After a long, hot summer, the first hints of crisp autumn air come as a refreshing change. Not only is it time to trade in your warm-weather wardrobe for cozy sweaters (or update your home decor!), it’s finally cool enough to enjoy baking. Classic fall dessert recipes share a number of comforting, familiar ingredients, but there’s plenty of room to change things up while clinging to the tradition.
Elevate Your Apple Pie
Sure, “Mom’s apple pie” is the gold standard for comfort-food desserts, but if you haven’t put any of your own twist on her classic, maybe it’s time to change things up a little. Here are three easy (and family-friendly) ways to do so.
Add More Apples
Some apples are tart, some are sweet, some are floral, and no two taste exactly alike. To give your pie a deeper, fuller apple flavor, use as many different kinds of baking apples as you can find in your local market.
Change Up the Spices
Cinnamon and nutmeg work beautifully in apple pie, but there’s no reason to limit yourself to that classic pairing. Allspice broadens and deepens the flavors of the other spices, and ginger adds warmth. For something a little more adventurous, try adding ground cardamom or a pinch of crushed juniper berries.
Topping, Not Top Crust
As an alternative to the usual upper crust, top your apples with streusel crumbs, crushed gingersnaps or walnut or pecan pieces. The topping browns in the oven and adds a pleasant crunch, giving a welcome textural contrast. As a bonus, your favorite piecrust recipe will yield two pies rather than one.
Give Pears a Chance
Apples are one of autumn’s signature ingredients, but pears are just as versatile. There are plenty of pear-centric recipes out there, or you can substitute them in your own favorite tried-and-true apple recipes.
Pears are perfect for open-faced tarts, where the slices’ rounded bottoms and narrow tops naturally assume a circular shape as you layer them around the shell. In muffins or coffee cakes, pears are a sweeter and more fragrant alternative to apple slices or diced apples. And when lightly sugared and caramelized on the stovetop or in your oven, they’re a delightful garnish for cakes or cheesecakes.
For a classic European dessert, poach peeled pears in spiced, sweetened red wine and serve them in a sauce made by reducing the wine.
Pumpkin Pie Without the Custard
There are plenty of canned-pumpkin recipes, but surprisingly few that use fresh pumpkin. Diced, shredded or thinly sliced pumpkin can be added to muffins or coffee cakes in the same way you would with apples or any other fruit—but for maximum impact, make an utterly unconventional pumpkin pie.
Start with a pie or sugar pumpkin, a dense kabocha or butternut squash. Slice it into pieces the same general size and shape as you would apples for an apple pie, and toss the slices with sugar, spices and a pinch of salt. Bake it as a two-crust pie using your favorite pastry recipe, just as you would with an apple pie.
Some varieties of pumpkin release a lot of moisture as they cook, so most recipes suggest tossing the slices with flour or cornstarch to absorb and thicken the juices. Others use a layer of tapioca underneath the pumpkin slices. A better option is to roast the slices on a sheet pan until they release their juices and get a hint of caramelization at the edges, then let them cool before filling the pie shell.
Unusual Canned-Pumpkin Recipes
Canned pumpkin is nonperishable and impeccably seasonal, so it’s handy to keep on hand. By all means use it for pies and quick breads, but there are more interesting options as well.
Pumpkin Ice Cream
Make dairy-free “instant” soft ice cream by whizzing frozen bananas until smooth in a food processor or heavy-duty blender, then add pumpkin puree, spices and a splash of maple syrup.
Whip up your favorite pumpkin pie filling, but cook it in a double boiler and serve it warm or chilled in individual coupes.
Upcycle leftover gingerbread by breaking it up and layering it in a tall glass with whipped cream and cooked pumpkin pudding or the filling from a leftover pie. For extra punch, drizzle the gingerbread with a rum- or ginger-flavored syrup.
Ways With Gingerbread
Gingerbread’s rich aroma and warm, spicy flavors make it a perfect dessert for crisp, cool autumn evenings. Add-ins or add-ons can make your favorite version feel new again, without the trial and error of changing your base recipe.
For a simple but high-impact addition to your gingerbread, add candied ginger. The spicy treat is sticky, so lightly oil your scissors or knife blade before cutting the rounds into small pieces.
Turn your gingerbread into an upside-down cake by buttering the bottom of the pan and lining it with thinly sliced, decoratively arranged apples or pears and a sprinkling of brown sugar.
Homemade Ice Cream
Nothing’s better with warm gingerbread than homemade ice cream. Honey-, maple- or rum-flavored ice creams all bring a little more to the table than plain old whipped cream.
Planning to host the whole family for the holidays? Check out our guide to building a perfect dinner party menu and our custom glassware sets to make the occasion feel just a little bit more colorful.