Thanksgiving Pies

Caramel Pumpkin Pie
Gourmet's Caramel Pumpkin Pie, photo by Roland Bello

Traditional pies didn't get as much coverage as turkeys in the magazines this month. Cook's Illustrated proposed an intriguing No-Bake Pumpkin Pie (reg. required), promising a "fresher, brighter pumpkin flavor."

Martha Stewart Living did a whole spread of "Great New Pies" (Mini Cranberry Meringue, anyone?) and instead of traditional pumpkin they offered Pumpkin Pie with Graham Crust & Candied Pepitas. "We spiced up the filling with a pinch of cayenne pepper." I'm not sure my grandfather would appreciate that!

Saveur created a Thanksgiving Twofer Pie (which doesn't seem to be online). The Twofer "bakes our two favorites into one delicious combo." It's a mix of pumpkin and pecan. Since my family doesn't ever have pecan pie at Thanksgiving, but rather apple, our "twofer" would be an apple/pumpkin mix. Hmmm…I'm not convinced that's better than two individual pies.

Food & Wine didn't offer a single traditional pie recipe, the closest they came was a Sweet Potato Tart with Red Wine Caramel.

And my choice for best new pie idea was Gourmet's Caramel Pumpkin Pie. Caramel sounds like a good addition to an old stand-by, but it's not getting very good reviews at Epicurious. One poster said, "The caramel dominated the other flavors. The recipe called for very small amounts of ground cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and ginger, so the pie was very bland as a result." Another wrote, "The recipe was followed exactly, and it just didn't taste good." Drat!

So maybe this is the year to stick with your family pie recipes, and ensure that everyone will leave the table happy. What pies do you enjoy at Thanksgiving?

White Castle is offering a…

White Castle SlyderWhite Castle is offering a new twist on traditional turkey stuffing that is made with that famous little burger, the Slyder. White Castle Turkey Stuffing is made with ten White Castle hamburgers, but hold the pickles. I guess it makes sense, since stuffing often has meat in it, but it seems a little odd. If anyone tries it, I'd love a report.

Day three of the Thanksgiving…

Day three of the Thanksgiving Spectacular continues, and today we've got less coverage from the magazines and more from my favorite source, the web. Let's dive right in with a Thanksgiving Q & A from the New York Times: Answering Your Thanksgiving Questions. "The Dining staff will be answering questions on Thanksgiving cooking and entertaining." Though they claim all questions won't be answered, it looks like readers are chiming in to help. Pretty much any question you could have is probably in there.

Yum, this Granny Smith Apple…

Granny Smith Apple and Brown Butter Custard TartYum, this Granny Smith Apple and Brown Butter Custard Tart from Pastry Chef Kate Neumann (from Chicago's MK the Restaurant) looks delicious. While I'm normally not one for changing things up in the dessert arena on Thanksgiving, this "sweet custard loaded with caramelized apples and baked in a buttery tart shell" could be a nice alternative to apple pie. Or maybe in addition to apple pie, so you don't have to chose.

Turkey Tips

Martha Stewart's Roast Turkey with Quince Glaze
Martha Stewart's Roast Turkey with Quince Glaze

The food magazines love Thanksgiving and turkey, but offer differing recommendations for how to prepare it. So I examined five magazine approaches to cooking turkey, and discovered there's really no consensus about how to roast the big bird.

Cook's Illustrated
Cook's proposes a Roast Salted Turkey (reg. required). Long proponents of brining, this year (because of space constraints in a packed holiday fridge) they "rethink [their] brine-at-all-costs philosophy." They prepare and test a salt rub and find the meat nicely seasoned and pretty moist. They also state "while a brined bird shed 19 percent of its initial weight in the oven, a salted bird shed 22 percent of its out-of-the-package weight." To prevent over cooking of the breast while getting the legs up to temperature, they experimented with icing down the bird's breast. The breast and leg start at 41° when removed from the fridge. After an hour on ice, the breast was down to 36° while the leg was up to 43°. "That 7-degree head start for the leg meant the turkey could stay in the oven long enough to fully cook the dark meat without drying out the white meat." Very interesting.

Roasting temperature: 425° for 45 minutes, then 325° until breast registers 160° and thigh 170°

Martha Stewart Living
Martha prepared a Roast Turkey with Quince Glaze. She brined for twenty-four hours. Her technique to prevent the breast from over-cooking (which I've used before and it worked wonderfully) is to soak a cheesecloth in a melted butter and wine mixture and lay the cheesecloth over the breast for about half the cooking time. Martha insists on basting, which you must do if you use the cheesecloth. Otherwise it could dry out and catch fire. Basting every thirty minutes with butter/wine mixture is called for until a quince glaze is applied in the last ten minutes of cooking.

Roasting temperature: 425° for 30 minutes, then 350° until thigh registers 165°

Saveur went with a Brined and Roasted Turkey. The recipe is not online. They are brining proponents and recommend eight hours to overnight of brine time to break down proteins and seal in flavor and moisture. They rub the turkey with butter and call for regular basting with butter every 30 minutes. Note their lower roasting temperature. Sadly, they don't explain why. Saveur doesn't seem that into Thanksgiving compared to the other mags.

Roasting temperature: 325° until thigh registers 165°

Food & Wine
Food & Wine wins the Renegade of the Year award for their Classic Roasted Turkey. Not only do they not brine, they also urge against basting! "Put it in the over, but don't baste it; repeatedly opening and closing the oven door makes it cook unevenly." Just season the bird with salt and pepper and put it in the oven in a pan filled with some vegetables. They recommend covering the breast with foil when you've got about 75 minutes to go, I suppose to keep it from drying out.

Roasting temperature: 350° until thigh registers 170°

Gourmet goes with a straight-forward Simple Roast Turkey with Rich Turkey Gravy this year. Calling it the "ultimate turkey lover's turkey" they claim a "succulent bird with crispy skin." There's "no fussing with brines" and since it roasts unstuffed, it cooks in under four hours. I'm an ultimate turkey lover and I have to say, that doesn't sound very good to me. I love the flavor of stuffing roasted in the bird! And in the brine vs. no brine camp, I firmly land on the side of brining. You could convince me not to brine for a scientific reason (see Harold McGee on brining's dilution of the meat’s own juices and flavor), but not out of sheer laziness.

Roasting temperature: 450° until thigh registers 170°

My Thanksgiving Recipe
Ever since I read The Basics of Brining (warning: link is a .pdf) in the December 2001 Cook's Illustrated, I've been a briner. I use the CI basic brine recipe and then have used Martha's Perfect Roast Turkey. I stuff my bird with our family recipe for Grandma Pete's Stuffing. And it's always accompanied by Grandma Pete's Gravy and My Mother's Cranberry Chutney. No matter how many other recipes I read, this is the one I always want to prepare.

Roasting temperature: 450° for 30 minutes, then 350° until thigh registers 180° (This now strikes me as too high, after reading all the other recipes above.)

Do you brine? Baste? Roast at high heat? Share your turkey tips!

Thanksgiving ideas and facts

"Historians believe that the Pilgrims' first Thanksgiving feast did not include ham, corn on the cob, cranberry sauce, sweet potatoes, or pie but may have included eel, swan, venison, and seal, in addition to other wildfowl." – Gourmet

"Early American settlers preferred pies to bread because they required less flour. Apple pie–which was served for breakfast, lunch, and dinner–was a favorite, because the plentiful apple could be dried and stored in barrels during the winter." – Martha Stewart Living

"The first Official thanksgiving was held in the Virginia Colony on December 4, 1619 near the current site of Berkeley Plantation, where celebrations are held each year in November. The Pilgrims set apart a day to celebrate at Plymouth immediately after their first harvest, in 1621. At the time, this was not regarded as a Thanksgiving observance; harvest festivals were existing parts of English and Wampanoag tradition alike. Since 1863, Thanksgiving has been observed annually in the United States." – Wikipedia

Wondering what the best canned…

One PieWondering what the best canned pumpkin filling is? Cook's Illustrated tested three products and reports: "Libby's and One-Pie ended up in a dead heat. While some tasters favored the 'creamy' texture and 'mild sweetness' of Libby's, others preferred the slightly 'denser' texture and 'sharper' pumpkin flavor of One-Pie. Farmer's Market was disqualified for its unpleasantly 'vegetal' and 'chalky' flavor." I'm partial to One-Pie myself, in large part because I love the old-fashioned packaging.

I'm not one for changing…

I'm not one for changing things around on Thanksgiving. I like our family traditions. But a few recipes caught my eye as I was going through the glossies, including this one from Gourmet for Creamed Leeks. "Put a spin on creamed onions this holiday by using an ingredient from the same family instead. Not only do these leeks bake into something extraordinary, they get you out of the time-consuming task of peeling all those tiny pearl onions."