Once the final mouthful of stuffing is consumed and the table is now strewn with empty wine bottles and dirty dishes, how will you entertain your Thanksgiving guests after dinner? Perhaps all will join together in a communal collapse on the couch for a football game or a family classic film? Or maybe the girls will begin strategically plotting coordinates for the next day’s Black Friday expedition, sending the guys to flee to a game of poker in the other room. Whatever the evening’s destination may be, there are sure to be desserts in the equation.
Typically, Thanksgiving Day desserts are relegated to a couple of hours post-dinner, in the hopes that the gastronomic overindulgences and the tryptophan-induced daze will lift. The excitement of a touchdown, or of a hoard of flying monkeys for that matter, will tend to whet appetites once again.
Thanksgiving desserts have spanned far beyond the ubiquitous pumpkin pie. Even the humble pumpkin pie has now evolved to incorporate cheesecake batter, mousse, meringue toppings, streusel crumb toppings and, sometimes, not even a pie at all. Pumpkin parfaits, pumpkin ice cream, dessert breads and pumpkin roulades have now joined the lineup that celebrates the autumnal gourd.
What were once simple apple pies now add a pop of color, thanks to the addition of seasonal cranberries within the shroud of pastry crust. Apples also now nestle peacefully with pears under the cover of a crispy crumb blanket. Today’s caramel craze has led to heavy drizzles of caramel over a topless apple pie.
If you’re seeking a unique twist for a Thanksgiving dessert, look no further than your family’s year around favorites. The dessert police will be too occupied with gobbling up their own pumpkin doughnuts to haul you away in handcuffs because you opted out of the pumpkin pie tradition. If your family consists of shameless chocoholics, run with it. A chocolate torte can be made festive for Thanksgiving by spreading orange hued frosting between the layers as well as on top of the cake, followed by a finishing touch of fall colored candies or casting sugars. In fact, one of the most ideal flavor pairings is that of dark chocolate and orange, so try incorporating some orange flavor as well as color into that frosting. Candy making hobbyists can get creative by making some chocolate cornucopias – molds can be purchased in craft stores that sell chocolate making and baking supplies – and then filling them with homemade truffles. Pecan pie is so much more decadent when chocolate is incorporated into the filling. If your family is nuts about nuts, try making a chocolate pecan pie with a mix of nutty favorites, whether that list includes cashews, pistachios, almonds, walnuts, peanuts, hazelnuts or all of the above to cover all bases. Go with lightly salted nuts, as the flavor combination of sweet and salty is deliciously satisfying.
Cheesecake is another perpetual favorite. While last Easter’s strawberry-covered cheesecake may seem out of place on an end-of-harvest feast, the topping can be switched up to highlight autumn’s cranberries instead of spring and summer varieties of berries. Below is a recipe that I have come up with that I will be using this Thanksgiving to crown a Coeur a la Crème, a super easy French dessert that resembles a rich and creamy soft cheesecake. In fact, the generosity of the holiday season is coming over me; I’ll share the whole dessert. However, if you prefer to use a traditional cheesecake, this topping will work on that too, as well as over a pumpkin pie or vanilla ice cream.
Coeur a La Crème with Cranberry-Port-Hazelnut Topping
1 ½ 8-ounce blocks cream cheese, softened to room temperature
1 ¼ cup confectioners’ sugar
2 ½ cups heavy cream
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
¼ teaspoon finely grated orange zest
Place the cream cheese and sugar in a mixer bowl. Using the paddle attachment, beat on high speed until thoroughly combined. Change from the paddle attachment to the whisk attachment. Add the remaining ingredients and beat until the mixture is well blended and thickened.
Line a large, fine-meshed sieve with cheesecloth and hang the sieve over a large bowl, making sure that the bottom of the sieve is suspended above, not against, the bottom of the bowl. Pour the cream cheese mixture into the sieve and smooth the top with a rubber spatula. Fold the overhanging cheesecloth to rest gently over the top. Place in the refrigerator overnight.
The next morning, make the topping.
½ tablespoon water
½ teaspoon unflavored gelatin powder
½ cup sugar
½ cup ruby Port
1 tablespoon Cointreau
½ teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1 cup fresh cranberries
½ cup chopped, toasted hazelnuts
Place the water in a small bowl and sprinkle the gelatin powder over it. Set aside. In a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, stir together the sugar, Port, Cointreau, cinnamon and cloves. Continue to stir until the sugar is dissolved. Stir in the cranberries and reduce the heat. Allow to simmer until at least half of the cranberries have popped. Transfer a ladle full of the hot mixture to the bowl containing the gelatin. Stir to combine. Now transfer the contents of the bowl into the remaining cranberry mixture in the saucepan and stir until combined. Remove from heat and set aside. Allow to cool to room temperature.
Remove the sieve from the refrigerator. There should be liquid accumulated in the bottom of the bowl. Discard the liquid. Peel back the cheesecloth that was folded over the top of the cream cheese mixture. Place a serving plate upside down on top of the sieve. Invert, turning out the mixture onto the plate. Remove the sieve and gentle peel off the cheesecloth. With an empty, clean ladle, gently press down on the center of the dessert, creating a well. Ladle the cranberry topping into the well, allowing it to overflow and trickle down the sides. Sprinkle with hazelnuts and serve.
- Traditionally, this dessert was so named because it is made in a porcelain dish with tiny holes in the bottom. A coeur, meaning ‘heart,’ is the shape of this dish. However, as most households may not possess such a dish, a large, fine-mesh sieve lined with cheesecloth works just as well.
Whatever dessert you choose, traditional or nouveau, the sweet mouthfuls will comfort all with the perfect, happy ending to this family holiday. Be sure to accompany dessert not only with coffee or tea, but consider also offering espresso, cordial liqueurs such as Frangelico for an autumn nutty flavor, Port, a warmed spice wine, or a sweet dessert wine such as moscato.
Food for Thought
If you need further inspirational reading for Thanksgiving menu planning, read all about potatoes, flavorful vegetable dishes such as braised fennel or Brussels sprouts, cranberries, pumpkins, desserts and even a comforting way to use up that leftover turkey!