q&a: special thanksgiving edition

For once this month, I actually have a few really great recipes in the queue that I haven’t gotten to (as opposed to a frantic “I guess I have to make dinner tonight so I’ll have something to NaBlop!”) but I’ve received so many Thanksgiving questions in my Inbox and in comments on previous posts, it seems far more useful today to bring them up to the top of the page. Thus, I’m going to answer a few questions as best as I can, but feel free to weigh in on these concerns in the comments, or add your own between now and Thursday. Any newer questions I receive I will answer in the comments. Finally, I’ve rounded up some Thanksgiving recipes at the end, so be sure to skip to that if it’s all you’re really looking for.


Leslie asks about how much the butter and shortening should be combined in a pie dough? She notices when she is rolling hers out, she sees flecks that weren’t incorporated–is this okay?

Depending on the size of the flecks, it is most certainly okay. In fact, it is that melting of the butter/shortening bits engulfed in fine layers of flour that create the holy grail of pastry: flakiness. See any significantly bigger pieces that were saved from the slicing blade? Pinch or cut them into smaller pieces.

bourbon pumpkin cheesecake

Kalle had asked me about converting my bourbon pumpkin cheesecake to miniatures a couple weeks ago. I just bought the Norpro Mini-Cheesecake Pan with 12 cups with the intention of making this same conversion this year but hadn’t worked out the math yet.

Unfortunately, to the best of my rusty math abilities I now have, and realized that a cheesecake baked in one 9-inch springform would yield enough batter to make 24 cupcake-sized cheesecakes, which means I will have to do the much-dreaded two batches of baking if I don’t halve the recipe.

ocd dough-dividing

Lana says she tried the pie dough last night with a “hippie brand” shortening and found that the dough never got to the cornmeal stage, and once the liquid was added it got very sticky. She is certain she “screwed it up.”

Because I have no experience with this hippie shortening you mention (heh), so I won’t be very helpful in determining if that’s where it went wrong. But I did want to remind everyone that this pie dough–with the extra liquid to compensate for the vodka that burns off–is stickier than other pie doughs. However, it bakes up just fine, and miraculously, seems to shrink less than others I have used.

piecrust101 (11)

Lots of vodka questions: Can I use cheap vodka? Can I use flavored vodka?

Answers, which are really just my humble opinion, yes and no. I wouldn’t worry about using cheap stuff. Vodka is vodka. In your martini, you might want something fancier, but for baking? I can’t even imagine using Grey Goose only for the purpose of evaporating it. Seems a terrible waste. That said, I really deeply dislike flavored vodkas; their artificial flavor horrifies my inner chef. The idea of cooking off the decent part–the vodka–and leaving behind the ick part–loud, artificial flavors–seems wrong to me, especially when we work so hard to fill them with fresh and delicious ingredients. Want a lemon crust? Add some zest. Want a vanilla crust? Add a 1/4 teaspoon of extract, or a scrape of a fresh bean. However, like I said in the caveat, on this vodka stuff, my answers reflect my views only.

cranberry caramel tart

What am I cooking this year?

One pumpkin cheesecake, two cranberry, caramel and almond tarts and one apple pie. I will need to nap for three days shortly thereafter, but at least my apartment will smell heavenly.

If I were hosting my own, however, I’ve got all sorts of recipes from the archives I’d consider, and hope you do too.

Appetizers and Sides



pumpkin bread pudding

Feel free to ask any cooking questions you run into between now and Thursday in the comments, and I’ll respond as best as I can.

One year ago: Miso Carrot Sauce With Ginger, Hoisin and Honey Pork Riblets

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54 comments on q&a: special thanksgiving edition

  1. Ruth

    i’ve been an avid reader of your site for years and everything i make from your site is spectacular. so i was hoping you could weigh in on an important decision: what third pie (besides pumpkin and apple) should I make for thanksgiving this year? I’m trying to decide between caramel-cranberry-almond and the maple-nutmeg cream… which one is better? I’m sure both are amazing but I can only pick one. Help!

  2. Sarah

    I use a hippie brand of shortening, though I haven’t tried this crust. I use the recipe from “Baking with Julia” and it turns out great, flaky from the shortening with rich flavor from the butter. So I’m thinking that it’s not the culprit? Pie crust took me a looonng time to master. And so many environmental factors affect the finished product. Keep trying Lana! It will work out.

  3. Kua

    Instead of flavored vodka, just use another alcohol for flavor. Apple pie with whiskey crust, Caramel-cranberry-almond with cognac, chocolate cream with frangelico or amaretto, triple berry with slivovitz, maple-nutmeg cream with apricot palinka…

  4. deb

    Ruth — My goodness, why don’t you just ask me to pick a favorite child? :) I think it comes down to personal taste. They are both standout desserts. The caramel cranberry is more complex and textured, the maple cream is really perfect for nutmeg, maple syrup or custard fanatics. You’ll be invited back if you make either. Have you given any thought to making a bunch of mini-tart shells and filling half with a half recipe of each?

  5. Laura

    Maybe its just a Southern (read Texas) thing (even though I’m currently living in California), but there’s really nothing better than pecan pie on Thanksgiving, just my two cents :)

  6. Jessica

    Which is better for your apple pie – the vodka crust or the crust that is posted with your apple pie recipe? I have a bake-a-holic MIL to impress…

  7. Ruth

    deb — i would definitely make mini-tarts if left to my own devices, but i am already making four pies (pumpkin, apple, vegan gluten-free pumpkin, and TBA), and a chocolate pudding, so i think if i made a dozen mini-tarts my friends would have me institutionalized. so i think i have to pick one. or i could make a cherry pie. too many pie options to choose from! please help :)

  8. deb

    Jessica — I don’t feel like I’ve used the new recipe enough to be able to give it a full review (just the maple tart; the others are being stashed for pie on Wednesday) but I’d say go with it, anyway. There’s some real genius in the idea of using a liquid that will burn off. That said, both this one and last year’s are Cook’s Illustrated, meaning that neither will fail you.

    Ruth — Oh my! Well, huh, as I mentioned, I’m making the cranberry, caramel and almond one. I think it’s more of a ta-da piece. But still, on a quieter weekend with quieter food, make sure you get to the maple one. That could be just for you.

  9. lana

    I just rolled the dough out and baked the crust; the filling is made and I’m waiting for the oven to cool to 300 so I can put everything together. The crust isn’t pretty but it looks perfectly edible. It was so sticky even after chilling that I didn’t roll it over the rolling pin– I just picked up the bottom layer of plastic wrap, inverted it over the tart pan, and peeled it off as I set the dough into place. Can’t wait to eat the final product!

  10. Somehow I think that tart is going to end up on my thanksgiving table, and that I’m umm, going to buy mini tart pans especially to make it because they’re so cute. Thanks again for the recipe!! Oh, and I’m making your dried tomato-stuffed mushrooms– I love them!

  11. I’m actually kind of glad we don’t celebrate Thanksgiving here, because I’d never be able to narrow down a menu.

    Right now, I could really go for your garlic soup and some of those chive biscuits.

  12. That’s a good lineup of recipes and I’m glad you posted it–even though most of my menu is decided for this year (I’m hosting–eek!) I’m much more excited about your cranberry sauce recipes (I like the dried figs one…yum) than what I originally had in mind.

  13. elizabeth

    After having great success with the new vodka recipe, I too had Kua’s idea of using some different liquors in the pie crust. I think that some of the more sugary ones (amaretto, etc.) might throw things off somehow. Thoughts?

    Also, does anyone use the ‘slather butter under the skin of the turkey’ method? I usually brine, but I wonder if the butter would help keep it juicy as well, or if it would be too much. Cheers!

  14. what do you think of the brussels sprouts and chestnuts in brown butter over mashed potatoes for my vegetarian thanksgiving? if that would work, i’ll skip the mushroom gravy. it’s just my husband and i – we’re doing nice, but not extravagant.

  15. leslie

    thanks for taking questions, deb! btw, i made the vodka pie dough last night and it came together more easily than any other pie dough i’ve ever made… one question on the cranberry etc. tart – will it do okay made a day ahead? or does it really need to be served the day of baking?

    elizabeth – i brine, but rotate the turkey from breast down to breast up (per cooks illustrated), which helps keep the white meat from overcooking. haven’t tried the butter under the skin, since i feel like the other 2 lbs of butter i’m already using in desserts and side dishes are already a bit much… :)

  16. You are undoubtedbly the queen of pastry in my mind. Your pies and tarts will be delicious I’m sure. Maybe you could make some of the sides for the day after Thanksgiving to go with your leftovers. That’s what I’m going to do. I’m making a squash casserole. Happy Thanksgiving!

  17. Kristin W

    On the Brussels sprouts and chestnuts — the sauce will thicken up enough so that you don’t need to pour the whole thing over noodles or taters — you just have to be *very* patient. It took about 25 minutes of constant whisking over medium heat, and my stove runs a tad hot. It’s just delightful and hearty, and would be great for a vegetarian meal. It’s a good thing my husband isn’t much into sprouts and other green things, because I ate the entire 8 cups myself!

  18. Brooke

    I must put in a plug for the pumpkin bread pudding that Deb made recently and just posted a link to again for Thanksgiving recipes. I made it for my in-laws recently, as an homage to my M-I-L’s tradition of making a pumpkin pie for my husband for his November birthday (he’s not a cake person), and everyone loved it. Even better – it is so incredibly easy and is quite possibly, as good if not better then next day. I never do this, but I ate it for breakfast! Also, Deb, I just made your banana bread for some coworkers and it is getting raves. I came across an unopened jar of Williams-Sonoma Pecan Pumpkin butter and it is a fabulous compliment to the spices in the bread. Thanks as always for great advice and inspiration. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.

  19. Anna

    I’m a new (but daily dedicated) reader – and i swear, your recipes are fabulous – love the photography too. I scribbled down your boozy french toast recipe to take home with me to wow my parents and siblings this weekend. i’m sure i’ll be logging on at some point too to see what else i could make – love the archives!

  20. Why do I feel the need to make so many dishes besides the big bird when I’m only feeding 6 people? I have so so so many Leftovers which I usually throw out by Sunday! It is so fun to cook – too bad I don’t have more of a crowd?! I have in the oven pumpkin cranberry bread and didn’t halve the recipe so now there are 2 loaves baking! Hope they taste good. Next up, sweet potato pie, the crust is chilling in the fridge. Bye for now!

  21. alex

    hi there: Our thanksgiving is a little untraditional: we’re making our own version of everyone’s favorite food, which winds up being a great, weird meal. Coincidentally, one of the favorites is pumpkin pie (it’s actually the only Thanksgiving-y thing on the menu). I’ll try that dough, thank you very much, and yet it seems overly good for the filling I usually make: essentially the off-the-can recipe. I see you love the pumpkin-pie *variations*, but do you have a great pumpkin-pie *ordinaire* recipe? Make that “extraordinaire”…Many thanks.

  22. alex

    ps – re the above brussel sprouts question: we tried that recipe last week and it thickened pretty quickly and thoroughly. I’d make gravy in additon, if you want to put it over mashed potatoes.

  23. deb

    lana — I’m glad it worked out! Throwing the rolled-out dough back in the freezer for 10 minutes before pressing it into the pie pan makes it easier to peel off the plastic.

    Graeme — So could I!

    Elizabeth — I would use them in moderation, personally, if it all. The real point of the vodka is to have a liquid that largely burns off in the oven, leaving no flavor behind. If you want almond, I’d suggest almond extract, but that’s just me. A few tablespoons of amaretto could be quite a bit.

    kelley — I think it would be great. Do check out these vegetarian Thanksgiving recipes from the NYTimes last week as well. I honestly want to make every single one of them, right now.

    leslie — We fond that the cranberry tart kept exceedingly well in the fridge, and the crust really didn’t sog at all. We left it uncovered, though, which may have helped. Sadly, I have only cooked a turkey once, and it was many, many years ago so I can’t give much advice on the butter or brining, but I am sure others will–and have–chimed in!

    Jane M — I have thought about this many times, this compulsion to over-feed guests and feel guilty if you’ve only just fed them enough. It’s, well, it’s a first world problem. That said, I have always loved side dishes more than meat, so I couldn’t imagine making less than four, even for six people (because I’m crazy, not that this is required), though I’d definitely consider halving some of them.

    Alex — For a basic pumpkin pie recipe, I see nothing wrong with the one on the side of the Libby’s pumpkin puree can. There, I said it. But If you want something just slightly more original without horrifying those who long for classics, Rose Levy Berenbaum has a great one with crushed gingersnaps and pecans between the crust and filling.

  24. Emily

    Just a thought for anyone who really does have a butternut squash or two staring at them from the countertops–it makes a really nice pumpkin pie. Somehow slightly more pumpkin-y than the real things. And for not much more work than opening the can people get all impressed. Although I think in my family the maple tart is going to be the bigger thrill this year…

  25. Tara

    I’ve really been enjoying your daily postings in November. What a tasty method of procrastination from my dissertation writing! I love your butternut squash galette but I found out the hard way that it is very important to chill the crust well after mixing. Last time I skimped on chill time and ended up with butter all over my oven. Oops! I just thought I should warn others. Also, I loved the recipe for brussels sprouts with brown butter the day I made it but the leftovers tasted awful. Does anyone know what happens to day old sprouts, and/or any way to fix it?

  26. Susanne

    I’m doing the garlic soup for our appetizer. I’ll let you know about the family verdict. All are big garlic lovers, so it is a safe bet. Although my father in law did wonder why I needed quite so much garlic at the store.

  27. Margarita

    My brother told me that cheap vodka is actually made differently (same with cheap gin, cheap whiskey, etc), out of wheat instead of potatoes, with flavoring added (mmm… vodka flavoring). So I would stick with a reasonable vodka for the pie dough (like Absolut). Unless my brother was making it up… must get to googling.

  28. Nan

    I just tried the pie dough recipe..first roll was sticky and not manageable between parchmant, I decided to toss flour out and let it fill in with a little flour to take away the sticky.. it rolled smooth and easy, handled well..I just pulled it out of the oven, it is wonderful, definetly thanksgiving worthy..

  29. lana

    My boyfriend has inhaled half the maple tart and says that he usually does not like crust, but he loves this one. So despite my fear, I shall be using this recipe again.

  30. I’m looking for a really easy brine for my 22 pound turkey. What do you recommend? I want add moisture, but I’m not really looking to flavor the turkey. I will be high temp roasting it ala Barbara Kafka.

  31. I’ve been brining my turkey for a few years and I’ll never go back. I posted the recipes at my site today. Sadly, the chef who originally contributed them to a local magazine took them down as too many people had trouble with the brine. I have never had a problem. And I always roast a BIG turkey like you. It it the tenderest turkey I’ve ever had.

    Oooh,and the gravy is lick-the-roaster-pan-even-if-everyone-is-watching good!

  32. Oops – I meant, “I always roast a bit turkey like you – Sophia”. Deb said she’s only made a turkey once. I wish she were coming to my gathering! I can’t wait to try the cranberry tart and maple cream tart. Soon. Soon!

  33. Elizabeth

    Deb, thanks for the amazing recipes!

    I made the nutmeg-maple pie last night and it’s taking all of my strength not to bury my face in it before tomorrow. The only thing is – it’s a lovely color, but the top is a little, ahem, bubbly. It’s probably my fault. Do you have any recommendations for making it look pretty? I didn’t want to throw some random garnish on there and ruin the flavors.

  34. I’m so glad you’re talking about the excesses of Thanksgiving! Not that I’m one to underindulge, especially when gravy is involved, but I too feel bad when there’s just enough food for everyone.

    Also, I love the slide show of families all over the world and what they eat for a week, just great.

    Thanks Deb!

  35. M

    The best pumpkin pie recipe is the on the back of the Eagle brand sweetened condensed milk can. You can still use Libby pumpkin puree, but the pie comes out a little sweeter and somehow more firm. I hate an overly mushy/soggy pumpkin pie.

  36. deb

    Dan — I usually freeze them overnight, rolled out and cut on the tray I’ll be using the next day, wrapped in plastic. I suspect the fridge would work as well…

    Elizabeth — A drizzle of a raspberry or cranberry reduction (strained) would be pretty.

    Tara — I’m not sure. Brussels are naturally.. gassy, and I’ve had little luck getting that smell from them.

    Sonia — I’m sorry, but I haven’t made a brined turkey before. However, I bet there are lots of people hanging around who have. I think there are a lot of good recipes on the Web, too. Good luck.

  37. Cynthia

    Ahhh! I’m planning to make a pumpkin cheesecake, but I want a pecan praline topping which is often found in pumpkin pies. I know that the praline in pies can be put on before being put into the oven due to shorter baking time and the relative lack of shifting underneath that layer – how do I achieve the same in my cheesecake??

  38. Deb, just wanted to drop you a note and say I made the bourbon pumpkin cheesecake recipe for my family and they LOVED it. Thank you so much! Also, I wanted to say that IMHO, it is best to make it on Tuesday for Thursday’s meal, as the flavors are even better after they’d had a chance to mix a bit more.

  39. Sharon

    Don’t know if you’re still looking, but any ideas how to halve a cheesecake recipe? ie, what size pan to use to make 2 mini cakes, adapted from one recipe intended for a 9″ springform, and the baking time. Many thanks!

  40. Sally

    I’ve never seen the point of taking up space in the fridge with a big pot of brine in the run-up to turkey day. I use the season-two-days-ahead method, a la Zuñi Cafe.

    Roasting a turkey: it helps to have a strong person around to lift it. I like to start it breast down on a V-rack for about half the recommended time, then pad hands with oven mitts and oven mitts with paper towels and turn the bird over for the rest of the roasting time. This method means that the melting fat on the back and legs helps to baste the drier breast meat. Start checking for doneness about 45 min. before it says it should be done. It’ll stay hot and good for at least half an hour and the meat should be even better for the long rest.