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What’s for Dessert?

It wouldn’t be Thanksgiving ­without the sweet finale

Can Thanksgiving dinner be both wonderful and boring at the same time? I’ve been having the exact same Thanksgiving dinner for almost 25 years now, and it’s getting old. Every year it’s the same people, same place, same menu.
    What’s changeable?
    It’s family, so that’s not changing.
    Turkey with stuffing, sweet potatoes, gravy and the trimmings are too traditional to change.
    I could change the location, but that would mean volunteering my house. Too much work.
    The one thing that can change — because it’s not so deeply rooted in tradition and because it’s our assignment — is dessert.
    For the past 25 years, everyone has loved my wife’s crème caramel, and pecan and pumpkin pies. This year I’m lobbying for a change. It might ruffle some feathers, but we’re going to have apple pie à la mode, Smith Island Cake and baklava.
    Since we will no longer need our time-proven recipes, I give them to you so you too can try something new. A year from now I might be asking for them back, writing that my family has finally forgiven me for my attempted Thanksgiving dessert coup. But for now, I’m going for change.
    On the subject of change, I need to change our routine of having dessert directly after dinner. We have to insert some time so dinner can be digested and my wife’s wonderful desserts can be fully enjoyed. I’ve been asking friends, neighbors and colleagues what they do. Answers included taking a walk, getting the Christmas tree, watching football, playing football and playing games.
    This year I will try the game approach: Trivial Pursuit, Baby Boomers Edition. We will not only gain some digestive time but also teach the younger generation some humility.

Pastry for Pie Crust

Enough for one two-crust pie or one single-crust 10-inch pie

Combine:
    1-3/4 cups all-purpose flour
    1 teaspoon salt
Add:
    1/3 cup cold butter
    1/3 cup shortening

    Press the flour into the butter with your fingertips until the butter is the size of small peas. Then do the same with the shortening.
    Gradually sprinkle 1⁄3 cup ice water over the mixture, stirring with a fork until enough has been added to pat the dough lightly into a ball.
    Roll out between two sheets of wax or parchment paper.
    Chill before removing the paper and pressing into a pie pan.
    Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
    Line a 9-inch pie pan with pastry and freeze for 30 minutes.
    Line the pie shell with aluminum foil; add pastry weights, beans or rice.
    Partially bake the pie shell for 15 to 20 minutes; cool, remove weights and foil.

Pecan Pie

Mix:
    4 eggs, beaten
    3/4 cup light brown sugar
    1/4 teaspoon salt
    1 cup light corn syrup
    1/2 teaspoon vanilla
    2 tablespoons melted and cooled butter
    1 cup pecans, broken into pieces

    Pour into the partially baked shell, and bake for 40 minutes at 350 degrees. Cool. Serve with vanilla ice cream.

Pumpkin Pie

Adapted from America’s Test Kitchen website

Prepare a partially baked 10-inch pie shell.

Whisk together in a bowl:
    1 cup heavy cream
    1 cup whole milk
    3 large eggs plus 2 large yolks
    1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Combine in a heavy-bottomed sauce pan:
    1 (15-ounce) can pumpkin puree
    1 cup drained candied yams from 15-ounce can (see recipe)
    3/4 cup sugar
    1/4 cup maple syrup
    2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger
    1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
    1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
    1 teaspoon table salt

    Bring to a simmer over medium heat, stirring constantly and mashing yams against sides of pot, until thick and shiny, 10 to 15 minutes. Be careful it doesn’t burn.
    Remove pan from heat and whisk in cream mixture. Strain mixture over medium bowl, using back of ladle or spatula to press solids through strainer. Rewhisk mixture and transfer to partially baked pie shell. Return pie plate to oven and bake pie at 400 degrees for 10 minutes. Reduce heat to 300 degrees and continue baking until edges of pie are set (instant-read thermometer inserted in center registers 175 degrees), 20 to 35 minutes longer. Transfer pie to wire rack and cool to room temperature, two to three hours.

Crème Caramel

Adapted from Entertaining by Martha Stewart

Makes two one-quart desserts

Prepare the caramel:
    1 cup sugar
    4 tablespoons water
    1 tablespoon light corn syrup

    Dissolve sugar with 2 tablespoons water in a saucepan by swirling the water into the sugar. Do not stir. Cover and place on low heat until sugar is completely dissolved. Uncover and raise heat. Boil syrup until it begins to turn a golden color. Swirl pan over heat, and when desired caramel color is reached, remove from heat and pour into molds. Swirl the caramel around the bottom and sides of each mold and let cool.

Prepare the custard:
    Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
    1 cup sugar
    2-1/2 cups heavy cream
    2-1/2 cups milk
    1 teaspoon vanilla extract
    6 eggs
    6 egg yolks

    Simmer the cream and milk with the vanilla for 5 minutes.
    Whisk the sugar into the eggs and yolks. Gradually add hot milk and cream, whisking continually. Strain the mixture into the prepared molds. Put the molds in a pan and pour boiling water into the pan to come halfway up the molds. Bake for about 45 minutes or until custard is firm then cool.
    To unmold, run a sharp knife around the edge of the custard. Put a serving dish over the mold and quickly invert. Pour the remaining caramel around the custard.