Thanksgiving has always been a great excuse to visit my church and catch up with old friends, but with the pandemic this year, my Thanksgiving might just be a hearty potluck with international friends and housemates. For a typical potluck around the holidays, I would usually bring a sweet potato casserole with marshmallows, but this year, I had the time to be a little more adventurous. Here are some incredible plant-based desserts from that baking adventure:   

Celine Pun / Daily Nexus

Apple Crisp

When I was peeling the plump apples my mom gifted me with when she visited me from Los Angeles, I thought of the poem, “To Autumn” by John Keats. These apples remind me of the peak of autumn that Keats describes, where everything has grown ripe and big, threatening to spoil. These apples were the size of my face, and I was desperate to finish them as some of them were beginning to brown. 

This recipe comes from the “Minimalist Baker,” a vegan blog by Dana Shultz. Although I cut this recipe in half to fit my 9-by-9-inch baking tin, this recipe is a great way to eat a ton of apples. The recipe calls for pecans, but I used unsalted mixed nuts from Costco instead. I also added a tablespoon of flax seeds for omega-3 fatty acids. The crunchy topping — in contrast with the silkiness of the apple filling — is always everyone’s favorite part. 

Celine Pun / Daily Nexus

Chinese Almond Cookies 

These were my favorite cookies growing up. I remember the winter holidays when we ate at Chinese restaurants with the tables turning. At the end of every meal, the waiters would always plate these cookies with the check. I would always forward to the crunchy grittiness of those sweet cookies. 

This recipe is from “healthy nibbles,” a blog by Lisa Lin. As my friends had gifted me with a Ninja Mega Kitchen System BL770 — a blender and food processor kitchen appliance — I just had to make my own oat flour with the food processor attachment. I tried to veganize the recipe by replacing the eggs with 2 tablespoons of a flax seeds-water solution, but the cookies did not hold their shape. They flattened, even after they sat in the freezer for 10 minutes. I wanted to brush the tops of the cookies with coconut oil as an egg wash, but I forgot. Still, this brought nostalgia to my tongue. 

Celine Pun / Daily Nexus

Pumpkin Cinnamon Rolls

The only two times I have made cinnamon rolls from scratch was during the pandemic. The second time was because I was desperate to use the pumpkin puree cluttering my pantry. Proofing three times — while blooming the yeast, before the rolling and after the rolling — gave me this humbling experience, teaching me both patience and generosity. This recipe also helped me not procrastinate; I participated in Zoom meetings and read “The Distance Between Us: A Memoir” by Reyna Grande while I waited. 

This recipe is by Britt from her vegan blog, “The Banana Diaries.” I kind of cheated and threw all the ingredients into the Ninja BL770 food processor. The dough was extremely sticky, but I tossed it in a bowl and left it in the turned-off oven — which is also my favorite baking hack to reduce plastic Saran wrap usage — for an hour. I used soy milk and added a tablespoon of flaxseeds. The dough came out fluffier than soap suds in a summer bath. I dipped the tops in leftover maple-coconut glaze. My friends and I vouch for this being the best recipe for cinnamon rolls out there. 

Sweet Potato Casserole with Marshmallows

If you ask me what my favorite Thanksgiving dessert is, I would say it is this sweet potato casserole. Every Thanksgiving at my church, there would be a buffet with this dessert at the end. The marshmallows were gently toasted and had a nice shell. The creamy sweet potato underneath was refreshing compared to the savory main course and sides. I always wondered how they made it, so I looked up this recipe. 

This recipe is by Katie Higgins of “Chocolate Covered Katie.” The casserole has the perfect golden crisp on the marshmallows, matching the silky sweet potato underneath. I used a 9-by-9-inch baking tin and therefore cut the recipe in half. Fun hack: Use canned sweet potato for convenience. I also drizzled flax seeds on top of the sweet potato mix for more nutrition.

Celine Pun / Daily Nexus

Pumpkin Scones

One of my favorite pastries to get at cafes is scones. I love the soft, crumbly texture with the hard shell. I love the gloss from the glaze. I love how it is socially acceptable to enjoy tea with your scone for breakfast or after a hearty dinner. 

This recipe is by Food Network, and I did not use their recommended glaze because I did not have any powdered sugar. I made a brown sugar-and-coconut milk glaze by adding ¼ cup of each into a pan on low heat. Then I added a tablespoon of cold coconut oil, a dash of vanilla extract and a sprinkle of salt. I smashed some pecans to add as a topping, too. 

With these recipes in mind, I hope your COVID-conscious Thanksgiving will be elevated upon sharing good food with good company!