Food Network’s Alex Guarnaschelli is as well known for her engaging television persona, displayed on hit shows like Chopped and Iron Chef, as she is for her accomplishments in the kitchen, like her critically-acclaimed NYC restaurant, Butter. Fans also love her for her funny and food-filled Instagram feed, where she posts everything from New Yorker chef jokes to food riddles to the high-end comfort food at her restaurant. Her favorite subject, however, is sweets—from bubbling fruit pies right out of the oven to a pretty serious donut addiction, Guarnaschelli’s fondness for dessert is clear. This is her best holiday dessert advice, along with her wine pairing suggestions. Plus, one of her go-to seasonal cakes from her new book, The Home Book: Recipes to Know By Heart.
What are your favorite sweets for this season?
I love spice breads and cakes. I just want to bust out the allspice and nutmeg the minute I see leaves on the ground! It’s also a great time for some old-school American desserts like Indian pudding. I tend to get in a dessert-for-breakfast mood: coffee cakes, cinnamon buns and skillet corn bread galore. Of course, it’s also prime pumpkin pie and pecan pie season.
Any that you will be definitely be serving this Thanksgiving?
I always serve a cranberry pie sprinkled with granulated sugar; my mom makes it every year, and now, so do I. I love the tang of cranberries someplace other than the classic cranberry sauce. It’s also the first time I remember eating sugar sprinkled on a finished dessert. I enjoy that texture and sweetness. I’ve used that simple touch so many times since in my own cooking.
What should people consider when pairing traditional fall flavors with wine?
It’s important to consider that there are often warm, toasty spices in fall desserts. There are also hearty, textured fruits like pears and apples. A robust red is so good with these fruits. A lighter, floral sparkling wine or dry white can also be wonderful with spicy notes. There are also a lot of nuts in play—pecans, almonds—that can stand up to bolder wines. Don’t be afraid of a sturdy red.
What’s an unexpected fall dessert you love?
I think veering away from the classic apple/spice route—make a tiramisu! It’s easy to put together in advance and tastes better when it sits overnight. I also love pineapple upside down cake.
When in doubt, what do you serve at the holidays? Is it a faux pas to serve something store bought?
I always make a chocolate dessert. It often falls through the cracks with all the home made pies and cakes. A pan of walnutty brownies, for example, or a Devils Food cake: always a winner. Store bought pie? Totally fine if you’re not a baker!
What’s your favorite dessert shop?
While not mainstream, Carissa’s Bakery [in] East Hampton, NY, has great pies and cakes. The ingredients are local and flavors amazing. I also love Sullivan Street Bakery [in midtown Manhattan] because there are some amazing homemade tarts and pies. Bold flavors. Risky amounts of sugar, salt and spice. Distinctive.
What do you pair with pumpkin, apple and pecan pies?
For pumpkin pie, chardonnay rolled over from the main course can often do the trick with the hearty pumpkin and spices that are in the mix. A good, dry sauvignon blanc could be wonderful with the sweetness of apple pie: crisp, light. And a cabernet sauvignon is a good companion to pecan pie.