I have a problem.
Okay, I'll be more specific. I'm positively bewildered at what to make for dessert this Thanksgiving. Any and all help and guidance will be very much appreciated. Thank you.
Okay, I'll be a bit more more specific. Allow me to provide you with some background information....
You see, my absolute favorite holiday is Thanksgiving. There's really no comparison in my book. How can you compare any other day to this great American tradition? As such, I regard it as my own sort of "culinary Olympics." If there is ever a time to bust out your best game, it's the fourth Thursday of November. Excess and indulgence are practically encouraged. In particular, as the self-proclaimed maker of all desserts, I regard each and every Thanksgiving as my opportunity to break out of my comfort zone, try something new, and perhaps satisfy my culinary curiosities.
Ever since I began making the desserts (going on four years, I think), I've always tried to switch the lineup. Usually we have at least six people for dessert, which gives me the excuse to make three or more treats. Because I so adore classic fall flavors, I go for one pumpkin dessert, one apple, and one cranberry. Usually pears and/or nuts also make an appearance. Additionally, I try not to make more than one of the same dish. That means there is only one cake, pie, cheesecake, bread pudding, crumble, etc. (My justification for this is that I like to have a variety, to be challenged, and not to get bored making three different kinds of pies.)
If my memory serves me correctly, here are the desserts we've served at the past three Thanksgivings, along with my tasting notes.
Pumpkin Cheesecake with Gingersnap Crust: Oh, yes. I believe this was the first time we made the pumpkin cheesecake. We found the recipe on Epicurious and adapted it a bit for our own tastes (adding more/less spices, making more of the crust, etc.). Put simply, this is the best cheesecake (aside from my all-time favorite, that is) I've ever tasted. It's also one of the best cheesecakes I've ever made. Bonus points for the requirement that it must be made ahead of time (perfect for Thanksgiving, then!)
Pecan Pie: We make my grandma's recipe for pecan pie, which, as my mom aptly puts it, is foolproof. It doesn't contain any corn syrup, like about 99% of other pecan pie recipes, just a combination of sugars. I'm not a huge fan of pecan pie (too sweet), but my grandparents almost always come over for Thanksgiving dessert, and it's my grandpa's favorite, so it's usually on the menu.
Apple Crumble (or Crisp): We probably used Ina's recipe, which is to die for and loaded with tons of crumble topping. Again, bonus points for being able to prepare it ahead of time (just rewarm it in the oven before serving). (There may have been cranberries in this one. Agh. Can't. Remember.)
Thanksgiving 2008 - better known in the Rogovin household as "The One with The Germans"
Pumpkin Bread Pudding: After discovering that Katie doesn't really the divine pumpkin cheesecake (I believe my exact reaction was something like "Whaaaaa?!"), I somewhat grudgingly agreed to go down a separate pumpkin path. Enter Martha Stewart and her recipe for pumpkin bread pudding. Holy. Cow. This was absolutely divine. We used a Raisin Challah that we had bought and froze around Rosh Hashanah and it was perfect. The best part, though, aside from the wonderful variation in textures (crispy bread bites and creamy, warm/spicy custard), was the rum raisins. I heart rum raisins.
German Apple Cake: This was an underdog dish that really shone through. I think the reason I decided to make it was because it "German" and we had Germans coming for dinner, so.... Anyway, it was very good - moist, but not spongy, and relatively light for a Thanksgiving dessert.
Pecan Pie: See above.
Pear and Cranberry Crumble: I adapted this recipe from one in Bon Appetit, using the idea for a pear and cranberry filling and then adding Ina's normal fruit crumble topping. It was very good; the only problem was that it was too soupy. I think the original recipe may have used apples instead of pears, but since I have my crazy rules, I decided to substitute pears. I've since learned that apples and pears are not interchangeable in recipes. The pears give off too much moisture. After a day, the juices had thickened very nicely, but I was nevertheless a bit annoyed by the outcome. Live and learn.
Thanksgiving 2009: or the Thanksgiving when there were almost as many desserts as people
Pumpkin Cheesecake: That's right, I brought it back. It's too good to pass over two consecutive years. As a more experienced baker, I again made some more adjustments, which I can't remember now but likely involved using less butter and sugar in the crust, baking in a water bath (always do it!), etc.
Apple Pie: My sister made a delicious apple pie. We struggled with the pretty (but impractical) Williams-Sonoma pie crust cutters. Also with making pie crust. Turned out beautifully in the end, though.
Pear-Cranberry Almond Cake: This was the true surprise of the year. It was my "challenge" recipe so to speak, as it was something I had never made before and I had been dying to try almond paste in a recipe. It's like baby steps toward frangipane and classic pastry. I absolutely loved this.
Rum Raisin Ice Cream: Have I mentioned how much I love rum raisins? Finally in possession of an ice cream maker, we just had to make a batch for Thanksgiving. Yes, we were required.
Pecan Pie: Last minute addition, as we felt as if three desserts and an ice cream weren't enough for six people. It's a testament to how easy this recipe is that we could decide at the very last minute to prepare it.
So that leads me to 2010. The head count is not entirely confirmed for dessert, but we have at least four. I'm planning on four desserts, but that could easily change as the big day draws closer. Luckily, ice cream is already covered. I'm going with an autumn-spiced (think cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, etc.) ice cream that I discovered a few weeks ago.
Next up is apples. I've really had my heart set on an apple frangipane tart, but most recipes are either for miniature tartlets or use the more traditional pear instead. I think it'd be a nice take off of apple pie, which we had last year.
Cranberries are also a conundrum. I have a tendency to shy away from making them the star of a dessert because their tartness can be dominating if not treated properly. Plus, we usually have three or more types of cranberry preparations to go with the main meal. However, I've been eyeing a Martha Stewart cranberry almond tart recipe for a few years. However, that would knock out the apple frangipane tart (two tarts, two almond desserts).
Pears are not usually a main priority at Thanksgiving for me, but I'm always open to recipes that feature them either in a star or supporting role. I'm particularly fascinated by this apple pear brioche cobbler. Part of me is dying to try out this enticing combination, while another part of me thinks it might just be too much work for the feel I try to create through my cooking. What exactly is that feel? I like to think of it as comforting, yet classy. Yeast doughs may just be too fussy.
Pumpkin poses a somewhat different challenge. While I do want to stretch myself and expand my baking horizons, a Thanksgiving without pumpkin cheesecake just doesn't seem right. I've toyed with the idea of adding a crumb topping to cheesecake, but a part of me feels that the cake is likely better unadorned. Often the simplest things are the tastiest. Nevertheless, I've seen so many delicious-looking pumpkin recipes in the past few weeks that the possibilities almost seem too good to pass up.
So this is where you all come in. Thoughts? Ideas? Suggestions? What are you planning on for your Thanksgiving dessert? I'm ready and willing to listen. (And trust me, this won't be the last time I discuss this topic over here.) Until then, I'll continue ruminating over the relative merits of meringue topping versus cranberry balsamic glaze....