Inspired by Pumpkins, But Not for Pie

By: Heather Baird

When planning the same holiday year after year, how do you keep your celebration fresh and interesting while maintaining a sense of tradition? We asked our favorite bloggers and food people to share what's inspiring their Thanksgiving planning this year. From ancestor's recipes and falling leaves, to beautiful piles of ingredients and thoughtful home decor, there was no shortage of imagination. See what motivates some of the most creative minds we know, and then start planning your annual feast.

Roadside pumpkin stands are one of the first signs of fall, and a welcome sight. They herald the arrival of cool weather, changing leaves and warm spices in my baking. This year’s Thanksgiving table will have plenty of offerings from my favorite gourd, but it’s time for pumpkin pie to move aside. Last year’s Pumpkin Spice Latte Cheesecake is sure to make a repeat appearance this year. It has the all the delicious warmth and spice of a pumpkin pie, but with the added decadence of cheesecake and subtle coffee flavor. A second pumpkin offering will be in the form of a flaky pastry for overnight guests.   Easy Pumpkin Cheese Danish is a delicious breakfast and, best of all, low effort, so the chef in charge of the Thanksgiving meal can focus on more pressing preparations.

The snap in the air means it is time for harvest apples, one of my favorite seasonal offerings. I always buy a small variety to candy or dip in caramel. To make them extra-special, I forage for knobby stems while out enjoying the autumn foliage. The best branches can be found under mighty oaks. They make a nice replacement for the ordinary ice-pop stick and add rustic charm to a nostalgic treat. They also make an elegant display when grouped together on a Thanksgiving dessert buffet.

One can hardly mention harvest apples without also mentioning pears. Whether baked, tossed in a salad or paired with a wedge of Stilton, they are ever-present at our holiday gatherings. Poached pears are a sentimental favorite when autumn arrives. Honeyed Pears in Puff Pastry is a cozy dessert with lots of “wow” factor.  Pears are simmered in honey and spices, then wrapped in strips of puff pastry and baked until golden brown. Served individually, they make Thanksgiving dessert feel elegant and special.

For more Thanksgiving ideas, visit our Thanksgiving Inspiration Board Gallery.

Heather Baird is an accomplished painter turned pastry artist and food blogger. She still enjoys painting occasionally, but primarily channels her creativity into assembling, styling and photographing the sweet works of art that fill her blog Sprinkle Bakes. She is currently working on her first baking book, due in spring 2012 (Sterling).

Raised just outside the Great Smoky Mountains, her baking influences are inherently Southern. Although she was raised on apple stack cake and buttermilk pie, she also loves international confectionery and in her free time studies the art of patisserie.

Heather lives in Knoxville, Tenn., with her husband, Mark, and two very mischievous pugs, Biscuit and Churro.

Thanksgiving Side Dish and Dessert Ideas from Cooking Channel

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