Spectacular Thanksgiving Desserts Beyond Pie
Ready to branch out beyond the traditional Thanksgiving pies? We have all the Thanksgiving dessert recipes you’re dreaming of!
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There are two camps among eaters of Thanksgiving desserts: those who zero right in on the pie, and those who wish the pies were something else. As a kid, I ate a few bites of pumpkin pie filling and a mega-dollop of Cool Whip before sneaking into the freezer for ice cream.
Now that I’m all grown up, I adore pie…but also recognize there’s not a wrong way to do dessert. I also know there are two kinds of bakers: those who love making pie, and those who are terrified at the very thought.
Whether you are not in the pie-loving camp, you’re ready to shake things up, or you are hoping for a third option — both pie and another dessert — there’s a big world of holiday treats to choose from. What qualifies as classic Thanksgiving is all in the attitude, and you can reference that iconic Thanksgiving pie in other ways: pumpkin cheesecake, pumpkin trifle, pumpkin bread pudding…even pumpkin pie tamales.
Or you can give the pumpkin spice a rest and go for other fall flavors on the dessert spread, like apple cider, sweet potato, or caramel. Chocolate has long been absent from traditional Thanksgiving desserts, but there are plenty of ways to fix that, from tarts to brownies.
Whatever your Thanksgiving feast looks like this year, and whatever your baking level, we have the best Thanksgiving desserts to bring joy and dazzle to the table.
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Make-ahead Thanksgiving dessert recipes
With so many dishes to plan for Thanksgiving, dessert can fall by the wayside. Here are a few you can make ahead and freeze or refrigerate so dessert gets the attention it deserves!
If you always have trouble making pumpkin pie but crave the flavors, try this. You make a similar eggy pumpkin custard, but instead of baking it in a pie shell, pour it over cubes of crusty bread. Assemble and refrigerate the casserole up to a day before baking. A spoonful of whipped cream is all this needs!
This is not your grandmother’s pumpkin roll…but she’ll probably love it! Oats give it a little texture, and aquafaba (the liquid from a can of chickpeas) creates the structure that’s normally up to the eggs. Looking for a gluten-free Thanksgiving dessert or a vegan Thanksgiving dessert? You can check both boxes here, and it will dazzle your diners, too. A pumpkin roll is always a bit of a project, so start this one early, and for mess-free slices, chill it at least 6 hours.
Another dessert table standout, and ideal for those of you who don’t always gravitate toward pumpkin yet feel superstitiously bound to eat it at this time of year. There’s a lot going on here — salty pretzel crunch, fudgy brownies, pumpkin pie spice, cream cheese, bourbon — so the pumpkin itself is only a member of a dazzling ensemble cast. Make these ahead and refrigerate or freeze them so they can magically appear for the big event.
Easy Thanksgiving desserts
Here are a few desserts you can make if you don’t have a lot of time or baking equipment.
Cheesecakes have been known to crack, weep, or collapse — but no-bake cheesecakes don’t have any of these issues! What better way for wary non-bakers than to simply not bake? A cinnamon graham cracker crust means you’re off the hook for making pie dough, too. The mousse-like filling isn’t as heavy as other cheesecakes, either. Chill at least 6 hours in advance so the cheesecake can set.
Everyone knows pumpkin bars are essentially pumpkin cake gone casual, and a willing canvas for whirls of rich and tangy cream cheese frosting. Here you’ll just mix up an easy batter and whip up cream cheese for that frosting. These are good for snacking in the days leading up to the big event, too. You bake this in a 9 x 13-inch pan, but the recipe gives you the option of a jelly roll if you prefer the cake thinner.
Apple crisp gives you all the flavors of apple pie filling with a fraction of the labor. Give the same old apple crisp a new kick by mixing peanut butter in the topping. It’s not so peanutty you’ll gasp — just pause a bit between bites and then notice. Topped with ice cream, it’s a cozy finale that’s easy to make.
If your Thanksgiving dessert ritual is more about grazing, a platter of these soft cookies fits the bill perfectly. They have just the right amount of cinnamon, and are great with a cup of coffee.
Individual Thanksgiving desserts
Want to impress your fellow diners? Give each of them an individual dessert. Here are some cuties that stand alone.
The plus with hand pies — besides their appeal as individual parcels — is the generous ratio of buttery crust to filling. For those who love pastry, this is your dessert. Not into making the dough from scratch? You can easily sub store-bought refrigerated pastry. Fearing the “pie” part? Think of these as filled cookies (you just need a 3-inch cutter). Orange zest and a vanilla bean give the jammy cranberry filling nuance, and coarse sugar baked on top of the pies add crunch. Make the filling and dough ahead for headache-free assembly.
The Paleo folks shouldn’t have to forgo dessert at Thanksgiving. These gluten-free whoopie pies are made with cashew butter, eggs, pumpkin, and coconut flour. Use maple syrup in the batter, or maple-flavored syrup alternative for a sugar-free option. The recipe offers two fillings — one dairy-free, one with butter — so you can tailor the whoopie pies to your dietary needs.
Sophisticated fall desserts
Do you look forward to creating a fancy dessert for Turkey Day? Consider these!
Move over, pineapple upside-down cake. Fresh berries offset the sweetness of the caramel layer in the bottom of the pan that, once flipped, becomes the jeweled crown. The cooked berries become a bit like cranberry sauce…and personally, I can never get enough cranberry sauce on Thanksgiving.
No run-of-the-mill apple cake, this. It’s a dressed-up layer cake gilded with caramel sauce and chopped pecans. Three layers! Salted caramel buttercream frosting! Let everyone know to save room at Thanksgiving dinner for this masterpiece, which might make you think of glorified apple cider donuts.
What a stunner. Serving this layered masterpiece in a trifle dish shows off its alluring components: gingersnap crumbs, luscious vanilla mascarpone cream, and pumpkin custard. A coffee-laced drizzle caps it off, making it all reminiscent of a pumpkin spice tiramisu.
This Thanksgiving, give your pecan pie recipe a break and try this tart. It’s amazing how a little chocolate and artfully sprinkled salt cut the sweet richness of pecan pie filling. For extra flavor, lightly toast the pecans before sprinkling them over the filling. Store-bought refrigerated pie dough is a totally legit option here.
This starts out as a basic buttery apple cake, with a few upgrades to make it glorious. A brown butter glaze gives it a butterscotch essence, and it’s doused in caramel sauce right before serving. There’s a from-scratch caramel sauce in the recipe, but you could skip it and used jarred, if you like.
Unique Thanksgiving desserts
For adventurous types, here are creative Thanksgiving desserts to shake things up.
Have you ever had dessert tamales? Here, the masa dough is sweetened with brown sugar and pumpkin spice, a pumpkin-tamale hybrid. Use your Instant Pot to shave hours off the steaming time. It’s traditional for families to make tamales together during the holidays, and these are a great reason to gather your crew to help with assembly.
If you live in certain parts of California or the southern United States, you know all about persimmons, which grow abundantly on ornamental trees at this time of year — so much so they can be white elephants. Turns out the shiny orange orbs are enchanting when baked, like a subtle version of peaches. This cobbler calls for Fuyus, the kind that have flat bottoms and are firm when ripe. Just buy them from a market if you don’t have a neighbor with an overflowing tree. Top with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and you’re all set.
Sweet potato casserole has always been dessert masquerading among the side dishes on the Thanksgiving table. This year, liberate it to be what it’s wanted to be all along: a cupcake, topped with a dome of marshmallow frosting and a gooey drizzle of caramel. Unlike 7-minute icing meringue marshmallow frostings, which are tricky confections that you need to beat a long time, this one is a simple buttercream enriched with marshmallow fluff.
We’re not done talking about dessert
Half the fun of Thanksgiving is the planning, right? Keep dreaming about your dessert options with these recipe collections.