13 Warming Winter-Spiced Desserts for the Holidays

Dessert recipes that celebrate cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, ginger, allspice, and more

While “baking” spices—including cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, allspice, ground ginger, star anise, and cardamom—are used all over the world in any number of sweet and savory dishes, as the year draws to a close, we can’t help but want to bake them into tantalizing cakes, pies, and cookies. But what is it about them that makes any kitchen feel instantly warm and cozy?

It wasn't until the middle ages that Europeans had access to spices like cinnamon, clove, nutmeg, and even pepper—all products of the spice trade with Asia. While mostly grown in tropical regions, in medieval Europe, it became advisable to consume these sorts of heady, pungent spices during freezing winter months to keep constitutions warm and healthy. A physician in the 13th century suggested that these spices would aid digestion, and provide balance to the body's "four humors" during brutal winters. We still think of them as "warming" to this day.

No matter how you use them, though, there’s no beating the smell of a decadent spice cake wafting from the oven on a cold winter’s day. Here are 13 recipes to keep the spice coming all winter long.

Honey and Spice Cookies
Honey and Spice Cookies
Loaded with warm spices—allspice, ginger, cloves, and cinnamon—sweetened with honey, and packed with hazelnuts, these are the only holiday cookies you'll need. Get the recipe for Honey and Spice Cookies »Anders Schonnemann
Gingerbread Cookies
gingerbread cookie recipe, gingerbread man recipe
These classic holiday cookies are rich with molasses and spices and nutty from the addition of whole wheat flour. Get the recipe for Gingerbread Cookies »Helen Rosner
Molasses Pie
molasses pie
Shoofly pie—a molasses-filled, crumb-topped concoction from Pennsylvania Dutch country—was supposedly given its name because its shiny, sweet, and aromatic filling attracted flies that needed to be politely asked to leave. The pie, which is sprinkled with buttery crumbs that sink into the molasses and give it a cakelike consistency when baked, is classically served one of two ways: "wet bottom" (cakelike up top and still fudgy below) or "dry bottom" (cakelike throughout). To us, it was a no-brainer to stop baking when the bottommost layer remained gooey and custard-like. Get the recipe for Molasses Pie »Matt Taylor-Gross
German Spice Cookies (Pfeffernüsse)
German Spice Cookies (Pfeffernüsse)
These fragrant treats provide a delightful rush of warm spices when bitten into. For best results, start with whole spices and grind them yourself. Get the recipe for German Spice Cookies (Pfeffernüsse) »Helen Rosner
Cinnamon Sugar Cookies
Cinnamon Sugar Cookies
This perfect combination of snickerdoodle and sugar cookie is warmly spiced—just the thing to have with a cup of tea, by a roaring fire. Get the recipe for Cinnamon Sugar Cookies »Anders Schonnemann
Anise Seed Cookies (Bizcochitos)
Anise Seed Cookies (Bizcochitos)
These cookies are delicate and crumbly with a light dusting of spicy, sweet cinnamon sugar. It's worth seeking out fresh lard, often carried by butcher shops; it's more flavorful than the supermarket variety. Get the recipe for Anise Seed Cookies (Bizcochitos) »SAVEUR
New England Cinnamon Sugar-Cider Donuts
New England Cinnamon Sugar-Cider Donuts
A simple glaze of boiled-down apple cider, butter, and confectioners' sugar makes for a great donut dip. Get the recipe for New England Cinnamon Sugar-Cider Donuts »Todd Coleman
Lafayette Gingerbread Cake
Lafayette gingerbread cake
According to tradition, this gingerbread cake was made in the 1780s by George Washington's mother for General Lafayette. Get the recipe for Lafayette Gingerbread Cake »Ingalls Photography
Lebkuchen (German Fruit and Spice Cookies)
Lebkuchen (German Fruit and Spice Cookies
This rendition of the deeply-spiced German Christmas cookie gets its soft, chewy texture from the addition of honey. Get the recipe for Lebkuchen (German Fruit and Spice Cookies) »Helen Rosner
Pumpkin Cheesecake Tart with Gingersnap Crust
Pumpkin Cheesecake Tart with Gingersnap Crust
Creamy pumpkin filling over a ginger cookie crust provides a comforting balance of sweetness and spice. Get the recipe for Pumpkin Cheesecake Tart with Gingersnap Crust »Helen Rosner
Swedish Cinnamon-and-Cardamom Bread
Swedish Cinnamon-and-Cardamom Bread
Fika means "to drink coffee" in Swedish. But it's more than just that. It's a moment to take a break, chat with friends, and enjoy a pastry—a tradition worth emulating. And one that's charmingly detailed in Anna Brones and Johanna Kindvall's upcoming book Fika: The Art of the Swedish Coffee Break (Ten Speed Press, April 2015). Get a fikasugen (a fika craving) for proper Swedish coffee snacks like this cinnamon-cardamom bread. The yeasty cardamom-spiced dough is cut into a decorative pattern before baking. Get the recipe for Swedish Cinnamon-and-Cardamom Bread »Romulo Yanes
Nutmeg Doughnuts
Nutmeg Doughnuts
Buttermilk gives these old-fashioned cake doughnuts their tangy appeal; a dusting of sugar and freshly grated nutmeg adds a spicy crunch. Get the recipe for Nutmeg Doughnuts »Todd Coleman
Spiced Carrot Layer Cake
Spiced Carrot Layer Cake
Orange juice and zest, cinnamon, and ginger add verve and depth to this sumptuous cake. Get the recipe for Spiced Carrot Layer Cake »Todd Coleman