Get access to everything we publish when you sign up for Outside+.
Let’s make something super clear: You do not need permission to eat dessert, ever, but especially on a holiday. In fact, a lot of research shows that “giving into” dessert desires can actually help you stick to a healthy diet, says Jamie Vespa, M.S., R.D. What’s more, loosening the reins around your diet can be better for your body, long term.
“Over time, constantly tracking calorie intake can disconnect you from your body’s natural hunger and satiety cues,” Vespa says. “Not only does the heightened focus on numbers take away from actually enjoying the food you’re eating, it can be a slippery slope from monitoring calories to obsessing over them.”
And ignore anything telling you to “earn” your Thanksgiving meal. “It creates the idea that we need a reason to eat, or that if we do eat, or eat dessert, we should partake in compensatory behavior,” says Lisa Hayim, M.S., R.D. “This creates a negative relationship to food and can be a vicious cycle to break.” Turkey Trots are great, but they’re not necessary to enjoy a holiday feast.
The holidays can be a great time for taking breaks from the tracking apps, Vespa says. Focus on the people you’re with, and eat mindfully—your body will let you know when you’ve had enough.
The Science of Stress Baking
If you’ve been reaching for the flour more this year, you’re not alone: U.S. sales hit a 124% increase in the spring. And the methodical process of baking—the careful measuring of ingredients, the folding or whipping with correct force, the kneading of dough—is a proven way to release stress.
“The repetition of cutting, chopping, mixing, allows for the cook to get into a zen-like mode, and create this space to be present in the moment and tune out the rest of the world. This is what I call mindfulness,” says Julie Ohana, owner of Culinary Art Therapy. Studies have shown that mindfulness, as a therapy modality, reduces anxiety and stress. Mindfulness can be a type of meditation, but it can also be simply a state of awareness. Being present in the moment—not checking your phone for news and instead being focused on an activity—can be mindfulness as well.
It’s also a form of creativity and personal expression. A 2016 study found that daily creative activity, such as baking, resulted in greater well-being. And a 2017 study found that baking and cooking boosted mood and allowed subjects to stay focused in the present. What’s more, going from day-to-day stresses into the calming experience of baking can be felt physically.
“A number of years ago, I had weekly Facetime sessions with a client,” says Ohana. Ohana describes this client as a busy working mom and wife. “Each week she set aside an hour to bake with me. The sessions would always begin with a rushed and tense feel, still feeling all the stress from life, but as we baked and talked she would be able to breath and feel more at ease.” By the end of the session, Ohana says the physical transformation could be felt even through the screen: she could almost feel her client’s blood pressure go down and sense her calm demeanor.
So this season, embrace the stress relief of making (and eating) desserts, and try our celebration-worthy pie recipes, below.
Start with the Dough
Here are two equally satisfying options for a perfect pie base.
Make Your Own
If it sounds like too much work, I understand. Assembling a pie is a project on its own, and opting for store-bought pie dough makes it all the more achievable. But trust me when I say: If you talk yourself into it once, you’ll never look back. Homemade dough, even on your first attempt, is going to bake up flakier and crispier than what you unroll from a plastic sleeve. (And you can taste actual butter in it.)
Plus, it’s not difficult: the dough comes together in a matter of minutes. From there, sure, you have to put a little muscle into rolling it out—but it’s a low-investment way to feel infinitely more in touch with what you’re eating. —Darcy Lenz
All-Butter Pie Dough
Makes enough for two (9-inch) single-crust pies or one (9-inch) double-crust pie.
- 2 ½ cups all-purpose flour, spooned and leveled
- 1 Tbsp. granulated sugar
- 1 tsp. kosher salt
- 1 cup (2 sticks) cold, unsalted butter, cut into ½-inch pieces
- 4 to 8 Tbsp. ice water
- Whisk together flour, sugar, and salt in a large mixing bowl.
- Sprinkle butter over flour mixture; cut the butter into the flour mixture, using your fingertips or a pastry blender, until butter is well distributed and small clumps begin to form.
- Stir in 2 tablespoons ice-cold water. Continue adding water, 1 tablespoon at a time; combine, using your fingertips, until the dough begins to come together.
- Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface; gently knead a few times to finish bringing it together. Divide dough in half and form 2 dough balls; flatten each into a disc shape. Wrap each disc tightly with plastic wrap. Refrigerate at least 30 minutes and up to 2 days. The dough can be made ahead and stored in the freezer for up to 3 months.
Pick Up Premade
If making your own dough isn’t for you, a couple of store-bought crusts consistently deliver similar results. We like Pillsbury Refrigerated Pie Crusts, which come in a two-pack in the refrigerated case and can be rolled out to fit your own pie plate. If you want go frozen, Mrs. Smith’s Deep Dish Pie Crusts are our go-to.
4 Stellar Holiday Pie Recipes
These recipes, based on classic flavors but with delicious upgrades, serve as a reminder that food is more than fuel: It’s joy and connection, too.