Over the years, my family has curated a menu of holiday “must-haves.” Thanksgiving turkey and mashed potato recipes picked from Gourmet magazines of years past, Christmas beef tenderloin and Yorkshire pudding from my grandma’s recipe box. However, despite our annual devotion to the aforementioned recipes, dessert is an ever-rotating wild card. From year to year, we bounce between different types of pies, cookies and cakes sourced from cookbooks, magazines and food blogs, all with varying degrees of success. We have had some hits, such as Smitten Kitchen’s Apple Cake, but most of the chosen desserts have never cycled into the annual rotation.
After a few years of mediocre Thanksgiving dessert spreads, my family wanted to introduce a few tried and true, but new for us, holiday sweets. Ever the holiday meal planner, my mom started putting together our menu a month in advance. We got to thinking about dessert and over the coming weeks, I paid particular attention to dessert recommendations from coworkers at The Chopping Block, my friends and favorite food blogs. My mom and I emailed recipes back and forth to one another, focusing on recipes that had a legitimate seal of approval. A week before Thanksgiving we had decided on our spread: Julia Child’s Aunt Helen’s Fluffy Pumpkin Pie, Food52’s Ginger Apple Torte, and of course, The Chopping Block’s Famous Apple Pie. All three recipes had trustworthy sources, Julia Child (duh!), the meticulous Food52 community and of course, the entire Chopping Block team; we were setting ourselves up for success.
The day before Thanksgiving, the baking began. I was in charge of the torte and apple pie, my mom had the pumpkin pie. We meticulously planned our cooking schedule so as to efficiently reserve the oven for the necessary bake times. Interestingly, the pumpkin pie, already made unique by adding whipped egg whites into the pumpkin puree, was to be left in the oven as it cooled (with the door cracked), to prevent the typical condensation from forming on top of the pie filling. We were a bit skeptical of this step since we had never seen this tip in any of our previous pumpkin pie recipes, but heeded to Aunt Helen’s advice. And you know what? Julia’s aunt was onto something! Her tip resulted in a perfect, condensation-free pie.
It was a fun day of cooking; my mom shared pie dough rolling tips after my first attempt was a disaster as the house filled with the unmistakable scent of sweet and spicy holiday baking. We could barely resist taking a bite of each as they cooled, awaiting our feast the next day.
The apple pie, pre-oven
After our delicious Thanksgiving meal, we waited a bit to digest before digging in for dessert. I elected to have a piece of each dessert both to cater to my sweet tooth and determine if any of our sweets would finally make it onto the permanent recipe list. And you know what? Our pies made the cut. My mom deemed the pumpkin pie “the best” she has ever eaten. And of course, the apple pie, which already has a crowd of devotees between The Chopping Block staff and customers, was a hit. The ginger apple torte was delicious, but it’s dense, molasses-y consistency was a bit too heavy for a Thanksgiving night-cap. It is a perfect recipe for a winter dinner party, where it can stand alone and shine as the only dessert.
The December holidays will be here before we know it, which means my family is already planning for Christmas dinner. Dessert is still up in the air, but I think we will continue with our newfound tradition of thoughtfully choosing recipes that have been tried and true by the culinary greats. I am planning to peruse our just-released Be a Better Baker guide that's full of holiday recipes perfect for a crowd. Perhaps Julia Child’s Aunt Helen has a famous Christmas dessert. I’ll be keeping my eye on the New York Times, just in case.