Thanksgiving Desserts for Vegans and Pumpkin Haters Alike

Ditching the classics gives you plenty of delicious (and sometimes diet-friendly) options.
Apple rum raisin streusel pie. (Photo: Gary Moss Photography/Getty Images)
Nov 16, 2016· 3 MIN READ
Jane Lear is a regular contributor to TakePart and the executive editor of CURED, a magazine devoted to the art and craft of food preservation. She was on staff at 'Gourmet' for almost 20 years.

Cooking something other than turkey for Thanksgiving was the subject of last week’s column, and a few readers took the ball and ran with it, writing me personally (and in one case, buttonholing me at a cocktail party) to help them out with another quandary—what to make for Thanksgiving dessert that doesn’t involve pumpkin. “Just the smell of pumpkin purée makes me nauseated,” said the partygoer, suppressing a shudder.

I can relate. I don’t actively dislike pumpkin pie, but I take an offered slice more to be inclusive on this most inclusive of holidays (and yes, this year it will be a struggle). In truth, all I really want after the big holiday meal is a piece of pecan pie made with buttery, ultrafresh new-crop pecans. There are tons of recipes for pecan pie out there, but I’ve made the same one for years because it is simple and fabulous and not too sweet. Then again, if you are a “more is more” type of pecan-pie person, you may want to try this chocolate-pecan-bourbon version from David Lebovitz.

Here are six more options—including a couple for non-bakers—along with some shopping tips for the holidays and beyond.

Rum Raisin Apple Pie

The secret to a stellar apple pie is using a combination of apples: a tart variety (like Winesap or Granny Smith), a sweeter variety (Fuji, Jonagold), one that holds its shape (Arkansas Black, Braeburn), and still another that readily dissolves into mush as it cooks (McIntosh). That way, you’re guaranteed a wonderful mix of flavors and textures in every bite.

Shopping tip: Some apple varieties are more thin-skinned—and more easily bruised—than others, so be gentle when selecting what you want as a courtesy to the grower and other customers. When storing apples at home, by the way, keep them in the fridge to delay ripening; if left out at room temperature, they’ll overripen and turn mealy. Larger apples ripen faster than small ones.

Vegan Apple Pie

No one will miss the butter in the flaky, easy-to-roll crust for this pie; equal amounts of water and safflower oil do the trick. For a heartier flavor, you could use half all-purpose flour and half spelt flour.

Shopping tip: Top-quality—and often locally made—all-purpose and other flours are becoming increasingly easy to find at farmers markets and many grocery stores.

Vinegar Pie

If you and yours love a citrus-based pie like lemon meringue, you’ll love an old-fashioned vinegar pie. This American delicacy likely was created on the Great Plains, although some sources point to a southern antecedent. Once a common dessert, the pie is rarely seen today, but it deserves a comeback: The few, simple ingredients add up to far more than the sum of their parts.

Shopping tip: Unfiltered, unpasteurized cider vinegar is fresher and more well-rounded in flavor than typical supermarket brands.

Polenta Grape Cake

Corn was one of the New World’s great gifts to the planet, and its deeply sweet flavor in the form of a rustic polenta cake is a wonderful addition to the Thanksgiving dessert table. This one (link in the recipe title, above) is studded with juicy red grapes and fragrant rosemary. Another version, from Cake Keeper Cakes, by Lauren Chattman, is made with olive oil instead of butter.

Shopping tip: Although there’s no need to get bogged down in the differences between cornmeal and polenta for this cake, if making the first recipe, make sure you buy quick-cooking polenta, not instant polenta, which isn’t the same thing at all.

Chilled Oranges in Rum-Caramel Syrup

Orange and caramel is one of the world’s great flavor combinations, and one of the nice things about serving a light, refreshing fruit dessert at the end of a big holiday meal is that you have room for a richer sweet later in the evening, while watching The Wizard of Oz for the millionth time.

Shopping tip: Look for navel oranges, which are seedless, juicy, and have a thick skin that’s easy to peel. Cara Cara, a type of navel orange, is another good bet.

Scarlet Poached Pears

Desserts that are both easy and dramatic aren’t very common, and if they are also gluten- and/or dairy-free, or not very fattening, then you are really on to something. This time of year, my go-to dessert in this category is one developed by my former Gourmet colleague Paul Grimes. The thing about poached pears is that they often don’t look as good as they taste, so Paul took a cue from the Paris restaurant Le Chateaubriand and used a beet (which you can’t taste in the least) to intensify the pears’ hue. This is a great make-ahead dessert, and the pears will become deeper and richer in color the longer they sit.

Shopping tip: Although the recipe calls for Forelle pears, an old variety that holds its shape well during poaching, small Bosc pears also work. The recipe also specifies Orange Muscat, which isn’t the easiest (or cheapest) dessert wine to find. Although another muscat won’t have the same alluring orange-apricot aroma, it will still be delicious.

And while I’m at it, a cooking tip: Covering the pears with a round of parchment paper as they poach encourages them to cook and color evenly. To help them stay covered with liquid, park a small saucer on top of the parchment. To ensure completely tender poached pears, test them all instead of just one, as they may vary slightly in size or degree of ripeness. When you insert a paring knife, skewer, or spare turkey lacer, it should glide in, but the pears should still feel solid.