20 Easy Holiday Dessert Recipes

Whether you’re an experienced baker who makes from-scratch croissants for fun or a beginner who rarely turns on the oven, sometimes you want something delicious and festive that you can throw together in a snap. These simple holiday recipes are just that, and most of them take less prep time than it takes to watch “The Grinch.” (The 25-minute 1966 original, of course.)

1. Chocolate Cake With Peppermint Frosting

Credit…Mark Weinberg for The New York Times. Food Stylist: Yossy Arefi.

Everyone talks about leaving cookies for Santa, but what he really wants is cake. This one-bowl delight from Yossy Arefi is everything you want in a holiday dessert: tender, chocolaty cake topped with swoops of peppermint frosting and chocolate curls.

Recipe: Chocolate Cake With Peppermint Frosting

2. Saltine Cracker Brickle

Credit…Julia Gartland for The New York Times. Food Stylist: Michelle Gatton.

Technically, this is not a baking recipe, but it’s so incredibly good, who cares? This salty-sweet treat, which came to The Times from Kelly Mahoney, a reader in Boulder, Colo., calls for just saltine crackers, sugar, butter, vanilla and chocolate. Some readers like to sprinkle the melted chocolate with crushed candy canes, flaky sea salt or chopped nuts. You can make it with salted matzo in place of the saltines, too.

Recipe: Saltine Cracker Brickle

3. Sugar Cookies

Credit…Con Poulos for The New York Times. Food Stylist: Susan Spungen. Prop Stylist: Paige Hicks.

Is it even the holidays if you don’t spend an afternoon decorating sugar cookies with loved ones? Susan Spungen’s recipe is not too hard, not too soft and just right. (Goldilocks would be proud.) Leave them plain, or decorate with a simple glaze, royal icing or classic buttercream.

Recipe: Sugar Cookies

4. Scotcheroos

Credit…Sang An for The New York Times. Food Stylist: Simon Andrews. Prop Stylist: Paige Hicks.

Samantha Seneveritne has updated this classic — originally printed on Rice Krispies boxes in the 1960s — with a spray of flaky salt and crushed peanuts. Think of them as Rice Krispies treats without the marshmallows, but with lots of peanut butter, chocolate and butterscotch chips.

Recipe: Scotcheroos

5. Gingerbread Latte Cookies

Credit…Bobbi Lin for The New York Times

As evidenced by his cookie recipes, Vaughn Vreeland loves a cozy holiday beverage. Last year, he brought us peppermint chocolate cookies (inspired by peppermint hot chocolate), and the year before that, eggnog snickerdoodles. This year, he thrilled us with gingerbread latte cookies that one reader called “the best cookie EVER.”

Recipe: Gingerbread Latte Cookies

6. Lemon Bundt Cake

Credit…Ryan Liebe for The New York Times. Food Stylist: Victoria Granof.

A bright counterpoint to richly spiced holiday goodies, this gorgeous lemon Bundt cake from Yossy Arefi uses the zest, juice and flesh of four lemons for an impossibly tart and tender crumb.

Recipe: Lemon Bundt Cake

7. Rose and Almond Ghriba

Credit…Linda Xiao for The New York Times. Food Stylist: Monica Pierini.

Nargisse Benkabbou, the author of “Casablanca: My Moroccan Food,” developed these one-bowl, no-mixer cookies that are like a cracked and caky rose lukum, the jelly candy often referred to as Turkish delight. If you don’t have rosewater, you can substitute vanilla extract.

Recipe: Rose and Almond Ghriba

8. Chocolate Chip Banana Bread

Credit…David Malosh for The New York Times. Food Stylist: Simon Andrews.

This banana bread from Erin Jeanne McDowell is here to use up the four overripe bananas that are languishing on your counter or in the back of your freezer. Make it chocolate-chocolate chip banana bread by substituting some cocoa powder for the flour. (See the Tip in the recipe for measurements.) Oh, and thankfully, it requires no mixer.

Recipe: Chocolate Chip Banana Bread

9. Easy Chocolate Fudge

Credit…Jim Wilson/The New York Times

This absurdly easy fudge recipe, which was adapted from Michael Chu, an engineer and food blogger, requires just three ingredients: butter, chocolate and sweetened condensed milk. Salt and chopped nuts are optional. Some readers like to add a teaspoon of vanilla extract.

Recipe: Easy Chocolate Fudge

10. Pan-Baked Lemon Almond Tart

Credit…Craig Lee for The New York Times

This flourless, crustless lemon tart from Mark Bittman is prepared almost entirely on the stovetop, then slid under the broiler to crisp up before serving. Substitute the lemon with a clementine or an orange if you like.

Recipe: Pan-Baked Lemon Almond Tart

11. Sugared Shortbread

Credit…Craig Lee for The New York Times

This shortbread, which came to The Times from Amy Casey, a reader in Sparta, N.J., is so easy it feels a little silly. Melt the butter, add the rest of the ingredients, then stir to combine. Press into a pan, top with plenty of sugar and bake. Some readers like to add a dash of cardamom or citrus zest. Good news: If you don’t have rice flour, you can use cornstarch.

Recipe: Sugared Shortbread

12. One-Bowl Chocolate-Mayonnaise Cake

Credit…Johnny Miller for The New York Times. Food Stylist: Rebecca Jurkevich.

Readers went gaga over this one-bowl Depression-era cake from Melissa Clark. For a bit more flair, try adding a handful or two of chocolate chips to the batter, or slicking the top with a simple ganache. (One very helpful reader tip: Check your mayonnaise’s ingredients before getting started; some contain dried onion powder, which would not taste great here.)

Recipe: One-Bowl Chocolate-Mayonnaise Cake

13. Shortbread Jammers

Credit…Lisa Nicklin for The New York Times

These cute little jam-topped squares, which are adapted from “The King Arthur Flour Cookie Companion,” taste like linzer cookies and are much easier to make. Use your best jam, preserves or marmalade, not jelly, which is too runny.

Recipe: Shortbread Jammers

14. Chocolate-Bourbon Truffles

Credit…Julia Gartland for The New York Times. Food Stylist: Michelle Gatton.

These chocolate truffles from David Tanis may sound fancy, but they are one of the best low-effort-maximum-result recipes there is. Make a bourbon- and vanilla-infused chocolate ganache (which is really just heavy cream and chocolate), chill, then roll into balls and coat in chopped nuts.

Recipe: Chocolate-Bourbon Truffles

15. No-Bake Chocolate Clusters

Credit…Anna Williams for The New York Times. Food Stylist: Susan Spungen.

There are so many reasons to adore Dorie Greenspan, and these no-bake cookies are just one of them. All you have to do is combine melted butter and chocolate, dried cranberries, cornflakes and coconut and arrange in little piles on a parchment-lined sheet pan, and chill. The ideal “spur-of-the-moment cookie.”

Recipe: No-Bake Chocolate Clusters

16. Sticky Cranberry Gingerbread

Credit…Andrew Scrivani for The New York Times

Everyone loves a dessert that gets better as it sits, and this delightfully sticky no-mixer gingerbread from Melissa Clark does just that. Some readers use a combination of fresh and dried cranberries, while others add chopped crystallized ginger for a bit more oomph.

Recipe: Sticky Cranberry Gingerbread

17. Coconut-Nut Macaroons

Credit…Craig Lee for The New York Times

Looking for a gluten-free, one-bowl cookie? These coconut-pistachio macaroons from Mark Bittman are here for you. And if you’re wondering, adding some chocolate chips would not be a terrible idea.

Recipe: Coconut-Nut Macaroons

18. Red Velvet Cupcakes

Millie Peartree’s red velvet cupcakes.Credit…Julia Gartland for The New York Times (Photography and Styling)

Nothing says festive and fun (and Santa?) like a bright red cupcake topped with a dollop of cream cheese frosting. Millie Peartree’s red velvet cupcakes are simple to make and rich with cocoa, but as one reader said, “The icing is really the main event.” Don’t hold back.

Recipe: Red Velvet Cupcakes

19. Gingerbread Rum Balls

Credit…Andrew Scrivani for The New York Times

Leftover pieces of gingerbread house inspired this recipe from Melissa Clark, but you can use store-bought gingersnaps instead (or the remains of that gingerbread house kit your kid never finished). Be sure to let them rest for a couple of days before serving.

Recipe: Gingerbread Rum Balls

20. Vegan Chocolate Cupcakes

Credit…Lars Klove for The New York Times

Cupcakes for everyone! These eggless, dairy-free, mixer-free cupcakes from Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero have hundreds of five-star ratings. They’re so tender and moist that most people who try them can’t believe they’re made without butter and eggs.

Recipe: Vegan Chocolate Cupcakes

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