42 Showstopping Holiday Dessert Recipes to End Your Meal With a Bang

The prettiest tarts, cookie plates, cakes, and pies for every sweet tooth

For a showstopping sweet finish to your special holiday meal, go all-out with a sticky English toffee pudding, classic croquembouche, baked Alaska, or any one of these seasonal centerpiece desserts. They're the best way to follow up our go-to holiday roasts and pair nicely with a hot cocktail. Want to dig deeper? See our recent comprehensive guide to baking the perfect tart.

For even more inspiration, check out our Holiday Guide.

Almond Frangipane Tart with Cranberries and Honeyed Pistachios

almond frangipane tart
Frangipane, an almond-based pastry filling, has a nutty fragrance and a consistency between buttery pound cake and airy sponge cake. In French-style fruit tarts, this classic filling is often studded with poached or fresh fruits. In summer, you can swap out the cranberries in this tart for halved pitted apricots, fresh pitted cherries, or sliced plums. Syrup-poached apples or pears, halved ripe figs, or quince would be delicious in cooler months. Get the recipe for Almond Frangipane Tart with Cranberries and Honeyed Pistachios »Ryan Liebe

Frozen Chocolate Mousse (Marquise au Chocolat)

Marquise au Chocolat
This dessert—a fudgy, frozen or semifrozen chocolate mousse that's sometimes coated in ganache, then sliced—likely came from the 17th or 18th century, when royal pastry chefs lived large. I like to crumble in Speculoos cookies, like Biscoff brand, before freezing, to add crunch and pretty golden flecks, but anything that works with chocolate—from candied ginger to rum-soaked raisins—is fair game. It's at its best when semifrozen or thawed but still chilly. Get the recipe for Frozen Chocolate Mousse (Marquise au Chocolat) »Christina Holmes

Cashew Baklava

Cashew Baklava
Brown sugar, cinnamon and nutty, rich cashews are rolled into tight baklava cigars in this eminently snackable dessert. Get the recipe for Cashew Baklava »Neal Santos

Chocolate Ganache Tart with Sea Salt and Espresso Beans

Chocolate Ganache Tart with Sea Salt Espresso Beans
A touch of egg is the simple, secret ingredient in this luscious tart's filling. Just a little gives the combination of chocolate and cream a sliceable, fudgy consistency. The crumbly cocoa-laced crust can be pressed right into a fluted pan, no rolling pin required. Swap out espresso beans for toasted nuts, chopped brittle, granola, or crushed peppermint candy. Just don't eliminate the sea salt; it adds a bright, irreplaceable contrast to the decadent filling. Get the recipe for Chocolate Ganache Tart with Sea Salt and Espresso Beans »Ryan Liebe

Orange and Ginger Brownie Cookies

Orange and Ginger Brownie Cookies
These drops were born of fiddling with my favorite brownie recipe. A little more flour and chocolate, and a different way of baking, and presto chango, cookies. The orange and ginger are holiday add-ins. Adapted from Dorie's Cookies. Get the recipe for Orange and Ginger Brownie Cookies »Christina Holmes

Sauternes Custard with Armagnac-Soaked Prunes

Sauternes Custard with Armagnac-Soaked Prunes
At Boulestin, Agen prunes, prized for their caramel notes and soft texture, are infused with brewed tea, cinnamon, and armagnac and then used to top this sumptuous custard. In lieu of vanilla sugar, you can substitute 3/4 cup sugar and 1 tsp. vanilla extract. Get the recipe for Sauternes Custard with Armagnac-Soaked Prunes »Tom Parker

Syrup-Soaked Pastries with Hazelnuts, Pistachios, and Pine Nuts (Deblah)

Syrup-Soaked Pastries with Hazelnuts, Pistachios, and Pine Nuts (Deblah)
These crunchy pastry spirals are formed from a simple pasta-like dough, soaked in a light lemon syrup and sprinkled with a shower of mixed nuts. Get the recipe for Syrup-Soaked Pastries with Hazelnuts, Pistachios, and Pine Nuts (Deblah) »Matt Taylor-Gross

Honey-and-Butter-Baked Pears with Cold Cream

Honey-and-Butter Baked Pears with Cold Cream
These sticky, caramelized pears get served warm with a glug of fresh chilled cream for a richly-flavored variation on poached pears. Get the recipe for Honey-and-Butter-Baked Pears with Cold Cream »Anders Schonnemann

Semolina-Coconut Cake with Orange and Rose Waters

Semolina–Coconut Cake
This North African cake is baked with dried coconut and sweetened condensed milk and then soaked in a fragrant lemony syrup with orange blossom and rose waters. Get the recipe for Semolina-Coconut Cake with Orange and Rose Waters »Matt Taylor-Gross

Brown Butter Skillet Cake with Berry Compote (Kaiserschmarrn)

Brown Butter Skillet Cake with Berry Compote (Kaiserschmarrn)
Essentially torn pieces of pancake topped with oozing lingonberry or cranberry sauce, this dessert is a cinch, even for the baking-challenged. Get the recipe for Brown Butter Skillet Cake with Berry Compote (Kaiserschmarrn) »Tom Parker

Brûléed Italian Plums with Armagnac Custard

Brûléed Italian Plums with Armagnac Custard
Warming, caramel-scented Armagnac custard bathes fresh, barely-cooked Italian plums in this quick, simple dessert. Get the recipe for Brûléed Italian Plums with Armagnac Custard »Farideh Sadeghin

Layered Strudel Cake (Prekmurska Gibanica)

Layered Strudel Cake (Prekmurska Gibanica)
Able to be assembled up to 2 days prior to baking, this multilayered pastry cake is stuffed with poppy seed, walnut, cottage cheese, and tart apple fillings. Get the recipe for Layered Strudel Cake (Prekmurska Gibanica) »Chris Court

Plum, White Chocolate, and Tarragon Parfait

Plum, White Chocolate, and Tarragon Parfait
The overt sweetness of white chocolate is tamed here by the addition of tart Greek yogurt. Chef John Karangis of Union Square Events serves it as a bed for juicy roasted plums and a sweet, anise-tinged tarragon white wine granita—it's an elegant way to end a summer dinner. Get the recipe for Plum, White Chocolate, and Tarragon Parfait »Matt Taylor-Gross

Sage and Coconut Caramel Sticky Buns

Sage and Coconut Caramel Sticky Bun
Jonathan Brooks of Milktooth bakes these extreme pecan sticky buns atop a caramel sauce made with coconut milk, ale, coffee, and barley malt syrup—the bitterness of the sauce balances the sweet buns. Get the recipe for Sage and Coconut Caramel Sticky Buns »Marcus Nilsson

Swedish Visiting Cake Bars

swedish visiting cake bars
This recipe, originally for a cake (not bars), was given to me by a Swedish friend who prized it for its flavor, and the fact that it could be made in minutes. I enjoyed it for years before discovering the pleasures of using the recipe to make bar cookies. The crisp, beautiful almond topping was a late and welcome addition as well. Adapted from Dorie's Cookies. Get the recipe for Swedish Visiting Cake Bars »Christina Holmes

Lemon Meringue Tarts

Lemon Meringue Tarts
"The single best gauge of a bakery's quality is its lemon tart," says tart expert Maury Rubin. "There's a dance to balancing the sweet and tart flavors appropriately, and in a good bakery the filling will never taste buttery or eggy—it will taste like lemon." This recipe, adapted from Rubin's Book of Tarts and infused with lemon zest for extra citrusy flavor, is the ideal. Alternatively, lemon juice and zest can be swapped out for equal parts lime. Get the recipe for Lemon Meringue Tarts »Ryan Liebe

Apple and Cranberry Upside-Down Cakes

Apple and Cranberry Upside-Down Cakes
This recipe, from Fore Street restaurant in Portland, Maine, calls for using six 4" steel blini pans. But you can make a single cake in an 8" cast-iron skillet, if you prefer. If fresh or frozen cranberries aren't available, use reconstituted dried berries. Get the recipe for Apple and Cranberry Upside-Down Cakes »Khushbu Shah

Cherry-Frangelico Mincemeat Pie

Cherry-Frangelico Mincemeat
Fresh and dried fruits steep in hazelnut liqueur for three days to make the filling for this holiday pie. Suet, a traditional mincemeat ingredient, adds moisture and richness, but vegetable shortening works just as well.Andrew Ingalls

Pear and Ginger Pie with Streusel Topping

Pear and Ginger Pie
Fresh ginger gives the filling of this pear pie a warming kick of spice, balanced by the buttery crumble of sweet streusel.Ariana Lindquist

Butter Saffron Cake

Butter Saffron Cake
Steeping the saffron in vodka helps boost the flavor of the spice throughout the cake.Todd Coleman

Vanilla-Rum Custard (La Tarte)

Vanilla-Rum Custard (La Tart)
The creaminess of this classic vanilla custard gains an edge with the addition of light rum.Penny De Los Santos

Brown Butter Walnut Pie with Sour Whipped Cream

Brown Butter Walnut Pie with Sour Whipped Cream
Browned butter accentuates the flavor of earthy walnuts and a sour cream topping offsets the richness of the filling for a balanced, delectable dessert.Andrew Ingalls

Corsican Lemon Mousse

Corsican Lemon Mousse
This rich, silky mousse brightened with tangy lemons makes an elegant end to a meal.Todd Coleman

White Chocolate Bread Pudding with Bananas and Rum Sauce

White Chocolate Bread Pudding with Bananas and Rum Sauce
This decadent take on an iconic dessert, from Mat & Naddie's Restaurant in New Orleans, Louisiana, gilds the lily, pan-frying white chocolate-enriched bread pudding, and plating it with satiny caramel and sweet bananas.Todd Coleman

Bratapfel mit Walnusseis (Baked Walnut-Stuffed Apples with White Wine)

Baked Walnut-Stuffed Apples with White Wine
Apples are roasted in wine and butter for this sweet and spicy dessert, a staple of holiday markets throughout Germany.Todd Coleman

Baked Alaska

Baked Alaska
Baked Alaska first made its way into print in Fannie Farmer's 1896_ Boston Cooking-School Cook Book,_ but the idea of baking ice cream inside cake and meringue had been around for much of the century. The way was paved in the early 1800s by that genius of thermodynamics Benjamin Thompson, with his work on the resistance of egg whites to heat.Todd Coleman

White Chocolate-Cardamom Panna Cotta

White Chocolate-Cardamom Panna Cotta
Sweetened with white chocolate only, this rich, Middle Eastern-inspired panna cotta gets its distinctive floral aroma from an infusion of blistered cardamom.Todd Coleman

Buche de Noel (Yule Log Cake with Coffee Buttercream and Ganache)

Yule Log Cake
This version of the traditional French Christmas cake is filled with coffee buttercream and covered in chocolate ganache. See the recipe for Buche de Noel »Todd Coleman

Chocolate Mousse

Chocolate Mousse
This simple yet sophisticated, airy yet intense concoction has been a hit with home cooks in America at least since the New York Times published its first recipe for the dessert in 1955.Todd Coleman

White Chocolate Christmas Tree

White Chocolate Christmas Tree
This delicious and decorative holiday confection demonstrates the key to cooking with white chocolate: adding in a touch of water helps it keep its shape after cooling. See the recipe for White Chocolate Christmas Tree »Todd Coleman

Decadent Trifle

Decadent Trifle
The trifle is a very old concoction—by some accounts, more than 300 years old—but twentieth century variations have turned it into a classic, occasion-ready centerpiece. Drenched in sherry and kirsch, our version features layer upon layer of ginger cake, custard, berries, chocolate, and cream.Todd Coleman

Rum Bundt Cake

Rum Bundt Cake
A supremely moist, boozy Southern bundt cake fitting for any holiday spread.Helen Rosner

Macerated Fruit Conserve (Rumtopf)

Macerated Fruit Conserve (Rumtopf)
This sweet-tart conserve is a luscious accompaniment to ice cream. It also adds a fruity dimension when stirred into champagne.Todd Coleman

White Chocolate-Cream Cheese Mousse

White Chocolate-Cream Cheese Mousse
In this updated take on a classic French dessert, cream cheese adds stability and a pleasing tang, which balances the sweet white chocolate without overpowering it.Todd Coleman

Apricot Tarts with Pistachios

Apricot Tarts with Pistachios
Lightly sweetened apricots are baked quickly in a simple short-bread crust for these rustic tarts, which are garnished with vibrant green pistachios and fleur de sel. Other stone fruits, like plums and peaches, will work just as well.Penny De Los Santos

Roasted Sugar-Glazed Pears

Roasted Sugar-Glazed Pears
Roasted pears stuffed with almonds, currants, and raisins make a simple yet elegant dessert.Beth Rooney

Krisciki (Polish Bow Tie Fritters)

Polish Bow Tie Fritters
Also referred to as angel wings, these sugar-dusted fritters are both crunchy and pillowy. See the recipe for Krisciki »Todd Coleman

Torta di Sant'Antonio (Sant'Antonio Apple Tart)

Apple Tart
Cooks in the Italian Alpine village of Oulx flavor this tart with red wine and cinnamon to honor the town's patron saint, Sant'Antonio. Get the recipe for Torta di Sant'Antonio (Sant'Antonio Apple Tart) »Todd Coleman

Nutmeg Ice Cream

Nutmeg Ice Cream
Serve this spiced ice cream on its own or scooped on top of warm fruit crisps, cobblers, or pies, particularly apple.Todd Coleman

Nutmeg Custard Tarts

Nutmeg Custard Tarts
Creamy and spicy, these classic English custard tarts boast all the hallmarks of our favorite eggnogs.Todd Coleman

Nutmeg Cake

Nutmeg Cake
While nutmeg adds a subtle note to many desserts, it claims center stage in this traditional spiced Armenian cake. See the recipe for Nutmeg Cake »Todd Coleman

Sticky Toffee Pudding with Dates

Sticky Toffee Pudding with Dates
Although certainly sweet, the cake becomes less so thanks to the fruit, some heavy cream, and a hint each of ground cinnamon and nutmeg. While not necessarily traditional in this pudding, coffee extract available online adds some delicious roasty flavors. If desired, you can rewarm the pudding in a low oven before topping and serving. It's just as good for breakfast as it is for dessert. Get the recipe for Sticky Toffee Pudding with Dates »Matt Taylor-Gross