There is an expectation about Thanksgiving dinner, that it should be immediately familiar to the tongue. You’re not supposed to mess with it much. Aunt Carol’s green bean casserole stays, dammit.
But say you’re feeling bold and want to buck tradition this year. There is room for that—at the end of the meal. Who says there has to be pumpkin pie? Who says there has to be pie at all? Fighting words, maybe. But serve these unconventional desserts, and your guests just might thank you.
Smoked peanut brittle financier ($35) at Loba Pastry + Coffee
3422 N. Lincoln Ave., Roscoe Village
Val Taylor’s baking chops appear to be hereditary. For the holidays, her mom would always bust out a peanut-laced capirotada, a Mexican dessert that falls somewhere between bread pudding and a charlotte. Taylor’s rendition pays homage but is wholly her own, incorporating smoked peanut brittle and peanut caramel. In France, a financier is a petite cake for one. Taylor’s larger loaf-shaped version will serve eight. Order by Nov. 20 for pickup Nov. 23.
Salted caramel halvah cheesecake ($50) at Eli’s Cheesecake
6701 W. Forest Preserve Dr., Dunning, shop.elicheesecake.com
Marc Schulman’s affection for halvah goes back to the 1960s and his dad Eli’s namesake deli on Oak Street, where there was always a big block of the sesame confection at the register. Past and present collided in June when Schulman and his wife Maureen, while visiting their daughter in New York, happened on a hip little frozen yogurt shop serving halvah goat milk fro-yo. They quickly tasked Eli’s pastry chef Diana Moles with developing a cheesecake version. If you, like the Schulmans, have strong feelings for halvah, the halvah streusel crust and ring of crumbled halvah topping the salted caramel glaze won’t disappoint. Order by Nov. 21 for delivery by Nov. 23, or pick up at the Eli’s store.
Pumpkin chocolate babka ($12) at Local Foods
1427 W. Willow St., Industrial Corridor
If you must have pumpkin in some form on Thanksgiving but you’re not wedded to pie, there is this babka. The nearly 10-inch-long braid of pumpkin brioche has dark chocolate bits embedded in its twists and turns (cue the Seinfeld bit). Turn leftovers, if there are any, into bread pudding or French toast. Or, says Local Foods executive chef Abra Berens, slice the babka and top with schmears of goat cheese for a sweet-savory crostini. Order by Nov. 17 for pickup Nov. 21 through 23.
Blue cheese praline pear pie ($30) at Justice of the Pies
Scatter sliced pears, toasted nuts, and blue cheese atop greens, and you’ve got yourself a perfectly fine salad. But the ingredients, save for the lettuce, work even better as pie, says Maya-Camille Broussard. She thought she would sell the pie as a special at last year’s holiday Renegade Craft Fair, but it stuck due to customer demand. An oat crumble topping and praline sauce add texture and decadence to the cinnamon- and nutmeg-scented fruit. As for the blue cheese, Broussard knows it can be overpowering, so just trust her on this one. Order by Nov. 11 for Nov. 23 pickup at Sir and Madame (5225 S. Harper Ct.) or South Loop Loft (308 N. Leavitt St.). Stay for a complimentary cocktail.
Pecan pie cake ($30 for 6-inch, $60 for 9-inch) at Floriole Cafe and Bakery
1220 W. Webster Ave., Lincoln Park
There is no either/or decision to make here. You can have your pie and eat your cake, too. Sandra Holl is offering this in place of her shop’s usual pecan pie. The cake itself is made with finely ground toasted pecans, and each of the three layers gets a good soaking of Few Spirits bourbon. An intense salted caramel and toasted pecan filling and salted caramel buttercream finish the whole shebang. The “small” pie-cake serves up to eight people, while the 9-incher will feed 16. Order by Nov. 18 for Nov. 23 pickup.
Purple sweet potato pie ($25) at Baker Miller
4610 N. Western Ave., Lincoln Square; 4642 N. Francisco Ave., Ravenswood
This pie is designed to break up the earth-toned monotony of the Thanksgiving table. It’s purple all right—like, grape Bubblicious purple, thanks to a hard-to-come-by potato variety grown in Hawaii, says co-owner Dave Miller. The crust is a coconut-oat number and it’s topped with maple meringue, but you can order it vegan if you want. “One of our bakers is vegan, and honestly, it’s just as good vegan as it is regular,” says Miller. Traditionalists can relax: it tastes just like pumpkin pie. Order by Nov. 18 for pickup between Nov. 19 and 23.