Make-Ahead Desserts

Ricotta Ice Cream with Honey and Almonds

From frozen crème caramel to hazelnut-brown-butter brownies, these decadent desserts can all be made ahead of time.

01 of 35

Billionaire's Shortbread

Billionaire's Shortbread

To add her spin to the popular British confection known as Millionaire's Shortbread, pastry chef Jennifer Yee sprinkles the chocolate with flaky sea salt, and then encourages bakers to add other toppings, like crushed pretzels, candied ginger and toasted nuts.

02 of 35

Rice Pudding with Butternut Squash and Sweet Milk Tea

Rice Pudding with Butternut Squash and Sweet Milk Tea
© Fredrika Stjärne

Inspired by the not-too-sweet rice puddings of India, Hugh Acheson keeps the sugar to a minimum in this version made with rice grits (broken grains of rice). In a nod to the South's favorite drink, he tops the pudding with sweetened milk that's been flavored with tea and spices. The most unexpected ingredient: butternut squash. "I think it can work really well in dessert," he says.

03 of 35

Frozen Crème Caramel

Frozen Creme Caramel
© Christina Holmes

To make her crème caramel more refreshing, chef Amanda Hallowell serves it partially frozen, like a semifreddo.

04 of 35

Milk-Chocolate-Frosted Layer Cake

Milk Chocolate Frosted Layer Cake

This cake from pastry chef Karina Gowing is perfection for anyone who loves frosting. The ultracreamy icing, which is almost like a milk-chocolate ganache, gets spread liberally over layers of light, delicate, cocoa-flavored cake.

05 of 35

Butterscotch-Glazed Coffee Shortbread Bars

Butterscotch-Glazed Coffee Shortbread Bars

Flo Braker flavors her ethereally light shortbread with finely ground espresso beans. The best part is the golden, gooey butterscotch glaze, which becomes deliciously fudgy as the bars sit in the cookie jar.

06 of 35

Coconut Cake

Coconut Cake
Food & Wine

Coconut cake, a dainty dessert, was in vogue in the 1920s for ladies' gatherings. Traditionally made with marshmallow frosting, the cake was famously served to President Truman during a trip to Florida in the 1950s.

07 of 35

Deep Dark Chocolate Coconut Cake

Deep Dark Chocolate Coconut Cake

Feeling blue? Have a slice of this cake. The chocolate and yogurt it's made with can supposedly boost levels of the feel-good brain chemical tyrosine.

08 of 35

Double-Ginger Sugar Cookies

201204-HD-double-ginger-sugar-cookies.jpg

Grace Parisi opts for baking soda instead of baking powder to create delectable holiday sugar cookies that are especially crispy.

09 of 35

Apple Crisp with Granola Topping

Apple Crisp with Granola Topping
© Pernille Pedersen

This easy apple recipe can be stored overnight at room temperature and reheated before serving.

10 of 35

Creamy Caramel Pudding

Creamy Caramel Pudding
© John Kernick

This decadent-seeming pudding is low in fat and a good source of calcium.

11 of 35

Butter Cookies with Clove Sugar

HD-201205-r-butter-cookies-and-clove-sugar.jpg

Chef Semsa Denizsel’s crumbly cookies are lightly flavored with the ground cloves she mixes into the confectioners’ sugar coating. Clarified butter in the cookies makes them extracrisp.

12 of 35

Apple Cider Cream Pie

Apple Cider Cream Pie
© Dana Gallagher

This is a delicious marriage of two classics: apple pie and cream pie. After cooking down tart apple cider, it's made into a custard and baked into a crispy pie shell. The pie gets a topping of lightly sweetened whipped cream.

13 of 35

Nana Betty's Chocolate-Pecan Cookies

Nana Betty's Chocolate-Pecan Cookies

Melissa Rubel's grandmother's flourless cookies are crisp around the edges and chewy on the inside.

14 of 35

Ginger Sandwich Cookies

Ginger Sandwich Cookies

Nick Malgieri adds a puckery note to his gingersnap cookies by sandwiching them with a fresh lemon cream.

15 of 35

Fried Semolina Dumplings with Apricots and Apricot Preserves

Fried Semolina Dumplings with Apricots and Apricot Preserves

These griesschnitte (fried semolina dumplings) are moist and not too sweet, a perfect end to a meal. This recipe, from chef Roman Albrecht, is made with margarine and soy milk.

16 of 35

Dark Chocolate Bark with Roasted Almonds and Seeds

Dark-Chocolate Bark with Roasted Almonds and Seeds. Photo © John Kernick
© John Kernick

"I'm more addicted to chocolate than I am to sugar," says chocolatier Jacques Torres. A small piece of this super-chunky dark-chocolate bark staves off his intense cravings.

17 of 35

Maple-Apple Upside-Down Cake

Maple-Apple Upside-Down Cake
© Con Poulos

This is one of the best upside-down cakes ever—the maple syrup infuses both the apples and the cake, making the dessert taste like a stack of apple pancakes.

18 of 35

Cranberry Panna Cotta

Cranberry Panna Cotta

This elegant, low-fat panna cotta requires only five ingredients: cranberries, sugar, gelatin, water and buttermilk (instead of the usual cream).

19 of 35

Anise Tuiles

Anise Tuiles

Pastry chef Dahlia Narvaez pairs the delicate anise-scented tuiles with her lush honey-sweetened mascarpone.

20 of 35

Hazelnut-Brown-Butter Brownies

Hazelnut-Brown-Butter Brownies

"In Japan I got into all different flours, like roasted soy flour," says Stella Parks. "Then I thought, Why not use nut flour to make gluten-free brownies."

21 of 35

Dried Cranberry and Chocolate Cookies

Dried Cranberry and Chocolate Cookies
Recipes and images excerpted with permission from

Adding cranberries and rolled oats to buttery chocolate chip cookie dough makes the cookies crunchier and more substantial.

22 of 35

Double-Chocolate Pudding

Double-Chocolate Pudding.
© Tina Rupp

This recipe from the late, great cookbook author Richard Sax has everything one could ask for in a chocolate pudding—an intense flavor and a silky texture that’s still firm enough to stand a spoon in. For the best possible pudding, use top-quality cocoa powder and chocolate.

23 of 35

Take 5 Carrot Cupcakes

Carrot Cupcakes
© QUENTIN BACON

Chef Bryan Vietmeier suggests freezing the cupcakes before frosting to firm them up, preventing crumbs.

24 of 35

Black-Bottom Banana Cream Pie

Black-Bottom Banana Cream Pie
© Dana Gallagher

This silky pie is made by layering chocolate custard, fresh bananas and vanilla custard into a buttery pie crust.

25 of 35

Torrone Semifreddo

Torrone Semifreddo

Torrone is an Italian nougat made with honey, egg whites, sugar and nuts. It can be soft and chewy or hard and crunchy. The recipe here calls for folding crunchy store-bought nougat into whipped cream and honey, then freezing the mixture. What emerges is an utterly delicious, wonderfully simple ice cream–like dessert.

26 of 35

Mango-Basil Vacherin

Mango-Basil Vacherin. Photo © Kate Mathis
© Kate Mathis

Yigit Pura perfected this crisp-creamy French dessert while working at restaurant Daniel in New York City. His updated version combines little lime meringue kisses with basil ice cream and sweet mango sorbet.

27 of 35

Bacon-Bourbon Brownies with Pecans

Bacon-Bourbon Brownies with Pecans

Kat Kinsman tops her rich brownies with bacon and pecans. To enhance the smoky flavor, she mixes some of the bacon fat into the batter.

28 of 35

Petits Pots à l’Absinthe

Petits Pots à l’Absinthe

Absinthe adds a subtle anise flavor to these puddings, which are delicious with berries.

29 of 35

Tres Leches Cake with Strawberries

Tres Leches Cake with Strawberries
Quentin Bacon

Many versions of this dessert, made by soaking sponge cake in condensed milk, evaporated milk and cream, are too sweet and wet. This one from chef Soledad Correa is perfect, with just a hint of cinnamon.

30 of 35

Hibiscus-Berry Gelatins

Hibiscus-Berry Gelatins. Photo © Con Poulos
© Con Poulos

A lovely way to serve raspberries, blackberries and blueberries: suspended in a hibiscus gelatin.

31 of 35

Free-Form Blueberry Tart

Free-Form Blueberry Tart

Jeremy Sewall adds a little candied ginger to the tart's crust for a hint of spice; feel free to add more or omit it altogether.

32 of 35

Rhubarb-Cheese Strudel with Vanilla Sauce

Rhubarb-Cheese Strudel with Vanilla Sauce

Strudel is a classic Austrian pastry made by wrapping layers of paper-thin dough around a variety of fillings. This simplified version, made with store-bought phyllo dough, features a cheesecake-like mixture and tangy rhubarb compote. A crème anglaise served alongside makes it extra-decadent.

33 of 35

Ice Cream Bonbons

Ice Cream Bonbons. Photo © Tina Rupp
© Tina Rupp

These ice cream bonbons have a silky chocolate shell and flaky sea salt on top.

34 of 35

Ginger and Pear Upside-Down Cake

Ginger and Pear Upside-Down Cake

This beautiful upside-down cake can be refrigerated for up to two days after baking.

35 of 35

Ricotta Ice Cream with Honey and Almonds

Ricotta Ice Cream with Honey and Almonds

For an unusual but exceptionally easy dessert, soften a pint of vanilla ice cream, mix it with ricotta and honey, and then refreeze it. You'll want to use a premium brand of ice cream, since the quality of each ingredient is very apparent in this simple dessert.

Was this page helpful?
Related Articles