“When I first met Chris's family, we proposed that we'd love to bake pies for Thanksgiving because actually, we're pretty good at it,” says Paul Arguin. That's a bit of an understatement. Arguin and his husband Chris Taylor have won hundreds of baking awards (including a national pie championship) and published a cookbook called “The New Pie,” a comprehensive guide to baking like a competition baker.
Despite this proposal, Taylor’s mother made the pies that year.
Still, the pair has had plenty of experience baking for Thanksgiving, the one day of the year where pies take center stage. On Milk Street Radio's Thanksgiving episode this year, Taylor and Arguin share tips for reinventing classic Thanksgiving desserts with Christopher Kimball.
Get a taste of the interview from the excerpts below, then check out the full episode here.
From a quick trick for turning a plain pumpkin pie into an elegant showstopper, to the perfect way to showcase an underutilized fruit, at least one of these amazing ideas deserve a place on your holiday table.
Dress up your pumpkin pie... with dulce de leche
"What we like to do with homemade pumpkin pie, or even a store bought pumpkin pie, is take a little can of dulce de leche, which is a cream caramel made from sweetened condensed milk, and warm it up to make it spreadable like soft peanut butter. We’ll spread about a cup of that over the top of a pumpkin pie, and then right before serving, we sprinkle the pie with some crushed toffee bits. That really crowns the pumpkin pie very nicely. It's got a little bit of a dark sweetness and it adds texture, which goes over really well with with our friends when we serve it."
"We treat a sweet potato pie like a sweet potato side dish with a combination of sweet potato, brown butter and hazelnuts. Those flavors go together really well on a pie. We also add a little bit of orange zest or orange liquor. You get the crunch from the nuts, that dark, nutty flavor from the brown butter and you get brightness from the orange. It's absolutely spectacular."
Use cranberries for more than sauce
"Cranberries really are the perfect pie fruit. It produces a whole lot of pectin to help the pie set into a sliceable fruit pie. It’s a very tart fruit as well, so that you can add flavors and you can sweeten it to the level that you want. In addition, it's a beautiful red color. In fact, this year we're going to make the Crazzberry pie from from our book. It's a combination of cranberry and raspberry, two beautiful red fruits. We actually cook the cranberries in the sous vide so that they still retain their shape, but are perfectly cooked through and don't taste raw. It's a fantastic pie."
Pick the right apples, whether you want them sturdy or saucy
"There are some apples that hold up great when you cook them. They'll hold their shape, they have a wonderful flavor, and they produce a predictable amount of juice. Other ones will reliably turn to mush and applesauce, but sometimes you want that. We have an applesauce-style pie, where you're supposed to cook the fruits down a lot to make a thick, fudgy apple filling. If you were hoping for perfect slices of apple still holding up in your pie, you probably want something else. I like Golden Delicious, Gala and Jonagold apples, which you don't see as much. We're members of all kinds of online discussion groups about pie and everyone has some really strong feelings about some apples."
Go non-traditional with tropical flair
"We see fresh pineapple year round, so we have a Tahitian pineapple pie that will mix it up for the holidays. It has the flavors of a pineapple upside-down cake: the brown sugar, the caramel-y notes in the roasted pineapple, along with some Tahitian vanilla. Then we put a crunchy topping made with panko, more butter and more vanilla. It crisps up in the oven, so you get a perfectly cooked pineapple with a nice crunchy, brown sugary top."
Or, put all your favorite flavors into one bite
"Our all-in-one Thanksgiving pie is what we call a Frankenpie. There’s a layer of apple cheesecake, a ribbon of cranberry sauce and it's topped with a pumpkin custard. We serve it cold and then we have a warm pecan pie gravy that we pour over it. We joke that it's a great way to make everybody happy when you can't always make everybody happy at the holidays."