When I started celebrating Thanksgiving with my stepfather, Bob, I learned that though he’s not much of a dessert person, he doesn’t consider the Thanksgiving meal complete unless it involves a slice of pie. Some people skip dessert on Thanksgiving – after all, there’s a lot of food to fill up on. But like Bob, I like to end a big meal on a sweet note.
My problem is that I tend to go overboard on Thanksgiving. I’ll make 12 different side dishes – and then five different desserts. If there’s a time to go big, it’s on Thanksgiving, right?!
This year, I wanted to switch it up. I’m still going big, but instead of the traditional pumpkin pie, sweet potato pie or pecan pie, I developed a new recipe for an apple pie that will tower above all others. A full six-and-a-half pounds of tart apples go into it, along with a generous amount of spice. The pie dough recipe guarantees an especially flaky crust. All of this makes for a dramatic presentation – especially if you top each slice with a dollop of whipped cream or scoop of ice cream.
I also created a new recipe for a coconut cream pie. This one has a layer of sweet plantains encased in dulce de leche, topped with a layer of creamy coconut custard, a very plump layer of gently sweetened whipped cream and a finishing topping of dulce de leche and crunchy coconut chips. It may not be traditional, but it offers just the right amount of sweetness to offset the deeply savory flavors of Thanksgiving.
Mile High Apple Pie
Packed with 6½ pounds of apples, this pie has it all: a burnished, flaky crust and a bountiful amount of spiced filling. Pre-cooking the filling before baking the pie guarantees that the apples will be fork-tender and that the finished pie won’t be too juicy. Granny Smith apples, which are tart, easy to find and hold their shape well, are recommended. If you use another variety, you may need to cook the filling for more or less time, depending on how much moisture the apples release. Because the pie ends up being more than 4 inches tall, this dough recipe makes a generous amount, so you will have enough to drape over the large pile of apple filling and still be able to crimp the edges if you wish. For the tallest pie, use a 9-inch pie plate that’s no more than 1½ inches deep.
For the filling
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup cornstarch
1/4 cup unsalted butter
61/2 pounds Granny Smith apples (about 15 to 18 large), peeled, cored and sliced 1/4-inch-thick
1 cup packed light brown sugar
21/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground or freshly grated nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves or allspice
1/8 teaspoon fine salt
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (from 1 lemon)
For the crust
23/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon fine salt
19 tablespoons (2 sticks plus 3 tablespoons) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon ice water, plus more as needed
For the egg wash
1 large egg
1 tablespoon milk
1 pinch fine salt
Make the filling: In a small bowl, whisk together the granulated sugar and cornstarch until no lumps remain. Set aside.
In a large pot or Dutch oven (at least 6-quart capacity) over medium-high heat, melt the butter until it sizzles and begins to brown, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the apples, brown sugar, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, cloves or allspice and salt and stir to combine. Cook, stirring gently and frequently, and adjusting the heat to avoid browning the apples, until they soften and a syrupy sauce forms, 10 to 15 minutes.
Push the apples to the side of the pot until you can see a pool of bubbling syrup and whisk in the sugar-cornstarch mixture. Stir the apples into the sauce and cook until it thickens, about two minutes. The apples will have cooked down by about a third. Remove from the heat and stir in the lemon juice. Transfer to a sheet pan, spread into an even layer and let cool completely, at least two hours at room temperature, or cover and refrigerate until needed.
Make the pie dough: In a large bowl, whisk together the flour and salt. Add the butter, tossing the cubes through the flour mixture until each individual piece is well coated. Press the pieces between your thumb and fingers, flattening the cubes into floury shards. As you work, toss the flattened butter through the flour to recoat it. Continue to work the mixture until the pieces of butter are no bigger than the size of a pea.
Make a well in the center of the mixture. Add the ice water – but no ice cubes – to the well and, using a tossing motion with your hands, gently but thoroughly mix the two together. A shaggy dough will form – it should hold together when gently pressed. If it crumbles very easily or there are large pockets of dry flour, add more water, 1 tablespoon at a time, and gently mix until the dough is properly hydrated and holds together when pressed. It should not be sticky.
Form the dough into a thick disk and fold it in half. There’s no need to be precise. Flatten it into a disc again and fold it in half again. (This will help create flakier layers once it bakes.) Divide the dough into two pieces: One should weigh 14 ounces (that’s your top crust) and the other, 12 ounces (that’s your bottom crust). Form each piece into a disk, wrap it tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least one hour and up to two days.
Bake the pie: Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 425 degrees. Place a 9-inch pie plate on a large sheet pan.
Make the egg wash: In a small bowl, whisk together the egg, milk and salt until well combined.
Roll out the dough: Lightly dust a clean, dry work surface with flour. Place the smaller disk of dough on it and lightly flour the top. Using a rolling pin, roll the dough into a 12-inch-wide circle that’s about 1/4-inch thick, rotating it a quarter turn as you work and dusting with additional flour as necessary to prevent the dough from sticking. You may see some flecks of butter in the dough. Work quickly so the dough stays cold. (If your kitchen is warm, or if, at any time, the dough starts to feel greasy, transfer it to the freezer to chill for 5 to 10 minutes before proceeding.)
Drape the dough over a rolling pin and transfer the bottom crust to the pie plate. Gently fit it into the bottom and against the sides of the pie plate, lifting and shifting it to avoid stretching the dough. Let any excess dough hang over the edge.
Roll out the larger disk of dough into a 14-inch-wide circle.
Fill the bottom crust with the cooled filling, mounding it taller in the center. Place the top crust over the filling, carefully fitting it around the mound. You should have an overhang of about 1 1/2 inches. Using kitchen shears, trim any excess dough from around the edges. Tuck the top crust under the bottom one and press it flat into the rim of the pan to seal the pie. Crimp or create a fluted edge, if desired.
Brush the top of the pie with the egg wash. Using a paring knife, cut 3 to 5 slits in the top of the pie for steam to escape. Bake for 20 minutes, then rotate the pie front to back and reduce the oven temperature to 400 degrees. Bake for another 25 minutes and rotate front to back again. If any part of the crust starts to darken too fast, cover it with foil. Bake for an additional 30 to 40 minutes, or until the crust is deeply browned and any juices running from the pie are very thick, with slowly popping bubbles.
Transfer to a wire rack and let cool for at least 3 hours, and up to 6 hours, before serving.
Yield: 10 to 12 servings (makes one 9-inch pie)
Make ahead: The pie dough can be prepared, wrapped tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerated up to 2 days in advance. The filling can be prepared and refrigerated up to 2 days in advance.
Storage: Cover lightly and refrigerate for up to 3 days.
Coconut Cream Pie With Plantains and Dulce de Leche
This layered pie is a mashup between a coconut cream pie and a banana cream pie with very ripe fried plantains in a dulce de leche sauce filing in for the bananas. It’s especially good when made using a homemade, all-butter pie shell, but use any pie crust you like, including a store-bought version. For the whipped cream, using a metal bowl and whisk (or the whisk attachment(s) for your electric mixer) that have been placed in the freezer for at least 1 hour will ensure especially fluffy and stable whipped cream. Unless you have access to very ripe plantains, note that it can take up to two weeks for green plantains to fully ripen.
For the custard
5 large egg yolks
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup cornstarch
1 13.5-ounce can unsweetened coconut milk, preferably full fat
1 cup whole milk
1/2 teaspoon fine salt
1 teaspoon coconut or vanilla extract
For the plantains
2 tablespoons coconut oil, plus more as needed
2 very ripe, almost fully black plantains (1 pound), peeled and sliced 1/2-inch-thick
3/4 cup (approximately half of a 13.4-ounce can) dulce de leche
Pinch fine salt
2 tablespoons dark rum (optional)
For the topping and to assemble the pie
1 9-inch pie crust, fully baked (see headnote)
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
2 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar
1/2 cup toasted coconut chips
1/4 cup dulce de leche, for drizzling (optional)
Make the custard: In a medium bowl, whisk the egg yolks until smooth. Add the granulated sugar and cornstarch, and whisk until no lumps remain.
In a medium saucepan, combine the coconut milk, milk and salt. Set over medium-high heat and, stirring occasionally, bring to a low boil, about two minutes. Remove from the heat.
While whisking constantly to prevent curdling or lumps, drizzle most of the milk mixture into the egg mixture until combined. Pour the egg-milk mixture back into the saucepan and return it to medium heat. Cook, whisking constantly, until steam rises from the pan, the mixture thickens and bubbles begin to form on the sides of the pan, about four minutes. Continue to cook, whisking constantly, for two minutes. (The mixture may seem very thick before the two minutes are up, but it’s important to cook it for a full two minutes so that the cooled custard does not weep.)
Stir in the coconut or vanilla extract, then strain through a medium-mesh sieve into a shallow bowl. Cover the surface of the custard with plastic wrap to prevent a skin from forming, and refrigerate until cool, at least one hour and up to two days.
Make the plantains: In a large skillet over medium to medium-high heat, heat the coconut oil until it shimmers.
Add the plantains and cook until golden brown on one side, about three minutes, adjusting the heat as needed. If the pan seems dry, add a little more oil. Flip and cook until the plantains are soft but hold their form and are golden brown on the other side, about two minutes. Gently stir in the dulce de leche and salt to combine, and remove from the heat. Stir in the rum, if using. Allow the plantains to cool in the pan until just warm to the touch, five to 10 minutes.
Assemble the pie: Pour the warm dulce de leche plantains into the bottom of the pie crust. Top with the coconut custard, spreading it evenly. If your kitchen is warm, refrigerate the uncovered pie while you prepare the topping.
Make the topping: Using a stand mixer or a hand mixer on medium speed – or just a whisk – in a large bowl – beat the cream and confectioners’ sugar until medium-soft peaks form, four to six minutes.
Generously top the custard-filled pie with the whipped cream. Sprinkle with the toasted coconut chips and drizzle with warmed dulce de leche, if desired. Slice and serve. For neater slices, chill for 30 minutes before slicing.
Variations: Instead of plantains, use firm-but-ripe bananas and fry them. They may not hold their shape as well, but will still taste great. If your bananas are soft and ripe, skip the frying and simply layer them on top of a layer of dulce de leche.
Yield: 10 to 12 servings (one 9-inch pie)
Make ahead: The custard can be made up to two days in advance. Whisk to loosen it before assembling the pie. The dulce de leche plantains can be made up to one day in advance. Rewarm in a skillet over medium heat before assembling the pie.
Storage: The pie is best eaten the day it is made. Refrigerate leftovers lightly covered for up to two days.
Where to buy: Coconut extract can be found in well-stocked supermarkets, natural food stores and online.