Fresh Gingerbread Squares
Teff flour is a soft, almost-fluffy whole-grain flour with an intense nuttiness that makes it excellent for baking. But the beauty of fresh gingerbread is finding the perfect texture—delicate yet dense—so we add a bit of hearty whole-wheat flour to give this treat a heftier, more winter-worthy base. Stout beers adds a pleasantly earthy bitterness that complements the molasses, fresh finger, and cinnamon; any frothy leftovers will pair nicely with a still-warm baked square. If you don't have any stout on hand, simply use 1/4 cup additional buttermilk instead.
Iced Whole-Wheat Sugar Cookies
Whole-wheat flour adds a layer of complexity to these cookies that all-purpose flour can't achieve; the wheat in the whole grain actually enhances the flavors of butter and vanilla. Unlike classic royal icing, which starts with a pound of powdered sugar, we use just 1/2 cup and thicken it with Greek yogurt. Looking for festive colors without the chemicals? Try naturally colored sparkling sugars (such as those from India Tree), which use colorants derived from plants.
New Classic Red Velvet Cake
Just the name "red velvet cake" suggests something elegant and rich—dramatic, supermoist layers of tinted chocolate cake coated in a dense, creamy white frosting. 'Tis the season for such decadent pleasures, right? Although it may be the time of year to splurge, it's hard to justify an 880-calorie, 57g-of-fat piece of cake. Ho-ho-holy cow! We had to find a better way to bake this favorite holiday cake and feel better about eating it, too.
Our secret weapon: red beets. Cooking the vibrant-red, naturally sweet vegetables with nonfat buttermilk and vanilla, and then pureeing them into a luscious cream adds an ultramoist, velvety texture to the cake that also allows us to use less oil and butter—a savings of 255 calories and 22g fat. Double bonus: The red beet color eliminates any need for artificial dye.
Gingerbread People <br />
For a whimsical presentation, arrange these cookies in a lunch box lined with colorful packing paper. Use a variety of cookie cutter sizes to create “families.” If you don’t want to cut the dough into shapes, roll it into two logs, cover, chill, and slice into 18-inch rounds. Refrigerate the dough up to three days, or freeze up to one month.
Chocolate Yule Log
We've managed to transform naughty into nice with this rich dark-chocolate sponge cake filled with a delicate, yogurt-lightened whipped cream. We cut the amount of sugar in half, letting the intensity of the chocolate in the sponge cake shine—go ahead and splurge on a higher-quality bar. The thick, creamy texture of Greek yogurt complements the whipped cream quite perfectly, with a fraction of the sat fat and calories. Skip the powdered sugar dusting, and use fresh raspberries, mini pinecones, fresh pine needles, or even fresh mint to decorate. Add 1⁄4 teaspoon peppermint extract to the whipped cream filling for a cool, minty kick.
Your house will definitely be Santa's favorite if you leave a few of these Christmas treats out for the jolly fellow in red. But, don't stop there. Spread the holiday cheer by baking these gift-worthy cookies for everyone you know. Just be sure to keep a few for your family to enjoy too.
Mini Raspberry Cheesecakes
We had the greatest success using a pan with 2 1/2-ounce cups, such as Chicago Metallic's 12-Well Mini Cheesecake Pan ($25). This pan has removable bottoms (similar to a tart pan) so that you simply push each cheesecake up to remove it. You can also bake them in a standard muffin tin; line it with foil liners for easier removal.
Iced Gingerbread Biscotti
For an elegant spin on a cookie cutter favorite, transform your gingerbread people into classy sticks of iced biscotti. With just the right amount of crunch, these are the perfect after-dinner snack that you should definitely dunk in a cup of coffee or hot cocoa. Be sure to let the cookie logs cool after the first bake so they slice cleanly and don't crumble.
Red Velvet Whoopie Pies
The peppermint candies should be coarsely crushed in a large zip-top plastic bag by lightly tapping them with a rolling pin or heavy skillet (a food processor would just pulverize them). You can substitute regular unsweetened cocoa powder in the cookies.
Think of these tasty little tassies as your own personal pecan pie. They're both salty and sweet, with a hit of oaky bourbon. Whole-grain rye flour adds the perfect touch of sour to the shortbread-like crust, while toasted pecans do double duty in the crust and in the maple-splashed filling. As if that weren't enough to jingle your bell, we drizzle warm bittersweet chocolate over each bite to ensure maximum satisfaction.
Fudgy Chocolate-Peppermint Cookies
When a soft, fudgy cookie meets crunchy candy cane shards, it's a match made in heaven. These rich cookies pack all the signature flavors of the holidays into one glorious, minty cookie. Clocking in at a shy 101 calories, this is a dessert that your holiday guests will love, and it's one that you can feel good about serving them.
Lemon Cheesecake Bars with Gingersnap Crust
Fresh ginger in the cookie crust really kicks up the flavor—yum!
Pep Up With Peppermint
Candy canes are a classic Christmas staple. Buy a big box of red and white suckers and spread the holiday cheer with these delicious minty desserts.
In our first recipe, a light, mint-infused cream cheese frosting replaces heavy buttercream for a light holiday bite.
This brittle is sweet and mildly bitter all at once—owing to the caramel flavor of the cooked sugar. We added everything you’d find on the iconic bagel of the same name except garlic and onion flakes for a nutty-savory-sweet treat. Brittle is very susceptible to moisture, so wrap it up in parchment paper and pack into an airtight container. Store the container in a cool, dry place. This is a decidedly grown-up sweet treat, but you can make it kid-friendly by omitting the poppy seeds and black sesame seeds and stirring in a teaspoon of ground cinnamon.
Iced Browned Butter Sugar Cookies
These classic sugar cookies are infused with nutty, caramel notes from browned butter and a fair bit of salt to balance the flavors. You can roll out the dough right after combining all the ingredients—no chilling required.
These traditional German Christmas cookies are made with chopped nuts, citrus, and a variety of warm spices, including the pepper that gives the cookies their name. Greenspan provides ingredient weights in grams, an approach we love because it's more precise than using ounces; a scale is key here.
Eggnog Coffee Cake
HOW TO DOUBLE UP: Double the crumble mixture and the cake batter in large bowls. Bake cakes together on the same oven rack, rotating pans halfway through the cook time. If the cakes don't test done after 30 minutes, cook an extra 2 to 6 minutes, checking them every 2 minutes. Either give a whole cake to a friend, or package individual pieces.
Red Velvet Beet Cupcakes
Elegant and rich, this supermoist pillow of chocolate cake gets its color and texture from the vibrant-red, naturally sweet beet. There’s nothing artificial about this dramatically hued holiday treat coated in a dense cloud of creamy white frosting. We purée the tender beet root with buttermilk and vanilla to create a luscious cream that not only adds a light, velvety texture to the cupcake but also allows us to use less sugar, oil, and butter in the batter, saving fat and hundreds of calories. You simply can’t “beet” it.
Salted Caramel Cheesecakes
Baking individual desserts in a muffin pan is the smart way to pre-portion a rich treat. These single-serving cheesecakes don't feel skimpy, except with their numbers: Each has about half the calories and one-fourth the sat fat of a typical serving of caramel cheesecake, but is still full of big sweet-salty pleasures.
Stained Glass Window Cookies
We found that Jolly Rancher candies produced the brightest, most vibrant "stained glass." Be sure to use the original sweet candies, not the sour flavors. To crush, place each color in its own heavy-duty zip-top bag; crush with a rolling pin or meat mallet. You'll find sparkling sugar in craft or specialty stores, but you can also use turbinado sugar as a substitute.