18 Easy Holiday Desserts

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Whether you’re an experienced baker who makes a Hogwarts sorting hat croquembouche 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 18 simple 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.)

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.

Tangy and bright, these lemon bars from Susan Mahnke Peery are the perfect foil to all of the ubiquitous brown holiday treats. One reader said that they’ve been her “go-to lemon bar recipe for 16 years.”

Recipe: Lemon Squares

These one-bowl, five-ingredient cookies from Samantha Seneviratne are brilliant. Be sure to use conventional peanut butter (not natural and not reduced fat) for the best results. (You can bake the recipe along with Samantha here.)

Recipe: Chocolate Peanut Butter Swirl Cookies

Nell Lewis of Platte City, Mo., entered the Pillsbury Bake-Off contest with this recipe in 1963. She didn’t win, but the recipe has since become an internet favorite for its impossibly tender crumb and sugary crust. This is the only cake recipe on this list that requires an electric mixer, but all you have to do is dump the ingredients into the bowl and beat it like mad for a good three minutes.

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

Recipe: Rose and Almond Ghriba

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

Melissa Clark’s 20-minute no-bake bars are inspired by buckeyes and peanut butter cups, but with an added layer of caramelized flavor that comes from browning the butter before stirring it into the cookie crumb crust. It’s also wildly adaptable: Use almond butter instead of peanut butter, add Rice Krispies to the filling or sprinkle the top with flaky sea salt or crushed pretzels.

Recipe: Peanut Butter No-Bake Bars

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

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

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

These cute little jam-topped squares, which are adapted from “The King Arthur Flour Cookie Companion” (Countryman Press, 2013), taste like linzer cookies, but are much easier to make. Use your best jam, preserves or marmalade, not jelly, which is too runny.

These chocolate truffles from David Tanis may sound fancy, but they are one of the best low-effort-for-maximum results 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

Melissa Clark’s Instagram followers went nuts when she posted a picture of this plain-looking bittersweet-citrus cake on her feed: Campari and olive oil? Sign us up! Use the best olive oil you can as its fragrant notes will complement the astringency of the Campari. This is definitely a more sophisticated, less sweet cake, so if that’s not your thing, try using Aperol instead as one Italian reader recommended.

Recipe: Campari Olive Oil Cake

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

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

A cheerful lemony cake is a nice break from the spiced and chocolaty desserts of the holiday season. Olive oil and buttermilk make this one from Melissa Clark impossibly tender and rich. For the tangiest results, use conventional lemons (not Meyer, which are milder), and really work the lemon zest into the granulated sugar. If you don’t have buttermilk, use ¼ cup milk plus ¼ cup sour cream or plain yogurt in its place.

Recipe: Lemon Poppy Seed Poundcake

Leftover gingerbread house pieces were the inspiration for 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

Cupcakes for everyone! These eggless, dairy-free no-mixer cupcakes from Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero have hundreds of five-star ratings. Tender and moist, most people who try them can’t believe they’re made without butter and eggs.

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