51 Beautiful Holiday Desserts
Pie is mighty nice. In fact, pie is almost a statutory requirement during the holidays. But beyond pie are applause-worthy desserts that will delight guests with a sweet, elegant full-stop ending to a great meal. And these treats do so with a much lighter touch. Get ready to wow.
For those who say it's not dessert if it's not chocolate: Creamy milk chocolate mousse is sandwiched between intensely chocolaty cake layers.
Chocolate Chip Cream Puffs
Stir the chocolate chips into the warm dough by hand because the power of the mixer would forcefully combine the melting chips into the dough, making it brown chocolate dough instead of dough studded with chocolate chips.
Can't Be Beet Tart with Goat Cheese
This is the dessert you cook when you want to make a big impression. Everything about it, from the ginger kick in the crust to the sweet earthiness of the beets in the filling to the rich goat cheese in the topping, comes together in beautiful harmony. Be sure to use an 11-inch tart pan to accommodate the filling; a 10-inch pie plate will work in a pinch. Look for buttermilk powder on the baking or with the powdered milk.
Pumpkin Bundt Cake With Chocolate Glaze
We take the classic flavors of pumpkin pie (pumpkin, cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg) and transform them into a tall, moist, tender Bundt cake. Whole-wheat flour enhances the fall flavors without sacrificing the tender crumb. To finish it off: a smooth, shiny bittersweet chocolate glaze that drips into all the nooks and crannies. Look for baking spray (cooking spray with fine flour added), or simply coat the pan with cooking spray, add a tablespoon of flour, and shake gently to coat. If you don't have a Bundt pan, you can bake in two standard loaf pans. Cut the loaves into slices, and drizzle the glaze over each serving.
Apple Galette With Vanilla Yogurt Drizzle
Rustic is gorgeous—that’s never been more true than with this fall apple tart. We save on sat fat and make the crust more tender by swapping in low-fat yogurt for some of the butter (use standard yogurt, not Greek-style). Make dough ahead and refrigerate or freeze (just remember to thaw completely before rolling). Cutting the apple crosswise for a “star” shape in the center of each slice adds a special touch, but any slice will work. You can sub the scraped seeds from one vanilla bean pod or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract for the vanilla bean paste.
Frozen Orange Tortes with Cranberry Compote
Our Frozen Orange Tortes with Cranberry Compote feature a jeweled cranberry topping that cascades down a fluffy ice cream filling that's a dreamy citrus cloud.
Buttermilk-Beet Sherbet with Hazelnut Brittle
If carrots can go into cake, there's no reason beets can't make their way into ice cream. It's a stunning dessert—absurdly delicious with a gorgeous magenta huge.
Miso Caramel-Apple Pie
You've no doubt heard of--and enjoyed--salted caramel. Miso caramel takes that concept one step further, offering te irresistible salty-sweet flavor combo along with a richness that's unparalleled. You may just love this caramel so much that you want to make a big batch for yourself or to give as holiday gifts; we won't blame you. And even though this pie is rather decadent, it still comes in with 12g less sugar than a popular online version of caramel apple pie. Ever been disappointed by an apple pie where the fruit was still just a little crunchy, not tender as you'd hoped for? This recipe makes sure you end up with buttery-soft fruit by first covering the raw apple slices with boiling water to soften them before they even go in the crust.
Mile-High Coconut Cupcakes
The simple act of sharing something sweet that's been made with care brings such tremendous joy. Good desserts conjure good times and cheerful celebrations—and it's not only the taste but the shared memories that are integral to our appreciation. So go ahead and show off with these Mile-High Coconut Cupcakes.
Extreme Lemon and Chocolate Roulade
Lemon and chocolate are a lovely and lively pair in this roulade. If you prefer milder lemon flavor, you can omit the rind from the filling. Or, if you are a bold lemon lover, don't strain the rind out of the filling—enjoy the tartness and texture it provides.
Maple-Gingerbread Pots de Crème
The crackly counterpoint to the silky custards occurs when you sprinkle a thin layer of sugar on top and broil to melt. The caramel hardens as it cools.
Take a break from traditional holiday pies and try this grape tart instead. The grapes become tender and intensely juicy in the oven. Floral, slightly bitter marmalade helps to bind the filling and balance the fruit. Let the galette sit at room temperature while you complete your holiday prep so the juices can thicken. Warm in a 300°F oven for 10 minutes before serving.
Shake up your Thanksgiving buffet with this incredible offering. Taking inspiration from the best part of classic pecan pie (the sweet goo!), this nutty treat serves several tasty upgrades while still cutting sugar by more than a third. Toasted hazelnuts offer supreme crunch and a sweetness unsurpassed by any other nut, while instant coffee and coffee liqueur deepen the flavor with delightful bitter nuances. And that dollop of chocolate-hazelnut spread? That's simply a touch of sweet genius, as is the sprinkling of flaky salt on top. Make the pie up to a day ahead and refrigerate; be sure to let it sit at room temperature for about an hour before serving to wake up all the flavors.
No-Bake Cheesecake with Pecan Caramel
Since we've nixed the baking (even of the crust), you save tons of time; you don't have to wait for the cheesecake to cool out of the oven. Make the cheesecake up to 3 days ahead, but prepare the caramel shortly before serving. It hardens quickly to a yummy praline-like texture.
A deliciously dense almond cake rests underneath the cheesy spiced pumpkin layer. Almond brittle adds a spectacular finishing touch.
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.
Pretty Packaging: These cookies are sturdy and stackable once cool. Shop for a rectangular box to hold them snugly and wrap with metallic paper for a sleek, stylish gift.
Classic Tangy Lemon Bars
These lemon bars are straight-up puckery perfection. We mix the filling together just before the crust comes out of the oven and then pour it onto the hot crust so that it sets quickly.
Chai Carrot Pie
Staple spice-rack spices create all the depth of classic chai tea in this luscious, carrot-packed, whole-grain dessert. It's a cross between a play on pumpkin pie and carrot cake: The texture and flavor are reminiscent of the former, and the layers--cream cheese mixture on the bottom, spiced carrot filling on top--are inspired by the latter. To get a big head start, you can make and freeze the crust up to a week ahead. A combination of butter and shortening in the crust is ideal--butter for its rich flavor, and shortening to create a flaky texture. We recommend Earth Balance shortening (found with the other shortenings in large supermarkets or health-focused stores) because, unlike most other shortenings, it contains no trans fats.
Carrot-Apple Spice Cake With Browned-Butter Glaze
We challenged ourselves to come up with a show-stopping dessert that uses boxed cake mix as a starting point—and we succeeded. Fresh carrot and apple plus a splash of bourbon boost the flavor of the layers and add incredible moisture, while the browned-butter glaze is, well, the wildly delicious icing on the cake. Not only does this cake taste like fall, but it is quite the eye candy as well. Bring this to a holiday party and impress your guests with this three-layer beauty.
A perfect dessert dialectic: crunchy and creamy textures, sweet and bittersweet flavors.
Spiced Apple Two-Bite Tarts
The nutty pastry is absolutely delicious, like pecan shortbread. You can make the tart shells and filling the day before and assemble just before serving: Place the shells in an airtight container and chill the filling, bringing it to room temperature before placing it in the shells so it's not ice-cold. The crème fraîche dollop is more than just a pretty garnish; its rich, tangy flavor makes these sublime.
Frosted Brown Butter Blondies
This festive fall dessert became an instant staff favorite. Brown butter imparts a rich flavor to blondies composed of bittersweet chocolate and cream cheese. A plastic zip-top bag makes it easy to pipe the web pattern onto the frosting.
A playful and delicious twist on traditional chess pie, this treat gets a triple shot of rich sesame flavor—white sesame seeds in the crust, tahini in the filling, and black sesame seeds on top (feel free to use white sesame seeds there if you can’t find black). These nutty touches allow Darcy to use less sugar than traditional chess pie recipes, which often call for 2 cups. If you’d like to play up the “chess” pie angle, do as Darcy does, and arrange the black sesame seeds in a checkerboard pattern on top of the pie. A touch of vodka in the pie crust is a great baker’s trick; it makes it the crust more flaky and tender, and it evaporates out as the crust bakes so you have no residual alcohol flavor. We like the depth that sherry vinegar adds to the filling, but you can also use apple cider vinegar for similar results.
Carrot-Zucchini Cake With Coconut-Cream Cheese Frosting
Zucchini makes a brilliant addition to carrot cake, adding a verdant note to the sweet carrot.
Raspberry-Swirl Mini Bundt Cakes
It's best to make one batch of cakes at a time (don't double the batter), though you can easily double the raspberry mixture. If you don't have a minibundtlette pan, you can make one large Bundt cake instead. If you have an 8-cup Bundt pan, that's ideal, but a 10-cup pan will work, too (the cake just won't be as tall). Bake at 350° for 25 to 28 minutes or until a wooden pick comes out clean. Spreading the batter evenly in minibundtlette cups can be a little tricky. Try spooning the batter into a large zip-top plastic bag; then snip off one bottom corner of the bag, and pipe batter into cups.
Pretty Packaging: To keep cakes looking their best, make sure the glaze is fully set before packaging. For individual treats, place one cake on a tissue paper square, place into a cellophane bag, and tie with ribbon.
Citrus Upside-Down Cake with Sour Whipped Cream
Like salt, sour's contrasting flavor keeps sweetness in check, ultimately boosting it to its sweetest potential.
Apple-Cinnamon Bundt Cake
A homey comfort classic made special with a dusting of sugar and a hidden filling of apples and nuts.
Carrot Cake Sandwich Cookies
Based on the classic whoopie pie, these soft sandwich cookies provide all the pleasures of traditional carrot cake in a fun-to-eat package, including the thick, tangy cream cheese frosting—especially the cream cheese frosting.
Meringue-Topped Cranberry Curd Tart
This amazing tart is definitely a show stopper. Serve in a beautiful pie dish for a winning holiday dessert.
Spiced Caramel Bundt Cake
Lemon Cheesecake Bars with Gingersnap Crust
Fresh ginger in the cookie crust really kicks up the flavor—yum!
Lavender Rice Pudding Tarts
In a stroke of pure genius, Darcy transforms the homey, comforting dessert of rice pudding into pie. And why not? Rice pudding is a starchy, creamy delight, so it makes a perfect pie filling—especially when it’s going into a pine nut–flavored crust. Some traditional rice pudding recipes use lots of sweetened condensed milk, but this one uses just 1/3 cup sugar for a not-too-sweet treat. Dried lavender, used judiciously, adds just the right amount of floral essence to lend an air of elegance, while blueberry jam spooned on at the end brightens with a tangy, fruity lift (raspberry jam would be delicious as well). If you don’t have rectangular tart pans, you can make 2 larger tarts in 14- x 41⁄2-inch pans.
Lemon Verbena-Buttermilk Sherbet
OK, so lemon verbena isn't a fruit—but it does add fruity flavor to this lovely dessert. Its floral aroma and taste soften the tang of the buttermilk.
Double-Ginger Pumpkin Flans
Unsweetened pumpkin and fresh ginger add a seasonal and unexpected twist on creamy classic flan (also known as crème caramel).
Gluten-Free Caramelized Pineapple Upside-Down Cake
Upside-down cake is one of the happiest desserts in America—that classic brown sugar-soaked mosaic of canned pineapple rings and maraschino cherries set atop an all-butter yellow cake, the whole package densely glazed in rich, buttery-sweet caramel. It's a bit less smile-inducing, though, when you tally up 700 sugar-loaded calories and 10g sat fat in a generous slice. But cheer up! You can enjoy your cake sans guilt with our version that's lighter in calories and also gluten-free.
Cranberry and Dark Cherry Clafoutis
When beating such a small amount of egg white (you only need one) to soft peaks, it's easy to do by hand. Just place the white in a medium bowl, and beat vigorously with a whisk; it should take about a minute.
Hasselback Apple Tart
Our Hasselback Apple is made even better in this potluck version. We've tucked the spiced, tender apples into delicate buttery puff pastry. Slice and serve with your favorite frozen custard or yogurt.
Pumpkin Ice Cream Torte
Here’s the secret: You can make this pumpkin torte well ahead and freeze it. The sauce is jarred. The cook will be celebrated.
Strawberry-Almond Cake Roll
Don't panic—this strawberry and whipped cream-filled cake is surprisingly easy to roll.
Pecan Sticky Wedges
The yeasted dough for this heavenly take on sticky buns develops even more flavor when refrigerated overnight. All you have to do the next day is pop the pan in the oven.
Coconut Cake with Buttercream Frosting
This coconut cake recipe is one of our readers all-time favorites. The frosting also pairs wonderfully with other cake flavors like carrot, spice and basic white. Garnish the cake plate with sugar-frosted cranberries and rosemary sprigs.
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.
Roasted Grape and Pear Kuchen
Get creative with the toppings for this classic yeast cake: Try tart Granny Smith apples or sweet pineapple in place of pears, or a dollop of tangy Greek yogurt instead of whipped topping.
Pumpkin Pie Cake
If you like pumpkin pie, you'll love this cake's subtle spice flavors and velvety cream cheese frosting. The slightly sweet and mild pecans add a pleasant crunch to the smooth frosting.
A sprinkling of fresh, fragrant thyme leaves over ripe apricots helps bring this flat cake to staff favorite status. Food Editor Ann Taylor Pittman agrees: "The addition of thyme is an absolutely ingenious, delicious touch."
Cherry and Pistachio Rugelach
You can switch out the cherry preserves and dried cherries for another fruit that comes in both spread and dried form, such as apricot, currant, or blueberry.
Pretty Packaging: These rustic cookies can handle a more rustic approach to wrapping. Carefully place the cookies into a cellophane bag, then drop inside a burlap bag; cinch with a ribbon.
Roasted Pear Creme Brulee Tart
"Since most people make an effort to save room for dessert, I came up with something special. This tart combines elements of every good dessert--flaky crust, crunchy caramelized sugar, creamy custard, and soft roasted fruit. You can make all the components ahead of time, but brûlée the pears just before serving." —SaBrina Bone, Test Kitchen Professional
Almond Antique Brittle
When cooking sugar to a high temperature, things move very quickly in the last few minutes or even seconds. To avoid burned sugar syrup, be sure to have the almonds toasted and ready to go before starting. A significant amount of vinegar in this brittle adds complex flavor.
Pretty Packaging: The key to perfectly packing brittle is to first make a dry, nonsticky candy—if it's humid, wait a day or two until there's less humidity. Box with a layer of protective tissue paper.
Chocolate-Chestnut Cream Bites
Try our picture-perfect phyllo dough poppers. For an elegant presentation, spoon the filling into a piping bag, and then fill the shells.
Coconut Cake with Raspberry Filling
A little coconut flour (look for it with specialty flours) adds extra nutty essence. But don't get overzealous and use more than we specify; because this flour lacks the gluten of wheat-based cake flour, it would wreck the structure.
Matcha–White Chocolate Bark
Gorgeous, incredibly easy to make, and with an I-can-put-my-finger-on-that-flavor yumminess—we love everything about this fruity chocolate bark. The earthy taste of the matcha enhances the flavor of the tart cherries, but the real key to deliciousness is that flake salt on top. If you don’t have flake salt (though we’d love for you to go get some), you can sub a crunchy sea salt.