Pie is canceled for Thanksgiving 2020

A spread of desserts for Thanksgiving
All the desserts for Thanksgiving 2020, and not a traditional pie crust in sight.
(Silvia Razgova / For The Times; prop styling by Kate Parisian)

Thanksgiving in 2020 is going to look a lot different this year in more ways than one. So instead of doing things the way they’ve always been done, here are recipes that throw tradition out the window — at least just this once — and play around with the expected holiday tropes. You’ll see that the classic dishes can be much easier — and more fun — when you focus on highlighting the qualities in each that really matter.

After almost a year of being at home and the same old, same old, reinvigorate your Thanksgiving table with a fresh outlook on the traditional holiday staples.

Nov. 12, 2020

Potentially controversial statement: Pies don’t belong at Thanksgiving. Or rather, traditional pie crust doesn’t. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy making a pastry crust and think it’s a skill worth mastering, but I‘ve always felt it gets lost in the rich, spiced fillings that come with Thanksgiving pies. Gooey, sugary pecans and dense spiced pumpkin purée dominate whatever crust encases them so you miss any flaky, buttery nuance in the pastry. In summertime, however, that rich, flaky pastry is a welcome foil to fruit-filled pies made with tart stone fruit and berries.


So, instead of overwhelming your already hectic cooking to-do list with making pastry that will ultimately go unnoticed, just skip it this year. In its place, I offer you these improvements on the standard pies.

First, there’s my Pumpkin Nemesis, a spin on the classic chocolate cake served at the River Cafe in London. It’s all smooth and creamy spiced pumpkin custard with no mediocre crust to get in the way of its richness. Pumpkin purée — from the can or homemade — is mixed with spices, butter and eggs and a warm sugar syrup that gives it an incredibly smooth texture. And because there’s no crust, it’s also gluten-free, which should make it a godsend for those who glare with gluten intolerance at the typical Thanksgiving dessert table.

Next is my Apple Fritter Cake With Butterscotch Glaze. Apple pie is only stellar when piping hot and scooped into a bowl with a scoop of cold ice cream melting on top. So why deal with precooking apples, making a double pastry crust and hours of baking just to mash it up in a bowl? Either make apple cobbler or, better yet, make this cake — it has all the flavors you want from apple pie but in a less stressful package. Apples are diced fine so they cook to a yielding, al dente texture, then coated in cinnamon before being mixed into a simple cake batter. The edges bake up crispy and, with the cake’s pockmarked appearance, the dessert resembles a giant apple fritter doughnut. A butterscotch glaze spread on top pushes that comparison further and adds a layer of brown sugar warmth that pairs perfectly with the spiced cake.

Finally, there’s my Malted Milk Pecan Pie. Even though this is a pie, there’s no traditional pastry crust. Instead, you make a hot-water pastry crust — a concept familiar to anyone who’s ever binge-watched “The Great British Baking Show” — which you knead only briefly before pressing it into place like Play-Doh. It allows you to take your time in shaping it, so there’s no stressing over keeping dough cold or tears in the pastry. It also bakes up like a crunchy shortbread cookie, which is an ideal base for the rich, custardy pecan pie filling. But instead of the typical jellied corn syrup goo, this one has a creamy pudding-like texture thanks to sweetened condensed milk stirred into the filling and malted milk powder and browned butter, which play up the pecans’ nuttiness.

All three desserts are much easier to make than their inspirations and highlight the qualities of the classics that we enjoy the most. During the holidays, nothing could be sweeter than that.

Pumpkin Nemesis

Time1 hour 20 minutes, plus 1 1/2 hours unattended
YieldsServes 8 to 12

Apple Fritter Cake with Butterscotch Glaze

Time1 hour 15 minutes
YieldsServes 8 to 12

Malted Milk Pecan Pie

Time1 hour, plus 1 hour 10 minutes unattended
YieldsServes 8