What is for dessert for Thanksgiving?

I always cook two pecan pies and two pumpkin pies. And maybe I’ll do the same this year. But maybe not.

What better time than Thanksgiving to rediscover my mother’s fabulous Fresh Coconut Cake? And what about that groovy Peanut Butter Pie that I gave up on years ago due to its calorie count? Even bread pudding has escaped my kitchen for a few years, but what if I livened it up with a bananas Foster topping?

What I love about Thanksgiving is that all you have to do is cook. There are no presents to buy and wrap, and no mandatory activities. It is all about hanging out with friends and family, eating and counting our blessings.

We usually have our Thanksgiving dinner around 2 p.m. That way everybody gets to sleep late – except the cooks. The dinner is so filling that I find it best to serve dessert as a later course. After cleaning up, taking a walk or watching football, I put out a dessert buffet with coffee and maybe brandy or Kahlua. It is a casual affair, a good switch from the formal dining room used earlier in the day. For dessert, we eat anywhere, such as the patio or in front of football TV. That is the best part: it’s a do-what-you-like, eat-what-you-like day.

Peanut Butter Pie

1 8- or 9-ounce chocolate wafer crumb crust, store-bought or homemade (recipe follows)
1/2 pint heavy cream
8 ounces cream cheese at room temperature
1/2 cup peanut butter
1/2 can sweetened condensed milk
1 cup confectioner’s sugar
Crushed peanuts for garnish

Prepare crust and set aside. If making crust, make ahead and refrigerate until cold.

Using the small bowl of an electric mixer, whip cream until stiff peaks form. Set aside. If you only have a large mixing bowl, remove whipped cream to another bowl until ready to add to pie filling.

Using the large bowl of your mixer, add cream cheese, peanut butter, condensed milk and confectioner’s sugar, and mix until smooth and well blended. With a rubber spatula, gently fold in whipped cream, being careful not to deflate air in the cream. It is better to leave streaks of cream showing than to mix all of the air out. Transfer the mixture into the pie shell and chill until ready to serve. To serve, sprinkle some crushed peanuts on top for garnish.

Crust: Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Break up 6 ounces chocolate wafer cookies in a food processor and pulse to make crumbs. Add 3/4-stick butter, melted, and pulse until mixed well. Press into an 8- or 9-inch pie plate and bake for 15 minutes.

Turn off oven and let piecrust stand in oven to cool off slowly. Cool in refrigerator before using.

Serves 12

Fresh Coconut Cake

1 stick butter
1/2 cup shortening
2 cups sugar
3 large eggs, separated
3 cups flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/4 cup milk
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

3/4 cup sugar
1 Tablespoon cornstarch
1 egg, beaten
1 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup grated coconut

2 egg whites
1 1/4 cup sugar
1 Tablespoon white corn syrup
1/4 cup water
5 large marshmallows, chopped
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup coconut

Cake: Grease and flour 3 8-inch cake pans. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cream butter, shortening and sugar in an electric mixer until fluffy. Add egg yolks and mix well.

Sift together flour and baking powder. Add alternately to mixer with milk, ending with flour. Add vanilla.

Beat egg whites until stiff. Fold into mixture with a spatula.

Bake for about 25 minutes or until a toothpick placed in the thickest part of the cake comes out clean. Remove from oven and leave cakes in pans for about 10 minutes. Invert onto racks and cool.

Filling: Mix sugar and cornstarch in a double boiler. Add egg, milk and vanilla, and mix. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until thick and spreadable. Remove from heat and stir in coconut. Cool slightly and spread between cake layers.

Frosting: Beat egg whites in an electric mixer on high speed until soft peaks form. Mix sugar, corn syrup and water in a small saucepan. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly until sugar dissolves and mixture comes to a full boil. Remove from heat. Pour hot syrup into egg whites in a fine, steady stream while beating constantly. Continue beating until mixture holds stiff peaks. Using a spatula, gently add marshmallows and vanilla and mix until frosting has a good spreading consistency. Spread on top and sides of cake and sprinkle with coconut.

Serves 12

Note: Fresh coconut is best but packaged shredded coconut is a good substitute.

Bananas Foster Bread Pudding

Bread Pudding:
1 loaf poor boy-style French bread, 1 to 2 days old
5 cups milk
4 eggs, beaten
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 cup roasted pecans, chopped
4 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup raisins
2 Tablespoons butter, melted

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Tear French bread into 1-to-2-inch pieces, and place in a large bowl. Pour milk over bread and soak for 15 minutes. Add all other ingredients except butter and mix well.

Pour butter into an 11-by-13-inch baking dish or pan, coating bottom and sides. Add pudding mixture and bake for 45 minutes or until middle is set. Remove from oven and cool.

Bananas Foster Topping:
3 Tablespoons butter
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 cup banana liqueur
3 bananas, cut in half length-wise and in fourths cross-wise
1/4 cup dark rum, such as Meyer’s
In a large skillet, melt butter over medium-high heat. Add sugar and cook, stirring until sugar melts. Add cinnamon and nutmeg and continue to cook and stir until well blended. Pour in banana liqueur and add bananas. Cook about 3 minutes. Gradually add rum and cook until rum is hot. At this point, if you like, you can tip the pan to the side and light the sauce with a long match to ignite the rum.

With a fork, make holes all over the bread pudding and pour bananas Foster sauce over. You can serve this warm with or without vanilla ice cream. Or, if making ahead, when ready to serve pour the sauce over and reheat briefly in the oven.

Serves 12