I don’t know how the semester has flown by so quickly, but it’s almost time for Thanksgiving, and, in my case, my biggest baking season of the year outside of Christmas. I’ve been baking as long as I can remember, but since I was around 13, I have been making the desserts for Thanksgiving. Pies are my favorite thing to bake, and they just so happen to be a Thanksgiving classic. This year, though, I’m embarking on my most brave baking mission yet — five pies: apple, bumbleberry, chocolate cream, pecan, and pumpkin, all from scratch. I’ve baked all of these pies before, just not all at once, so here are a few of this year’s recipes and my baking schedule for the week of.
Perfect Pie Crust
-2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
-2 sticks cold salted butter, cubed
-1 tablespoon granulated sugar
-A pinch of salt
-1/2 cup ice water
Instructions: Start by mixing the flour, sugar, and a tiny pinch of salt together. Add the butter and ensure each piece is coated with flour before breaking them up, first with your hands, then with a pastry blender. Once the butter has been broken down into pea-sized pieces, begin adding ice water, one tablespoon at a time until the dough comes together. It should not be wet at all, and should just barely form a ball when rolled together. Place onto your working surface, dividing the dough in half. Working with one half at a time, divide into thirds, then stack one piece on top of the other and smash the dough down. Repeat twice more, then do the same with the other half. Form disks, then wrap tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours, preferably longer. This also freezes well, so making extra and saving for later is a great option. It will safely keep in the fridge for up to four days.
Note: Use the best quality butter you reasonably can. Since the flavor in this crust comes from the butter, the better it is, the more delicious the crust will be. Grass-fed is ideal, I’m using Kerrygold this year, but if you happen to be near a local creamery, that would be the best.
I developed this recipe myself over several years of trial and error, and I’m happy to say that it’s my best. Feel free to adjust the seasonings and sweetness as you see fit.
-8 large apples (I usually use 4-5 Granny Smith and 2-3 Honeycrisp or other red apples), peeled and sliced into 1/4th-inch thick pieces.
-1/4th cup granulated sugar
-1/4th cup tightly packed brown sugar
-1 tablespoon lemon juice
-A splash of vanilla extract (always measure vanilla with your heart)
-3 tablespoons flour
-1 and 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
-1/4 teaspoon (or a little less, depending on your preferences) nutmeg
-1 teaspoon softened butter
-1/4 cup (1/2 stick) cold butter, cubed
-1/2 cup flour
-1/4 cup brown sugar
-1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
Instructions: In a large bowl, mix the apples, sugars, lemon, vanilla, flour, and spices until the apples just begin to soften. Begin by adding the butter into a saucepan or small pot big enough for the apples. Cook the apples for about five minutes, or just until they begin to soften. Remove from heat and allow to cool. Roll out one disk of pie crust and place it into a pie dish, then add the filling. To make the optional streusel, simply mix the flour, sugar, and cinnamon, then add the butter and incorporate until everything sticks together and there are approximately peas-sized pieces and sprinkle over the filling. Optionally, add another sheet of crust, but this is where I like to have some fun and either do a lattice pattern or use small cookie cutters to make fun shapes like leaves. Place the pie dish onto a baking sheet and bake at 400 degrees for about 15 minutes, then reduce the heat and bake for an additional 50-60 minutes, covering with foil if the crust gets too dark towards the end.
This pie goes by several names: Mixed Berry, Fruit of the Forest, but I call it Bumbleberry, mainly because I think this name is the most fun. It has been a fan favorite in my family for a few years now, so it’s essential at the dessert table. Feel free to substitute any of these fruits, just keep the quantities the same.
-1 large apple (any variety works, I usually use Granny Smith or Golden Delicious here), sliced into quarter-inch wedges, then in half.
– 1 cup of raspberries
– 1 cup of blueberries
– 1 cup of blackberries
– 1 cup of cherries (thawed from frozen because they’re unavailable fresh this time of year)
– 1 cup granulated sugar
– 1/2 cup flour
– 1 tablespoon lemon juice
– One recipe of pie crust
Instructions: Bumbleberry pie is inherently a more summer-friendly dessert because the majority of the fruit is in season. However, as long as you’re able to find the ingredients, this has been a family favorite for years. For the filling, simply combine the flour and sugar in a small bowl, then mix all of the fruit and add the flour mixture until well combined, making sure not to crush the fruit. Roll out one disk of pie crust to 1/8th inch thick, then place into a pie plate. Add filling, then roll out the second disk of dough. This is the fun part, where I like to do a lattice pattern, or you can use cookie cutters for some decorative shapes. Brush the dough with either heavy cream or an egg wash and sprinkle with demerara sugar (Sugar in the Raw). Bake at 400 degrees Fahrenheit for 20 minutes, reducing the heat to 350 degrees for an additional 40-45 minutes.
Notes: Strawberry or rhubarb would also be great in this recipe. Using thawed frozen fruit is a great option for this pie, and you’ll have leftovers for other baking or smoothies.
Chocolate Cream Pie
This has also become a recent family favorite, and it is a great option to add to the mix of fruity pies or other classics like pecan and pumpkin. I use this recipe for ingredients and quantities, but here are my two cents on directions. Chocolate cream pie essentially comes together by adding a homemade chocolate pudding of sorts to a baked crust and then topping with whipped cream.
– 1/3 cup granulated sugar
– 1/4 cup cornstarch
– 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder, sifted
– 1/4 teaspoon salt
– 3 cups whole milk
– 4 ounces finely chopped semisweet chocolate
– 2 ounces finely chopped bittersweet chocolate
– 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, sliced into thirds
– 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
– 1/2 recipe of pie crust (one disk)
Instructions: Begin by baking and cooling the pie crust. Do this by rolling out the dough, then place it into a pie plate and neaten the edges, leaving enough crust on the lip of the dish to allow for some shrinking. Freeze for 15 or so minutes until firm. Line the center of the crust with tin (aluminum) foil, then add something to weigh it down, which ensures that the crust will bake evenly. Pie weights are a recent addition to my baking tools, but you can also use rice or beans. Bake the crust at 375 degrees for 20 minutes, then remove weights and bake for an additional 15-20 minutes until the entire crust is golden brown.
For the filling, in a small pot, whisk together the sugar, cornstarch, cocoa powder, and salt. Then, whisk in the milk until fully incorporated, and cook over medium heat for 8-10 minutes, until thick and bubbly, then cook for an additional 30 seconds. Mix in the chocolate and butter, then add the vanilla. Pour the filling into the prepared crust, then place a layer of parchment paper over the filling, making sure it covers completely. Cool on the counter for an hour, then refrigerate for at least three hours, up to a day, and top with whipped cream immediately before serving.
Pecan and Pumpkin pies
For the pecan and pumpkin pies, I use super simple recipes. The best pecan pie recipe, in my opinion, is the one on the back of any Karo brand corn syrup bottle. One tip here is to either serve the pecan pie cold or at room temperature, which makes it an ideal candidate to bake on Wednesday, along with the pumpkin, as they can (and should, because of dairy and eggs), sit in the fridge overnight. For the pumpkin pie, I think the recipe on the back of a can of pumpkin puree is also a great option. Paired with that flakey crust recipe from before, these two pies are an easy and delicious addition to the mix.
I like to make a few different flavors of whipped cream to pair with my pies. Homemade whipped cream is really simple and makes such a difference. This year’s lineup is caramel, coffee, and cinnamon. All you need is one cup of cream, a quarter cup of powdered sugar, and a teaspoon of vanilla extract. This makes about two cups of whipped cream, so multiply or divide as needed. I like to make the basic recipe, whipping it until almost stiff peaks, and separating it for extra flavors before whipping a bit more. For the caramel flavor, I’m adding about a tablespoon of salted caramel sauce, and for the cinnamon, I just add a few shakes. For the coffee, I like to use instant coffee, but since it typically comes in granules, I put it into the food processor, pulsing until it is a fine powder, or just place it into a Ziploc bag and crush it with a rolling pin, then add some to the cream. This whipped cream is the easiest way to elevate any pie, homemade or not.
If anyone wants to embark on the same adventure, here is my plan. To be ready for dessert time on Thursday, I’ll be spreading my baking over the course of three days. On Tuesday, I’m making all of my pie crust. For the five pies, I’ll be quadrupling my recipe, having one disk of dough left over which will be frozen for future use, and refrigerating the rest until I need it on Wednesday and Thursday. On Wednesday, I’m making the three non-fruit pies, since they don’t need to be served warm. Pumpkin and chocolate cream will stay in the fridge until it is time to add whipped cream, and pecan is best served around room temperature. On Thursday, I’ll be making both fruit pies and baking them during the main meal so they’re warm when served.
I often refer to Thanksgiving as my “baking Olympics,” and this year, I’m more eager than ever to whip up some delicious treats. The biggest challenge on Thanksgiving Day will be deciding which one to try first.