Dessert on Thanksgiving is practically synonymous with pie—for many of us, it’s the only day in the year that we eat pumpkin pie (some happily, some begrudgingly), but apple, pecan, and all sorts of other more unusual pies might find their way to the table. (My childhood Thanksgivings always featured about half a dozen kinds.) There’s absolutely nothing wrong with a classic, but pie is hardly the only way to end your Thanksgiving dinner, and dessert is always more fun with multiple options. We’ve rounded up 19 dessert recipes to help you expand your horizons—whether you want to keep it fall-appropriate with creamy pumpkin cheesecake or spicy gingersnaps, or throw tradition completely to the wind with rich chocolate brownies and tiramisu.
Want all the flavors of apple pie with a lot less work? A crisp is the way to go. The spiced apple filling we use here, with added complexity from a shot of whiskey, is every bit as delicious, and the crumb topping—made with turbinado sugar and chopped pecans—provides a more interesting textural contrast. Short on oven space? Try making your fruit crisp on the stovetop instead.
Apple fritters aren’t traditionally associated with the holiday, but they’re certainly seasonally appropriate, not to mention tasty. Studded throughout with crisp bits of apple and lightly glazed, these particular fritters are gluten-free thanks to their base of Chebe mix, made with modified manioc (cassava) starch instead of wheat flour. Keeping the fritters small allows a good ratio of crispy fried exterior to fluffy crumb.
If you plan to be a guest rather than a host on Thanksgiving and have been tasked with bringing a dessert, consider cookies, which are easy to make in bulk and travel well. Both chopped Granny Smith apples and applesauce go into these chewy treats, doubling up on the apple flavor.
After a heavy Thanksgiving meal, I secretly long for something light and refreshing, not rich, in my dessert, and this juicy sorbet fits the bill. To make it, we combine chopped pears with sweet-tart Riesling and spicy ginger. We like a good deal of ginger to help cut through the sweet fruit and minerally wine, but feel free to scale it back if you prefer a milder ginger flavor.
It may read like an odd jumble of ingredients, but this cake perfectly bridges the gap between a fruity dessert and a rich and chocolaty one, for those who want the best of both worlds. Olive oil gives the cornmeal-based cake a complex savory backbone that plays well with the sweet roasted grapes. A glaze of bittersweet ganache makes the whole thing feel a little fancier.
Honestly, my preferred way to eat dulce de leche—a caramel-like concoction made by simmering condensed milk in water—is straight from the jar or can with a spoon, but I have to admit that these brownies make a more civilized, presentable option. The brownie dough is super fudgy and rich, with a thick layer of dulce de leche swirled on top, plus a generous sprinkling of sea salt to offset all that sweetness.
Our ultimate chocolate chip cookies are indeed fantastic, but they need to be started a day in advance, and you may not have that kind of time if you’re looking for a fast, easy, and crowd-pleasing dessert. Making the cookies with larger chunks of chopped chocolate bars, instead of commercial chips, produces wonderful melty pockets in the finished cookies; the dust that you generate while chopping is just a bonus, as it ensures that every bite has a little cocoa flavor. An unexpected ingredient—nutmeg—helps deepen the rich butter flavor.
Like cookies, bars are a travel-friendly choice if you’re heading to a friend’s or relative’s house on Thanksgiving, and these bars, which nail that perfect grown-up balance of sweet and salty, are destined to be a hit. Inspired by Rice Krispie Treats, they swap out the puffed rice for the deep savoriness of potato chips and pretzels. Our homemade marshmallow binder only heightens the effect—it’s made with stout beer instead of water.
Our version of this Italian favorite pairs ladyfingers with mascarpone and a coffee syrup made with sweet crème de cacao and toasty Cardamaro. By reducing the number of egg yolks typically used for tiramisu, we keep the focus on the mellow flavor of the mascarpone. If you really want to impress, build the dessert with homemade ladyfingers; given how much other cooking you may have to do on Thanksgiving, it’s totally fine to buy them from an Italian bakery (or even the supermarket) instead.
True cake lovers will take this fluffy pumpkin layer cake over pumpkin pie any day. A blend of ginger, cinnamon, and cloves gives it that classic pumpkin-spice taste, while adding lots of egg yolks to the batter mimics the custardy texture and flavor of pumpkin pie. A tangy cream cheese buttercream frosting cuts through the warm spices and earthy pumpkin purée beautifully.
Brown butter is the secret to this show-stopping carrot cake, reinforcing the flavor of the earthy-sweet carrots, nutty pecans, and toasty whole wheat flour. That flour is an important touch, too: It absorbs moisture better than white flour, preventing the cake from getting weighed down by water from the carrots. This recipe does require a fair amount of prep work, but the tedious task of peeling and shredding the carrots can be done up to a week in advance.
This big cake requires only 15 minutes of active time, so it’s easy to balance with all your other holiday responsibilities. Just because it’s simple to make doesn’t mean it’s boring, though—it’s got a fluffy buttermilk crumb, a deep sweetness from molasses, and a nice kick from a combination of spices, including an unusual addition of Chinese five-spice powder.
This holiday-appropriate cheesecake is made with pumpkin purée and the standard pumpkin pie spices you’d expect, like ginger, cinnamon, and cloves. It’s the gingersnap-and-brown-sugar crust, plus the crunchy candied-walnut topping, that makes it truly special. For maximum fall-spice infusion, we use the above trio of spices in the crust, filling, and topping.
A base of white rice flour and cornstarch makes these cupcakes gluten-free, but it also offers the added benefit of giving them a neutral flavor, which lets the pumpkin purée, pumpkin spice mix, and ginger shine. To keep these cupcakes dairy-free as well, make the cream cheese icing with vegan butter and cream cheese.
We want two things from our gingersnaps: a seriously spicy kick, and a texture that truly snaps. To achieve the latter, we use whole wheat flour and cream the butter and sugar for several minutes, ensuring that the cookies turn out especially crispy. A mixture of ground and grated fresh ginger provides all the spiciness we crave.
Our favorite oatmeal cookies rely primarily on one trick: resting the dough after it’s formed into balls on the baking sheets, allowing the oats time to soak up moisture and tenderize. Give your unbaked cookies about 45 minutes to sit before baking, and you’ll be rewarded with perfectly chewy specimens. Dried cranberries feel more festive than the usual raisins, and they have just enough tartness to balance out the sweet dough.
With layers of fluffy angel food cake, bittersweet amaro, tart cranberry jam, and creamy whipped mascarpone, this holiday trifle is a celebration of contrasting flavors and textures.
Tishpishti is a traditional Sephardic cake, in the spirit of nutty, sweet, syrupy North African and Middle Eastern desserts like baklava. It’s a gently spiced, gingery dessert perfect for your gluten-free guests.
Hummingbird cake is a wonderful Southern dessert to add to your Thanksgiving table. It’s texturally similar to carrot cake, but pineapple and banana lend it a tropical twist.
This post may contain links to Amazon or other partners; your purchases via these links can benefit Serious Eats. Read more about our affiliate linking policy.