Desserts that bring the party, but not the fuss

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By Alison Roman, The New York Times

Cookies have always had a monopoly on holiday desserts, which is great if youre into cookies. But in my opinion, tiny, delicate, ornamental desserts are a touch anticlimactic at the end of a holiday meal.

For cocktail parties and giftable tins, of course, roll and bake to your hearts content. But after a giant ham, Im looking for something that shouts celebratory abundance! Something that encourages a mix of intimacy and bacchanalian behavior. Something tall and dramatic to be sliced and shared and eaten without forks or plates, a giant bowl of something rich and creamy eaten with several spoons at once. (Were all friends here, right?)

Here are four holiday desserts that capture that vibe without trying too hard. (There are no bches de Nol.) Equal parts festive and fuss-free, theyll leave you with plenty of time to focus on that ham.

Salted Chocolate Pudding With Whipped Sour Cream

Johnny Miller, The New York Times
Alison Romans unfussy salted chocolate pudding with whipped sour cream, in New York, Oct. 7, 2019. Here are some holiday desserts that are equal parts festive and fuss-free, and shout celebratory abundance! Prop Stylist: Cindy DiPrima (Johnny Miller/The New York Times)

If there is something more fun than eating a comically large bowl of chocolate pudding layered with whipped cream and crushed cookies with a very small spoon, I dont want to know about it.

While you can absolutely make and serve chocolate pudding in individual cups, there is something delightfully communal about sharing one giant vessel, and to me thats part of what makes it holiday-spectacle worthy. The vessel can be nearly anything you want, be it trifle bowl or baking dish, but I will say this pudding is best when whatever you choose is tall and deep so you can build as many layers as possible.

Yield: 8 to 10 servings

Total time: 45 minutes, plus 3 hours chilling


For the pudding:

  • 8 ounces/225 grams bittersweet chocolate (65% to 70%), finely chopped
  • 3 cups/720 milliliters heavy cream
  • 3 cups/720 milliliters whole milk
  • 1/3 cup/30 grams cocoa powder
  • 1 1/2 cups/300 grams sugar
  • 6 large egg yolks
  • 1/3 cup/45 grams cornstarch
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract (optional)

For assembly:

  • 3 cups/720 milliliters heavy cream
  • 3/4 cup/90 grams powdered sugar
  • 3 cups/720 milliliters sour cream
  • 12 ounces/340 grams thin wafer cookies, such as gingerbread, vanilla wafers or chocolate wafers
  • Flaky sea salt


1. Make the pudding: Place chocolate in a large bowl; set aside.

2. Heat heavy cream, milk, cocoa powder and 3/4 cup/150 grams sugar in a medium pot over medium-high, whisking constantly until the mixture comes to a bare simmer, about 8 to 10 minutes. Remove from heat.

3. In a large bowl, whisk together the remaining 3/4 cup/150 grams sugar, the egg yolks, the cornstarch, the salt and the vanilla, if using, until the mixture is lump-free and pale in color. Ladle a bit of the hot cream mixture into the egg yolks and whisk until completely blended, adding a bit more at a time until half the cream mixture is added. Transfer the yolk-cream mixture back into the pot with the remaining cream mixture.

4. Return the pot to medium heat and, whisking constantly, cook until the mixture has gone from thin and watery to thick and custardy, with the occasional bubble popping up, 3 to 5 minutes.

5. Immediately pour the mixture over the chocolate, and let sit for a minute or two, giving the bowl a shake to help the chocolate settle as it melts. Using a whisk, mix the chocolate into the cream as it melts, until you have an ultrasmooth, silky pudding. Transfer to a flat baking dish (an 8-by-8-inch pan works well) and cover the top of the pudding with plastic wrap. Refrigerate until pudding is completely set, at least 3 hours and up to 48 hours.

6. Assemble and serve: Using either an electric mixer on medium or a whisk and elbow grease, whisk heavy cream and powdered sugar in a medium bowl until light and fluffy. (The cream should hold a gentle peak.) Whisk in sour cream.

7. To serve, spoon a bit of chocolate pudding into a serving vessel. This can be done in individual bowls, glasses, cups or coupes, or alternatively, one large bowl or baking dish the choice is yours. Then spoon in an equal amount of whipped sour cream, and scatter with crumbled cookies. Repeat until the vessel is full, topping with flaky salt.

8. Eat immediately, so the cookies stay crunchy, or store in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.

Golden Ginger Cake

Alison Roman's golden ginger cake, with ...
Johnny Miller, The New York Times
Alison Romans golden ginger cake, with the flavors of gingerbread and the texture of a very good cake doughnut, in New York, Oct. 7, 2019. Here are some holiday desserts that are equal parts festive and fuss-free, and shout celebratory abundance! Prop Stylist: Cindy DiPrima

Imagine for a second that gingerbread was not dense or decorative, but light, fluffy and impossibly delicious. Imagine that instead of being a structurally sound cookie, it was a cake the color of sunshine, with a crisp, crunchy exterior and a perfectly crumbed inside, spiced with cinnamon and freshly grated ginger. Thats this cake, which has the flavors of gingerbread (yes, there is molasses) and the texture of what I can only describe as a very good cake doughnut. My original plan was to frost it, but after eating a slice, I understood that its true destiny was to be served with a pint of vanilla ice cream.

Yield: 8 to 10 servings

Total time: 1 hour


  • Nonstick cooking spray
  • Demerara sugar
  • 2 3/4 cups/350 grams all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon turmeric
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3/4 cup/170 grams unsalted butter (1 1/2 sticks), at room temperature
  • 1 cup/220 grams light brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup/60 milliliters molasses
  • 3 tablespoons finely grated fresh ginger
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup/120 milliliters buttermilk
  • 1/4 cup/60 milliliters vegetable or coconut oil, melted
  • Whipped cream or ice cream, for serving


1. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 9-inch springform pan, cake pan or tart pan with nonstick cooking spray (or grease with softened butter) and sprinkle with a bit of Demerara sugar to coat the interior of the pan; tap out excess and set aside.

2. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, turmeric, salt, cinnamon, baking powder and baking soda; set aside.

3. Using a stand mixer or an electric mixer and a large bowl, beat together butter, brown sugar and molasses until the mixture is light, fluffy and the color of a very pale latte, 3 to 4 minutes. (Feel free to periodically scrape down the sides of the bowl with a spatula to make sure all the ingredients are mixing properly.) Add fresh ginger and beat to blend.

4. Add eggs, one at a time, until they are totally incorporated and the mixture looks extremely light and fluffy, almost like cake frosting, 5 or so minutes. (Be sure to wipe off any ginger that may have stuck to the beaters.)

5. Combine buttermilk and oil in a bowl or a measuring cup. With the mixer on low, beat 1/3 of the dry ingredients into the cake batter, followed by 1/2 of the buttermilk mixture. Repeat with 1/3 of the dry ingredients and the remaining buttermilk mixture. Finish by adding the remaining dry ingredients.

6. Pour cake batter into prepared pan and scatter with more Demerara sugar. Bake, rotating once or twice if your oven has hot spots or tends to be uneven, until the cake has started to pull away from the sides of the pan, its evenly golden brown on top and it springs back every so slightly when pressed, 45 to 50 minutes.

7. Remove from oven and let cool on a wire rack if you have one. (If not, just let it cool away from the oven.) Do not remove cake from the pan until it is 100% cool. Serve with lightly whipped cream or the ice cream of your choice.

Boozy Cherry Walnut Tart

Alison Roman's boozy cherry walnut tart, ...
Johnny Miller, The New York Times
Alison Romans boozy cherry walnut tart, boozed up with bourbon and baked on top of a layer of lightly sweetened walnut paste, in New York, Oct. 7, 2019. Here are some holiday desserts that are equal parts festive and fuss-free, and shout celebratory abundance! Prop Stylist: Cindy DiPrima

Cherries might not be the obvious choice for holiday baking, but as with frozen peas and corn, frozen cherries are, well, pretty good. Plus, theyre available 365 days a year, so I say tis the season. Here, theyre boozed up with bourbon and baked on top of a layer of lightly sweetened walnut paste use store-bought almond paste if you dont want to get out the food processor to help soak up the juices, of which there are a lot. The maroon cherries, glistening with juices and dusted with an extra helping of sugar, remind me of a large brooch made of rubies, something your fabulous great-aunt would wear to the annual holiday party. How festive!

Yield: 8 to 10 servings

Total time: 1 1/2 hours, plus cooling


For the crust:

  • 1 2/3 cups/215 grams all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 3/4 cup/170 grams unsalted butter (1 1/2 sticks), melted

For the filling:

  • 1 cup/90 grams walnut pieces or halves (or use almonds)
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, chilled
  • 1/4 cup plus 1/3 cup/115 grams sugar, plus more for finishing the tart
  • 5 tablespoons/40 grams all-purpose flour
  • Kosher salt
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 pound/455 grams pitted cherries, thawed if frozen
  • 2 tablespoons bourbon
  • 2 tablespoons finely grated orange zest


1. Make the crust: Mix flour, sugar and salt in a medium bowl. Pour butter over the dry ingredients and, using your hands, mix together until youve got a Play-Doh-like texture.

2. Press crust into a 9-inch tart pan with a removable bottom. (Alternatively, use a 9-inch cake pan lined with parchment; the crust can go about 3/4 inch up the sides of the pan.) Set aside.

3. Make the filling: Heat oven to 350 degrees. Toast walnuts on a rimmed baking sheet until well browned and fragrant, 5 to 8 minutes; remove from heat and let cool.

4. Pulse walnuts, butter, 1/4 cup/50 grams sugar, 2 tablespoons flour and a pinch of kosher salt in a food processor until finely ground. Add the egg and pulse just to blend. Spread walnut mixture on the bottom of the prepared crust.

5. Toss cherries with bourbon, orange zest, remaining 1/3 cup/65 grams sugar, remaining 3 tablespoons flour and a pinch of salt. Scatter cherries over the walnut mixture and sprinkle with a bit more sugar to finish.

6. Place tart on a rimmed baking sheet lined with foil and bake until the crust is golden brown at the edges and the cherries are thick and saucy, 55 to 65 minutes. Let cool at least 30 minutes before removing from the pan and slicing. (If you can wait an hour to let the juices fully settle, even better.)

Citrusy Cheesecake

Alison Roman's citrusy cheesecake, with zest ...
Johnny Miller, The New York Times
Alison Romans citrusy cheesecake, with zest and juice inside the cream cheese filling and fresh sliced citrus on top that makes this cake reminiscent of a Creamsicle, in New York, Oct. 7, 2019. Here are some holiday desserts that are equal parts festive and fuss-free, and shout celebratory abundance! Prop Stylist: Cindy DiPrima

I dont know why I associate cheesecake with the holidays, but I do. Maybe its because the most enjoyable thing I can think of is an entire dessert made of sweetened cream cheese. (I love cheese, what can I say?) The nice thing about this one is that it doesnt require a water bath or any sort of special baking pan; shallower than a traditional cheesecake, its baked right in a pie plate (or tart pan, if youve got that). While there are zest and juice inside the cream cheese filling, its the fresh sliced citrus on top that makes this cake reminiscent of a Creamsicle, which is the only thing I like more than straight-up cheese.

Yield: 8 to 10 servings

Total time: 45 minutes, plus cooling and chilling


For the crust:

  • 8 ounces/225 grams vanilla wafers or graham crackers
  • 3 tablespoons light brown sugar
  • 6 tablespoons/85 grams unsalted butter, melted
  • Pinch of kosher salt

For the filling:

  • 1 pound/455 grams (2 8-ounce/225-gram packages) cream cheese, not the whipped kind, preferably at room temperature
  • 1 cup/240 milliliters sour cream or full-fat Greek yogurt
  • 1/2 cup/100 grams sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 3 tablespoons fresh grapefruit, lemon, lime or orange juice
  • 3 tablespoons finely grated grapefruit, lemon, lime or orange zest
  • Pinch of kosher salt
  • Sliced citrus, for serving
  • Flaky sea salt, for serving


1. Make the crust: Heat oven to 325 degrees.

2. Pulse cookies in a food processor until youve got a nice fine crumb (but not a powder). You can also do this by hand if you like, by placing the cookies in a resealable bag and crushing or smashing with a skillet or rolling pin, but you will need a food processor for the filling.

3. Transfer crumbs to a medium bowl and add brown sugar and butter, followed by a pinch of salt. Using your hands, mix until the crumbs are evenly coated and the mixture has a nice, wet-sand texture.

4. Press the crust onto the bottom and up the sides of a 9-inch pie plate, tart pan or springform pan. (Alternatively, you could use a cake pan lined with parchment. You can even use an 8-by-8-inch baking dish here, although expect a slightly thicker outcome.) Use the bottom of a measuring cup or small bowl to make sure the crust is really pressed in there, otherwise the cake could be challenging to cut later on.

5. Bake the crust until it is lightly golden brown at the edges (it gets baked one more time, so best not to overdo it here), 10 to 12 minutes.

6. Make the filling: Combine cream cheese, sour cream and sugar in the bowl of a food processor and process until the mixture is extremely smooth and well blended, a minute or two, scraping down the sides as needed to incorporate any stubborn chunks of cream cheese. Add eggs, grapefruit juice, zest and a pinch of kosher salt and keep processing until its even smoother and creamier than before (a miracle!), another 30 seconds or so.

7. Pour filling into baked crust (you may have some leftover filling depending on your chosen vessel) and bake until the whole thing is set and no longer jiggles when tapped, 18 to 20 minutes. The filling should not brown at all.

8. Turn oven off and open the door a crack. Let the tart sit in the oven for a few minutes before transferring it to a wire rack on the counter to cool completely. Then place the tart in the refrigerator to chill for at least 1 hour. (This is to prevent any unsightly cracks from appearing on the surface, which can happen when there is a sudden or drastic change in temperature.)

9. To serve, scatter fresh citrus slices on top and sprinkle with a little flaky salt.