Four centuries ago, the Pilgrims and members of the Wampanoag tribe used creative culinary genius when they improvised for the dessert course during the inaugural Thanksgiving feast in Plymouth, Mass.
Alas, they didn’t have butter, flour, ice water, vanilla extract or lemon zest to construct the perfect artisan pie crust as a shell for the pumpkin filling, made with a gourd quite abundant in their harvest.
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Some believe the first Thanksgiving dessert was a scrumptious concoction created by some smart cookies who rounded up a gargantuan pumpkin, lopped off the top and poured a mixture of goat milk, eggs, honey and autumn spices into the hollow, then roasted the lollapalooza over an open fire pit until the flesh was tender and caramelized and the center bubbling with a custardy indulgence.
Naturally gluten-free, easily digestible (even by lactose-intolerants, as goat dairy is more forgiving than cow milk), a relatively low-glycemic load and prepared without an oven so as not to heat up the settlers’ kitchens, this original delight gives me inspiration for my Thanksgiving lineup of sweet endings so none of us feels deprived.
Giving wheat the shaft
Gluten-sensitive sweet tooths can swap out wheat flour in assorted baked goods with:
• High-protein amaranth flour derived from the seed of the leafy plant for a nutty flavor and nutritious boost
• Banana flour for an earthy, potassium-rich option. It’s dense and concentrated, so use one-quarter less than the amount of wheat flour required.
• Brown rice flour, which contains the bran of the grain, giving a rich, nutty taste and grainy texture. For a lighter, more delicate version, try white rice flour.
• Chia flour made from the ground seeds of this protein powerhouse requires some recipe-tinkering when used in cookies, bars and cakes by adding more liquids and cranking up baking times.
• Gram flour made of crushed, roasted chickpeas is a protein-packed, mustard-colored powder with a nutty flavor and rich, aromatic scent when heated, ideal for the base of the south Indian celebratory sweet called ladoo. These petite balls of ghee butter, gram flour and confectioner’s sugar, whether tricked out with saffron, cardamom, crushed cashews or roasted sesame seeds, create a melt-in-your-mouth nirvana.
• Nut flours such as almond, coconut, hazelnut, pecan and walnut — the darlings of the gluten-free baker’s world — provide a divine structure, moistness, richness and protein oomph to your favorite seasonal treats, such as an Anjou pear galette, honeycrisp apple and cherry cobbler or a buttery crust for an amaretto-spiked goat cheesecake.
Hitting the bars
Sheet pan desserts can be cut into any shape or size of bars and easily eaten with your fingers.
Try a batch of sassy Meyer lemon bars topped with toasted meringue, oatmeal date bars, decadent Nanaimo bars, pistachio blondies, hazelnut mocha, dark chocolate pecan, or cranberry and apple pie bars for some seasonal palate-pleasers.
For pumpkin fanatics
Bake or whip up:
• A pumpkin pecan pie with a gingersnap or chocolate wafer crust and a dollop of whipped pumpkin cream
• A batch of pumpkin pepita biscotti with a scoop of pumpkin gelato
• A pan of pumpkin fudge
• A ramekin of pumpkin crème brulée
• Pumpkin rice pudding or dessert risotto dotted with golden raisins
Jewel-toned garnet yams, Okinawan purple sweet potatoes, creamy parsnips and rainbow carrots are high-starch roots that make moist cakes and delectable cupcakes topped with torched cinnamon meringue, dazzling holiday pies dressed with a rum drizzle and candied ginger strips, decadent flans and marvelous mousses blended with super-dark chocolate syrup, a splash of cognac and a dollop of whipped non-dairy toppings such as almond, cashew or coconut cream for a low-fat indulgence.
Swap out sugar in most desserts for luscious, healthier alternatives such as agave, maple and date syrups, coconut nectar, monk fruit sweetener, sucanat, applesauce or rich dark molasses in your favorite treat. They also add a toothsome moistness without walloping the pancreas.
Of course, honey — whether delicate orange blossom, bold buckwheat or vanilla-kissed acacia — adds a touch of magic to cakes, tortes, cobblers and cookies.
Create tipsy treats by soaking assorted berries or fresh fruit chunks in your liqueur of choice — or poaching elegant Bosc pears with red wine — and topping with vanilla bean gelato.
Whip up impressive short-cut desserts with versatile ladyfingers, including pumpkin-spiced tiramisu or English berry trifle, or enjoy straight up with a dusting of confectioner’s sugar, cinnamon, cardamom and ginger powder.
Concoct a compote with dried apricots, prunes, tart cherries and figs in Madeira sauce. Chill and spoon into martini glasses and top with a dollop of vanilla bean Greek yogurt and toasted nuts.
Happy Thanksgiving to all the taste buds across the land!
Boniato sweet potato pie
(Yields one 9-inch pie)
• 1½ pounds boniato sweet potatoes (or purple sweet potatoes)
• ¼ cup packed brown sugar
• 1/3 cup sweet butter, softened
• 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
• ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
• ¼ teaspoon (each) ground nutmeg, ground ginger, ground star anise, sea salt
• 2/3 cup coconut milk
• ¼ cup spiced rum
• 4 whole large eggs
• Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
• Prick sweet potatoes with fork. Wrap in foil. Place on baking sheet.
• Cook 1 hour until very soft.
• Cool 10 minutes. Cut in half.
• Scoop flesh to equal 2 cups.
• Place in food processor. Puree with remaining ingredients until smooth. Set aside.
• 1 9-inch pie crust
• ½ cup coconut whipped cream
• Lower oven temperature to 375 degrees.
• Pour filling into crust. Bake 1 hour until filling is set but center is still soft.
• Cool on wire rack. Refrigerate.
• Top with coconut whipped cream.
— Courtesy of chef Bernard Guillas
Read More: How to get your just desserts on Turkey Day