Traditional Twists

Most customers appreciate classic pie flavors during the holidays, but are still interested in subtle spins.

Thanksgiving means tradition. When family and friends come together for this meal and celebration everyone involved can tell any person what food will be served, how it’s prepared and what will be for dessert. Drastic departures from “the usual” have their place and oftentimes are imperative, but not on Thanksgiving. However, putting a subtle spin on traditional favorites while respecting the history of a meal that carries strong expectations is not only okay, but adds excitement while keeping the comfort of the norms in place.

Most Thanksgiving Day hosts and hostesses serve pumpkin pie for dessert on Thanksgiving. Some serve apple pie, some serve pecan pie and some serve a combination or all of these pies. That’s how it is done. That’s how people want it. “Honestly, we have given up on doing non-traditional Thanksgiving pies,” says Dede Lahman, co-owner of Clinton St. Baking Co. in New York, NY. “In the end we have found that our guests and customers really want classics.” But innovation means taking something that exists and making it better. Innovative twists on classics give customers something new without breaking too far away from tradition.

By keeping general flavor combinations in line with tradition, bakeries can experiment with complementary flavors to get that innovative product that will still sell during the holiday. “We like to keep things classic and simple with a twist,” Lahman says. “We always approach new recipes and ideas by sticking to flavor combinations that make sense traditionally. Then we might add a modern spin; for instance a butterscotch-pumpkin pie or brown butter cranberry pie.”

The Cranberry-Apple Crumb Pie from Clinton Street Baking Co. in New York.

A fine line exists between exciting your customers with innovations and creating something that customers will automatically dismiss because it doesn’t fit into their parameters of what a traditional Thanksgiving pie should be. One option to think about is traditional Thanksgiving flavors, but used in a product other than a pie. “We’ve also done pumpkin or cranberry crème brûlée which is a nice variation of a Thanksgiving dessert without a crust,” Lahman says. “Our pumpkin cheesecake is so subtle and delicious that people really get surprised when they taste it and fall in love immediately.”

Clinton St. has experimented with using meringue, streusel and cinnamon as ingredients with various other techniques to enhance its traditional offerings. Bakeries need to experiment with their formulas and non-traditional products to discern what will work for specific customer bases and areas or regions before committing to something specific. “The best received is our butterscotch pumpkin pie. That’s what we stick with,” Lahman says.

Clinton St. also uses customer satisfaction as a standard when considering new twists on classics for Thanksgiving. “Instead of trying too hard to spin something contrived, we aim to use the best ingredients and techniques possible to just bake superior pies that we know will truly cap off a beautiful family meal in a memorable way,” Lahman says. Organic ingredients make up a large part of Clinton St. providing the highest quality product it can. “Our organic spices like nutmeg and cinnamon are super potent and powerful,” she adds.

Lahman says that in addition to the successes Clinton St. has seen with its innovative takes on the classics that customers still prefer the classic, standard pumpkin pie for a Thanksgiving dessert, but this hasn’t stopped them from experimenting. When Clinton St. notices a surge in positive customer reaction to a specific product, they will put that into the product development equation.

“Our maple bourbon pecan pie is so popular that we will do a chocolate version this year,” Lahman says. “And we are doing a pumpkin spice yogurt muffin that is moist, delicious and super seasonal.”