Thanksgiving Recipes: Sweet Desserts

When planning the finale for your holiday feast, think outside the box and try these sweet treats.

Let the countdown begin—the annual Thanksgiving feast is approaching. With that comes the anticipation of all your favorites: turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing. All of it, of course, leads to the big finish: the classic array of pies. Apple, mince, pumpkin and a variety of other sweet concoctions bring the Thanksgiving dinner to a glorious close. So, how did the traditional desserts acquire their place of honor at the annual feast?

It is believed that the traditional pie pastry originated in Greece. The pies were made using a flour-water paste wrapped around meat. This served two purposes: to cook the meat and seal in the juices of the finished dish. As with many good ideas, the pie was loved by the Romans who spread the popularity throughout Europe. And as the Pilgrims made their way across the globe, along with them came their tried and true recipes.

Contrary to popular belief across the United States, the Pilgrims were not sinking their teeth into a slice of apple pie at the first Thanksgiving celebration in 1621. Pilgrims did concoct a number of meat-based recipes, which ultimately evolved into early versions of pies. The colonists liked to utilize dough as a means to preserve their food because of their crusty tops. Historical documentation has shown that the Pilgrims used dried fruit, cinnamon, pepper and nutmeg to season their meats. Eventually these recipes became some of the traditional pies we know and serve today. 

A survey from the American Pie Council revealed the following fun facts:

  • According to the Guinness Book of World Records, the largest pumpkin pie ever baked weighed 2,020 pounds and measured just over 12 feet long. It was baked on Oct. 8, 2005 by the New Bremen Giant Pumpkin Growers in Ohio.
  • If you lined up the number of pies sold at U.S. grocery stores during Thanksgiving, they would span more than half the globe.
  • Forty-two percent of Americans prefer to eat their pie with vanilla ice cream

Here are some alternatives to the traditional pies. Gingersnap pumpkin pie, rustic apple tart and pumpkin bread pudding are new twists on old favorites. If you are travelling for the holiday, they travel well with you. If not, they can be prepared the night before with ease. Most of all, they will be enjoyed by friends and family gathered to be thankful.

Gingersnap Pumpkin Pie


  • 1-1/2 cups finely crushed gingersnaps (about 32 cookies)
  • 1/4 cup butter, melted
  • 4 ounces cream cheese, softened
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1-1/2 cups whipped topping
  • 1 cup cold milk
  • 2 packages (3.4 ounces each) instant butterscotch pudding mix
  • 1/2 cup canned pumpkin
  • 1/2 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
  • 1teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon


  1. In a small bowl, combine cookie crumbs and butter. Press onto the bottom and up the sides of an ungreased 9-in. pie plate. Bake at 375 degrees for 8-10 minutes or until crust is lightly browned. Cool on a wire rack.
  2. In a small bowl, beat cream cheese and sugar until smooth. Fold in whipped topping. Spread over crust.
  3. In a small bowl, beat milk and pudding mixes for 1 minute. Stir in the pumpkin, pie spice, vanilla and cinnamon. Spread over cream cheese layer. Cover and refrigerate overnight.
  4. Garnish with additional whipped topping if desired.

Rustic Caramel Apple Tart


  • 2/3 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup cold butter, cubed
  • 6 teaspoons ice cold water
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract


  • 1-1/2 cups chopped peeled tart apples
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour


  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 2 tablespoons caramel ice cream topping, warmed for drizzling


  1. In a large bowl, combine the flour, sugar and salt; cut in butter until crumbly. Gradually add water and vanilla, tossing with a fork until dough forms a ball. Cover and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.
  2. On a lightly floured surface, roll dough into a 10-inch circle. Transfer to a parchment paper-lined baking sheet. Combine the filling ingredients; spoon over pastry to within 2 inches of the edges. Fold up edges of pastry over filling, leaving center uncovered. Combine sugar and cinnamon; sprinkle over filling.
  3. Bake at 400 degrees for 25-30 minutes or until crust is golden and filling is bubbly. Using parchment paper, slide tart onto a wire rack. Drizzle with caramel topping. Serve warm. 

Pumpkin Bread Pudding


  • 8 ounces crusty bread, torn into small pieces (about 5 cups)
  • 2 cups half-and-half, or half milk and half cream
  • 3 large eggs
  • 2/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 2/3 cup brown sugar
  • 1 can (15 ounces) pumpkin puree
  • 1 cup dried cranberries
  • 3 tablespoons melted butter
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • cinnamon sugar, optional


  1. Butter an 11x7-inch baking dish. Heat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. In a bowl, cover the torn bread with the half-and-half; set aside.
  3. In another bowl, combine eggs, sugars, pumpkin, cranberries, melted butter, spices, and vanilla; blend well. Pour pumpkin mixture over soaked bread and stir to blend.
  4. Pour mixture into the prepared baking dish. Sprinkle top with cinnamon-sugar, if desired. Bake for 45 to 60 minutes, or until set.
  5. Serve with a vanilla dessert sauce or brown sugar sauce, whipped cream, or vanilla ice cream.


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