Though you’re probably not splitting a slice of pie with a non-pod friend this Thanksgiving, you can still bake and share these single-serving desserts without the creeping anxiety of potentially getting anyone sick.
Even the logistics of cutting a whole pie and handing out wedges can feel like a lot right now. To get around that and make baking the therapeutic joy it should be, go small with these takes on pecan, sweet potato and cranberry pies. Whether they’re for doorstep delivery or for a masked, socially distanced outdoor gathering, these pre-portioned desserts get around the awkward middle-school-dance nerves of desperately wanting — and not wanting — to get close to others.
Some bakers have already pivoted to smaller goods. Cheryl Day, a cookbook author, chef and owner of Back in the Day Bakery in Savannah, Ga., saw orders for large cakes decline, so she started selling more cupcakes — and then mini cupcakes. “Those are taking off,” Ms. Day said by phone.
“For Thanksgiving, people are still craving the comforts of traditions, so we’re doing pumpkin pie bars,” she said. “Maybe there’s just two people at home, so they’ll just get a couple bars.”
When turning desserts into individually portioned sweets, it’s important to consider how to package them for delivery. Paola Velez, the executive pastry chef at La Bodega at Compass Rose in Washington, D.C., saw that firsthand this past summer. As a co-founder of Bakers Against Racism, Ms. Velez helped organize large-scale bake sales with contactless delivery for the pandemic era. She said she had been impressed by New York City bakers who optimized the space of generic takeout boxes by filling them with square-edged treats.
With her packaging, Ms. Velez takes inspiration from her Dominican heritage. “For Latinx culture, we utilize different containers and put things in that you typically wouldn’t,” she said. “If you buy a tin of cookies, you keep the tin for sewing needles or cake. We reuse and repurpose vessels from home. It’s kind of fun to see, like, a rum cake in a metal box.”
However these sweets are packed, they’ll surprise as portable versions of pie, loosely defined here as crust plus filling.
[Thanksgiving will be different this year. Here are hundreds of our best Thanksgiving recipes from NYT Cooking to help.]
Some items on the Thanksgiving shopping list are obvious, but there are several other ingredients that will prove invaluable to have on hand. See our full guide on How To Cook and Plan Thanksgiving and our list of staples below.
- Butter, lots of it. Choose European-style high-fat butter for pie crusts, and regular unsalted butter for everything else.
- Stock. If you haven’t made your own, look for homemade stock at the same butcher shop where you buy your turkey, or in the freezer section of your supermarket. The canned and boxed stuff should be a last resort.
- Fresh herbs. Not only do they add freshness and flavor across your Thanksgiving table, but they’re also pretty, lending a touch of green to a meal heavy on earth tones.
- Garlic, onions, leeks, fresh ginger, shallots. An assortment of aromatics keeps your cooking lively and interesting. You’ll need them for the stuffing, for stock and gravy, and for many side dishes.
- Fresh citrus. Lemon, lime and orange juice and zest contribute brightness to countless Thanksgiving dishes, from the turkey to the gravy to the cranberry sauce to the whipped cream for pie.
- Nuts. These go a long way to give crunch to otherwise texturally boring dishes. (Ahem, sweet potato casserole.)
- White wine/vermouth/beer. Even if you’re not drinking any of these spirits before or during the meal, they can be splashed into gravy or vegetable dishes, or used to deglaze the turkey roasting pan. (Bourbon and brandy work well as deglazers, too.)
- Fresh spices. If you can’t remember when you bought your spices, now is a good time to replace them.
- Light brown sugar, molasses, maple syrup. These sweeteners are more profoundly flavored than white sugar, and they have an autumnal richness.
- Heavy cream, sour cream, crème fraîche, ice cream. You’ll need these for topping pies and cakes.
- Please, wear a mask. It protects both yourself and others from coronavirus, and aim to maintain several feet of distance from other shoppers in stores whenever possible. If you opt for grocery delivery, tip as generously as you can.
- See all of our Thanksgiving recipes.
Buttery shortbreads sandwiching a soft pecan praline taste like the prime edge of pie, where gooey filling caramelizes onto crust. The “crust” in these cookies is crisp and rich with nuts. In one-bite sweet potato pies, a delicate filling blends coconut milk and rum and sets easily over spiced graham cracker crusts when baked in mini-muffin molds. Even though lemon bars feel more bake sale than Thanksgiving, this version starts with a simple cranberry jam. It tastes like the holidays and adds a tangy brightness that refreshes after a heavy meal and a long year.
Though these desserts all keep well, they’re more enjoyable to make when most of them are given away.
“I found myself doing porch drop-offs for friends who couldn’t get out,” Ms. Day said. “There’s something special about being able to leave something you made yourself with a personal note.”