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Mini Sweet Potato Pies get a sprinkling of coconut flakes. / Photo by Johnny Miller/The New York Times

Though you're probably not splitting a slice of pie with a non-pod friend this Thanksgiving, you can still bake and share these single-serving desserts without the creeping anxiety of potentially getting anyone sick.

Even the logistics of cutting a whole pie and handing out wedges can feel like a lot right now. To get around that and make baking the therapeutic joy it should be, go small with these takes on pecan, sweet potato and cranberry pies. Whether they're for doorstep delivery or for a masked, socially distanced outdoor gathering, these pre-portioned desserts get around the awkward middle-school-dance nerves of desperately wanting — and not wanting — to get close to others.

Some bakers have already pivoted to smaller goods. Cheryl Day, a cookbook author, chef and owner of Back in the Day Bakery in Savannah, Georgia, saw orders for large cakes decline, so she started selling more cupcakes — and then mini cupcakes. "Those are taking off," Day said by phone.

"For Thanksgiving, people are still craving the comforts of traditions, so we're doing pumpkin pie bars," she said. "Maybe there's just two people at home, so they'll just get a couple bars."

When turning desserts into individually portioned sweets, it's important to consider how to package them for delivery. Paola Velez, executive pastry chef at La Bodega at Compass Rose in Washington, D.C., saw that firsthand this past summer. As a co-founder of Bakers Against Racism, Velez helped organize large-scale bake sales with contactless delivery for the pandemic era. She said she had been impressed by New York City bakers who optimized the space of generic takeout boxes by filling them with square-edged treats.

However these sweets are packed, they'll surprise as portable versions of pie, loosely defined here as crust plus filling.

Buttery shortbreads sandwiching a soft pecan praline taste like the prime edge of pie, where gooey filling caramelizes onto crust. The "crust" in these cookies is crisp and rich with nuts. In one-bite sweet potato pies, a delicate filling blends coconut milk and rum and sets easily over spiced graham cracker crusts when baked in mini-muffin molds. Even though lemon bars feel more bake sale than Thanksgiving, this version starts with a simple cranberry jam. It tastes like the holidays and adds a tangy brightness that refreshes after a heavy meal and a long year.

Though these desserts all keep well, they're more enjoyable to make when most of them are given away.

"I found myself doing porch drop-offs for friends who couldn't get out," Day said. "There's something special about being able to leave something you made yourself with a personal note."

 

Mini Sweet Potato Pies

Yield: 2 dozen mini pies

Total time: 1 1/4 hours, plus cooling and chilling

For the filling:

1 medium sweet potato (10 ounces), peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks

1/2 cup sugar

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened

1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice

1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt

1/2 cup unsweetened full-fat coconut milk, well shaken

1 teaspoon dark rum or vanilla extract

1 large egg, at room temperature

1/2 cup unsweetened coconut flakes

For the crust:

5 whole graham crackers, finely ground (2/3 cup)

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled

1 tablespoon sugar

1/2 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice

1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt

Start the filling: Prepare a steamer. Steam the sweet potato over medium-high heat until falling-apart tender, 15 to 20 minutes. Transfer the sweet potato to a food processor, and purée until smooth. Alternatively, smash and stir with a heavy whisk until smooth.

Meanwhile, make the crust: Heat oven to 350 degrees. Line 24 cups of a mini-muffin tin with paper liners. Mix the graham cracker crumbs with the butter, sugar, pumpkin pie spice and salt in a bowl until evenly combined.

Divide mixture evenly among the mini-muffin liners (about 1 packed teaspoon per cup). Using a wine cork or your fingertips, firmly press the crumbs into an even layer. Bake until brown at the edges, 6 to 8 minutes.

While the crust bakes, finish the filling: Smash the sugar, butter, pumpkin pie spice and salt until well combined, then stir in 3/4 cup sweet potato, the coconut milk and the rum until smooth. Stir in the egg until just incorporated.

When the crusts are done, divide the filling among the hot crusts (about 1 tablespoon per cup). Sprinkle with the coconut flakes. Return to the oven, and reduce the temperature to 325 degrees.

Bake until the coconut is golden brown and the pies are set, 30 to 35 minutes. Cool in the pans on a wire rack until room temperature, then transfer to the refrigerator. Chill until cold, at least 2 hours.

 

Pecan Pie Sandwich Cookies

Yield: 20 to 24 cookies

Total time: 1 1/2 hours, plus chilling and cooling

For the cookies:

1 1/2 cups pecan halves, toasted

2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling the dough

1 cup unsalted butter (2 sticks), at room temperature

1/3 cup packed powdered sugar

1/3 cup packed light brown sugar

1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt

1 large egg yolk

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

For the filling:

1/2 cup unsalted butter (1 stick)

1 cup packed light brown sugar

1/3 cup dark corn syrup

1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt

1 tablespoon bourbon or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 3/4 cups pecan halves, toasted and finely chopped

Make the cookies: Combine the pecans and 1/2 cup flour in a food processor or blender and pulse until the pecans are coarsely ground with pebbly bits remaining.

Using a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter, both sugars and salt on low speed until creamy and smooth. Scrape the bowl, and add the egg yolk and vanilla. Beat on medium-low speed until fully incorporated. Scrape the bowl, and add the pecan mixture and remaining 1 1/2 cups flour. Beat on low speed until the dough comes together. Press into 4 squares, 1/2-inch thick, and wrap each in plastic wrap. Refrigerate until firm, at least 3 hours and up to 2 days.

When you're ready to bake, heat oven to 350 degrees. Place 1 dough square on a generously floured surface, and sprinkle with more flour. With a floured rolling pin, roll to a scant 1/4-inch thickness, moving and flouring the dough as needed to prevent sticking. Using a floured 2 1/2-inch round cutter, cut out rounds as close together as possible and transfer to a parchment-lined baking sheet, using a thin spatula if necessary, spacing them 1/2 inch apart.

Gather the scraps, roll and cut again. If desired, cut out a 1-inch circle from half of the cookies using a cookie cutter or the wide end of a pastry tip. If your dough becomes too soft to cut after rolling, pop it in the freezer until firm again.

Bake until golden brown, about 15 minutes. Repeat with the remaining dough. Cool the cookies completely on the sheets on wire racks.

Make the filling: Combine the butter, brown sugar, corn syrup and salt in a small saucepan, and clip a candy thermometer to the side of the pot if you have one. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally to melt the butter. Continue boiling, stirring occasionally, until dark brown and thickened to the consistency of caramel sauce, 2 to 4 minutes. The candy thermometer should register 230 degrees. Remove from the heat, and carefully add the bourbon. Stir until incorporated, then stir in the pecans until evenly coated.

Flip over half of the cookies. Carefully scoop a tablespoon of the hot filling, and scrape it onto a cookie with another spoon. Spread it in an even layer with the spoon, and very gently press another cookie on top of the sandwich. Flip the sandwich over so the filling can set evenly. Repeat with the remaining cookies and filling. Cool completely.

 

Cranberry Lemon Bars

Yield: 2 dozen bars

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A thin layer of the classic lemon filling coats the cranberry mix like icing for these Cranberry Lemon Bars. / Photo by Johnny Miller/The New York Times

Total time: 1 hour, plus cooling and chilling

For the cranberry and lemon fillings:

1 (12-ounce) bag fresh or frozen cranberries

1 3/4 cups sugar

2 to 3 large lemons

1/4 cup all-purpose flour

1/8 teaspoon fine sea salt

3 large eggs, at room temperature

Powdered sugar (optional)

For the crust:

Nonstick cooking spray

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1/3 cup sugar

1 teaspoon fine sea salt

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

3/4 cup unsalted butter (1 1/2 sticks), melted and cooled

Make the cranberry filling: Combine the cranberries, 3/4 cup sugar and 3 tablespoons water in a medium saucepan. Zest 2 of the lemons directly into the saucepan; reserve the lemons. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally. Continue boiling, stirring occasionally, until the berries burst and the mixture is jammy, 7 to 9 minutes. Remove from the heat, and reserve.

Make the crust: Heat oven to 350 degrees. Line the bottom and sides of a 9- by 13-inch baking pan with one large sheet of heavy aluminum foil, making sure there are no gaps or holes, then generously coat with cooking spray.

Whisk the flour, sugar and salt in a medium bowl. Whisk the vanilla into the butter, then pour over the flour mixture. Stir until the dough comes together in a mass. Press into an even layer in the prepared pan. Bake until golden brown around the edges and dry and golden on top, 17 to 20 minutes.

While the crust bakes, make the lemon filling: Squeeze the juice from the 2 zested lemons. You should have 1/2 cup. Squeeze the juice from another lemon, if needed.

Whisk the flour, salt and remaining 1 cup sugar in a medium bowl. Add the eggs, and whisk gently just until incorporated. Add the lemon juice, and stir gently with the whisk just until smooth.

Let the crust cool for 5 minutes, then spread the cranberry mixture evenly over the crust. Carefully and slowly pour the lemon mixture on top to create two distinct layers.

Return the pan to the oven, and bake until the filling is set, 18 to 22 minutes. Cool completely in the pan on a wire rack, then refrigerate until cold and firm, at least 2 hours. Using the foil, slide the bars out of the pan and onto a cutting board. Cut into 24 squares, wiping your knife between cuts for clean slices. If desired, sift powdered sugar over the tops just before serving.

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