We are (as of this writing on Thursday evening) pretty much one week from Thanksgiving dinner. (I had mine last weekend when much of my family was in town.) Anyway, for many of us, the next seven days will constitute the busiest cooking week of the year. There are menus to plan, prep to knock out, and relatives to navigate, all on top of the countless other things that keep us sufficiently busy and stressed on a normal day.
With that in mind, let’s get right to the point. More often than not, Thanksgiving dessert means pie. As “un-American” as it might make me, pie is not my favorite (we’ll unpack that sometime). Whether you feel similarly, are ready for a change of pace, or just want something different to add to your classic lineup of pumpkin, apple, sweet potato, and pecan, here are some of my favorite “alternative” Thanksgiving desserts: 8 recipes. 0 pies. If you’re prepping for the big day this weekend, good luck. If you’re not, offer to help. Either way, have a blessed weekend and I’ll see you Tuesday.
Craig Lee for the New York Times
Some of your relatives are probably going to be soaked in booze by the time dessert rolls around, so why shouldn’t your cake be, too? Soaking cake in liquor or syrup is a time-honored tradition. Basically, you bake a fairly standard cake (this one is infused with puréed apples), and when it’s done you douse it with butter-laden booze until it’s saturated. The result, as you can imagine, is strong and juicy, and eliminates the need for frosting.
Monkey bread (aka sticky bread, pull-apart bread, bubble loaf) is undeniably fun to eat. It consists of lots of tiny balls of dough that rolled in sugar, piled into a bundt pan, drowned in butter and brown sugar, and baked until sticky and golden. You turn the whole thing out onto a platter and have at it, pulling off pieces of the dough as you go.
Evan Sung for the New York Times
This is one of those desserts that looks fancier than it is (especially if you take a little time with the pear arranging), which I think is often what you want on Thanksgiving: something impressive that’s not going to kill you. It’s also great at room temperature, so you don’t need to stress about any last-minute timing.
Craig Lee for the New York Times
This dessert is perfect for harried Thanksgiving cooks. There's no baking involved and it requires minimal work, most of which you can do ahead of time. All you really need is some freezer space (for the pumpkin purée) and maybe a helper to assist in layering the parfaits (that unruly kid who’s terrorizing your living room will be perfect; use plastic cups).
Probably the only thing more autumnal than apple cider doughnuts is Thanksgiving itself. These two deserve each other, but seldom (if ever) get paired up because a) many of us think of doughnuts as breakfast instead of dessert, and b) frying our own doughnuts feels daunting enough on a normal day, let alone the busiest cooking day of the year. Nevertheless, they are such a treat, totally doable, and I’ve found that the post-turkey, pre-dessert, tryptophan-induced stupor is the perfect window to do the frying (once the oil is hot, it happens fast). Or, you know, give the job to someone else.
The term comfort food is overused. But not here: rice pudding is incredibly soothing. It’s creamy, but not overpoweringly rich, which can actually be a nice way to end a heavy meal. Rice pudding is also an incredibly divisive dish (people tend to either love it or hate it; I'm in the former camp), so if yours is one of those Thanksgivings where the liberal and conservative parts of your family just argue the whole night no matter what, this could very well be the perfect dessert.
This is a recipe I worked on with Jean-Georges Vongerichten (which is why it sounds so elegant). But it's a simple dish: pears simmered in sugar syrup that’s infused with the kind of warm, cozy spices that seem to belong in Thanksgiving food. The crème anglaise is a nice and suitably impressive touch, though if you want to take the path of least resistance (it’s the holidays and you’ve cooked 12 other things; nothing wrong with that), mix some finely chopped crystallized ginger into vanilla ice cream and serve the pears with that.
I’ve never been part of a family that reliably eats biscuits on Thanksgiving, but I’m slightly envious of the ones that do. This version (laced with sweet potato purée, cinnamon, and maple syrup) could technically be a side dish, and I’d respect that move (especially if you slathered them with a little whipped butter). But I think of sweet-leaning biscuits as dessert territory. Serve these hot (or split and toasted) with some vanilla ice cream and an extra drizzle of maple syrup, and you won’t be sorry.
Talk To Me, Goose!
Questions, comments, brilliant suggestions? Just want to share the recipe for your grandma's potato salad, or your mom's meatloaf, or your uncle Drew's three-day 100-percent rye loaf (yes, please)? Don't hesitate to reach out anytime.