If you love food, you have to give it up for Thanksgiving. It’s the one holiday that is all about a feast. This holiday is a celebration of a successful harvest, with no religious trappings that might leave anyone out. So whether you are celebrating with pumpkins you raised yourself, bought from a farmer, or purchased already in the can, you are participating in a harvest. Somewhere.
It’s also a time for tradition. Most families have been serving the same dishes for years, and the mention of switching it up in any way shakes the very foundation of the group. No stuffing? No turkey? NO PUMPKIN PIE?
To keep everybody happy, it is best to keep a core of familiar dishes, and do some creative things on the sidelines. Respect the past with the usual mashed potatoes, but offer some fun variations on the potato, like these Blue Potatoes as an appetizer. Keep the family stuffing, or try this Wild Rice Stuffing, and make the vegetarians happy.
So, while your pumpkin pie is a must-have, it might be fun to make a new dessert to share. These Holiday Hand Pies are sure to disappear quickly from the buffet table. A crackly filo shell, sparkling with crunchy Turbinado sugar, encases a tender sweet potato and fruit filling. The familiar Fall flavors of sweet potatoes, apples, pears, and dried cherries get a zingy sprinkle of spices, laced with melty bits of dark chocolate.
You may think filo is fussy, but really, is pie crust any less so? What I love about filo is that once you have your filling ready and have located the pastry brush, you are good to go. Brush, fill, fold, boom, you have a pan full of appealing treats.
For the vegan crowd, use coconut oil in this dessert, and everyone else will love it, too. Coconut oil brushed filo bakes up crisp, even crisper than it does with butter. I like to sprinkle the big crystals of sugar between the layers, too, to make the shell extra crunchy. If you prefer, you can use unsalted butter instead of coconut oil.
Make sure to plan ahead and thaw the filo overnight in the refrigerator. I know that the package says to just leave it on the counter for a couple of hours, but trust me, it is best to give it a slow and gentle thaw. The thin sheets of dough have just enough moisture in them to stay flexible, and if you rush the thawing, the moisture tends to condense between the sheets, giving you brittle sheets that stick together. And remember the cardinal rule of filo: Do not open the package until you are completely set up with your prepared pan, melted fat, brush, cooled filling and bowl of crunchy sugar. Once you open that package, you want to work quickly, so the sheets don’t dry out. My filo was a little dried out from being in the freezer for a while, but with a good coat of fat and some careful folding, it still came out great.
If you have some gluten-free diners coming, you can either make or buy some gluten-free pie dough and use 1/4 a shell’s worth of crust to make four of these into turnovers.
If you want to prep ahead, you can assemble these, baste them well with coconut oil or butter, and then wrap the whole pan tightly. They will hold, unbaked, for a day, so you can unwrap and bake them right before the meal. Or, you can bake them a day ahead and either warm them up in a 300 F oven, or serve at room temperature. I like them a little warm, so the chocolate is melty and you get the scent of cinnamon as you take a bite.
Holiday Hand Pies
The filling can be made a day, or even two, before assembling. These are a dessert that qualifies for the morning-after breakfast, as well. Warm any leftovers up and serve them with a cup of coffee, and everyone will forget about their cold cereals and donuts.
4 cups diced sweet potatoes, about 1 large
1 small pear, diced
1 small apple, diced
1 tablespoon coconut oil for the pan (plus about 1/2 cup for the filo later)
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 cup light brown sugar
1 tablespoon arrowroot
1/2 cup dried cherries
1/2 cup mini chocolate chips
12 sheets filo dough (thawed overnight in the refrigerator)
Preheat the oven to 400 F. In a 2 quart casserole or a deep roasting pan, combine the sweet potatoes, pear and apple and drizzle with melted coconut oil. Toss to coat, then cover the pan and roast for about 30 minutes, until the sweet potatoes are tender when pierced with a paring knife. Take out and let cool on a rack.
In a cup, stir the cinnamon, nutmeg, brown sugar and arrowroot to mix, then sprinkle over the warm sweet potato mixture and toss to coat. Stir in the cherries. Wait to add the chocolate chips until the mixture is cooled.
Get your pastry brush and melted coconut oil, and pour some turbinado sugar in a ramekin or small bowl. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper.
Unwrap the filo. I used a package of half sheets, but you can use standard full sheets. For half sheets, place one on the counter, brush with oil, and sprinkle with turbinado. Place another on top. If using full sheets, place the sheet with the longest edge parallel to the counter’s edge. Lightly oil the left half, sprinkle with turbinado, and fold the other half over it. Lightly oil again and fold again, making a long strip.
Place about 1/3 cup of filling on the dough as shown, then fold up to make a triangle. Place on the parchment lined pan and brush with more oil, and sprinkle with more turbinado.
When all are assembled, bake for about 20 minutes in the 400 F oven. When the filo is crisp and golden, they are ready. Let cool for at least 5 before eating.