Turkey is a mere custom at Thanksgiving; pie, an imperative.

If Thanksgiving diners across the nation were given a choice of one or the other and the order in which they are served, pie would win both contests because, truth be told, turkey is an obstacle on the road leading to pie.

Consider the oft-uttered admonition, "Save room, there's pie."

Imagine that on the annual day of thanks, dessert were served before its traditional entree. Would "Save room, there's turkey" have the same effect?

Of course not.

Would you drive 30 miles at 10 p.m. for a serving of turkey? No, but I did so a few years ago for a wedge of the Triple Coconut Cream Pie wrought by pastry chefs at Tom Douglas' Dahlia Kitchen in Seattle.

Because of that pie, I remember being in Seattle and why I was there. I see the restaurant in my mind's eye and recall stopping in awe after my first bite. This rich pie often comes up in conversations.

Conversely, I know I've had tasty turkey, but I don't recall the details. In any event, there's a limit to describing roasted turkey in an excited tone. Mainly, the degree of dryness or juiciness is about all that can be said before moving on to a verdict on the lumpiness of the gravy.

With pie, you can go on and on - animated, bright-eyed, drooling.

The allure of pie, and not just on Thanksgiving, is rooted in its construction, versatility - and in emotion.

Pie's a package. It appears as a small parcel, much like a gift, on a plate. A pie conveys conviviality because it is divvied up, not always equally, to be shared.

Pie often evokes the nostalgia of childhood or periods in our lives when there may have been time to linger at a table instead of rushing to a deadline or other pursuit.

Be it centered on fruit or custard, pie is capable of offering creaminess, fruitiness, tartness, sweetness, density, lightness, and smoothness. It can include textures ranging from crisp crusts to soft centers.

A pie in the oven fills a house with irresistible aromas.

Pie invites creativity.

Ancho chile in pumpkin pie? It works - and well. In the recipe here, ground anchos, which are fresh poblanos when dried, lend depth and complexity rather than heat.

John Barricelli, who owns the SoNo Baking Co. in Norwalk, Conn., and who once worked with Martha Stewart, knows the power of combining seasonal fruit, but does not merely toss cranberries and pear slices into a pie crust.

Instead, he cooks the cranberries into a luscious sauce that glazes the pears and pulls the fruits together under a streusel topping.

Dessert pies may be made with such streusel, between two traditional crusts, with crusts made of cookie crumbs or graham crackers, enhanced with nuts or herbs, in the oven or in a skillet.

Or even with bread.

The chef, television personality, and author Sara Moulton, known for her practical recipes for weekday meals, concedes that, like many home cooks, she gets nervous making pie crust. So she has come up with a way to make individual turnoverlike pies with flattened slices of white bread.

Homely and homey at the same time, they're fast and easy enough to make for breakfast or as an after-school snack.

Yes, pie for breakfast!

Just try offering the kids turkey at 8 a.m.

I'm just saying.

Cranberry Pear Pie With Streusel Topping

Makes 10 servings

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Pate Brisee (see note)

For the cranberry sauce:

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1/2 cup water

13/4 cups fresh or frozen

   cranberries

Pinch of coarse salt

Grated zest of 1/2 orange

1 small cinnamon stick

For the Streusel Topping:

1 cup all-purpose flour

1 cup light brown sugar

1/2 teaspoon coarse salt

1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 cup cold unsalted butter,

   cut into small cubes

For the pie filling:

1 pound Anjou or Bosc

   pears, peeled and cored,

   cut into 1-inch pieces

1/4 cup granulated sugar

1/2 teaspoon ground cinna-         mon

1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg

2 tablespoons all-purpose

   flour

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1. To make the cranberry sauce, bring the sugar and water to a boil in a medium saucepan. Add the cranberries, salt, zest, and cinnamon stick. Simmer over medium to low heat until the cranberries begin to break down and become juicy, about 10 minutes. Transfer to a small bowl. Remove the cinnamon stick. Cover with plastic wrap, pressing the wrap directly onto the surface of the sauce to prevent a skin from forming. Refrigerate overnight (or up to 1 week).

2. To prepare the crust, on a lightly floured surface, roll out the disk of dough to a 12-inch round and fit it into a 9-inch pie plate, pressing into the edges. Trim to a 1/2-inch overhang all around and use your fingertips to crimp the edges. Chill until firm, 30 minutes.

3. Set the oven rack in the bottom third of the oven. Preheat the oven to 425. Line a baking sheet with a nonstick silicone baking mat.

4. To make the streusel topping, in a medium bowl, use a fork to stir together the flour, brown sugar, salt, and cinnamon. Add the butter, and using your fingertips, quickly work it into the dry ingredients until pea-size crumbs form. Set aside in the refrigerator.

5. To make the filling, in a medium bowl, toss together the pears, sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, flour, and 1 cup of cranberry sauce. Pour the mixture into the prepared pie shell. Sprinkle the streusel topping over the top, covering it completely.

6. Place the pie plate on the prepared baking sheet, and bake for 20 minutes. Reduce the heat to 375 and continue baking until the streusel turns golden brown and the juices begin to bubble, 30 to 40 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool completely, at least 1 hour, to let the juices be absorbed. Serve at room temperature.

- From The SoNo Baking Company Cookbook by John Barricelli (Clarkson Potter, 2010)

 

Note: To make the pate brisee, combine 11/8 cups all-purpose flour, 1 teaspoon sugar, and 1/2 teaspoon coarse salt in the bowl of a food processor. Add 1/2 cup cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces, and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs, about 10 seconds. With the machine running, add 2 tablespoons of ice water through the feed tube in a slow and steady stream, a little bit at a time until the dough just comes together. The dough should not be wet or sticky. If it is too dry and does not hold together, add a little more water. Turn the dough out onto a clear work surface and wrap in plastic wrap, shaping into a flattened disk. Chill at least 1 hour before using.

Per serving: 366 calories, 3 grams protein, 60 grams carbohydrates, 34 grams sugar, 13 grams fat, 35 milligrams cholesterol, 241 milligrams sodium, 3 grams dietary fiber.EndText

Ancho Chile Pumpkin Pie

6 to 8 servings

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One 9-inch single-crust

   deep-dish pie shell, store-      bought or homemade

   (see note)

1 can (15 ounces) pumpkin

   puree

12/3 cup whipping cream

3 eggs, beaten to blend

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1/2 cup firmly packed brown

   sugar

1 tablespoon ground dried

   ancho chilies (see notes)

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

1/2 teaspoon nutmeg

1/2 teaspoon salt

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1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Top pie shell with foil and fill halfway with pie weights or dried beans. Bake pie shell on lower rack of oven until edges are dry and barely golden, about 15 minutes. Remove from oven and carefully remove pie weights and foil. Reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees.

2. Meanwhile, in a large bowl, whisk pumpkin, cream, eggs, both sugars, ground chilies, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and salt until smooth.

3. Pour pumpkin mixture into hot crust and return pie to oven on center rack. Bake until center barely jiggles when shaken, 45 to 50 minutes. Let cool to room temperature on a rack, at least 2 hours. Cut into wedges to serve.

- Adapted from The Sunset Cookbook (Oxmoor House, 2010)

 

Note: Be sure to use a deep-dish pie shell, which holds about twice what a regular pie crust does. Alternatively, make two pies with regular size crusts, adjusting the baking time accordingly. Do not attempt to grind whole anchos; buy them preground.

Per serving (based on 8): 488 calories, 6 grams protein, 47 grams carbohydrates, 27 grams sugar, 32 grams fat, 148 milligrams cholesterol, 370 milligrams sodium, 3 grams dietary fiber.EndText

Quick Weekday Apple Handpies

Makes 6 to 8 handpies

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2 tablespoons unsalted

   butter

1 Granny Smith apple, ripe

   Bartlett pear, or other

   fruit

1/4 teaspoon freshly grated

   lemon zest

1 tablespoon fresh lemon

   juice

2 tablespoons plus 1/2

   teaspoon sugar

6 slices homemade-style

   white bread, squarish or

   oblongish

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1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease an unrimmed baking sheet. Melt the butter in the microwave or in a small saucepan over low heat and set aside.

2. Peel and thinly slice the fruit. Cut the slices crosswise into quarters and toss them with the lemon zest, lemon juice, and 2 tablespoons sugar in a small bowl.

3. Trim off and discard the crusts from the bread; cover the slices with plastic wrap. One at a time, place the bread slices between sheets of wax paper or plastic wrap and roll with a rolling pin until they are very thin.

4. Divide the fruit among the bread slices. Moisten the edges of the bread with water. Either fold them in half over the fruit if the bread is oblong or, if square, match two opposite points, folding half of each bread slice over to enclose the fruit to make a triangle. Firmly press the edges together.

5. Arrange the turnovers on the baking sheet, brush them with the melted butter, and sprinkle them with the remaining 1/2 teaspoon sugar. Pierce the top of each turnover with the tines of a fork. Bake the turnovers for about 10 minutes, or until they are golden and the fruit is tender.

- Adapted from Sara Moulton's Everyday Family Dinners (Simon & Schuster, 2010)

 

Per handpie (based on 8): 99 calories, 2 grams protein, 15 grams carbohydrates, 6 grams sugar, 4 grams fat, 8 milligrams cholesterol, 128 milligrams sodium, 1 gram dietary fiber.EndText

Tom Douglas' Triple Coconut Cream Pie

Makes 6 to 8 servings

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For the coconut pie shell:

1 cup plus 2 tablespoons

   all-purpose flour

1/2 cup sweetened shredded

   coconut

1/2 cup (1 stick) very cold

   unsalted butter, cut into

   small dice

2 teaspoons sugar

1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

1/3 cup ice water, or more if

   needed

For the coconut pastry cream:

2 cups milk

2 cups sweetened shredded

   coconut (I used 11/2 cups)

1 vanilla bean, split in half

   lengthwise

2 large eggs

1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons

   sugar

3 tablespoons all-purpose

   flour

1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted

   butter, softened

For the whipped cream:

21/2 cups heavy cream,

   chilled (or less; I used          11/2 cups)

1/3 cup sugar

1 teaspoon pure vanilla

   extract

For the garnish:

2 ounces unsweetened

   "chip" or large-shred

   coconut (about 11/2 cups)

   or sweetened shredded

   coconut, toasted in 350°F

   oven for 7-8 minutes

Chunks of white chocolate

   (4 to 6 ounces, to make       2   ounces of curls)

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1. Make the pie shell by placing the flour, coconut, butter, sugar, and salt in a food processor. Pulse until you get coarse crumbs. Add the ice water, 1 tablespoon at a time, pulsing once after each addition, until dough holds together when pressed between fingers. (The dough will not form a ball or even clump together in processor - it will be loose.)

2. Dump the dough out onto a large sheet of plastic wrap, press into a disc, cover with plastic wrap, and chill for 30 to 60 minutes.

3. Roll dough on a floured surface into a 12- to 13-inch circle. Ease the dough gently (don't stretch) into a 9-inch pie pan (I used a tart pan), and trim the excess. Chill at least 1 hour before baking.

4. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place a sheet of aluminum foil or parchment paper in the pie crust, extending over edges, and fill with dried beans, rice, or pie weights. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes until rim is golden. Remove from oven; discard foil and beans, and return crust to oven. Bake for 10 to 12 more minutes or until golden brown. Remove from oven, and cool completely on a wire rack.

5. Make the coconut pastry cream by combining the milk and coconut in a medium saucepan. Scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean and add both seeds and pod to the milk mixture. Place the saucepan over medium-high heat and stir occasionally until the mixture almost comes to a boil.

6. In a bowl, whisk the eggs with the sugar and flour until well combined. Temper the eggs (to keep them from scrambling) by pouring about 1/3 cup of the scalded milk into the egg mixture while whisking. Then add the warmed egg mixture to the saucepan of milk and coconut. Whisk over medium-high heat until the pastry cream thickens and begins to bubble. Keep whisking until the mixture is very thick, 4 to 5 minutes more.

7. Remove the saucepan from the heat. Add the butter and whisk until it melts. Remove and discard the vanilla pod. Transfer the pastry cream to a bowl and place it over a bowl of ice water. Stir occasionally until it is cool. Place a piece of plastic wrap directly on the surface of the pastry cream to prevent a crust from forming and refrigerate until completely cold. The pastry cream will thicken as it cools. When the pastry cream is cold, fill the prebaked pie shell with it, smoothing the surface.

8. Make the garnish while the cream is cooling: Preheat the oven to 350°F. Spread the coconut chips on a baking sheet and toast in the oven, watching carefully and stirring once or twice, since coconut burns easily, until lightly browned, 7 to 8 minutes. Remove from oven, pour onto a plate or into a bowl, and set aside.

9. At or near serving time, make the whipped cream. In an electric mixer with the whisk attachment, whip the heavy cream with the sugar and vanilla on medium speed. Gradually increase the speed to high and whip to peaks that are firm enough to hold their shape. Fill a pastry bag fitted with a star tip with the whipped cream and pipe it all over the surface of the pie - or just spoon it over the pie.

10. Use a vegetable peeler to scrape about 2 ounces of the white chocolate into curls.

11. Sprinkle the pie with the toasted coconut and chocolate. Cut into wedges to serve 4 to 6.

- From Tom Douglas' Seattle Kitchen

(William Morrow Cookbooks, 2000)

 

Per serving (based on 8): 963 calories, 10 grams protein, 72 grams carbohydrates, 57 grams sugar, 77 grams fat, 221 milligrams cholesterol, 287 milligrams sodium, 3 grams dietary fiber.EndText