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Recipe: Put dessert on ice for a smaller Thanksgiving feast

                                Pecan pie ice cream. Toasted pecans are tossed with maple syrup before they’re mixed into a French vanilla ice-cream base.


    Pecan pie ice cream. Toasted pecans are tossed with maple syrup before they’re mixed into a French vanilla ice-cream base.

You don’t need a psychic to tell you that Thanksgiving will be a smaller gathering this year. So do you still want to bother baking pies?

There’s another option if you’re serving just a few people: a frozen dessert that can echo the flavors of that Thanksgiving pie, pecan or pumpkin (or both), something that you’ve made well in advance and can have ready to scoop.

You will need an ice cream maker and some forethought, as several hours must be devoted to chilling and freezing. (The ice cream mixture needs to be very cold before you begin to churn, and the churned dessert must then be frozen.)

Although it would be possible to freeze a sorbet in a shallow pan, stirring it every hour or so as it solidifies to keep the texture smooth, that method is far from ideal and will yield an icier consistency, like a granita. There’s just no substitute for the texture a machine can offer.

This pecan pie ice cream is built on a base of French vanilla, with toasted pecans, cloaked in maple syrup, swirled in. Making the custard is a delicate operation, like producing hollandaise, because of the fragile nature of eggs when heated. Perform this part of the recipe when you can give it your full, undisturbed, attention.

For the pecans, chopping them by hand with a sharp knife, instead of using a food processor, will yield more uniform results. Although many pecan pie recipes call for dark corn syrup, I make mine with maple, which I find to be lighter, so that’s what I used for the ice cream.

The pumpkin-ginger sorbet is a lighter option that can be made vegan- friendly by substituting agave syrup for the honey. Although canned pumpkin would be perfectly fine, try roasting little honeynut squashes, 40 minutes at 400 degrees, then scraping out the insides, which become a smooth puree under the heat.

Honeynuts are a delicious, relatively new variety of squash, dulcet of flavor and dense of flesh, with none of the stringiness of some other types of winter squash or pumpkin. For a cup of puree, two of them are perfect. Butternut squash would be another option.

The sorbet is excellent served with slivers of candied ginger on top or with pieces of pumpkin seed brittle. And it’s surprisingly amenable to tracings of chilled dark chocolate sauce.

The desserts can be prepared up to a week in advance. Whatever containers you use for freezer storage, place a circle of parchment paper directly on the top surface of the ice cream or sorbet to keep the air out. If you tackle both varieties you could serve a scoop of each side-by-side. And should you bake those pies after all, these frozen desserts will be your a la mode.


  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 cup light brown sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup coarsely chopped pecans
  • 2/3 cup maple syrup
  • 2 tablespoons melted unsalted butter
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

Place milk and cream in a heavy saucepan. Stir in sugar. Heat on medium until scalded (about 180 degrees; bubbles will form around the edges). Remove from heat.

Beat eggs in small bowl until well-blended. Gradually whisk several tablespoons of hot milk mixture into eggs, then slowly pour egg mixture back into pan, whisking all the while.

Place over medium-low heat and cook, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until mixture thickens enough to coat the spoon, 6 minutes or so. As soon as you see the first wisps of steam, remove the pan from the heat. Keep stirring another 5 minutes or so as mixture cools.

Stir in vanilla. Transfer custard to a bowl, cover and refrigerate until very cold, 6 hours or overnight.

Place pecans in small, heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Toast, stirring, until lightly browned. Remove from heat. Pour in maple syrup; add butter and salt. Stir to coat pecans completely. Transfer to a bowl; refrigerate.

Add cold custard to ice cream maker and churn until mixture reaches consistency of soft ice cream, 40 to 50 minutes. Transfer to a bowl. Fold in cooled nuts and syrup, swirling them in so they are not thoroughly mixed in.

Transfer ice cream to one or more containers and freeze until firm, at least 2 hours. If necessary, let ice cream soften a bit in the refrigerator or at room temperature before scooping. Makes 5 cups (about 8 servings).


  • 1 cup pumpkin or winter squash puree, fresh or canned
  • 3 cups apple cider, divided
  • 2 tablespoons peeled, finely minced ginger
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon EACH ground nutmeg and cloves
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 3 tablespoons dark rum or bourbon (optional)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

In a small saucepan, mix pumpkin or squash with 1 cup cider until thoroughly incorporated. Stir in ginger, spices and honey. Bring to simmer on low heat and cook, stirring occasionally, 15 minutes.

Transfer to medium-size bowl, stir in remaining 2 cups cider, add rum or bourbon, if using, and vanilla. Refrigerate at least 4 hours or overnight, until very cold.

Churn mixture in ice cream maker about 45 minutes, until it reaches the consistency of mashed potatoes. Transfer to a container and freeze at least 2 hours to firm up. Transfer sorbet to refrigerator and let soften about an hour before scooping. Makes 1 quart (6 to 8 servings).

Nutritional information unavailable.

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