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Holiday Style

Holiday recipes: Five choose-your-own adventure desserts

Stress less and celebrate more with these flexible recipes, each offering an alternate dessert to suit your tastes.

Chocolate Mint Buttercream Sandwich Cookies.Adam DeTour/for The Boston Globe

Bringing joy to your holiday table this season will probably require a bit more flexibility with the double whammy of supply-chain issues and COVID restrictions. Need to switch from a plated dessert to something you can drop off? Or, do you have to swap out some ingredients that are missing from every supermarket you’ve tried? No problem. These recipes have built-in flexibility so you can pivot on the fly. Joyful baking to you and yours!

1. Chocolate Mint Buttercream Sandwich Cookies

Makes about thirty 2-inch filled sandwich cookies

This is a versatile dough that can be made ahead and refrigerated or frozen. Store as sheets for cutout cookies or as two logs for simple round cookies to slice whenever the occasion calls.


1 cup bittersweet chocolate chips

4 cups all-purpose flour

1 cup sifted cocoa powder

1½ teaspoons kosher salt

½ teaspoon baking soda

2 cups unsalted butter at room temperature

1 cup sugar

½ cup packed dark brown sugar

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Quick Mint Buttercream Frosting (see following recipe)

Confectioners’ sugar, for topping (optional)

In a small bowl, melt the chocolate chips in a microwave oven using 30-second bursts, stirring between each burst until the chocolate is melted. Set aside to cool.

In a medium bowl, combine the flour, cocoa powder, salt, and baking soda and reserve. In a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, or using a hand mixer on medium speed, combine the butter and sugars until just mixed. Add the vanilla extract, then the cooled melted chocolate, scraping down the sides as needed.

Add the flour mixture all at once, combining until just homogenous (be sure not to overmix). Divide the dough in half, then sandwich each half between two large pieces of plastic wrap. Using a rolling pin, roll each into a large rectangle, about 3/8-inch thick. (For round cookies, roll the dough into two 2-inch logs instead.)


Chill for 30 minutes or up to 2 days (or freeze for later use). Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Using a cookie cutter, stamp shapes out of the dough and reroll scraps using the same process. Line a pan with parchment paper or a silicone liner. Leave about 1 inch between the cookies. Bake for about 12-14 minutes or as soon as they feel firm to the touch, rotating the pan halfway through baking.

Remove from the oven and cool completely before transferring to a work surface. Invert half the cookies, and, using a piping bag or small offset spatula, top with a thick layer of Quick Mint Buttercream Frosting (recipe below). Add a second cookie on top. Dust with confectioners’ sugar, if using.

Cookies can be stored in an airtight container for up to a week.

Quick Mint Buttercream Frosting

Makes about 1 cup

8 tablespoons unsalted butter at room temperature

½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract

A few drops of mint extract or oil, to taste

Pinch of kosher salt

2 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted

In a stand mixer with a paddle attachment or using a hand mixer on high speed, cream the butter until light and fluffy. Turn off the mixer and add the extracts, salt, and 1 cup of sugar. Start mixing on the slowest speed, then increase to medium. Repeat, adding the remaining cup of sugar and scraping down the sides as needed. Add 1 teaspoon water and beat on medium until light and fluffy. Add more water if too thick, or more confectioners’ sugar if too thin. The frosting can be kept at room temperature for the day or refrigerated if storing longer.


CHANGE IT UP! Homemade Icebox Cake

Makes 1 cake (about 10 servings)

Instead of rolling out the dough, divide it in half and form two 2-inch-wide logs, each about 11-inches long. Wrap the logs in parchment paper or plastic wrap. Refrigerate for 1 hour and slice about 30 ¼-inch rounds from a log. Bake at 350 degrees for about 10 minutes or until they are just firm to the touch. Cool completely before removing them from the tray.

Create the cake using a piping bag or offset spatula, layering sweetened whipped cream (about 1 pint of whipping cream beaten with ¾ cup confectioners’ sugar plus 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract) between each cookie, creating short stacks while you work. Allow the stacks to sit at room temperature for 15 minutes, then freeze for about 1 hour. On a long serving platter, lay each stack on its side, connecting them with more whipped cream. Cover the entire log with more whipped cream and freeze at least 3 hours, up to overnight. Remove from the freezer, slice on the bias, and serve.

Spiked Holiday Granola Parfait.Adam DeTour/for The Boston Globe

2. Spiked Holiday Granola Parfait

Makes 6 parfaits

The granola in this recipe was inspired by the fruit, nuts, spices, and brandy or rum in a classic Christmas pudding, but you can customize it as you wish. I use about 1 cup of currants and about ½ cup each of raisins, golden raisins, dried cherries, and sweetened orange peel, roughly chopping anything larger than a cherry. If you are skipping the nuts, just add an equal amount of oats in their place.


To carry the holiday spirits further in this dish, macerate the fresh fruit by soaking it in brandy, sugar, and lemon juice to taste, up to two hours before building the parfait. Drain before adding.

1 quart Greek yogurt

Honey, to taste

3 cups fresh fruit, such as mixed berries

1½ cups Spiked Holiday Granola (see following recipe)

Sweeten the Greek yogurt with honey to taste. Add alternating layers of sweetened yogurt, fruit, and granola to individual glasses. Make sure to finish the top layer with granola. Serve immediately (to keep granola crunchy), or wait to add the top layer until serving.

Spiked Holiday Granola

Makes about 8½ cups

3½ cups old-fashioned rolled oats

½ cup raw, slivered almonds

1 tablespoon kosher salt

2 tablespoons pumpkin pie spice (or a mixture of cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, cloves, and ginger)

3 cups mixed dried fruit

½ cup brandy or rum, or 2 tablespoons pure vanilla extract

1¼ cups packed dark brown sugar

½ cup canola oil

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Line two large baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone baking liners. In a medium bowl, combine the oats, almonds, salt, and pumpkin pie spice. In a large bowl, combine the dried fruit. Reserve.

In a medium saucepan set over medium heat, add the brandy and heat to a simmer. Add the brown sugar, canola oil, and butter and reduce the heat to low, stirring occasionally, until the ingredients are fully incorporated and the mixture is bubbling. Remove from the heat immediately, and pour it over the oat mixture, stirring until homogenous.


Divide the mixture between the two prepared sheet pans and bake for about 35-40 minutes, switching the rack position and rotating the pans halfway through. Using a metal spatula or bench scraper, stir the granola about every 10 minutes. It’s ready when it seems mostly dried out and just starts to turn golden brown. The granola will finish drying as it cools.

Remove from the oven and cool in the pans. Transfer the oat mixture into the large bowl with the fruit. Gently toss to combine. Store in an airtight container for up to three months.

CHANGE IT UP! Easy Fruit Crisp

Makes 1 crisp (about 6-8 servings)

Make your favorite fruit crisp or cobbler recipe, but swap in the homemade granola, tossed with melted butter, for the old topping. During the final 7-10 minutes of baking, sprinkle it on the surface of the fruit. To keep the granola from burning, make sure the oven is at a moderate temperature, like 350 degrees, when it’s added, and that the baking dish is on a rack in the middle position. For a 9-by-13-inch pan, about 2½ tablespoons of unsalted butter tossed with 2 cups of granola should be sufficient. Serve warm or at room temperature.

To further spike the crisp, add a few tablespoons of brandy with the fruit.

Pumpkin Gingerbread Cake.Adam DeTour/for The Boston Globe

3. Pumpkin Gingerbread Cake

Makes 1 cake (about 12 servings)

Use canned or fresh sugar pumpkin puree to make this moist, flavorful holiday cake. Roll the cake while it’s still hot so that it doesn’t crack.

1 cup all-purpose flour

½ tablespoon pumpkin pie spice

¾ teaspoon kosher salt

¾ teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon baking powder

¾ cup pumpkin puree

½ cup packed dark brown sugar

2/3 cup molasses

2 tablespoons canola oil

3 large eggs, combined

Cream Cheese Frosting (see following recipe)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a large rimmed sheet pan with a piece of parchment paper that overhangs the edges, but is pressed into the corners carefully. Spray well with nonstick spray.

In a large mixing bowl or in a stand mixer bowl, combine the flour, pumpkin pie spice, salt, baking soda, and baking powder. Reserve.

In a medium bowl, use a whisk to combine the pumpkin puree, brown sugar, molasses, and oil. Whisk in the eggs and combine well.

Using a hand mixer or a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, add about a third of the pumpkin mixture to the flour mixture. Mix on medium speed until just combined, scraping down the sides of the bowl. Repeat the same process twice with the remaining pumpkin. Transfer the batter to the prepared pan, being mindful to fill fully into the corners. Bake about 15-20 minutes, or until the cake bounces back when gently touched, and a toothpick comes out clean.

Allow to cool in the pan only until the steam has stopped rising from it. While the cake is still hot, remove it from the pan using the sides of the parchment paper. Keep the paper attached to the cake and immediately roll the cake along the shorter side, rolling up the paper as well. Rest on a cooling rack, seam side down, for one hour or until fully cooled.

Slowly and gently unroll the cake. Using an offset spatula, spread the Cream Cheese Frosting on the surface, then carefully reroll the cake, starting from the last part you unrolled, prying off the parchment as you progress. Finish by rolling the cake to rest on the seam on a serving plate. Cover and chill for at least 4 hours, or up to overnight. Cut with a hot knife, slicing 1-inch slices, and serve.

Cream Cheese Frosting

Makes about 2¼ cups

8 ounces block-style cream cheese, at room temperature

½ cup unsalted butter, at room temperature

½ tablespoon pure vanilla extract

¼ teaspoon kosher salt

2½ cups confectioners’ sugar

In a large bowl using a hand-held mixer or in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the cream cheese and butter on high speed for about 2 minutes, until homogenous and fluffy. Add the vanilla and salt. With the mixer off, add the confectioners’ sugar. Starting on slow speed and increasing to high, beat for 2 minutes for the sugar to fully incorporate. Use immediately or refrigerate in an airtight container. Before using, bring to room temperature and stir, if necessary.

CHANGE IT UP! Pumpkin Gingerbread Cupcakes

Makes about 18 cupcakes

Spray two standard-sized cupcake tins with nonstick spray. Fill each reservoir about ⅔ of the way full. Bake in a 350 degree oven for 18-22 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool and frost with the cream cheese icing. Store unfrosted cupcakes in an airtight container at room temperature for about a week.

Double Chai Tea Blondie Brittle.ADAM DETOUR/for The Boston Globe

4. Double Chai Tea Blondie Brittle

Makes about thirty-two 3-by-3-inch pieces

Chai tea concentrate (I like the Tazo brand) adds warm holiday spices to the brittle. A mixture of chai spices and sugar on top adds another layer of flavor — but don’t stress if you don’t have all of them on hand, as any warm spices will work here.

Brittle won’t go stale as fast as bars so it’s a great make-ahead treat for the holidays. Gift it, snack on it, or garnish a sundae with it.

¾ cup liquid chai tea concentrate

2 tablespoons sugar

¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon

¼ teaspoon ground ginger

1/8 teaspoon ground cardamom

1 pinch ground clove

6 tablespoons unsalted butter

½ cup packed dark brown sugar

2 tablespoons molasses

2 large eggs, combined

1¼ cups all-purpose flour

¾ teaspoon kosher salt

1½ cups white chocolate chips

1½ cups dried, chopped cranberries

Place two racks in the upper- and lower-middle positions and preheat the oven to 250 degrees. Line 2 rimmed 13-by-18-inch sheet pans with parchment paper and coat with nonstick spray.

In a medium saucepan set over medium heat, reduce the liquid chai tea concentrate by half. In a small bowl, combine the sugar, cinnamon, ginger, cardamom, and clove. Reserve half of this spiced sugar and add the other half to the concentrate, then add the butter and melt. Add the brown sugar and molasses and stir until the sugar is just dissolved. Remove from heat and transfer to a bowl or shallow pan to cool. Once cool, whisk in the eggs.

In a stand mixer bowl or large mixing bowl, combine the flour and the salt. Using the paddle attachment or a hand mixer, add the liquid mixture into the flour in three separate additions, making sure the liquid is incorporated after each addition.

Divide the batter between the two sheet pans and use an offset spatula to spread the mixture thinly, but not so thin that you can see the parchment paper. Bake in the center of a 250 degree oven for 1½ hours, swapping racks halfway through. Turn the heat off and allow to dry in the oven for 1½ hours. In the final 10 minutes, spread the white chocolate chips on the surface. Remove from the oven, and, using an offset spatula, spread the melted chocolate in a thin layer. Immediately top with 1½ cups of cranberries and the remaining spiced sugar. The white chocolate will set in about an hour. Break into pieces and store in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks.

CHANGE IT UP! Blondie Squares

Makes two dozen 2-inch blondies

For the blondie squares version of this recipe, you’ll need to prepare a double batch of the above recipe. Follow all directions, but change these parts of the process.

1) Use a 9-by-13-inch pan lined with parchment paper to overhang the edges, coated with nonstick spray.

2) Use 3 large whole eggs plus 3 large yolks.

3) Increase the white chocolate and cranberries to 2½ cups each.

4) After the addition of the flour, add 1½ cups each of the white chocolate chips and the dried cranberries, reserving 1 cup of each for the topping.

Bake on the center rack in a 350-degree oven for about 40 minutes, until the top is golden brown and a toothpick comes out clean. Remove from the oven and immediately cover the surface with the remaining white chocolate. Let it melt for about 5 minutes, smoothing it into an even layer with an offset spatula. Immediately cover the surface with the remaining cranberries, then dust with the reserved spiced sugar. Use the parchment paper to transfer the blondies to a cooling rack. Cool at room temperature until the white chocolate is hard or speed up the process by chilling in the refrigerator. Cut into squares and store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to a week.

Holiday Spiced Morning Buns.Adam DeTour/for The Boston Globe

5. Holiday Spiced Morning Buns

Makes 12 buns

These morning buns are layered with rich, buttery goodness and warm seasonal spices. Use either premade apple- or pumpkin-pie spice mix, or a custom combination of ground cinnamon, allspice, clove, nutmeg, cardamom, etc.

The make-ahead dough means all you have to do is warm the buns up and bake them, trouble-free on a holiday morning.

1 scant tablespoon (1 packet) yeast

¾ cup of warm water

1 cup sugar (divided)

2¾ cup all-purpose flour (plus more for dusting)

1 teaspoon kosher salt

16 tablespoons cold, unsalted butter, cut into ½-inch cubes

1½ tablespoons apple- or pumpkin-pie spice mix

3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted (divided)

1 egg plus 1 tablespoon water, for wash

In a small bowl, combine the yeast, warm water, and 1 tablespoon of the sugar. Set aside. To the work bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade (or use a large bowl and mix with a pastry blender), add the flour and salt and pulse to combine. Add the butter and pulse several times until the cubes are about the size of peas, then transfer to a large bowl. Stir the yeast mixture, then add it to the flour mixture, combining with a large rubber spatula or wire dough whisk. If absolutely necessary, add just a few drops of water to help collect the last of the bits in the bowl. The dough will be shaggy, but should come together with some light kneading at the end. Be careful not to overwork.

Place the dough on a large floured work surface and cover with plastic wrap, then let it rest for 5-10 minutes. Using more flour as needed to prevent the dough from sticking, roll into a rectangle about 12 by 20 inches and roughly ¼-inch thick. Fold the right third on top of the middle third, then do the same with the left third. Reroll into the same size large rectangle again, flouring as needed. Repeat the above technique an additional five times to create the many layers. After the final “book fold,” wrap the dough in plastic wrap and freeze for 15 minutes (but not more than that).

Meanwhile, combine the remaining sugar and the spices. Using a pastry brush, evenly grease the sides of a 12-muffin tin using 1 tablespoon of the melted butter. Add 1 teaspoon of the spiced sugar to each well, then swirl the pan to coat all the sides.

Remove the dough from the freezer and roll into a 12-by-20-inch rectangle, then brush it with the remaining 2 tablespoons of melted butter. Remove and reserve about 1/3 cup of spiced sugar for the last step. Evenly sprinkle the remaining 1/3 cup sugar over the butter on the dough’s surface. Roll up very tightly along the long edge. Using a knife or a bench scraper, divide the dough into 12 rounds, about 1½-inches wide. Place each round in a well of the muffin tin. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate 8 hours or overnight.

When you are ready to bake, remove the tin from the refrigerator and place in a warm spot for about 45 minutes to 1 hour to finish proofing. With a rack in the middle position, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Right before baking, combine the egg and water and gently brush the surface of the buns.

Bake 20-24 minutes, until the buns are a rich golden brown. Check the bottoms to see that they are fully cooked. Transfer immediately to a cooling rack. While they are still warm, roll the buns in the reserved spiced sugar. They are best served warm or at room temperature the day they are baked.

CHANGE IT UP! Spiced Holiday Pastry Ring

Makes 1 pastry ring that serves about 12

Follow the above recipe through the 15 minute deep chill and the roll-out of the final 12-by-20-inch rectangle. Brush the rectangle with the 2 tablespoons of melted butter, dust with about 1/3 cup of the spiced sugar, then using an offset spatula, add a very thin layer of jelly or jam (about ¾ cup). Roll up the dough along the short edge and wrap in plastic wrap. Chill in the refrigerator for several hours to overnight.

When you are ready to bake, place a rack in the upper third of the oven and preheat to 400 degrees. Slice the dough into about 18 3/4-inch thick rounds. Line a 16-inch-round rimmed pan with parchment paper, grease with nonstick spray, dust the perimeter with about ¼ cup of the spiced sugar, then arrange the dough rounds on top of the spiced sugar, making sure that the outer seams are placed in contact with another edge to preserve their pinwheel shapes as they bake. Set in a warm spot to proof for about 45 minutes.

Gently brush egg wash on the surface. Bake for about 10-14 minutes or until the pastries are golden brown and cooked through. Remove from the oven and dust the surface with the remaining spiced sugar. Cool and transfer to a serving platter. The ring tastes best the day it is baked.


Photographs by Adam Detour for The Boston Globe

Food Styling by Denise Drower Swidey

Prop Styling by Darcy Hammer of Anchor Artists

Denise Drower Swidey is a frequent contributor to the Globe Magazine. Send comments to