I hope you all had a very happy Thanksgiving!
I had a lovely time with my friends at our own Friendsgiving this year.
These friends had a baby about a month ago, so to make life easier for them, we brought dinner to their place: turkey, dressing, mashed potatoes, roasted butternut squash, crescent rolls, and of course, dessert! (I have to give credit where credit is due. I didn’t make the whole dinner - they made the green beans, cranberry sauce, salad, and gravy. I have to say, we make a pretty mighty dinner team. Everything was excellent!)
With this being my blog about baking, of course I’m going to focus on the desserts for my storytelling today. When I was deciding what to make, I started by imagining what a typical Thanksgiving dessert spread looks like…
Do you ever get tired of the same old boring thing? I think I epitomize the phrase “variety is the spice of life”, and my food choices/expectations are certainly in line with this motto. About a decade and a half ago, I started rebelling against having turkey for Christmas. I think it started the year New Orleans had snow on Christmas (I know, right?! It actually happened!) and my grandparents, who were planning to bring over the bulk of Christmas dinner, couldn’t make it to my parents' house.
(NOTE: it didn’t snow that much - it is New Orleans after all. But the south doesn’t have the infrastructure to deal with such an infrequent weather phenomenon, so when snow does happen, everything shuts down. And I’m not upset about that. I would rather delay Christmas dinner by a day than have my family on the road with all of the half-drunk, inexperienced snow drivers of New Orleans anyway.)
My mother saved the day by making us crawfish fettuccine for Christmas dinner that night, and I remember thinking it was the best thing ever! I guess it got the gears turning for me - why do we have to eat the exact same things EVERY year for the holidays?! There are so many varieties of spices and dishes and we force ourselves to eat the exact same things every year.
So the next year when I was chatting with my mom about the Christmas dinner menu and she listed turkey, I asked, “why not a ham?” She said that we could absolutely make a ham, so imagine how terrible I felt when she started cooking both a turkey AND a ham for Christmas dinner that year.
I guess some of us are so rooted in our food traditions that the idea of switching something out (like a ham instead of a turkey) doesn’t even occur to us.
Another example I’ll share of this is on a family trip to the beach one year, I decided to make a batch of chocolate chip oatmeal cookies for some whimsy. I was so proud of them and happy to finally share my talents with my family, that I loaded them up on a plate and passed them out to my family members in the living room. My grandmother (this is not the grandmother from the previous story), who was very traditional, took a bite out of her freshly baked, warm and gooey chocolate chip oatmeal cookie, asked if those were chocolate chips (as if I hadn’t announced it to the group multiple times), confirmed again that they were not raisins, and then tried to put the cookie back on the plate of baked cookies.
I didn’t let her. (I must have been wearing my chef’s hat that day since I decided to protect my cookies more than someone else’s feelings). I did, however, go back to the grocery store at her request, to pick up a box of raisins and remake my delicious cookies as traditional oatmeal raisin cookies.
All of this to say that I truly understand how people are sometimes heavily bound to their traditions - particularly foods. Which is why I felt that I had to get creative with my dessert ideas this year instead of completely tossing tradition right out of the window. (Like the year I made both a raspberry chocolate cake and a triple layer Kahlua and chocolate cheesecake for Thanksgiving dessert.)
I’ve never celebrated the holidays with these friends, so I wasn’t sure how it would go when I sent over a menu that included all of the above listed foods and a vague “desserts”. Would they be expecting the same old boring pies that we’ve all been eating for years? Part of me kind of thought that yes they would, but then another part of me realized that I’ve reached the status of pastry chef in my friend groups where all I have to say is that I’m bringing dessert and they are A-ok with whatever happens next.
In an effort not to fly too close to the sun with my creativity, I created my dessert menu based off of the most traditional Thanksgiving pies: pumpkin, pecan, and apple. And believe it or not, another Thanksgiving tradition shaped this menu as well: leftovers.
I have had a container of leftover pumpkin pasties filling hanging out in my refrigerator ever since my Halloween episode of Baking and Boozing. There is a reason why I left an addendum to that recipe to only make half of the filling - there’s so much of it and I can’t get rid of it! I also had some leftover puff pastry sheets from a recent party I had. I like to make pigs-in-a-blanket using nothing more than two packages of lil’ smokies and a package of puff pastry. It’s so easy and it makes a TON of snacks for my parties.
I decided to make my own form of cinnamon rolls by replacing the dough with puff pastry, spreading the butter, cinnamon, and sugar on the pastry sheet, then layering on the pumpkin pasties filling before rolling and slicing it.
After they came out of the oven, I made a drizzle of milk, vanilla extract, and powdered sugar to top them with, and I served them warm. All I have to say is that even though they weren't the prettiest or flashiest of desserts, they were a MEGA success and I highly recommend that you try that out for yourself.
Next up is my representation of pecan pie. This one was nothing groundbreaking, but it was very sweet and a little nutty, and I think that’s all people really need in this life. I found a recipe for butter pecan cupcakes (that truthfully I will probably never use again because it was a little dry) that called for toasting your pecans on the stovetop with a bit of butter before chopping them and folding them into the cake batter. The frosting was cream cheese and brown sugar, and I topped each one with a toasted pecan half.
Lastly, is the apple. I have a love-hate relationship with apples, truth be told. I can eat raw apples any day of the week and I will be overjoyed with my good fortune of getting to eat an apple, but the second you offer . me a cooked apple of any kind with its soft, slimy texture, I will absolutely recoil.
I don’t know what it is about cooked apples, but I just can’t. (This reminds me, we had another guest at Thanksgiving who made a delicious salad, part of which involved thin shards of apple slices. It was delicious and I brought home leftovers of the apple topped salad, because even in savory dishes, raw apples are still delicious to me!)
Fortunately for me, I filmed the latest episode of Baking and Boozing with one of my good friends last week, and the cocktail had muddled apples. I still had all of the ingredients on hand and since I know how tense it can get in the kitchen around the holidays, I decided to make a big batch of the apple cocktail and I served it for pre-dinner drinks - you know, just to take the edge off. I won’t go into too much detail about this drink today, but this cocktail went over so well that I think I’m going to serve it at my Ugly Christmas Sweater party, too.
I think everyone deserves to try such deliciousness, so be on the lookout for next week’s Baking and Boozing Episode so you can snag the cocktail recipe, too!
What delights did you serve at your Thanksgiving gathering this year? Were they full blown traditional, or did you step out of the box and make something a little creative? Post your comments below!
Happy eating, y’all!
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