Photography by Paige Newton.
This holiday season may look a bit different than years past, with scaled-back parties and family dinners pared down to fewer members, but that doesn’t mean we still can’t enjoy the spirit and joy of the season. One of the best ways to do so is to bring celebratory desserts to the table. We invited our editors across the country to ask chefs in their area for their favorite holiday desserts. Here they share the sweet treats that perfectly encapsulate the festive season. Whether you’re eager to try a new, indulgent dish or opt for a classic recipe, we’ve got you covered.
“I love the versatility of this recipe,” shares Kristin Collins, founder and owner of Fluff Meringues & More in Austin, Texas. “Basically these are like sundaes, but you eat the bowl and the combinations are endless!”
Yields 5-6 servings
For the meringues
- 3 eggs whites
- 230 grams super fine granulated cane sugar
- 1 tablespoon extract (vanilla, almond, or a flavor you prefer, as long as it doesn’t contain oil)
For the topping
- Whipped cream (or other filling, such as curd, custard, pudding)
- Fruit, nuts, and/or other toppings (chef’s choice)
- Chocolate, caramel, honey, or berry sauce for drizzling
Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Separate egg whites from yolks and discard yolks. Put whites in mixing bowl. Spread sugar out on parchment in a tray and heat in oven at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 8 minutes, or until sugar turns slightly brown or starts melting around the edges. Four minutes after you put the sugar in the oven, start whipping the egg whites at medium speed. After 90 seconds, increase to high speed and beat until super stiff. While the whites are whipping at high speed, pull out the warmed sugar from the oven and pull up sides of the parchment so you have a mound of sugar in the middle of the pan. You will be spooning this into the egg white whip shortly. Turn oven down to 220 degrees Fahrenheit. Leave open for a minute or two to help cool it quickly. Once the whites are stiff, start spooning in the warmed sugar while they continue to whip at high. Keep doing this until you have added all the sugar. The whip should start getting thicker and resemble marshmallow ‘batter’. Keep mixer on high until all sugar granules are melted into batter and batter is shiny (about 2-3 minutes after you have completed adding the sugar). You can test if it’s done by sticking in and pulling out your spatula. If large stiff peaks form, you are done. Remove bowl from stand and add chosen extract. Hand whip in with just a few turns around the bowl being careful not to over mix. Replace the used parchment in the pan with a fresh sheet and start forming your pavlovas. To form round shells, plop an enormous, heaping scoop of meringue on the parchment, then take the back of the spoon and brush/scoop out a divot. After you have the size/shape you want, put in middle rack in oven and bake for 1 hour and 30 minutes. Remove from the oven and carefully peel the pavlovas from the parchment paper, then place on a cooling rack for another 20 minutes. When ready to serve, place pavlova shells on serving dish, fill divot with whipped cream (or alternate filling), pile on the berries and nuts, and add your preferred drizzle. Topping suggestions: whipped cream, figs, pistachios and honey (or chocolate). Or pair pecans, coconut, and caramel together with a butterscotch pudding or whipped cream filling.
Apple Crisp with Oat Streusel and Rum Ice Cream
“With no explanation really necessary, this dessert has become a popular tradition on the holiday menu at the Aspen Mountain Club,” shares Amy Andrews, pastry chef at Aspen, Colorado’s Little Nell.
Yields 6-8 servings
For the oat crumble
- 3 cups oats
- 3 cups gluten-free flour
- 1½ cups brown sugar
- 1½ teaspoon salt
For the apple filling
- 2 quarts cut apple
- ¾ cup sugar
- ¼ cup flour
- ½ teaspoon vanilla
- 2 pinches of salt
- 1-2 cubes of butter
- .25 ounces apple cider
For the brown sugar rum ice cream
- 2 quarts cream
- 2 cups milk
- ¾ cup brown sugar
- 3 ounces Trimoline
- 1 vanilla bean, split and scraped
- 2 pinches of salt
- 350 grams egg yolks
- ¾ cup brown sugar
- ¾ cup rum
For the oat crumble
By hand combine oats, flour, sugar, and salt. Add in butter, coming to leave small chunks.
For the apple crisp
Excluding cider, toss all ingredients with hands until combined. Portion 4 ounces of apple filling in a with 1 tablespoon of juice and a cube of butter. Cover with ½ cup crumble. Bake at 350˚ until golden brown and bubbly, about 20 minutes.
For the ice cream
Bring cream, milk, brown sugar, Trimoline, vanilla bean, and salt to boil. Combine in a bowl with a whisk egg yolks and brown sugar. Temper the hot cream into the yolks. Return both to the pot and cook to the consistency of a sauce. Strain over an ice bath. Once the mixture is cool, add the rum and whisk in. Proceed with instructions on your ice cream maker.
Courtesy of Andrea’s Cooktales.
Delta Death by Chocolate Cake
When chef, cookbook author, and blogger Andrea LeTard Andrea’s Cooktales was in college, this cake recipe brought her comfort during the holidays. LeTard explains that a friend’s mom, from Clarksdale, MS, in the Delta, made this cake for her, and it’s what she remembers most about her visit to the Delta.
Yields 1 double layered cake
- Butter, for greasing
- Flour, for dusting
- 1 box Devil’s Food Cake mix, plus box ingredients
- 2 cups cold heavy cream
- ¼ cup powdered sugar
- ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
- ½ cup sweetened condensed milk
- 6 ounces Heath Bar candy crumbles
Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease and flour the bottom and sides of 2 (9-inch) cake pans. Mix cake together according to the box’s directions. Pour evenly into prepared baking pans and bake for 25 to 30 minutes or until set. Let cool. Using a handheld or stand mixer with a whisk attachment, make the whipped cream by beating together the heavy cream, powdered sugar, and vanilla until firm. When the cakes cool, run a knife around the edges, then gently turn each one over onto a plate. Using a serrated knife, cut the tops off each cake, creating a flat surface. Make several small slits all over the top of each. Spread a thin layer of sweetened condensed milk evenly over the tops, letting the milk soak into the cakes. Transfer one of the cakes to a cake stand or platter using a spatula. Spread half the whipped cream over the top then sprinkle with half the Heath Bar crumbles. Stack the other cake on top. Spread the remaining whipped cream and sprinkle the remaining crumbles. Refrigerate until ready to serve.
Apple Spice Cake
“This apple spice cake is filled with extraordinary taste and texture—and it’s easy to produce,” says Tony Ridgway of Tony’s Off Third in Naples, Florida. “The cake can serve as a dessert or be cut in small portions for a simple snack or to accompany tea or coffee.”
Yields 6-8 servings
For the cake
- 1/4 cup rum
- 1 1/2 cups raisins
- 3 ounces toasted pecans
- 14 ounces diced Fuji apples
- 1 1/4 cups vegetable oil
- 1/2 cup whole eggs, well mixed
- 20 ounces granulated sugar
- 10 ounces cake flour
- 10 ounces King Arthur All-Purpose Flour
- 2 1/8 teaspoons baking soda
- 1 1/8 teaspoons salt
- 1 1/2 teaspoons nutmeg
- 2 teaspoons ground clove
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
For the hard sauce
- 4 tablespoons cool, but not rock-hard butter
- 2 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted
- 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
- 6 tablespoons rum of your choosing
For the rum-soaked raisins
Soak the raisins in ¼ cup of rum for 6-8 hours. All the rum will be absorbed into the raisins.
For the cake
To create more flavor, toast the pecans in a 400 degrees Fahrenheit oven until lightly browned. If pecan pieces are large, chop to no more than 3/8-inch. Measure and combine: both flours, salt, baking soda, and spices. Sift the ingredients, stir to blend well, and set aside. Peel and core the apples. You will need 14 ounces of diced fruit by weight. Dice the apple to about 3/8-inch. Spray cake tins and line with paper liners and set aside. Set the oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Place the sugar, oil, and eggs in the mixing bowl. Mix on speed 2 for 30 seconds and then on speed 4 for 2 minutes. Scrape the bowl. On speed 1, add the dry ingredients in four increments. This will take about 2-3 minutes. Scrape the bowl after each addition of dry ingredients. On speed 4, mix the ingredients for 1 minute, then scrape the bowl. On speed 1, add the nuts, apples, and raisins. Mix until just fully combined, then scrape the bowl. Portion evenly among the two cake tins, using your gram scale if you wish to ensure precise portioning. With a small offset spatula, level the top surface. Place the filled cake tins in the middle of the pre-heated 325 degrees Fahrenheit oven and set the timer for 30 minutes. Check for doneness with a toothpick or a needle tester. You will look for no raw batter on the toothpick or needle tester, though the toothpick may look moist. When the cakes are perfectly cooked, remove from the oven and cool for 20 minutes in their tins. Then remove the cakes from the tins and continue to cool. If you’re serving as a dessert, instead of as a snack with tea and coffee, proceed with hard sauce.
For the hard sauce
Place the butter in the bowl of the stand mixer. Using the paddle attachment, beat the butter on speed 4 for 30 seconds. Scrape the bowl. On speed 2, slowly add the sugar; keeping the speed low to keep sugar from flying out of the bowl. When significantly combined, add the rum and the vanilla and mix on speed 4 for 2 minutes or until fully incorporated. Pour sauce over cake right before service, or serve on the side. Note: The texture of the hard sauce should be the consistency of a very thick glaze. If sauce is threatening to separate, stir in a few spoons of confectioners’ sugar to make it more stable. If you make the sauce in advance, beat well on speed 4 to bring to the proper texture for service. This recipe produces a hard sauce with quite an alcoholic kick. If it’s too strong for your preference, scale back the amount of rum. You may also choose to decorate with buttercream frosting or to your preference. If so, you will need to cool thoroughly first.
This classic holiday dessert is one of chef John Brand’s, at Hotel Emma at the Historic Pearl in San Antonio, Texas, favorite pumpkin recipes. Typically eaten during the fall and early winter, it can be made with a variety of seasonal ingredients. While usually made with a standard pie pumpkin, you can opt to use a variety of pumpkins that are locally sourced. The best part of this dessert is being able to choose your topping: he recommends toasted sesame, pumpkin, sunflower seeds, granola, or pecans.
Yields 1 loaf
- 540 grams roasted pumpkin puree
- 213 grams dark brown sugar
- 50 grams white sugar
- ½ cup sunflower oil
- 11 grams vanilla
- 3 eggs
- 7 grams pumpkin spice
- 11 grams baking powder
- 3 grams salt
- 288 grams flour
- Toasted pumpkin seeds and sesame seeds (optional)
Mix wet ingredients together in a bowl. In a separate bowl, mix dry ingredients together. Fold together both wet and dry ingredients, careful to not over mix. Season a small loaf pan with nonstick pan spray and line with parchment paper. Add batter three quarters of the way up the pan. Top with toasted pumpkin seeds and sesame seeds. Bake at 325 degrees Fahrenheit for 1 hour and 15 minutes. Check the doneness of bread with a pick inserted into the center of loaf. When it comes out clean, it’s done. Allow to cool before slicing. Enjoy it warm with a crumbly cake texture.