Chefs' Picks: Thanksgiving Pie

We asked pastry chefs across the country to share recipes for the Thanksgiving pies they're baking for their own holiday table.

Turkey may be the Thanksgiving centerpiece, but pie is the grand finale. Torn between baking pumpkin, apple or something different? We turned to the experts — pastry chefs across the country — to see what they are whipping up for their own holiday table. From revamped classics to varieties more outside the pie box, here’s how they’re ending the biggest meal of the year.

Chocolate Pecan Pie

Chicago’s Bang, Bang Pie earns rave reviews for its unique flavor combinations and use of seasonal ingredients (best enjoyed out in the restaurant's pie garden). Come the holiday season, the bakers add a subtle twist to classics. “While we love providing more unique flavors throughout the year, we find that our guests really appreciate familiar flavors on their holiday table,” says owner Michael Ciapciak. For Thanksgiving, that means adding a layer of dark chocolate to classic pecan pie. To quicken the process, buy a premade graham cracker crust.

Photo by: Alice Gao ©Alice Gao Photography

Alice Gao, Alice Gao Photography

Chestnut Tart

At Paris-inspired bistro Benoit in New York City, Pastry Chef Jean-Loup Teterel makes classic French tarts for the holiday in flavors like chestnut with a shortbread crust, roasted walnuts and praline glaze. “Some recipes merely use the chestnut as a sweetening agent or to moisten a chocolate cake, but that seems unfair, as the chestnut’s flavor is quite delicate and stands out nicely on its own,” he says. “Here I like to use chestnuts widely for their flour as well as for confectionary purposes yielding a rich, faint sweet chestnut cloudlike effect in the end result.”

Banana Cream Pie

Pastry Chef Megan Garrelts is no stranger to making pies. You can usually find a half dozen on her menu at Rye in Kansas City, Mo., at any given time. Flavors run the gamut from classic lemon meringue and banana cream to creative flavors like the childhood-inspired Concord grape-peanut butter. “I like making both classic pie recipes and coming up with my own flavor combinations. If you are using fruit, utilize what’s in season for the best results,” she says. She shares with us some of her pie-making do’s and don’ts:  

Give the crust some love. Try to use a high-quality milled flour, if possible. For the fat, Garrelts mixes high-butter-fat butter and pure lard together, then seasons everything with salt and sugar. Seasoning the crust is a baker’s secret. Often there is no sugar or salt in the dough. Those ingredients aid in flavor and color when baking.

Chill out. Keep all of the crust ingredients very cold. Minimize hand-to-flour contact so as not to overwork the dough or to warm the dough too much (which causes the fat to blend rather than layer into the flour base for the best flakes).

Bake the crust. Bake at 325 degrees F in a convection-style oven, egg-wash the dough for a golden color and make sure the dough has been chilled well.

Keep the texture. Garrelts uses a flour mix to dust the bottom of the unbaked pie crust, then paints the bottom of the banana cream pie with dark chocolate to build a layer between the crust and the pastry cream — and keep the crust from getting soggy.

S’mores Pie

Not everyone gets to celebrate Thanksgiving with cooler temperatures and changing leaves. So for his holiday pie in scorching Arizona, Pastry Chef Lance Whipple, of Four Seasons Scottsdale at Troon North, makes a pie version of the campfire classic, topping bittersweet chocolate with a toasty marshmallow layer.

S’more Pie, Four Seasons Resort Scottsdale at Troon North

Yield: 8 servings
Graham Cracker Crust
1 1/4 cup graham cracker crumbs
1/4 cup granulated sugar
4 1/2 tablespoons butter, melted
Chocolate Filling
1/3 cup (3 ounces) butter
3/4 cup (3 1/2 ounces) semisweet chocolate
1 cup granulated sugar
1 pinch salt
3 whole eggs
1 egg yolk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoons whole milk
1 1/2 tablespoons heavy cream
Marshmallow Topping
1 gelatin sheet
2 egg whites
1/2 cup granulated sugar

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Lightly butter a 9-inch pie plate.

Mix together all crust ingredients in bowl, then pack into the prepared pie plate, going up the sides.

Bake for 8 minutes, or until slightly toasted.

While the crust bakes, start the filling. Melt the butter and the chocolate in a double boiler on low heat, stirring occasionally, until melted and smooth.

In a large bowl, mix together sugar and salt. In a medium bowl, combine the eggs, egg yolk, vanilla, milk and cream with a whisk until well-combined.

Add wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and mix well, then pour the mixture into the warmed chocolate, stirring to combine.

Gently pour the chocolate filling into the graham cracker crust and bake for about 30 minutes or until the mixture is set. It will have a puffy texture.

Meanwhile, make the marshmallow topping.

Sprinkle the gelatin over 1/4 cup cold water in a bowl and set aside to bloom.

Combine egg whites and sugar over a double boiler and melt slowly until all the sugar is dissolved and the mixture is slightly warm.

Microwave the dissolved gelatin, stirring every 10 seconds, until melted, then add to the bowl.

Take the mixture off the heat and whip till the marshmallow is white and fluffy, with medium peaks, then spread over the cooled chocolate filling.

Return the pie to the oven at 350 degrees F to brown the marshmallow slightly.

Cake dessert pie

Cake dessert pie

Sweet nutty cake dessert pie

Roasted Peanut Chess

If anybody knows pies, it’s Phoebe Lawless, who used to sell more than 400 pies a week at the local farmers market before opening her cafe, Scratch, in Durham, N.C. Close to a dozen seasonal pies grace her menu each month, including an autumnal nut pie that takes a departure from the usual: “This year, forget about pecans,” she says. “And try peanuts!”

Roasted Peanut Chess Pie

The pie can be made one day ahead. Keep in the refrigerator, but allow it to come to room temperature before serving.

Yield: 8 servings
1 cup milk
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup skinned, dark-roasted peanuts, chopped
4 eggs
2 egg yolks
1 1/2 cup brown sugar, packed
2 tablespoons cornmeal
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 ounces unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1 9-inch frozen pie pastry shell

Combine milk and cream in a small saucepan over medium-high heat to scald, then add nuts to steep, at least three hours or overnight. Strain, discarding the nuts.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

In a medium bowl, combine eggs, egg yolks, sugar, cornmeal and salt. Whisk until very smooth. Add peanut milk (if refrigerated, warm lightly before adding) and melted butter, then whisk again.

Pour filling into pastry shell and bake for 35 to 40 minutes, or until edges are set and there is only a slight jiggle of custard in center of pie.

Remove from oven (filling will continue to set as it rests) and cool completely before slicing.

Chestnut tart photo courtesy of Alice Gao
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