There’s something about the winter holidays that just makes us want to splash out in the kitchen. Whether it’s with a gorgeous prime rib roast, an elegant pasta, or one of these knockout desserts, we collectively up our game. And why not? As is true of a gift festooned with ribbons, holly, bells and bows, a superior, towering dessert really ends a meal on a spectacular note. It’s the sort of thing people talk about in the days and years to come.
Here are a few of our favorite show-stoppers, some of which are quite easy to make. All you need to do is start daydreaming, then get baking.
The finishing touch on our winter holiday menu, this Bundt cake tower looks much more difficult to pull off than it is. The cakes’ batter contains traditional mouthwatering winter spices like cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and ginger, but the kicker has got to be the caramel sauce. Brown sugar, heavy whipping cream, butter and a splash of brandy mingle to absolutely magical effect. Spooned over the still-warm cake, it’s as satisfying and as wintry as it gets.
This riff on France’s gâteau mille crêpes is as beautiful as it is delicious. Instead of the pastry cream traditionally used to adhere the crepe discs, this caramel crepe cake uses a light, sweet whipped caramel cream. (It’s as good as it sounds.) If you’ve never had a crepe cake, it’s as though someone has dreamt up the exact perfect correct ratio of frosting to tender cake for every bite.
When plotting the take-the-cake finish to your meal, remember that folks have likely indulged in heavy foods like meat, dairy and potatoes. They might not want to see a heavy chocolate concoction land with a thud in front of them. Enter this blood orange chiffon cake. Winter citrus is simply the best citrus, and blood oranges are in season this time of year. Take advantage of their natural dramatic qualities, and let them star in candied form. The cake itself is light-as-can-be, perfumed with both orange zest and orange blossom water, and the delicate frosting is a simple vanilla buttercream.
This stunning tower of meringue and chocolate is a peppermint bark pavlova, and it’s easier to make than it looks. Those who love pavlova are familiar with its melt-in-the-mouth qualities, which this dessert has in spades. Light, crisp meringue discs are layered with a sultry chocolate ganache, and the whole is topped with shards of peppermint bark. Serve the finished concoction with coffee or cocoa, and revel in all the compliments.
If you’re dreaming of a winter wonderland, let this lemon genoise cake deliver the visual illusion of snow. Lemon curd sandwiches layers of moist, tender lemon zest-spiked cake, and the whole thing is swathed in meringue frosting. Carefully touched with flame to evoke swirls and spirals, the final product is somewhere between a van Gogh painting and a wintry landscape.
Whether you call it a Yule log or bûche de Noël, its fans can agree on one thing: This dessert is gorgeous. Looking like an outtake from Snow White, and often covered in marzipan creatures, it is an iconic holiday treat. Thankfully, it’s not even as hard to bake as you’d think: Our recipe explains all the tricks of the trade in exacting detail. (Tip: A lot comes down to temperature.)
However you handle dessert this year, there’s no shame in sending these ideas to that aunt, cousin or friend who’s just pining to bring sweets this year.
Get more entertaining tips, gift ideas, and recipes at our Holiday Headquarters.