It’s that time of year…when you’re needing to figure out what to make for Thanksgiving or some other holiday gathering. This is kind of my jam. I’m that person who always gets asked to bring desserts to things, so I’ve developed a list of fool-proof recipes for every type of group, taste, and size of event. So below are some of my all-time favorite holiday dessert recipes, dishes that I think will become traditions for you as well.
If you’re needing to bake for gluten-free guests, I have a separate post on some of my favorite gluten-free breads & desserts. I’m not GF, but I still totally love every single one of these recipes and sometimes make them just because.
Traditional Holiday Dessert Recipes (Pies, Cakes, & Tortes)
These are perfect for the main event…the big meal, an office party, Friendsgiving. They feel fancy and are super season-appropriate, but (don’t tell anyone) take minimal effort and most can be made ahead of time.
Maple Bourbon Pecan Pie
This is a true Thanksgiving staple…taken up a notch. I’m notorious for finding boozy versions of everything (even before I worked for a spirits company), and this is one of my favorites. The maple flavor really shines through, and the bourbon just elevates things a little bit more. Recipe here.
Bourbon Pear Crumble Pie
The first time I made this, my dad said, “This is the best dessert I’ve ever eaten.” It’s become a Thanksgiving staple ever since. Somehow the addition of bourbon provides an incredible depth, and (I know this sounds weird) that tiny bit of black pepper is revelatory. This is also an insanely easy pie to make. I recommend making it the day before, because it’s better when it has time to totally cool and set up vs. fresh out of the oven. Honestly, this filling mixture would make the world’s best fruit crisp as well. Recipe here.
Pear-Apple Pie with Streusel Topping
Pardon the absolutely terrible pics in this post (working on re-doing them), but this is a go-to recipe for me at all times of the year. It’s pretty healthy as desserts go, and super easy to make. I’m honestly a sucker for streusel in all forms. This pie is a nice antidote to all the overly sweet and rich desserts that people tend to make around the holidays. Recipe here.
Coffee Cardamom Cake with Bulletproof Frosting
If you’re looking for a cake that’s a little different, this is a perfect option. You get the warm spices you expect from fall and winter holidays, but the coffee adds some surprise to the whole package. You might even be better at decorating than I am 🙂 Recipe here.
Apricot Linzer Torte
This is one of my all-time favorite desserts, and caught me completely by surprise. A friend of mine had been begging me to make a linzer torte for years. But in my mind, linzer torte was this kind of bland thing that sits in a pastry case, nothing that sounded interesting. WOW, was I wrong! After researching linzer torte recipes for a while, I made this gem and am always excited for an excuse to make it again. Recipe here.
Smitten Kitchen’s Purple Plum Torte
This was one of the first Smitten Kitchen recipes I fell in love with, and it was kind of shocking how great it was. It’s a super simple recipe and crazy easy to make, but becomes this delicious, complex, satisfying snacking cake. It’s a perfect make-ahead option for the holidays, as it’s actually a bit better after sitting overnight. Recipe here.
Smitten Kitchen’s Chocolate Stout Cake with Ganache
People always forget the chocolate in favor of seasonal favorites, but chocolate is a must! This cake is amazing and really easy to make, and always goes over well with a crowd. It’s moist (so keeps well over multiple days of festivities), not too sweet or rich, and looks a little fancy. If you’re looking for more of a 9×13 cake, I recommend this black magic cake (crazy good!). Recipe here.
For general company and snacking purposes
If your family is anything like mine, then you are spending a LOT of time together beyond just sitting down to one big meal. So snacks are imperative! How else will you put on 15 pounds without even trying?? So when I think about holiday dessert recipes, I think beyond the traditional…here are some of my favorite (sweet) snacks to nosh on throughout family events!
Amazing Soft Molasses Cookies
This is a family recipe that’s been handed down, and my favorite cookie of all time. It’s perfect for this time of year, isn’t too sweet, and doesn’t require any complicated steps or chilling. Whip these up in 15 minutes, bake over the course of a half hour, and you’re good to go. My mom keeps these in the freezer and will pull out just a few as needed when company comes over even at other times of the year. Recipe here.
Cinnamon Walnut-Stuffed Challah
My first stuffed or filled bread recipe, and it was a total winner. The flavor combo is perfect for this time of year, and this is great for snacking or having on-hand for breakfast when you have guests staying with you. And it’s easier than it looks! Recipe here.
Cherry Chocolate Oatmeal Cookies
Mmmm! I’m not always an oatmeal cookie person, but these are like if oatmeal raisin cookies were actually GOOD. The flavor combo is a total winner, and they were easy to make using only half of my brain while I was cooking dinner at the same time. Recipe here.
Dark Chocolate Puppy Chow with Sea Salt
This is one of my favorite foods OF ALL TIME. Seriously. Like, it’s dangerous to make because I will legit eat it all. This will make you a hero at any gathering. Recipe here.
Fresh Apple Cake with Honey Glaze
This is a perfect snacking cake, not too sweet and very hearty. While it can be dessert, I love it for breakfast, a snack, just because. Recipe here. I’ve also made it with pears, and a pear-hazelnut-rosemary glaze version if you’re interested.
Chai Spice Banana Bread
This is one of the most interesting banana bread recipes I’ve run across (and trust me, I’ve tried a LOT). The cashews are totally unexpected, and the chai spice streusel is the bomb. Recipe here.
WHOA. When I first made this, I couldn’t believe how good it was! It’s quiiiiiite caloric, but totally worth it on occasion. Recipe here. If you’re looking for something a little lighter, this snickerdoodle zucchini bread is a winner.
Apple Cinnamon Chip Coffee Cake
Once I discovered cinnamon chips, it was all over. I want to put them in *everything*. Like this delicious coffee cake using apple butter, cinnamon chips, AND cinnamon-sugar topping. I mean, what’s not to love?? If you can’t find cinnamon chips in your grocery store, you can get them on Amazon. Recipe here.
Man, it feels like I could keep going for ages…these types of desserts are my favorite! But hopefully this gets you started on ideas for holiday dessert recipes…there’s something here for any type of gathering!
Warm weather instead?? Try these desserts for summer parties instead!
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