20 Showstopper Holiday Desserts

Layered cakes, fancy cheesecakes, and gold leaf truffles make jaw-dropping dessert displays that are delicious, and perfect for celebrating.

Showstopper Desserts

The holidays bring out the baker in me and I want to bake (and eat!) all types of desserts. In fact, it feels like my very own Great British Bake-Off. I’m talking tender biscuits (cookies, for us across the pond), perfectly baked loaves of bread, and impressive stacked cakes that would make Mary Berry declare them “scrumptious!”

A showstopper holiday dessert doesn’t have to come from a professional bakery. As we’ve seen in GBBO, home bakers can create striking celebration-worthy desserts too!

Before getting started, I have a few recommendations:

  • Read the recipe from beginning to end carefully. Sometimes you'll have to read through it twice.
  • Set aside the proper baking pans and any special equipment on your kitchen counter. You don't want to scramble for them mid-bake.
  • Take stock of your pantry—make sure you have all the ingredients you need and that you have enough! I can’t tell you how many times I thought I had more cake flour or butter than I actually did.
  •  It’s a good idea to give yourself plenty of time to create your showstopper. Many recipes can be broken up into two days. Some can even be made ahead and frozen! It’ll be more enjoyable when you’re not rushed. Plus, your bakes are more likely to turn out.

Okay bakers. Ready, set, bake!

  • Chocolate Pavlova with Whipped Cream and Raspberries

    Chocolate Pavlova
    Sally Vargas

    My family loves this marshmallow-y baked meringue, especially when it’s topped with whipped cream and a mountain of tart raspberries. Be sure to wash and dry your whisk and bowl thoroughly before getting started. Any residual fat or oils on them might inhibit the egg whites from whipping properly. 

  • Chocolate Layer Cake

    Whole choclate layer cake with chocolate swiss meringue buttercream swirls on top, dusted with powdered sugar against a dark background
    Alison Bickel

    Layer cakes are always impressive. This recipe uses pantry staples and doesn’t even call for a stand mixer! Yet it produces a tender chocolate cake. If you’re short on time, this is a great cake to make over two days. On day one, bake and cool the cakes. Then frost the next day. 

  • Triple Chocolate Cheesecake

    Close up of the best chocolate cheeescake with dripping ganache frosting on a white background.
    Alison Bickle

    It’s a holiday slam dunk! A chocolate cookie crust is filled with chocolate cream cheese and topped with a dark chocolate ganache. It’s worth getting large (17- to 18-inch wide) foil to wrap the springform pan in. It will prevent water from seeping in as it cooks, resulting in a soggy crust. The cheesecake needs to chill overnight so plan ahead.

  • Coconut Cake with Lemon Curd and Vanilla Buttercream

    Coconut Cake with Lemon Curd and Vanilla Buttercream
    Sally Vargas

    I love this coconut cake—it's filled with lemon curd and frosted with vanilla buttercream! Cream of coconut gives the cake a discernable coconut flavor. The cake is topped with unsweetened coconut flakes for a dreamy, wintery look. 

    Continue to 5 of 20 below.
  • Chocolate Babka

    Semi-sweet chocolate babka on a wooden serving platter and three slices cut and laid in front.
    Cambrea Gordon

    This babka is a sweet, braided bread filled with chocolate. Filling and shaping the dough into a beautifully layered bread is easier than you think. Plus, we’ve got step-by-step images to walk you through it! 

  • How to Make Crème Brûlée

    How to Make Creme Brulee spoon cracked into a ramekin of creme brulee
    Alison Conklin

    Individual ramekins are filled with custard and baked in a water bath. The result is a rich and creamy spoonable custard. Sprinkle with sugar and then torch until caramelized. That’s it! You could bake the custards up to 4 days before you brûlée the tops and serve. 

  • Chocolate Peppermint Swiss Roll

    Chocolate Peppermint Swiss Roll
    Elizabeth Stark

    Peppermint is one of my favorite holiday flavors. It’s perfectly refreshing, especially after a rich meal. This is a light and airy sponge cake that uses whipped eggs instead of baking powder as a leavener. Peppermint flavors show up twice: Peppermint extract is added to the whipped cream filling and crushed candy canes are sprinkled on top. 

  • Mint Chocolate Cream Pie

    Mint Chocolate Cream Pie
    Cindy Rahe

    A step up from instant pudding, homemade chocolate pudding (with a hint of peppermint) is simple to make. This pie is made with a quick and easy chocolate wafer crust and lots of whipped cream on top. What about garnishing it with homemade peppermint bark? Yup, I do love peppermint. 

    Continue to 9 of 20 below.
  • Rum Cake

    Homemade rum cake cut into slices on a cake stand.
    Marta Rivera

    Bundt pans create simple yet impressive cakes, especially when beautifully patterned. There is no frosting here. Instead, a warm rum sauce is poured over the cake before serving. Be sure to use a 12- to 15-cup Bundt pan to prevent the batter from overflowing. Use a baking spray that contains flour to grease the pan. 

  • Champagne Chocolate Truffles

    Champagne Chocolate Truffles
    Cindy Rahe

    Chocolate truffles get an upgrade for the holidays with the use of champagne and gold leaf. No need to open a fresh bottle. If you already have one open, it’s okay if it’s flat. Instead of rolling the ganache into balls, these are cut into squares before tossing in cocoa powder. The edible gold leaf on top adds the wow factor.

  • Zabaglione

    Two parfait glasses with a custard dessert topped with cream and layered with strawberries.
    Annika Panikker

    This Italian custard can be served warm or cool with whipped cream and fruit. It’s made with eggs and Marsala wine and it needs to be constantly whisked while cooking to give it volume. It’s a great option for an impressive last-minute dessert. You can’t make it ahead since it will deflate over time. 

  • Stollen

    Stollen Christmas Bread filled with rum-soaked dried fruit coated with powdered sugar and sliced on a platter with a fine mesh sieve with powdered sugar in it nearby.
    Sally Vargas

    Stollen is a German yeast bread that is filled with dried fruit, nuts, and spices. It’s dusted with a thick layer of powdered sugar before serving. Not only is this a delicious holiday dessert, it also makes a great hostess gift! This recipe makes four loaves.

    Continue to 13 of 20 below.
  • How to Make Classic Tiramisu

    Cindy Rahe

    It only takes nine ingredients to make this classic Italian dessert. The zabaglione is stabilized (so that it doesn’t lose its fluffiness) with whipped mascarpone and heavy cream. It’s so silky. Layer the tiramisu and chill it overnight before serving. For an alcohol-free version, use apple juice and vanilla extract instead of the rum. 

  • Walnut Mocha Torte

    Walnut Mocha Torte
    Elise Bauer

    This two-layer torte is just the thing for the coffee lover in your life. Walnuts and breadcrumbs are folded into whipped egg whites for a light nut-filled cake. The frosting is the combination of two components: A chocolate and coffee mocha base and whipped cream. 

  • Triple-Layer White Cake With Orange Curd Filling

    Triple Layer White Cake
    Elise Bauer

    If two layers isn’t impressive enough, try this three-layer cake! In between, you'll have bright and zesty orange curd and then an easy cream cheese frosting on top. This large cake will easily feed 12 to 14 guests.

  • Crème Brûlée Cheesecake

    Vanilla Bean Cheesecake with brittle sugar topping on a slate board wtih a slice cut out and fruit nearby.
    Alison Bickle

    This creamy vanilla cheesecake has golden, solid caramelized sugar top like a crème brûlée. The recipe provides helpful tips to brûlée the sugar without burning it or toasting the cheesecake. 

    Continue to 17 of 20 below.
  • Eggnog Ice Cream

    Eggnog Ice Cream
    Elise Bauer

    This ice cream tastes like homemade eggnog, just less boozy and creamier. If you’re feeding it to kids, it’s okay to omit the rum, bourbon, or brandy. Crushed gingersnap cookies would be perfect on top.

  • Chocolate Bundt Cake

    Chocolate bundt cake on a glass cake plate and dusted with powdered sugar.
    Elise Bauer

    Rich chocolate cake dusted with powdered sugar creates a snowy, Christmasy vibe on your holiday table. Decorate the cake plate with a few cranberries for an extra special touch.

  • Cranberry Sorbet

    Cranberry Sorbet
    Elise Bauer

    This cranberry sorbet is an easy, seven-ingredient make-ahead dessert that screams holidays. Serve it in footed dessert cups for fancy presentation. Use fresh or frozen cranberries and use orange zest for a bright citrus flavor.

  • Le Talleyrand

    Le Tallyrand flambe meringue dessert
    Elise Bauer

    Need an unforgettable showstopper? Flambé! A stovetop cherry custard is layered in a baking dish with meringue and macerated cherries. Half an eggshell placed in the center of the dish is filled with kirsch and rum and then set on fire!