, transfer to a wire rack and let cool.

5. Meanwhile, make the filling: Using an electric mixer fitted with the whisk, beat cream cheese until fluffy and smooth, 3 to 6 minutes. Beat in sugar, butter and salt, beating until well combined, 2 to 4 minutes. Using a rubber spatula, fold the cranberry sauce into the filling mixture, leaving streaks. Refrigerate the filling until it firms up enough to spread but doesn’t completely solidify, 10 to 30 minutes.

6. To assemble the sandwiches, turn over half the cooled cookies. Top with 1 heaping tablespoon of filling, and sandwich with remaining cookies. Serve immediately or refrigerate for up to 3 days before serving.

Pumpkin-Butterscotch Custard With Spiced Whipped Cream

Yield: 8 to 10 servings

Total time: 1 hour, plus at least 6 hours’ cooling and chilling


For the Custard:

  • 1 cup/210 grams packed dark brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon/14 grams unsalted butter
  • 1 1/2 cups/355 milliliters heavy cream
  • 1 1/2 cups/355 milliliters whole milk
  • 5 large eggs
  • 4 large egg yolks
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine sea or table salt
  • 1 cup/250 grams pumpkin purée or solid pack pumpkin
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract or bourbon
  • 1/2 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice

For the Topping:

  • 2 cups/473 milliliters heavy cream, cold
  • 1/3 cup/35 grams powdered sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice, plus more to taste


1. Heat the oven to 325 degrees. Place a rimmed baking sheet or roasting pan on the center rack.

2. In a medium saucepan, melt brown sugar and butter over medium-high heat, stirring, until sugar is melted, about 3 to 7 minutes. (Lower the heat if the sugar starts to burn.) Remove from heat and pour in a big splash of cream. The melted sugar will bubble up; wait for it to settle a bit, then stir to combine the caramel and cream. It may seize up into bits of hard candy-like caramel, and that is OK. Return the pan to medium-low heat, add remaining cream and milk and, whisking occasionally, let simmer until all the hard caramel bits are melted, 7 to 12 minutes.

3. In a large heatproof bowl, whisk together eggs, yolks and salt. Pour a splash of the hot caramel mixture into the eggs, whisking constantly, then slowly pour in remaining caramel mixture. Whisk in pumpkin, bourbon or vanilla, and pumpkin pie spice.

4. Strain the mixture through a fine-mesh sieve into a shallow 2-quart ceramic casserole or baking dish, or 9-by-12-inch or 9-by-13-inch glass baking dish (don’t use metal). Cover loosely with aluminum foil and place on the rimmed baking sheet or roasting pan in the oven. Add hot tap water to the baking sheet or roasting pan until it comes a third of the way up the side of the custard dish.

5. Bake the custard until the edges are just set but the center is still jiggly (the center will firm up as it cools), 50 to 65 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack, remove foil and let cool for at least 1 hour. Cover the custard dish and chill until cold, at least 4 hours or up to 3 days.

6. Make the topping: In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a whisk, beat the heavy cream, powdered sugar and pumpkin pie spice until soft peaks form.

7. To serve, heap the whipped cream onto the custard and sprinkle with more pumpkin pie spice, if you like.

Red Wine-Pear Cardamom Cake

Yield: 6 to 8 servings

Total time: 1 hour 30 minutes, plus cooling


For the Red Wine Pears:

  • 1 1/4 cups/296 milliliters dry red wine
  • 2 to 3 pears, not too ripe (1 pound), peeled, cored, and sliced 1/2-inch thick (2 cups sliced pears)
  • 2 tablespoons/28 grams unsalted butter
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons/12 to 25 grams granulated sugar

For the Cake:

  • 1/2 cup/113 grams unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus more for greasing the pan
  • 3/4 cup/150 grams granulated sugar
  • 2 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 1 teaspoon grated lemon or orange zest
  • 1/4 teaspoon fine sea or table salt
  • 1 cup/125 grams all-purpose flour
  • Powdered sugar, for serving (optional)


1. Prepare the pears: Pour the wine into a large skillet and place it over medium-high heat. Let simmer until it reduces by half, 5 to 8 minutes.

2. Add the pears, butter and sugar (use less sugar if your pears are very sweet). Let simmer until the pears absorb the wine and caramelize, 7 to 10 minutes. All the liquid should be gone. Spoon pears into a bowl and let cool while you prepare the cake batter.

3. Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Prepare the cake: Butter an 8- or 9-inch springform pan. Using an electric mixer fitted with the paddle, or a bowl and wooden spoon, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, 2 to 6 minutes. Beat in eggs, one at a time. Add the baking powder, cardamom, citrus zest and salt, and beat until smooth. Beat in flour until well combined.

4. Scrape batter into the pan and smooth the top. Lay the pear slices on top of the cake. Bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour (the 9-inch pan bakes faster than the 8-inch). The top should be light golden, and the crumb should spring back when lightly pressed with a finger.

5. Serve warm or at room temperature, topped with a little powdered sugar, if you like. Cake will keep in the refrigerator for 24 hours; bring to room temperature before serving.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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