Modern Classic Holiday Desserts
Bittersweet Chocolate-Truffle Tart with Candied Oranges
Bittersweet chocolate and orange make a heavenly combination in this decadent and divine tart.
Sacher torte is a classic Austrian chocolate cake layered with apricot preserves. Lidia Bastianich’s version uses the preserves three ways: for moistening the cake layers, as a thick filling between the layers and as a glaze to seal the cake before covering it in chocolate. The cake is moist and luscious on its own, but it’s also delicious served the traditional way, with unsweetened whipped cream.
Whipped Vanilla Ganache Toasts with Pear and Pomegranate
Whipping a rich and delicious white chocolate ganache makes it light and fluffy. Spread on pain de mie bread toasts, it becomes a delicious dessert.
Cream Puffs with Chocolate Sauce
At Christmas, pastry chef Elizabeth Katz likes to create a tower of fluffy, chocolate-covered cream puffs. The dessert harkens back to her time as 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.
Sticky Toffee Pudding
On a trip to London, pastry chef David Guas noticed sticky toffee pudding on the menu at dozens of restaurants. Inspired, he created his own irresistible version, which has been a best-seller ever since. Guas likes to balance the buttery pudding with brandy-milk-punch ice cream, but a shot of brandy or Frangelico is lovely on a cold night as well.
Vanilla Semifreddo and Orange Sorbet Terrine
Reminiscent of a Creamsicle, this creamy, tangy terrine can be made with a shortcut: store-bought orange sorbet.
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.
Mini Cheesecakes with Wine Gelées
Pastry chef Kate Zuckerman thinks most cheesecakes are too heavy and sweet. Her recipe uses goat cheese to lighten the texture and tangy crème fraîche to cut the sweetness. Here, she tops mini cheescakes with wine gelées—a new kind of wine-and-cheese-pairing.
Chocolate-Caramel Hazelnut Tart
For a modern take on pecan pie, pastry chef Dimitri Fayard spreads layers of soft caramel and creamy chocolate ganache in a sweet pastry shell, then sprinkles chopped hazelnuts over the top.
Seven-Layer Dobos Torte
“Being a good Hungarian Szegedi—my family’s real last name, which my grandfather changed when he came to America—our dessert menu wouldn’t be complete without Eastern European love,” says Jonathon Sawyer. When this version of the chocolate buttercream layer cake, by pastry chef Matt Danko, went on the Greenhouse Tavern menu, Sawyer says the old ladies of Cleveland rejoiced. “Even my grandmother loves it,” he says.
Pierre Hermé takes the traditional chunky sablé and makes it into a very thin, crisp cookie to emphasize its buttery flavor.
Lemon Curd Tart with Pecan-Citrus Sauce
In this clever variation of Key lime pie, Michael Mina replaces the usual lime curd with lemon and the typical graham cracker crust with a cinnamon-pecan cookie crust.
Chocolate-Raspberry Swiss Roll
Maria Helm Sinskey created this delicious cake as an homage to the classic European princess cake; her simpler version substitutes whipped cream for pastry cream and a luscious chocolate glaze for marzipan.
Pumpkin Cheesecake Tart with Cranberry Gelée
This updated cheesecake incorporates two classic fall flavors: pumpkin and cranberries.
Chocolate-Malt Stump de Noël
Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito worked together to create this stupendous holiday dessert, a twist on the classic, elegant French bûche de Noël (so called because it looks like a log, or bûche). To make their version, the Baked duo roll up frosted cake strips to form an enormous round, then set the dessert on its side to look like a huge tree stump.
Ginger Puddings with Bittersweet Chocolate Sauce and Ginger
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.
Hazelnut-and-Chocolate Meringue Cake
This extraordinary dessert, made with crisp chocolate-hazelnut meringue and whipped cream, is simple to make. But pastry chef Daniel Jasso has nicknamed it “the beast,” because slicing it can be tricky—the meringue tends to crumble. The solution: Freeze the cake, cut it with a serrated knife and let it return to room temperature before serving.
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.
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).
Buttery Vanilla Shortbread
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.
Apple Crisp with Sweet Ginger and Macadamia Nuts
To make chopping macadamia nuts easy, Greg Patent suggests, put them in a resealable plastic bag and breaking them up with a rolling pin.