From breaking scientific studies, surveys, and special promotional events, to the latest and greatest creations in fast food, drinks, and snacks, we’ve skimmed off the cream of the crop and are serving it up in fun and informative bite-sized pieces that are still enough to chew on.
When the usual pie lineup feels boring and uninspired for your dessert repertoire, you’ve got to make a change. We’re not saying eliminate the classics like Thanksgiving pies altogether, but consider tossing in a wild card. Sometimes you’ve got to branch out and try something new. If you’re looking for an alternative to pie, here are some highly recommended Thanksgiving dessert recipes you haven’t tried yet.
These easy apple dumplings are nonetheless impressive, thanks in large part to store-bought puff pastry. And it gets better, because you can make them up to two weeks in advance and store them in the freezer, then just pop them in the oven when you’re ready to bake! It’ll be a delightful surprise when you bring out these apple dumplings to your holiday dinner crowd—and they won’t have any idea you didn’t even break a sweat over these. Get Anna Francese Gass’s Easy Apple Dumpling recipe.
After a huge, heavy meal, a heavy dessert can be too much. But no dessert would be such a disappointment, that’s not an option. The solution? A seasonally-inspired ice cream. It’s cool, creamy, sweet, and refreshing. Serve this maple ice cream by itself in pretty little bowls, or use it a la mode with a tart, galette, or those apple dumplings from above. Get our Maple Ice Cream recipe.
Anything pumpkin-flavored with SALTED CARAMEL SAUCE is going to be a winner, trust us. Pumpkin pie, what’s that? The memory will fade fast as your guests sink their teeth into this beautifully moist cake dusted with powdered sugar, made oh-so decadent with that amazingly saucy drizzle. Get our Pumpkin Spice Bundt Cake with Salted Caramel Sauce recipe.
Related Reading: How to Get a Bundt Cake Out of the Pan in One Piece
Chewy and crispy at the same time, you get the flavors of pecan pie but in the form of a bar, so no fork necessary. These would be good served with a few other non-pie options like cookies and ice cream. Get our Pecan Pie Bars recipe.
Pineapple upside-down cake is as American as apple pie. This twist—with a fresh cranberry, orange, and cinnamon topping (though, naturally, it bakes on the bottom) deserves to be a new Thanksgiving classic. It’s colorful, seasonal, and a lovely excuse to eat tender, vanilla-scented cake. Get our Cranberry Upside-Down Cake recipe.
Sometimes the non-cliché dessert is the one everybody remembers. Here, the always-popular salted caramel takes the form of rich, creamy, and smooth baked custards. They add a subtle salt note to end Thanksgiving, a meal that’s not shy about poking brown sugar and marshmallows into savory dishes. Get our Salted Caramel Pots de Crème recipe.
We look forward every fall to pumpkin pie, arguably the most American dessert ever devised. The thing about pumpkin pie, though, is that—light and flaky as it is—the crust tends to weigh things down after a long, heavy meal. Here, all the earthy, sweet, and spiced flavors of pumpkin pie filling shine, sans crust, and with a gorgeous reddish-amber caramel topping that creates its own sauce on the plate. Get our Pumpkin Pie Flans recipe.
Chocolate lovers tend to be left out at Thanksgiving, unless you count the box of truffles set out on the dessert table, which sometimes feel like an afterthought. Chocolate is the star of this rich, dark pound cake that makes a stunning end to the celebration meal. Dried cherries and pistachios help make it feel festive. Get our Chocolate-Cherry-Pistachio Pound Cake recipe.
Committing to a whole, high pumpkin cheesecake slice can be an iffy proposition after a meal where mashed potatoes are only one of several sides. With mini cheesecakes, everybody feels like they can manage one. These—with ginger and brandy, and a gingersnap cookie crust—blend perfectly with a meal of autumnal flavors. They’re made in muffin pans so they keep their perfect shape. Get our Ginger-Brandy Mini Cheesecakes recipe.
Related Reading: 17 New Ways to Use Your Muffin Pans
Everybody loves cranberry sauce as turkey’s sweet counterpart, but what about highlighting cranberries on your dessert table? A buttery shortbread crust, paired with a tart cranberry filling and nutty almond topping, makes these bars the perfect post-dinner or morning-after treat. Get our Cranberry Shortbread Bars recipe.
This cheesecake is the perfect blend of fall flavors, with pumpkin, cinnamon, nutmeg, and clove—plus a spicy gingersnap crust. Get our Marbled Pumpkin Cheesecake recipe.
This cast iron skillet recipe proves that winter fruit is still a winner—try it with some vanilla ice cream for a home-spun, home-run dessert that everyone will love. Get our Skillet Pear Cake recipe.
Related Reading: The 9 Best Skillets of 2019
Cupcakes are perfectly sized for a dessert meant to follow a big meal, and since they’re already individually portioned, people can serve themselves (and grab one whenever they’re ready). These are flavored with pumpkin spice since it is the season—and topped off with fluffy Pumpkin Cream Cheese Icing that’s not too sweet. Get our Pumpkin Spice Cupcake recipe.
Another non-pie pumpkin option, this easy snacking cake is both unexpected and seasonally relevant. The creamy chocolate frosting is great with the spiced pumpkin crumb, and the best part is, you can make the entire cake—and frost it—ahead of time and stash it in the freezer. Get Jessie Seehan’s Pumpkin Snacking Cake recipe.
If you’re up for a slightly more involved baking session, this beautiful cake epitomizes elegant simplicity. The tender sponge layers alternate with a sweet-tart cranberry curd and a snowy blanket of vanilla whipped cream in place of the usual frosting keeps the whole thing light and lovely. Get the Genoise Cake with Cranberry Curd recipe.
These brownies are easy to make, but the caramel-nut topping takes them over the edge and makes them a bit more festive. Try swapping in toasted hazelnuts for a more autumnal twist! Get our Pecan Turtle Brownie recipe.
This apple galette is spiked with apple bandy and spiced with cinnamon. As a free-form dessert, it’s a much easier alternative to a pie, but just as impressive. Get our Spiked Apple Galette recipe.
Here’s another easy apple dessert: a fall crisp that tops the tender, cinnamon-scented fruit with walnuts and oats. Don’t skip the vanilla ice cream (or whipped cream…or both). Get the Spiced Walnut Apple Crisp recipe.
For something that will make everyone smile even before they take a bite, these whoopie pies are a sure bet. The soft, spiced pumpkin cookies are sandwiches with tangy cream cheese frosting for a perfect flavor and texture pairing. Get our Pumpkin Spice Whoopie Pies recipe.
For more Thanksgiving tips, tricks, hacks, and recipes, check out our Ultimate Thanksgiving Guide.
If you want to make homemade Halloween candy, we’ve rounded up recipes for DIY Reese’s peanut butter cups, Snickers, Crunch Bars, sour gummy bears, and more.
The best things about Halloween are candy, dressing up in costume, and more candy, in that order. It’s the one holiday where you are truly allowed to go overboard on the sugar rush—it’ll only help you out later when you’re trick-or-treating on the last block in the neighborhood (or powering through another horror movie at home)!
Related Reading on CNET: What Is & Isn’t Safe This Halloween During COVID-19
Loving the sugar, but aren’t cool with all the extra stabilizers and emulsifiers added into packaged products? Whether you’re looking for a fun project or want to give out candy that doesn’t have the extra junk, try making your own homemade Halloween candy this year.
Tip: Most parents will make their kids throw out homemade treats just to be safe, so save these for kids (or adults!) you actually know and pass them out after your stay-at-home Halloween dinner, not to random trick-or-treaters.
Crunchy nuts are folded into homemade nougat, topped with salty peanut caramel, and then covered with milk chocolate for good measure. These DIY Snickers bars are a bit of a project, but so worth it. (Or, this easier version uses marshmallow cream and store-bought caramels for a similar result.) Get our Homemade Snickers Bars recipe. Either way, you’ll use a 9 x 13-inch pan or quarter sheet pan to build the bars.
Related Reading: Sheet Pans, Cookie Sheets & Baking Pans—What Is the Difference?
Sometimes you feel like a nut…and sometimes you feel like making your own homemade version of Almond Joys, where you can pack in any many crunchy almonds as you like. If you prefer Mounds bars, though, just skip the nuts and enjoy the pure smooth sweetness of coconut and chocolate uninterrupted by any crunch. Get our Homemade Almond Joys (Almond Jays) recipe.
If there’s a Halloween candy favorite, it might have to be the humble peanut butter cup. Super easy to assemble at home (you only need a mini muffin tin and liners), these sweet cups have a secret ingredient in the peanut butter filling: graham cracker crumbs, which makes the taste and texture even better (and similar to your favorite Reese’s). Get our Homemade Peanut Butter Cups recipe.
Related Reading: 15 New Ways to Use Your Muffin Pans
Nobody actually likes it, but candy corn just may be the quintessential candy of Halloween. Sugar sweet and dyed with food coloring, these treats are one you just have to have in your bag, but are the last ones to get eaten. This is a fun craft project if nothing else. Get the Homemade Candy Corn recipe.
Skip the junk. These homemade Crunch bars don’t have any of the extra ingredients that the packaged bars list on the back. Simply puffed brown rice cereal, chocolate, and coconut oil, these treats are dairy-free, gluten-free, and vegan depending on your chocolate preference! Get the Homemade Crunch Bar recipe.
Who doesn’t love the snap of a Butterfinger bar? Take this recipe for peanut butter treats to the kitchen ASAP for these ultimate sweet and crunchy candies. Get the Homemade Butterfinger Bars recipe.
Chewy, tart, and oh-so-natural, these homemade Starbursts are made with simple ingredients and real flavors. Citric acid gives the candies tartness without any added artificial flavors. Get the Homemade Starbursts recipe.
Who can deny a cookie and candy mashup? These Twix bars may not come in pairs, but they can definitely be eaten in twos for prime candy consumption. Get our Homemade Twix Bars recipe. (This Homemade Twix Bars recipe is a bit easier as it takes the shape of bar cookies and doesn’t require dipping each piece of candy in chocolate.)
Tootsie Rolls—America’s favorite candy! Make these chewy chocolate candies at home with all-natural ingredients you can find at your local grocer. Get the Tootsie Rolls recipe.
One of the classics, Sweet Tarts, have found their way into Halloween treat bags for years. Small discs of sweet and tart, these candies rolled up into little sleeves are perfect to pass out to your neighbors. Get the Homemade Sweet Tarts recipe.
Pillows of rich chocolate are covered in another layer of rich melted chocolate in these homemade 3 Musketeers bars. These candies might be the first to melt in your bag, so that just means you’ll have to eat them faster! Get the Homemade 3 Musketeers recipe.
Go for gummy with these all-natural sour bears! Play with different fruit juices for a variety of flavors and portion out bears into small baggies for easy distribution. Get the Homemade Sour Gummy Bears recipe.
Whether you call them suckers or lollipops, we can all agree that candy is the sweetest deal about Halloween. Try sprinkling Halloween sprinkles or edible decorations into the lollipops before they set into hard suckers for an extra festive touch! Get the Homemade Suckers recipe.
Apple cider is the perfect thing to sip during fall—warm or cold, spiked or straight—but these sweet and savory apple cider recipes prove it’s also great for cooking with in every course.
If you can get local cider from a farmers’ market or other source, that’s always preferable for the best flavor, but (more so for the savory recipes) be sure you’re buying plain cider, not spiced.
And if you’ve ever been confused about exactly what you’re getting at the grocery store, read up on the difference between apple juice and apple cider. Then get cooking—or baking, or breaking out the cocktail shaker…or all three.
Brining a turkey ensures perfectly moist meat and our recipe includes 2 cups of apple cider in the mix to help infuse the bird with flavor. Be sure to thaw the turkey with plenty of time to spare, and see our tips on how to cook turkey for more pointers. Since the turkey’s so juicy, you can save the cream gravy for your mashed potatoes. Get our Brined Turkey with Cream Gravy recipe.
Pork and apples (in every form) are perfect partners, so our tender pork loin’s creamy sauce contains both nonalcoholic apple cider and very alcoholic apple brandy. The sweet cippolini onions and salty pancetta pair beautifully with all the warm, rich flavors too. Get our Pork Tenderloin with Apple Cider Calvados Cream Sauce recipe.
Related Reading: Don’t Confuse Pork Loin with Pork Tenderloin—Here’s Why
There are lots of secret chili ingredients out there, apple cider vinegar being one of them, but why not try actual apple cider when it’s abundant in fall? Fresh apples end up in the pot too (but beans do not). Get the Apple Cider Chili recipe.
Apples can even work with seafood, like sweet, tender scallops. Gastrique sounds super fancy, but it’s basically just a savory caramel sauce—and here, it’s made by simply cooking down apple cider until it’s more like a glaze. Get the Scallops with Apple Cider Gastrique recipe.
To bridge the gap between savory and sweet, we love apple butter. Our recipe calls for tart green apples, 2 cups of apple cider, warm spices, sugar, and vanilla. You cook it in a Dutch oven for several hours (but you can also make it in a Crock-Pot), and then the possibilities are practically endless. Get our Apple Butter recipe.
Related Reading: Inventive Ways to Use Apple Butter Beyond Toast
Making caramel isn’t as scary as you might think, and these soft, chewy caramel candies are infused with apple cider and warm spices for a classic old-fashioned treat that never goes out of style. Get the Apple Cider Caramels recipe.
This easy cake is full of sliced Granny Smith apples, cinnamon, and heavy cream—and has a full cup of apple cider in the batter too. The sweet-tart glaze has another cup of cider in it for extra apple goodness, but both times, the cider is reduced to intensify its flavor and make it a bit more syrupy. Get the New England Apple Cider Cake recipe.
There are tons of awesome ways to eat apples for breakfast, but apple cider doughnuts might be one of the best. You can bake your own in the classic style, but for something a little fancier, try these piped and fried French crullers with a warming chai spice glaze. Get the Mulled Apple Cider Chai French Crullers recipe.
Fear of frying? These easy apple cider doughnut holes from Jessie Sheehan are fantastic, and make use of your mini muffin pan. Reduced apple cider, cinnamon, sugar, nutmeg, and vanilla make them taste like fall; a dip in melted butter makes them taste like fried doughnuts. Get the Easy Apple Cider Donut Hole recipe.
Want to change up your pumpkin pie routine? Our pumpkin chiffon pie has a much lighter, airier texture than the usual dense custard, and calls for a bit of apple cider (or bourbon) in both the spiced filling and the fluffy whipped cream topping. It’s all cradled in an easy press-in vanilla cookie crust. Get our Pumpkin Chiffon Pie recipe.
Related Reading: The Best New Baking Books for Fall
This breakfast casserole is honestly sweet and rich enough for dessert (especially if you add a scoop of vanilla ice cream), and it’s designed to be prepped the day before. The bread soaks in a custard of apple cider, buttermilk, vanilla, and cinnamon overnight, and is then layered with apples and dulce de leche before baking. Serve while still warm and gooey, whatever time of day you eat it. Get our Caramel Apple Cinnamon Breakfast Casserole recipe.
We can’t neglect cider-based libations, of course. Warm apple drinks are wonderful, but cold, crisp ones make for great fall cocktails too. For this one, you combine sweet cider and smoky mezcal with a dash of orange liqueur. The glass is rimmed with an autumnal mix of cinnamon, sugar, and allspice—basically, everything nice. Get the Honeycrisp Crush Apple Cocktail recipe.
That said, if you need something toasty to ward off a chill, try this take on the hot toddy with unfiltered apple cider, honey syrup, dark rum, and a little of the acquired-taste liqueur, Fernet-Branca. Get our Fernet Apple Hot Toddy recipe.
Chili can be a surprisingly contentious subject (even before you dare to mention canned chili); so many cooks insist there’s a “right” way to make it, and every other way is dead wrong. Even those who stay out of the fight likely have their own personal idea of perfection. Most probably have one or two secret ingredients they deem essential to the dish. Some aren’t too surprising—chocolate, liquid smoke—while others might raise eyebrows (fish sauce, bourbon).
This cool weather classic is certainly eminently tweakable and open to experimentation, which is why you can easily end up with an ingredients list running to the dozens of items, with a pinch of this here, a soupçon of that there. But that’s OK, as long as you remember to write down all the things you’re adding so you can replicate the results next time (do as I say, not as I do).
Whether you believe beans and/or tomatoes in chili are anathema or a must-have, and whether you like all the meat or none at all, you’ll want to build layers of savory complexity in the pot (or slow cooker). These additional flavor agents help do just that.
Related Reading: The Best Meat Delivery Services & Butcher Subscription Boxes
Still, don’t forget to toast your spices, make homemade chili paste if you have the time, thoroughly brown your meat, simmer low and slow, and take care of all those other basics while you’re at it. These secret ingredients are flavor boosters, after all, so they should be added to an already-solid foundation.
Here are some of the most common (and most effective) flavor boosters to add to your chili recipe.
Booze (Beer, Wine, or Liquor)
Beer chili is a whole genre, and adding a bottle of your favorite brew is a wise move, but other kinds of alcohol can add their own little something-something. A smaller amount of red wine imparts richness, depth, and body to beefy chili (like a larger amount does to boeuf bourguignon), and a shot or two of liquor like bourbon—even vodka or tequila—toward the end lifts the other flavors without obviously announcing its own presence. Still, as you were warned in college, you’re best off choosing one booze and sticking to it rather than mixing them.
If you want to add a smoky dimension to your chili, this is a no-brainer, although if you’re opposed to the oft-maligned ingredient, a few teaspoons of chipotles in adobo makes a nice substitute, as does smoked paprika. You could also use bacon, but most commercial brands are actually treated with liquid smoke to give them that characteristic tang—so you may as well reach for the bottle in the first place. (You can also mash-up these first and second options by adding a smoked beer to your chili.)
Brine or Vinegar
A few tablespoons of brine from a jar of pickled jalapeños (or any sort of pickles, really), stirred in at the end as a finishing touch, adds a bright acidity that perks everything up. Plain white vinegar can work the same magic trick—even balsamic or apple cider vinegar, if you want a suggestion of sweetness too.
Not just for stir fries, a few dashes of soy sauce enhances the umami savor of your chili, and is good for adding some meaty depth to veggie chilis too. Liquid aminos can do the same. You might even try miso in small doses.
This serves the same purpose as soy, really: emphasizing meaty umami notes and bringing a little piquant salt. Added judiciously, it doesn’t taste at all like fish once stirred into the pot. Some people even use a couple anchovies as a briny, umami-rich component that melts away into the other ingredients.
Similar to but more complex than soy sauce, liquid aminos, and fish sauce, Worcestershire sauce is another great umami amplifier; that’s why it turns up in Bloody Marys, after all. (And while traditional Worcestershire sauce contains anchovies, you can find vegan Worcestershire too if you need to boost your meatless chili.)
Coffee or Espresso Powder
A moderate amount of bitter, roasty espresso, strong-brewed black coffee, or instant coffee granules will beef up the deep, complex flavors of chili, and work well alone or in concert with a little chocolate.
Added in the form of cocoa powder or unsweetened baking chocolate, this secret ingredient adds another subtle bass note, but you can also try dark chocolate that contains some sugar for a twin touch of sweetness, or even sandy Mexican chocolate (with dark sugar and cinnamon already added) to complement the spicy, acidic, and umami flavors.
Cinnamon is a fairly common addition to chili, but you can also use small amount of nutmeg, cloves, allspice, and other sweet spices to make it more aromatic. Even a bit of star anise can enhance the beefy, spicy flavor of chili without being too licorice-forward (add too much, though, and it may taste more like pho).
Some people swear by peanut butter to add a little fatty oomph to leaner veggie chilis, but it also shows up in meaty versions, from turkey to beef (and, hey, peanut butter burgers are a thing). Using a natural peanut butter will give you that creamy richness and nutty nuance without too much added salt and sugar.
Dark, slightly smoky, and a little sweet in a caramelized way, molasses is another method of adding a certain je ne sais quoi to your chili. Use unsulphured molasses, dark if you like a stronger flavor, but stay away from the blackstrap variety, which is much more bitter.
Marmite or Vegemite
Divisive though they may be, European imports Marmite and Vegemite are both complex, strong, salty flavor bombs that boost the baseline tastes of your chili. You don’t need to go out of your way to buy either one, but if you happen to have a jar in your pantry, why not scoop a smidge into the pot?
While some degree of moderation is probably prudent, you can absolutely deploy several of the above secret weapons in a single batch of chili.
I always do, and certified food genius J. Kenji López-Alt uses a whole bunch at once for his favorite chili, so be bold, add extras in small doses to start (like, one teaspoon at a time), and taste often.
And don’t let anyone bully you into thinking your chili is bad because it’s not authentic! Even if you go with more idiosyncratic additions, like yellow mustard, pineapple, Coca-Cola, apple butter, and grape jam, what’s important is that you like eating it.
Try one of the secret-ingredient chili recipes below to get you started, and experiment as you see fit.
A little liquid hickory smoke, Worcestershire sauce, and a bottle of hoppy IPA add their charms to this ground beef and bean chili—which comes together in the slow cooker, always a bonus. Get the Slow Cooker Beef Chili with Beer, Liquid Smoke, and Worcestershire recipe.
A quick and easy chicken chili with bell peppers and black-eyed peas gets a lift from pickled jalapeño brine. It doesn’t make it too spicy, but if you want more heat, chop some of the peppers themselves for garnishing your bowl. Get the Chicken and Black-Eyed Pea Chili with Jalapeño Brine recipe.
Cincinnati chili is a great regional style, traditionally served over spaghetti (and beans if you want ’em), although you can skip the noodles if you prefer. It’s generally saucier and more finely textured than other chilis, and usually includes unsweetened chocolate or cocoa powder and warm spices like cinnamon (so add a stick to the simmering pot if you want to have that flavor along with the called-for cloves here). This version melts in three ounces of dark chocolate right at the end for extra richness, with a shot of sherry vinegar to brighten it up a bit. Get the Chocolate Lover’s Cincinnati Chili recipe.
Meatless chili can still be, well, meaty, as this hearty veggie version proves. With complexity and depth from chocolate stout, actual bittersweet chocolate, espresso powder, and molasses, it’s delicious even if you can’t find the vegan chipotle sausage called for. A squirt of lime provides the final spark of acid. Get the Vegetarian Chipotle and Chocolate Stout Chili with Espresso Powder recipe.
If you like a chunky chili, this one is chock-full of tender hunks of beef, augmented with homemade chili powder and dried beans rather than canned. There’s also some molasses, cocoa powder, and mild lager in the mix (you could swap in a darker porter or stout for sure). A small amount of cornmeal adds even more body to the chili and is another good secret weapon to keep in mind. Get the Chili con Carne with Molasses, Cocoa Powder, and Beer recipe.
Another meat-free recipe, this pumpkin and butternut squash chili is smoky from chipotle, silky with pumpkin puree, and elevated with a hefty half cup of bourbon—but since it’s added earlier on, most of it cooks off, while still lending great flavor that’s perfect for fall. Get the Chipotle Bourbon Pumpkin Chili recipe.
This Instant Pot chili is ready in less than an hour, but additions of soy sauce, fish sauce, and cocoa powder make for a deep, hearty, super-savory bowl despite the short cook time. Get the Instant Pot Chili with Cocoa, Fish Sauce, and Soy Sauce recipe.
If you prefer sipping a glass of vino to cracking a cold one, try a robust red wine in your beef chili for a welcome change. You’ll still want to pile on plenty of cheese, as usual. Get the Beef and Red Wine Chili recipe.
This turkey chili not only includes tequila, lime, and a touch of honey, but starts with a panade (which sounds fancy, but is just white bread soaked in milk), mixed into the meat to keep the lean turkey moist during the long cooking time—another nifty trick worth incorporating into your chili even if you don’t do alcohol. Get the Tequila and Lime Turkey Chili recipe.
Our final veggie chili relies on a bit of peanut butter to add richness, cocoa powder to deepen the flavor, and a squeeze of lime to make everything pop. You can try adding peanut butter to beef chili too if the notion appeals. Get the Peanut Butter Vegetarian Chili recipe.
Check out all our other chili recipe ideas and stories for more ways to warm up and stay full.