Joanne Chang was 18 years old when she tried her first homemade pumpkin pie. There had been cafeteria pie in middle school, but that version was thick and gluey—nothing like the one Chang tasted at her best friend’s house, where she celebrated Thanksgiving during her freshman year of college. Chang grew up in a traditional Taiwanese household, with parents who emigrated from Taiwan when they were in their 20s. “We celebrated Thanksgiving-ish,” Chang says. “We knew it was a day to have lots of food. We would have a huge feast that featured duck.” Dessert might have been fresh fruit or egg tarts, but it was never a big part of the meal. That’s why, as Chang sat with her friend’s family—watching a parade of cakes and pies fill the table—she was mesmerized by the idea that dessert could be the star of the show.
Since that dessert conversion, Chang has built a career as a pastry chef. In 2000, she opened Flour Bakery & Cafe in Boston’s South End, winning acclaim for her elevated take on homestyle baking. She has since opened seven outposts of Flour throughout Boston (as well as an Asian restaurant called Myers + Chang), won the James Beard Award for Outstanding Baker in 2016, and written four cookbooks. Chang’s fifth cookbook, Pastry Love, comes out this November. Filled with recipes that are intended to be baked and eaten at home, Pastry Love is a sort of baker’s diary, a chronicle of Chang’s obsessions—ice cream perfected in small batches, maple meringue doughnuts that are best very fresh—that Chang wouldn’t be able to serve at Flour but reflect her love of home baking.
“When you’re baking at home, knowing that somebody is going to eat what you make within the next hour or couple of minutes gives you so much more flexibility with temperature and texture,” Chang says.
Chang returns to the roots of her passion for pastry with the recipes she shares here. Desserts like Pecan-Pumpkin Cream Pie (which layers two Thanksgiving desserts into one buttery piecrust) and Apple-Rum Spice Cake (layered with a boozy, fruity compote and ginger–cream cheese frosting) feature new twists on the classic flavors that first drew Chang into a sweet career. “I’ve come full circle,” she says.
Here are six of her favorite Thanksgiving desserts:
Apple-Rum Spice Cake
Butterscotch Pudding Parfait with Gingersnap Crumble
Cranberry Ile Flottante With Nutmeg Anglaise
Pecan-Pumpkin Cream Pie
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