Featured photo: Butternut squash pie (photo by Nikki Miller-Ka)

Remember when we were all staying home and baking a lot? Let’s channel all of that energy into this holiday season. It’s been fairly well documented that you shouldn’t try new recipes for the Thanksgiving meal, but there’s nothing to say that you can’t get a little creative with the after-dinner treats and digestifs. Why not try something other than pie for Thanksgiving dessert this year? It’ll go with this year’s theme of “anything goes”. Here are just a few options for you to try:

  • Create a no-churn ice cream for your small gathering: Whip 2 cups heavy cream with one 14 ounce can of sweetened condensed milk and fold in pumpkin puree and ground cinnamon. Freeze for a new treat.
  • A stack of pecan pie-inspired cookies is easy to share: Add 2 cups chopped pecans and 2 teaspoons almond extract to your favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe.
  • Orange velvet cake may start a new tradition: Add orange food coloring and omit the cocoa powder in your tried-and-true red velvet cake recipe for a seasonal wardrobe change.
  • Try a fig and maple sangria with red wine, maple syrup, brandy and fresh or dried figs. For alcohol-free version simply omit the wine, brandy and add Concord grape juice.
  • Egg nog season begins on Thanksgiving, so add a little Grand Marnier, brandy or espresso and sprinkle a little ground cinnamon on top for garnish.

This year I am definitely ready to spend the holiday with my immediate family instead of the usual 20-person gastronomic extravaganza due to the pandemic. I am having a very low-maintenance ramshackle Thanksgiving dessert spread this year too. I threw myself into the planning of the main meal, trying new things that I practiced multiple times in the weeks ahead. My boyfriend convinced me to pare down the menu of sides, but I’ve managed to fill the roster with several comforting dishes.

While the much-lauded sweet potato, pumpkin, pecan and apple pies rule the roost, it’s time to talk about the underrated butternut squash. Lest you not forget that your canned pumpkin really isn’t pumpkin, this squash is the real hero of the traditional Thanksgiving dessert table. The golden-hued fruit is indeed buttery in flavor and not as vegetal or watery as a pumpkin. The smooth skin gives way to tender flesh that is sturdy enough to hold up after a high-heat session in the oven, but delicate enough to be pureed and seasoned with warm spices, herbs and dark brown sugar. The undercurrent of caramel flavors come through if you’re fortunate enough to have molasses or cane sugar in your pantry to use as an addition in the recipe below. When roasted, butternut squash tastes creamy, nutty and sweet with butterscotch tones. The rind is edible once cooked, but is usually peeled away. Similar to sweet potato but far enough away from pumpkin to be different, the butternut squash pie is poised to be a serious holiday perennial favorite.

Practice this butternut squash pie now, and then make it again next year when you’re able to invite the whole crew over as an alternative to the pies everyone else will bring. It’s a beautiful dessert, and when cut into slices, it freezes and travels really well. You know, for when it’s safe to venture outside again.

Butternut Squash Pie  

Yield: One 9” pie  

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 9” frozen pie crust or homemade pie crust

For the filling:  

  • 2 large eggs   
  • 1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract  
  • ¾ cup dark brown sugar  
  • Pinch of salt    
  • 1 ½ teaspoons ground ginger  
  • 1 ½ teaspoons ground cinnamon  
  • ½ teaspoon ground nutmeg  
  • Pinch of cayenne pepper  
  • 1 ½ cups roasted butternut squash purée (see note)  
  • ½ cup heavy cream  
  • Whipped cream, for garnish (optional)  

Preparation 

  1. Pre-heat your oven to 375°F.
  2. Make homemade crust or blind bake a prepared frozen pie crust: Line the entire frozen pie crust with heavy duty foil. Pressing the foil against the sides and bottom of the crust. Fill with sugar to weigh down the crust to prevent it from rising and bubbling up during the baking process. Dry beans and rice also work (but do not try to cook the beans or rice after this use). Bake for 25 minutes.
  3. While crust bakes, prepare filling: Combine eggs, vanilla, brown sugar, salt and spices in food processor, and process until smooth. Add squash purée, and process until smooth. With machine running, pour in heavy cream, and process to combine.
  4. Scrape filling into hot prebaked shell, and bake for 20 minutes. Turn the oven up to 425°F and continue baking for another 20-25 minutes until filling is set two-thirds of the way in from the perimeter and the center still jiggles, about 40-45 minutes total. Tent edges loosely with foil if browning too quickly.
  5. Remove pie from oven, and cool to room temperature on rack. Garnish with whipped cream and the relish, if desired.

Notes:

  • To make roasted butternut squash purée, heat oven to 400°F. Trim the stem from 1 butternut squash and then cut through it horizontally, where bulb begins. Reserve the bulb for another use. Cut squash neck in half lengthwise.  
  • Coat with 1 tablespoon olive oil or other light or neutral-flavored oil, and place in a single layer on a sheet pan. Bake for 45 minutes. Cool slightly, remove skin with a paring knife or a fork. You should have 1 ½ to 2 cups of purée. Cool to room temperature before making the pie recipe. It will keep under refrigeration for up to four days or in the freezer up to two months.

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