Tom Colicchio’s Top Thanksgiving Desserts (Not a Pie in the Mix!)
Move over, pie.
Tradition may reign supreme on Thanksgiving, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have a few sweet surprises on the table as well. Since Tom Colicchio has always been a master at innovating in the kitchen, we asked him to suggest three fun desserts that will blend nicely with the pies you serve every year.
These recipes, which all come from Bing’s new Food & Drink app, show off seasonal ingredients like apples and poached pears. Colicchio admits that during the fall, he often gets inspired simply by looking outside. “When I see golden, red, and yellow leaves, I want to eat food that matches that,” he tells PEOPLE.
His first suggestion is apple fritters, which have a bit of Thanksgivukkah cred and can be added to the main course if the timing for frying works better. Then there’s a gooey banana upside-down cake with layers of caramel and cake batter. (We love that will hold up beautifully even if it’s made the night before.) Finally, you’ll score big points for presentation with Colicchio’s rich, dark gingerbread: He sandwiches homemade rum ice cream and poached pears between two slices to create a tempting tower worthy of a restaurant kitchen.
Too pressed for time to make your own ice cream? This isn’t Top Chef, so we won’t tell if you swap in your favorite store-bought brand.
⅔ cup lager
2 large eggs, separated
1½ tsp. clarified butter, melted and cooled (see note)
3 tbsp. sugar
½ tsp. vanilla extract
1 cup all-purpose flour
½ tsp. kosher salt
½ tsp. ground cinnamon
4 firm tart apples, such as granny smith
Peanut oil for deep-frying
1 cup sugar mixed with 1 tsp. ground cinnamon (optional cinnamon sugar)
1. Whisk the lager with the egg yolks, butter, sugar, and vanilla. Sift the flour with the salt and ½ tsp. cinnamon, then whisk the mixture into the batter. Set the batter aside to rest for 30 minutes while you peel and core the apples.
2. Beat the egg whites until they hold soft peaks, then fold them into the batter.
3. Heat 2 to 3 inches of oil to 375°F in a large saucepan. Slice the apples about ¼ inch thick.
4. Working in batches, coat the apples with batter and fry them without crowding until the fritters are puffed and golden, about 1½ minutes per side. Serve warm plain or dusted with cinnamon sugar.
Note: To make clarified butter, bring ¼ cup butter to a simmer in a saucepan over medium heat. Remove the pan from the heat and skim off the butter solids that have risen to the top. Set the butter aside in a warm place for about 30 minutes, and then carefully spoon out, stopping short of pouring any of the solids at the bottom of the pan.
Banana Upside-Down Cake
3 small to medium bananas
2 cups sugar
4 tbsp (½ stick) unsalted butter
1½ cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. kosher salt
⅓ cup clarified butter (see note)
½ cup buttermilk
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1. Heat the oven to 325°F. Cut the bananas in half lengthwise, then cut each piece in half crosswise. In a saucepan, combine 1 cup of the sugar with about 2 tablespoons of water (enough so the mixture looks like damp sand).
2. Melt over high heat, swirling the pan occasionally, until the sugar caramelizes. When the caramel is a dark amber, add the butter.
3. Pour the caramel into an 8-inch cake pan and allow to set for 3 to 5 minutes.
4. Arrange the bananas in the caramel, cut side down, in a single layer.
5. Sift the flour with the baking powder and salt and set aside.
6. In a mixer, using the whisk attachment, combine the remaining cup of sugar and the clarified butter. With the mixer on low, add the eggs one at a time.
7. Add the buttermilk and vanilla. Add the flour mixture to the batter a third at a time. Pour the batter over the bananas and bake until the cake springs back and begins to pull away from the sides, about 50 minutes. Allow the cake to cool for 5 minutes, then unmold it onto a serving plate. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Note: To make clarified butter, bring ½ cup butter to a simmer in a saucepan over medium heat. Remove the pan from the heat and skim off the butter solids that have risen to the top. Set the butter aside in a warm place for about 30 minutes, and then carefully decant the butter into a measuring cup, stopping short of pouring any of the solids at the bottom of the pan.
Gingerbread with Rum Ice Cream and Poached Pears
For the poached pears:
⅔ cup granulated sugar
⅔ cup cider vinegar
⅔ cup water
1 star anise
1 tsp. black peppercorns
2 whole cloves
Pinch of ground pepperoncino or red pepper flakes
½ cinnamon stick
2 Bartlett pears, peeled, cored, and cut into ⅛-inch slices
For the gingerbread:
¾ cup dark stout beer
6 tbsp. brewed coffee
¾ cup molasses
¾ tsp. baking soda
1 cup dark brown sugar
7 tbsp. grapeseed oil
4 tbsp. sugar in the raw
2 tbsp. grated fresh ginger
1 large egg, preferably pasture-raised
1¾ cups plus 2 tbsp. all-purpose flour
2¼ tsp. baking powder
2¼ tsp. ground ginger
2¼ tsp. unsweetened cocoa powder
1½ tsp. ground cinnamon
½ tsp. kosher salt
⅛ tsp. grated nutmeg
⅛ tsp. ground white pepper
1. In a saucepan, combine the sugar, vinegar, water, star anise, peppercorns, cloves, pepperoncino, and cinnamon stick, and bring to a boil.
2. Reduce the heat and simmer for 15 minutes. Add the pears, bring it back to a simmer, and cook for 2 to 3 minutes, until tender.
3. Remove from the heat and cool in the liquid. Unless used right away, transfer the pears and liquid to a container. (Pears will keep in the refrigerator for 1 to 2 weeks.)
4. Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter a 9 by 5-inch loaf pan and line the bottom with parchment paper.
5. To make the gingerbread, bring the beer, coffee, and molasses to a boil in a medium saucepan. Remove from the heat and whisk in the baking soda.
6. Transfer the mixture to a small bowl and place the bowl into a larger bowl filled with ice water. Stir until mixture is cool and set aside.
7. In a bowl, whisk together the brown sugar, oil, 3 tbsp.s of the sugar in the raw, and fresh ginger.
8. Whisk in the egg.
9. In a large bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, ground ginger, cocoa powder, cinnamon, salt, nutmeg, and pepper. In three parts, alternate adding the wet ingredients and the dry ingredients to the brown sugar mixture, whisking to combine.
10. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and sprinkle the remaining tbsp. of sugar in the raw on top.
11. Bake for about 45 minutes to 1 hour, until the loaf is golden and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Do not open the oven frequently during baking; wait until the gingerbread has cooked for 40 minutes, then turn the pan 90 degrees.
12. Remove from the oven, let rest in the pan for 5 minutes, then remove from the pan and transfer to a cooling rack.
13. When ready to assemble, slice the loaf into ½-inch-thick slices. Let the ice cream (recipe below) defrost at room temperature for 15 minutes. Evenly spread the softened ice cream over 4 slices of gingerbread, covering them all the way to the edge. (The ice cream must be soft enough to avoid ripping the bread.)
14. Top the ice cream with the pear slices and season with pepper. Close the sandwiches with a matching 4 slices of gingerbread and place in the freezer for at least 1 hour before serving.
Rum Ice Cream
Makes 1 quart
2 vanilla beans
1¼ cups granulated sugar
2 cups milk
2 cups heavy cream
9 egg yolks
¾ tsp. kosher salt
⅓ cup dark rum
1. Split the vanilla beans lengthwise and scrape the seeds from each side into the measured sugar.
2. In a medium saucepan, combine the milk, cream, and half of the vanilla sugar.
3. Whisk together and bring to a full rolling boil over medium high heat. While the milk mixture is heating, whisk together the egg yolks and the remaining vanilla sugar.
4. Temper the eggs into the boiling milk mixture by removing the saucepan from the heat and pouring half of it over the yolks. Whisk well and return the yolk mixture to the saucepan. Whisk in the salt.
5. In a metal bowl over ice, chill the ice cream base thoroughly. Strain the base through a fine mesh sieve.
6. Whisk the rum into the ice cream base. Process the base in an ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Transfer the ice cream to a covered container and place in the freezer for about 2 hours, until it is firm.