Food The Bite:

7 Holiday Dessert Recipes to Make Every Guest Swoon

Words by Sacha Strebe.

Athena Calderone
Athena Calderone

There’s a myriad of options out there, but when I’m craving something sweet, there’s one thing I always reach for… cake! And of course, there’s nothing quite like homemade. I love the soft, slightly chewy texture of a fresh one that’s still warm straight out of the oven. Pour a little citrus syrup over it for added moisture, then watch a scoop of vanilla ice cream melt on top before you devour it with a cup of tea. Now, that’s my idea of heaven! And there’s no better time to indulge in your favorite holiday dessert recipes than right now. ‘Tis the season after all. So, we compiled a list of six favorites from Athena Calderone’s Cook Beautiful cookbook including butterscotch pots, chocolate souffle, a blood orange bundt cake, and so much more! There’s something that’s sure to delight both your and your guest’s tastebuds. Happy eating! 

Johnny Miller for Cook Beautiful
Johnny Miller for Cook Beautiful

PEAR AND HAZELNUT TART

 

The very first “from scratch” dessert that I mastered was a proper French pear tart. Still a nervous cook, I was petrified at the idea of rolling out classic pastry dough, so, after much research, I found a recipe with a pressed-in crust—one that goes straight from mixing bowl to pan, where it’s smushed into shape with your fingers. Though I chose to make the tart because it was easy, I was blown away by its flavors—and by the oohs and aaahs of my dinner party guests. This recipe is an adaption of that original dessert, modernized with an almond- and hazelnut-infused crust and a lavender honey and crème fraîche filling. It’s one of the best holiday dessert recipes around. 

EARL GREY CHOCOLATE SOUFFLÉ CAKE

 

I first made this cake 10 years ago, for Jivan’s nursery school potluck dinner. The other parents lost their minds over the slightly gooey confection, which is both rich and lighter than air. It quickly became my claim to fame, and I was asked to make it again the next year. The third year, I decided to get a little fancy and bring one of those instant whipped cream makers. I was so proud of my new toy that I gathered the other parents to show them how it worked. And you can probably guess where this is going . . . I pulled the trigger and whipped cream exploded onto every guest, the ceiling, the artwork- covered walls. But, lo and behold, the other parents did request the cake again for the next potluck—it’s that good! And now I always hand-whip my cream, like an honest baker should.

Johnny Miller for Cook Beautiful
Johnny Miller for Cook Beautiful
Johnny Miller for Cook Beautiful
Johnny Miller for Cook Beautiful

BLOOD ORANGE BUNDT CAKE WITH ORANGE BITTERS GLAZE

 

How do you know you’re a truly obsessive baker? When you sip a delicious new cocktail and your first thought is, “These flavors would be even better in a cake!” That’s what happened when I discovered the explosively tasty combination of bourbon, blood orange, and bitters recently—and the result is this perfectly moist and fluffy Bundt. Developing the recipe took some trial and error: On my first attempt, I burned the cake. And then I had to experiment with the flour to fat ratio to get just the right texture. But try, try again paid off: This spiked sweet is sophisticated, indulgent, and a seriously winning winter dinner party dessert.

CITRUS-POPPY OLIVE OIL LOAF

If you’re looking for something incredibly simple but tastes anything but, then look no further than this Citrus-Poppy Olive Oil Loaf Cake. The secret to this cake is mixing the lemon zest and orange zest together in a bowl with the sugar and then massaging it with your hands. This helps to release all of those essential oils into the sugar, ensuring their bright zippy citrus-y flavors pair beautifully with the olive oil. This cake also calls for buttermilk and its tangy flavor helps to tenderize the gluten to give it a light soft texture. This is a guaranteed crowd-pleaser.

Athena Calderone
Athena Calderone
Johnny Miller for Cook Beautiful
Johnny Miller for Cook Beautiful

CARDAMOM-COGNAC APPLE CAKE

 

Without fail, as soon as the weather gets crisp, I get the urge to head upstate on an apple-picking adventure. And, also without fail, I end up with an enormous, overflowing bushel of fruit—way more than my little family could ever eat out of hand! One of my favorite ways to make use of them is this classic French apple cake. I started off making a traditional recipe years ago, but have been experimenting with it pretty much ever since. The result is a moist, bread pudding–like cake—thanks to the addition of buttermilk—that tastes deliciously decadent but not too sweet. Cognac and cardamom add a little something special, but don’t overwhelm the bright, clean apple taste.

BUTTERSCOTCH POTS DE CRÈME WITH SALTED CARAMEL TAHINI SAUCE AND TOASTED KASHA

 

I first encountered butterscotch pots de crème at Gjelina—the super-swoony restaurant in Venice, California—and then re-created them for Christmas a few years ago, adding my own twist with toasted kasha and salted caramel tahini sauce. Because oven temps and ramekins vary, you have to keep an eye on these little custards. You’ll know they’re ready when they’re thick but still wobble in the center. They’ll firm up further in the fridge. 

Johnny Miller for Cook Beautiful
Johnny Miller for Cook Beautiful
Photography by Sharon Radish
Photography by Sharon Radish

PANNA COTTA WITH WINTER CITRUS COMPOTE

 

The holidays are here–bring on the sweet treats. While Athena does revel in concocting a nearly-new holiday menu each year, some desserts are just so good, they deserve an encore. This panna cotta from our 2015 EyeSwoon winter table is definitely one of them. Each serving is like a little mountain of creamy decadence, and the medley of zippy citrus brings the brightness. The dessert is indulgent enough to befit the season, with a welcome burst of refreshing compote flavor–and an utterly swoony presentation!

If you make one of these holiday dessert recipes, be sure to share it with us on Instagram by tagging @eyeswoon — we can’t wait to see your creation. 

Share this Swoon   –  

Newsletter

Subscribe to our newsletter

Get exclusive access to recipes, promotions, videos, and original content.
We'll never share your information.