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Homemade pies – a holiday tradition

Chocolate pecan pie is one of many flavor options to add to the holiday meal spread.
Chocolate pecan pie is one of many flavor options to add to the holiday meal spread.

Holidays are the time of year when my family gives me opportunities to help make elegant dinners. Of course, a holiday dinner is not a complete celebration without a special holiday pie.

We were poor growing up, but the one thing we always had once a week were homemade doughnut holes and pie. My grandmother and I would have contests to see who could make the longest apple peel, and while I seldom won, it didn’t really matter. Homemade apple pie was my reward, so how could I really lose? Plus, thanks to her, I’m a whiz at peeling apples.

But we’re all so busy, and it’s easy to buy a frozen pie at the grocery store. Easy to bake up in a hurry, but the taste is not always what I’m craving. Bakery pies are good, but they never remind me of my grandmother’s homemade cherry pie. It was just as delicious as the apple she made at least once a month by popular request.

A homemade pie or two is a holiday requirement for our family gatherings. Pumpkin is a given but mincemeat isn’t far behind, thanks to my sister-in-law. But I know a sweet potato or custard pie would be gobbled up just as quickly as the standard pecan.

Pies are something I make throughout the year, but when we’re suddenly surrounded by movies like “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown” or “How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” I can’t help but think about what kinds of pie I’ll be baking.

I like chocolate. A lot. So, it’s not surprising you’ll find some chocolate pie recipes below. I’m definitely not the only member in the family who sighs with contentment after eating a slice of pecan pie. But when I add chocolate to the ingredients? The sighs are almost deafening.

I like to create pies no one is expecting. The pumpkin chiffon below will be a delicious surprise and a twist to regular pumpkin. The gingersnap crust is going to be what makes this everyone’s favorite this year.

Mashed potatoes and gravy, ham and turkey are part of what make the holidays so delicious. Holidays are when my family starts almost every conversation with, “So, who’s having Thanksgiving dinner this year?” Once that’s decided, the discussion usually turns to what kind of pie I’m bringing.

Pies are a staple, not an ending to our holiday meals. We load up our plates, hoping we’ll have room for pie. It seems we do because when we divide the leftovers, I can’t ever remember a piece of pie being included.

Why not make your holiday meals special and sweeter with a homemade chocolate, pumpkin, eggnog, cranberry or pecan pie? It could be the best ending (or staple) to your meals.

Pumpkin Chiffon Pie

Serves 8; Prep time: 25 minutes; Chill time: 5 hours

Gingersnap crust (see recipe below)

1/2 cup sugar

2 envelopes unflavored gelatin

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ground allspice

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon ground ginger

1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

3/4 cup milk

2 egg yolks

1 cup canned pumpkin

1 cup whipping cream

2 tablespoons sugar

Whipped cream (optional)

Chopped toasted pecans (optional)

Prepare Gingersnap Crust; set aside. In heavy medium saucepan, combine sugar, gelatin, cinnamon, allspice, salt, ginger and nutmeg; stir in milk. Cook and stir over medium heat until gelatin dissolves. In medium bowl, slightly beat egg yolks. Gradually stir about half of hot milk mixture into yolks. Pour yolk mixture into hot filling in pan. Stir in pumpkin. Bring to gentle boil; reduce heat. Cook and stir for 2 minutes more. Remove from heat. Transfer to large bowl. Cover and chill until pumpkin mixture mounds when spooned, stirring occasionally (1 to 1 1/2 hours). In chilled medium bowl, combine whipping cream and remaining 2 tablespoons sugar. Beat with chilled beaters on medium speed until soft peaks form. Fold whipped cream into pumpkin mixture. Cover and chill again until mixture mounds when spooned (about 30 minutes). Transfer filling to gingersnap crust. Cover and chill about 4 hours or until set. Garnish with additional whipped cream and top with pecans.

Gingersnap Crust

Makes 1 (9-inch) pie crust

1/3 cup butter, melted

1 1/4 cups finely crushed gingersnaps (20 to 22 cookies)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Combine butter and gingersnaps in medium mixing bowl; toss to mix well. Spread evenly into 9-inch pie plate. Press onto bottom and up sides to form a firm, even crust. Bake for 4 to 5 minutes or until edge is lightly browned.


Chocolate Pecan Pie

Prep time: 15 minutes; Cook time: 40 minutes


1 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

3 tablespoons solid shortening

3 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2 inch pieces

4 tablespoons ice cold water


1 package (4 ounces) semi-sweet chocolate, broken into pieces

2 tablespoons butter

1/3 cup sugar

1 cup Light Corn Syrup

3 eggs, lightly beaten

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 1/2 cups pecan halves

To prepare crust, combine flour, shortening, butter and salt in food processor or blender. Pulse 2-3 seconds. Do not over process. Butter should be in small chunks. Add ice cold water and pulse for 5 more times. Pinch piece of dough together to see if it holds a shape. If pastry holds together, gather dough into a disc and wrap with plastic wrap. Refrigerate at least 1 hour or overnight. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

To prepare filling: combine chocolate and butter in large (microwave safe) mixing bowl. Heat on high 1 to 2 minutes or until butter is melted, stirring halfway through heating time. Stir until chocolate is completely melted. Mix in sugar, corn syrup, eggs and vanilla until well blended. Add pecans and stir gently until well blended. Pour the filling into unbaked crust. Bake 50 minutes or until filling is firm 2 inches from edge. Cool on wire rack.


Eggnog Pie

Serves 10; Total prep: 30 minutes plus chill time; Cook time: 7 minutes

3 large egg yolks, well beaten

2/3 cup granulated white sugar, divided

1/4 teaspoon salt

2 cups half and half, heated to the point just before boiling

1 tablespoon gelatin (unflavored)

2 tablespoons cold water

1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1/4 teaspoon almond extract

3 large egg whites

1/2 cup almonds, chopped (optional)

1 baked pie crust

Sprinkle of nutmeg and maraschino cherries to garnish, if desired

In large bowl, add salt and 1/3 cup sugar to egg yolks. Whisk together. Whisk in tablespoon of hot half and half, then whisk in another. Keep whisking in half and half just a little at a time until all incorporated. Pour mixture into the top of double boiler over low heat and cook for 7 to 10 minutes, stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens and coats the back of a spoon thickly. Dissolve gelatin in cold water. Add gelatin, vanilla and almond extract to custard — blend well. Pour mixture back into bowl and chill until slightly thickened. In separate bowl, beat egg whites until stiff. Add remaining 1/3 cup sugar gradually. Fold egg white mixture into chilled mixture. Stir in almonds. Pour eggnog custard into baked pie shell and chill until ready to serve (at least 2 1/2 hours). Garnish with a sprinkle of nutmeg and maraschino cherries, if desired.


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