Easy Christmas Desserts
Salted Fudge Brownies
Restaurant Editor Kate Krader has been making these fudgy, sweet-salty brownies since she was 10 years old. As a kid she used regular table salt; now she recommends a flaky sea salt like Maldon, because the flavor is less harsh and it melts so nicely into the batter, accentuating the chocolaty sweetness. Serve these warm with a scoop of peppermint ice cream for a sophisticated, festive twist.
These hazelnut cookies are filled with a blend of chocolate and Nutella, a hazelnut-chocolate spread.
Port-Mulled Cherries with Ricotta
"I top fresh ricotta with cherries that I've picked in the spring and frozen. The cherries absorb the natural sweetness of the port," explains pastry chef Gale Gand about one of her favorite three-ingredient desserts.
Poached Pears with Prunes
Paula Wolfert adapted this lightly spiced, unusual fruit dessert from one created by chef Fatima Mountassamin.
As if the chocolate-hazelnut spread gianduja isn’t delicious enough straight off the spoon, Grace Parisi has folded in whipped cream and crème fraîche to create a truly decadent (and ridiculously easy) mousse. For a supereasy ice cream sandwich, spoon the mousse between chocolate wafers and freeze overnight.
Cranberry Panna Cotta
This elegant, low-fat panna cotta requires only five ingredients: cranberries, sugar, gelatin, water and buttermilk (instead of the usual cream).
Gingerbread Cookies with Royal Icing
"These cookies are totally a kid thing," says chef Michael Mina. "When my son Sammy was two, he used to suck on them. Now that he’s eight, he helps me decorate them. He’s always in the kitchen with me."
Baked Apples with Currants and Sauternes
Antioxidant-rich apples are one of chef Clark Frasier's staples for healthy winter desserts. "My father had a problem with high cholesterol, so my mother always baked apples for dessert," he says. Here, he doesn't need to add any fat—just a sweet splash of Sauternes infused with thyme—to enrich the dish.
Cocoa Tuiles with Nuts
Baking guru Alice Medrich adds a secret ingredient to the dough for her crisp chocolate tuiles: Parmesan cheese. It enhances the flavor of the chocolate without making the cookies taste weirdly cheesy.
Maple, Pear and Ricotta Parfaits
The ricotta in these parfaits is full of calcium, and the pears are loaded with fiber. To add flavor, Marisa May poaches the pears in water infused with maple syrup and lemon juice. The poached pears can also be served separately with granola or yogurt.
Lemon Bundt Cake
When Matt Lewis became a baker, he started a quest to re-create the lemon Bundt cakes of his youth. After “a million different versions,” he says, he achieved lemon-cake bliss, using the zest of 10 lemons and a little lemon extract to get the flavor just right. The cake has a moist crumb (thanks to a lemony syrup brushed over the top) and a crackling, sugary glaze.
Christmas Boiled Fruit Cake
This easy and forgiving recipe is inspired by a boiled fruit cake Andrew Zimmern tasted when visiting Newfoundland. By boiling the dried fruit with rum, molasses, cream and spices the cake turns out deliciously spongy and moist.
Cherry-and-Chocolate Bûche de Noël
Every year during Christmas week, executive pastry chef Dominique Ansel of Daniel in New York City serves guests complimentary mini bûches de Noël. His version here is lighter than many, thanks to the beaten egg whites in the batter and the use of whipped cream in place of buttercream as frosting.
Oranges with Rosemary-Infused Honey
These marvelous Christmas cookies combine chocolate with spicy gingerbread. "I was tired of basic gingerbread," says Matt Lewis. "And my connection to chocolate is really deep." An added benefit of these cookies: The supple dough is very easy to work with, and the scraps can be rerolled and cut out.
Cream Puffs with Chocolate Sauce
At Christmas, Elizabeth Katz of B.R. Guest Restaurants likes to create a tower of fluffy, chocolate-covered cream puffs. The dessert harkens back to her time as a pastry chef in the French kitchen at New York City's Daniel, where a croquembouche (a pyramid of custard-filled profiteroles draped in caramel and wrapped in spun sugar) was de rigueur at holiday dinners.
Chocolate-Caramel Hazelnut Tart
If the French celebrated Thanksgiving, they'd probably serve this caramelized hazelnut tart for dessert instead of pecan pie. At Vanille Patisserie in Chicago, Dimitri Fayard spreads layers of soft caramel and creamy chocolate ganache in a sweet pastry shell, then sprinkles chopped hazelnuts over the top.
Pierre Herme takes the traditional chunky sable and makes it into a very thin, crisp cookie to emphasize its buttery flavor.
These rich peppermint brownies topped with crushed candy canes are from London's cult-favorite bakery Violet. If you can't find candy canes, use striped peppermint candies.
Buttery Vanilla Shortbread
Dulce de Leche Crispies
For a grown-up twist on the classic Rice Krispies Treats, Marcia Kiesel ingeniously swaps out marshmallows for the Latin American dessert sauce dulce de leche, then adds even more crunch with toasted, sliced almonds. This dessert is caramelly, nutty and amazingly crispy. For desserts, go with a lighter wine (see our 7 Rules for Perfect Pairing).
Cranberry Apple Raisin Crisp
We like to serve this homey dessert warm with vanilla ice cream. If you prefer it straight, reduce the amount of ground cloves to one-eighth teaspoon, or the flavor may be overwhelming. Be sure your baking dish is at least two inches deep so the sweet juices don't bubble over the edge and burn onto your oven floor. If the crisp comes to the top of the dish, put a baking sheet under it.
At her new Chicago restaurant, Monteverde, chef Sarah Grueneberg uses egg yolks in her exceptional pasta, then transforms the whites into these delicious classic Southern cookies that are barely baked, then left in the oven overnight to develop their wonderful crispy-chewy texture.
Salted Caramel Pie
Ginger Puddings with Bittersweet Chocolate Sauce and Ginger Caramel Crunch
In England, cooks steam their Christmas puddings. But Nick Malgieri, the director of pastry and baking at the Institute of Culinary Education in New York City, bakes his buttery ginger puddings instead, then caps them with warm bittersweet-chocolate sauce and delicious ginger-caramel crunch.