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41 Christmas desserts for the sweetest holiday

End your feast on a sweet, festive note.
/ Source: TODAY

The holiday season is upon us, and we don't know about you, but that gets us in the mood for baking. Crumbles, cakes, gingerbread, polvorones: If a Christmas dessert has a little sugar, flour and butter, we're here for it! Before diving into holiday baking, check your pantry and make sure you have baking essentials; for starters, you’ll need vanilla extract, cocoa powder, and lots of powdered sugar.

As we prepare for company Christmas parties and cookie swaps at school, it's imperative to keep your eye on the (cookie dough) ball. After all, dessert is the most important meal of the day, right?

Christmas desserts vary in shape and size, genre and flavor. Add spiced ginger to loaf cakes or coat Christmas cookies in powdered sugar to look like a dusting of freshly fallen snow. New York-style cheesecakes and Italian sweets are always a hit, especially for families who get together for a big Christmas Eve dinner. And sometimes (OK, always) the long holiday break calls for a big slice of chocolate-peanut butter cake (made from boxed cake mix since energy is likely low by the end of December).

We’ve included plenty of classic Christmas dessert recipes here but made sure that more than a few of them are quick and easy for those hectic holiday weeks.

So grab the oven mitts, a cocktail and maybe a Santa hat — if you feel like being extra cheesy — and get to baking. There might even be enough time to bake them all so you don’t have to play favorites.

Maple Cheesecake Bars

Made with crisp graham crackers, rich cream cheese, tangy sour cream and buttery maple syrup, these maple cheesecake bars are irresistibly decadent. As if that wasn't enough, Jocelyn Delk Adams adds smooth vanilla bean whipped cream and a drizzle of brightly-flavored pomegranate compote.

A Christmas dessert for the ages, this yule log cake is sweeter than ever, thanks to a gingerbread chiffon cake, maple mousse filling and maple meringue piped on top.

Gingerbread Bundt Cake

Instead of the usual gingerbread cut-outs, bake one gorgeous cake. It’ll feed a crowd and is so much less work than decorating individual cookies — win-win!

Christmas Tiramisu

Two Italian classics — panettone and tiramisu — team up to create one epic Christmas dessert. It’s a bit of a process to make but the showstopping result is so worth it.

Christina Tosi gets in the holiday spirit with this festive spin on her beloved cornflake cookies. Peppermint extract, candy canes, chocolate chips and marshmallows are folded into the cookie dough before baking.

Russian tea cakes, Mexican wedding cakes or snowballs — no matter what you call them, there’s no denying that they’re a must-make Christmas dessert. The red velvet filling makes them all the more festive.

Linzer Tart

"The sweet and buttery dough, with the delicious nutty taste and textures, paired with homemade raspberry jam, has always been my absolute favorite," says Brian Lewis about this holiday classic.

In this fabulous, make-far-ahead recipe, apples are folded into a traditional loaf cake batter and swirled together with warm spices. The cake is baked and can be cooled, tightly wrapped and frozen as an easy option that will keep for weeks. To serve, just defrost and slow a slice in a skillet of hot butter and top it with frosting and flaky salt.

This cheesecake uses ricotta instead of cream cheese for a slightly more textured cake. Lemon zest and candied lemon slices provide some contrast in flavor and the crust is biscotti, not graham crackers, so it’s Italian-coffee-friendly.


The name of these nutty shortbread cookies comes from the word "polvo," which means dust in Spanish. It references the powdery sugar and crumbly texture of the cookie itself. Many know these as Mexican Wedding Cookies or even Russian Tea Cakes. It seems every country has their own version — and with good reason, for they are as easy to make as they are delicious to enjoy.

In this recipe, dry coconut is reconstituted with whole milk and cooked with condensed milk until lightly toasted, then topped with a roughly chopped, salted butter crumble, which adds a mild, nutty flavor with a hint of pine. If that's not your thing, you can substitute with pecans, walnuts or almonds. Either way, it's delicious.

A crumble is a classic dish that is easy to whip together and yet still gives a wow-factor. This recipe freezes beautifully so you can make it far in advance of the holiday frenzy on a free day and then reheat it in the oven just before serving.

Chocolate Cake

Coffee is the secret ingredient for making chocolate cake super moist and flavorful. This recipe is easy to make — and the result is a rich, decadent dessert ideal for a chilly night.

If you've never tried these little, pop-in-your-mouth chocolates filled with cookie butter, you must. And then you must make them so all your friends and family can feel as satiated as you will.

Dylan's Tiramisu

Dylan Dreyer is as obsessed with tiramisu as she is picky about how it's made. After making her moms version countless times, she found that a super simple swap to make it more friendly for everyone at the table is to use whole milk (for the coffee) and chocolate syrup (for the brandy). It's delicious and even more chocolaty!

Brown Butter Apple Crostata

The brown butter filling is delightful because it works with apples, pears, cherries, berries — whatever fruit is in season, and you have on hand. It's flexible that way. But there's more: This dish is also really great the next morning for breakfast! So if there's any leftover, Dec. 26 will have a sweet start.

The classic combo of milk and cookies is transformed into an easy party dessert that will make everyone feel just like a kid again. You can bake mini versions of your favorite homemade chocolate chip cookie recipe or keep things simple by picking up a box from your local grocery store or bakery.

Try serving this lovely orange cake with a citrusy sparkling cocktail. The Alberti brothers suggest accompanying the cake with nondairy ice cream, but it would also be delicious with regular ice cream (what isn't?).

Vanilla Cheesecake Panna Cotta

These silky vanilla bean cheesecake panna cottas are just the thing to end a festive holiday meal. They are rich and creamy, and just the right size to satisfy. Plus, they look like little votive candles on the table!

Hummingbird cake is a classic Southern dessert that's perfect for the holidays with its cream cheese frosting, pineapples, bananas and pecans. The recipe calls for dividing the batter into 12 individual Bundt cake pans, so each person gets their own cake.

Tiramisu Parfaits

Come dessert time, serving individual glasses of tiramisu is a piece of cake (well not literally). Not only will these impress your guests, but everyone is guaranteed to get one! This recipe easily doubles and can be prepared in any 8-ounce glass, ramekin or custard cup.

Valerie Bertinelli's Sicilian Love Cake

Store-bought chocolate cake mix and chocolate pudding mix are the secrets behind this easy cake from Valerie Bertinelli. But with its rich mascarpone-ricotta filling and luscious cocoa-mascarpone frosting, it tastes like a labor of love.

Sometimes a savory twist in my desserts takes the edge off the sweetness. These lemony pecan bars have an earthy element that even non-dessert lovers won’t be able to resist.

Cherry and Goat Cheese Hand Pies

These little pies are packed with a sweet cherry and goat cheese filling and topped off with a savory salt-pepper-sugar coating. The filling is made using both frozen and dried cherries, which adds a complexity of texture and tartness.

These cookies are an ode to that gingerbread Christmas classic. The recipe uses zesty lemon for a unique twist on the flavor profile that results in a cookie that's gently crunchy on the outside with a soft, chewy center.

Inspired by the famed Mother's Restaurant in New Orleans, this dish for a sweet, well balanced bread pudding is one of Sunny Anderson's go-tos. It has a little fruit in it, which balances the rich chocolate beautifully.

Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cake

The combination of smooth peanut butter and rich chocolate make this five-ingredient dessert incredibly decadent and irresistible to any peanut butter cup fan. It's longstanding family recipe that uses boxed cake mix as a base: As simple as it is delicious.

Coconut Bliss Cake

This recipe is a deconstruction of the Almond Joy, reassembled in the best possible way. One bite of this cake, coated in a chocolate fudge sauce and adorned in almonds, and you’ll be hooked. It's your favorite chocolate bar from childhood, all grown up.

Warm, vanilla-scented bread pudding made with Italian Christmas bread is a must-make for the holidays. While it's hearty enough to enjoy with breakfast, the sweet maple and dried fruits make this a wonderful dessert, especially when guests may be snacking on it up until midnight.


Get The Recipe


Dr. Jessica B. Harris

These irresistible, five-ingredient patties from New Orleans have sweet notes of creamy caramel and earthy pecans. They're not only packed with flavor but also a fascinating history — which you can read about here.

Roughly bashed salted pretzels and toasted hazelnuts are stirred into melted chocolate, then decorated with crushed freeze-dried red strawberries and green pistachios for extra color and flavor to complete this delicious treat.

These sour cherry and pistachio bars boast strong cookie, pie and cobbler vibes all in one. While the sour cherry gives a vibrant tartness perfect for wintry gatherings, feel free to swap out with any jam you enjoy. Do not forget the coconut: That's what makes these bars truly shine!

This pie, an ode to a classic flavor combo, couldn't be simpler to make. Whether it's eaten warm out of the oven or cold the next morning for breakfast, your family or friends will crazy for it.

This berry-studded cake is festive enough for the holiday table but comes together so easily, you can mix it up anytime. Pop it in the oven as you're sitting down for dinner. If you have leftovers, no one will judge you for digging in at breakfast New Year's morning.

This is a super-simple, earthy-tasting shortbread recipe that combines sweet and savory notes and smells unfathomably like a cozy fire on a cold winter night.

Chocolate Pecan Pie

For all you die-hard-pecan-pie-purists, this one may not be for you. But for everyone else, this chocolate pecan pie rocks both worlds and a little adventure is a good thing! It’s like a pecan pie-brownie hybrid — if that doesn’t make you swoon, we don’t know what will.

This recipe is like having the most delicious cloud of pumpkin pie. It's light and fluffy yet with all the deep flavors of the heavier classic version. Exactly what you want after eating an indulgent meal.

Take the humble cobbler up a notch: Slices of quince are cooked in a warm bath of maple and vanilla until tender and sweet, then baked under mounds of cornmeal-spiked biscuit dough. An opening in the center of the topping lets steam escape and reveals the bubbling, rosy-hued filling.

Unfussy Apple Pie

No need to be fussy with this easy pie. No crimping, no lattice work — heck, you don't even need a pie dish! Homemade pie crust is a cinch and oh so satisfying to make, but there is no shame in using a store-bought crust if you want to be even more unfussy.

This deceptively simple recipe uses everyday ingredients to make an otherworldly, magical dessert. As it bakes, the cake batter magically transforms into three layers: a rich, luxurious custard crust, a creamy center, and a light, delicate angel-food-cake topper.

Patti LaBelle's Sweet Potato Pie

Patti LaBelle learned this famous pie recipe from her best friend and hairstylist Norma Gordon Harris. This sweet potato pie has a thin layer of brown sugar on the bottom crust. This "black bottom" doesn't just add flavor, it also helps keep the filling from making the crust soggy. The recipe makes a good amount of the delicious filling — this isn't one of those skimpy sweet potato pies. It tastes like sweet potatoes, not pineapple or raisins or other fillers that some people stick in their pies.