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Thanksgiving Dessert Throwdown

  • z

Every year for Thanksgiving, my sister makes the Ghirardelli chocolate pecan pie for dessert (http://www.ghirardelli.com/bake/recip...) and it's always a hit. I'm tired of her being the baking star. Can anyone recommend a dessert which will steal the show? The requirements are:

1) It should be at least vaguely Thanksgiving-y;
2) It should both look impressive and taste delicious;
3) I should be able to make it at least several hours in advance and serve it with minimal prep (warming it up is ok.


Please help me in my quest to win this sibling dessert throwdown!

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  1. I just went to the web site and read the recipe. No way can you compete with that. Just give it up and bring a great bottle of wine.

    1. There must be people in your family who 1) don't prefer chocolate and/or 2) don't prefer pies for dessert. A great cake would be perfect for preparing ahead and impressing. I know there is a very popular "autumn" themed cake from the Magnolia Bakery cookbook. I'm not a fan of their cupcakes, but a few of their cake recipes are delicious. Carrot cake also seems Thanksgiving-y. Red velvet cake is always popular if done well.

      Also, while I am not much of a cheesecake fan, I do often see recipes for pumpkin cheesecakes. Maybe you could try something like that?

      Your sisters pie looks delicious, but I for one would be thrilled to have something OTHER than pie for once during Thanksgiving.

      Good luck beating your sis ;-)

      3 Replies
      1. re: chowkari

        chowkari could you please get me the cake name you are speaking about "autumn themed? i am very intrigued

        1. re: drewb123


          There is a really great cheesecake recipe on Epicurious' website. I think it's called Cheesecake with Bourbon Sour Cream topping. I left out the bourbon when I made it a couple of years ago. It was really great. One of the things that lifts it above the run-of-the-mill cheesecakes is that the graham cracker crust has chopped pecans in it.

          1. re: drewb123

            Hi Drew....

            It's called Apple Walnut Cake with Carmel Cream Cheese Frosting.

            I have the cook if you need the recipe. Just let me know!

        2. I just did a quick search on Epicurious and found this recipe, which seems VERY popular:


          1. I'm not a big fan of chocolate pecan pie so you'd probably win for me, as long as you did something different. That said, chocolate is such a driver for a lot of people. I'd probably do something completely different--like a pumpkin bread batter baked in cheesecake with a good graham cracker crust, kind of like carrot cake cheesecake, only w/ pumpkin. Pumpkin and cream cheese are a good combination and perfect for the season.

            1. I always make a lemon meringue pie at Thanksgiving in addition to the other traditional pies for those who don't enjoy the usual pumpkin, apple and pecan. It's a nice palate cleansing pie for those not wanting something heavy like the pie your sister will be making.

              1. chowkari was right - not everyone will necessarily want chocolate. i like the pumpkin cheesecake idea.

                other thoughts:

                tarte tatin with caramel sauce and cinnamon cream
                upside-down apple cake
                pumpkin or maple pots de creme
                pumpkin or maple creme brulee
                pumpkin or maple flan [are we sensing a theme here?]
                caramel pumpkin custard
                sweet potato soufflé or sweet potato pie
                molasses gingerbread or spice cake

                2 Replies
                1. re: goodhealthgourmet

                  I made a really great pumpkin cheesecake a couple of years ago. It was called Pumpkin Cheesecake with Bourbon Sour Cream Topping. The recipe is on the Epicurious website and the crust is graham crackers and pecans. Terrific hit.

                  Also, on the Saveur site, Black Walnut Pumpkin Pie is really good.

                  1. re: goodhealthgourmet

                    While I prefer plain cheesecake, people love this pumpkin cheesecake I've made with a gingersnap pecan crust.


                    And for anyone w/ teens who like Starbucks, this caramel cheesecake macchiato is a hit (I used dulce de leche for the caramel):


                  2. I recently made two pretty good desserts, one of which does have a Thanksgiving feel to it. First -- I cooked some sliced apples with sugar and a bit of cinnamon to make the beginning of a tarte tatin, but instead of pastry, I poured it in a greased cake pan and poured a honey cake batter over it. Sort of a honey cake apple upside down cake. Looks impressive with the caramelized apples on top.

                    Second, and very easy: I made a variation of the "Famous Chocolate Wafers" cake. Greased a springform pan. Made two flavored whipped creams -- one with black cocoa/dutch cocoa (both from King Arthur Flour) mixed with boiling water and sugar to form a "pudding." Made about 6 ounces of slurry, which I let cool. (Sorry, I didn't use a recipe, can't give you precise measurements). Started whipping some heavy cream, mixed this in. The other whipped cream was made with instant espresso mixed into a bit of hot water, and confectioners sugar. Take a ladle of the chocolate whipped cream, dump in springform. Then start dipping wafers in it , coating thickly. I arranged them standing up around the outer rim, then working inwards. Adding more whipped cream as needed. Midway through, switched to coffee whipped cream. Back in fridge overnight. Just unmold and serve.

                    1. Chocolate Pecan Pie is going to be very tough to beat but you may have some guests who would prefer a fuit dessert or cheesecake. A lemon cheesecake may be the way to go or possibly a fruit tart.

                      1. Gramercy Tavern Gingerbread would fill the bill, the version using Guiness.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: Joebob

                          this was going to be my recommendation, hands down, and make it a few days ahead to let the flavors marry.


                          tyler's ultimate cheesecake --- you could experiment and make a pumpkin version as well...

                        2. There is a recipe on food network Canada chef Christine Cushing called WHITE CHOCOLATE PUMPKIN MOUSSE TARTE, it this out of this world, I am not a fan of pumpkin pie but this is excellent, I don't know how to post the link but I went to the site this morning and that recipe comes up if you type it in.

                          1. This cake fromn Gourmet is pretty special, easy to make the day before, and always gets raves from my guests. It's an apple upside down cake that you make by first melting butter and sugar in a heavy skillet, then add quartered apples to cook for about 25 minutes, resulting in a nice caramel. Top with a stiff gingery-spicy cake batter and bake in the oven; turned out onto a platter it is very pretty. I never make the calvados caramel sauce since my first attempt was an utter failure, now I just serve it with lightly sweetened whipped cream or cinnamon ice cream. Delicious!


                            1. I'm not a baker or a dessert person, but these are my three fall-backs for Thanksgiving. They are different and my family loves them.

                              I would also suggest caramel apples.

                              (EASY AND DELICIOUS)

                              4 Lbs Seedless grapes (red, green, or combination),
                              washed, dried, and removed from stems. I always use Thompson red seedless
                              8 Oz Cream cheese, softened
                              1 Cup Sour cream
                              1/2 Cup Granulated sugar
                              1/2 tsp vanilla
                              1 Cup Chopped walnuts or pecans

                              Combine cream cheese, sour cream, sugar and vanilla in a large bowl and mix well. Add grapes and coat with mixture. Spread into a 9” x 13” pan or dish and sprinkle with chopped nuts. Cover and refrigerate overnight or at least a few hours before serving.

                              Pumpkin Pie Cake
                              Yield: 15 servings
                              12 oz Evaporated milk
                              29 oz Pumpkin
                              3 Eggs
                              1 c Sugar
                              1 tsp Cinnamon
                              1 tsp Salt
                              1 18-1/2 oz. yellow cake mix
                              1 c Butter; melted
                              1 c Nuts; chopped
                              Sweetened Whipped Cream
                              Heat oven to 350 degrees. In large bowl, combine
                              evaporated milk, pumpkin, eggs, sugar, cinnamon and
                              salt; mix well. Pour mixture into greased 9 x 13 x 2
                              pan. Sprinkle with dry yellow cake mix; drizzle with
                              butter and sprinkle with nuts.
                              Bake 50 to 60 minutes or until toothpick inserted
                              in center comes out clean. Serve with whipped cream.

                              Chocolate Chip Cheese Ball
                              • 1 (8 ounce) package cream cheese, softened
                              • 1/2 cup butter, softened
                              • 3/4 cup confectioners' sugar
                              • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
                              • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
                              • 3/4 cup miniature semisweet chocolate chips
                              • 3/4 cup finely chopped pecans

                              1. In a medium bowl, beat together cream cheese and butter until smooth. Mix in confectioners' sugar, brown sugar and vanilla. Stir in chocolate chips. Cover, and chill in the refrigerator for 2 hours.
                              2. Shape chilled cream cheese mixture into a ball. Wrap with plastic, and chill in the refrigerator for 1 hour.
                              3. Roll the cheese ball in finely chopped pecans before serving.

                              Notes: Use butter, no margarine.
                              No low fat! Won’t work.
                              Instead of rolling in chopped pecans, cut out cardboard star place on ball and then roll, in pecans, mini chocolate or toffee bits, take off star and cover with either nuts or chips.

                              Serve with graham sticks, or chocolate covered grahams. Do not use store brand, use name brand.

                              If ball seems too soft, add more confectioners sugar.

                              Be sure to chill thoroughly before serving.

                              1. How about a trifle?

                                Here is a recipe (and pictures) for one I invented. Because iof where it was being stored it had to go in a flat rather than tall container.

                                You can play around with whatever you like.

                                "Death By Brownie Trifle"

                                Here is a link to the photos:


                                The layers are as follows:

                                A layer of homemade chocolate pudding - Tish Boyle's recipe
                                A layer of homemade brownies cut in small bites - Joy of Cooking recipe
                                A layer of sweet cherries macerated in Kirsch brandy
                                A layer of Bird's custard - vanilla pudding dessert mix
                                A layer of crushed Lorna Doone shortbread cookies
                                A layer of sliced fresh strawberries
                                A layer of fresh whipped cream
                                Sprinkled on top, Heath Bar toffee bits

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: TrishUntrapped

                                  The link above for the Trifle doesn't appear to be working....

                                  Here it is again:


                                2. Well just how far are you willing to go? I've been known to be a bit "over the top" from time to time. You can see a small bit of it in the cake photos on my profile page. Now, if I wanted to blatantly say "THROWDOWN!" and "GOTCHA!" to my sister (if I had one) i would either go with a croquembouche (they don't absolutely have to be made with cream puffs; how about pumpkin color frosted cake donut holes from a bakery, then assembled crocuembouche style? 0r I'd do a take-off on this pumpkin cake: http://tinyurl.com/5uh55v But I wouldn't make it with cheesecake. WAY too heavy to even sound good after a full Thanksgiving dinner. I'd do a spice cake, then the rolled fondant.

                                  If you haven't worked with fondant before, you do need another frosting, like buttercream under it. But actually, with the way this one is "wrapped" you could probably get away without it. And if you decide to go with the "pumpkin," find a bakery supply in your area where you can buy orange and brown fondant already mixed. Starting with white fondant and working in the paste food coloring yourself is a whole lot of work!

                                  As to the croquembouche, the traditional version is cream puffs dipped in hot caramel that is the glue that holds them togehther, then the finished assemblage is "wrapped" in spun sugar. Just google "croquembouche" for pictures and traditional recipes. But if you live in an area of high humidity, you're in trouble before you start. Soooo... some of the interesting variations are to buy a large styrofoam cone from a florist supply or hobby shop (at least 18 inches tall), then cover it in Saran Wrap or aluminum foil, then cover it with anything "ball" shaped stuck into the cone with toothpicks. You can do it with anything from chocolate truffles to donut holes to spherical shortbread cookie, or even popcorn balls or Rice Krispy treats. /a reakkt dekucuiys croquembouche is built from orange sections completely dipped in caramel before assemgling. A little "juicy" when you tear off segments, but really good.

                                  However... if you have your heart set on fighting chocolate with chocolate, my childhood favorite is decadent to the max! A really moist banana nut cake split into four layers, each layer filled with chocolate buttercream, then the cake is "frosted" with warm fudge, the top is mounded with miniature marshmallows and walnut halves, then drizzled with more fudge while it's still hot to hold it all together. If you have more than one skinny slice, you are in danger of going to bed skinny and waking up fat! But oh so good....

                                  1. I make the apple cranberry current pie from the Sunset magazine contest for the best holiday pie. My family always asks if I'm bringing "the pie" so it's pretty popular. I usually make it in the morning and we don't start dinner until 5pm so it is make ahead.

                                    1. it's so white trash, it's not even funny, but Paula Deen's Not Yo Mama's banana pudding is soooo good. everyone in my family adores it. and day ahead prep is fine, especially for the "pudding" .
                                      Or maybe look into one of Maida Heatter's cakes. There's a black and white one that has coffee in the chocolate part and almond in the vanilla. It's always impressive too.

                                      1. Sticky toffee pudding (I think there's also a ginger version - yum) or if you want to go head-to-head in the chocolate department those molten chocolate cakes. My friend made one with a lot Fall/Winter spices including black pepper. V good.

                                        1. I've made this cheesecake from epicurious several times, to rave reviews. It is gorgeous, as well as delicious.

                                          Cranberry-Orange Cheesecake w/ Chocolate Crust

                                          1. I just made the Candy Apple Pie from tastespotting.com. It has a graham cracker crust, then a layer of crushed toasted pecans drizzled with carmel sauce, then topped with sauteed apples, then topped with cheesecake, and then after it cools you top it with whip cream more toasted pecans and carmel sauce. It was easy to make and it was gone in minutes. I made two of them and they were both gone. Really good and over the top, plus easy to make.

                                            1. zojie,
                                              The latest issue of Food and Wine magazine boasts a recipe for Pumpkin Gingersnap Tiramisu. I made it for a Halloween potluck and it was a huge hit! I'll be making it again on Thanksgiving for the home crowd. I can attest that it is very easy to make and actually must be made in advance, as it needs to be frozen at least overnight. All you have to do as far as prep the day of is make sure you give it time to thaw.