13 Make-Ahead Desserts for the Holidays

13 Make-Ahead Desserts for the Holidays

overhead view of a cake

If you’re not hosting a holiday party or dinner at your place this year, congrats! You’ve managed to save yourself a lot of stress during an already stressful time of year. While you won’t have that responsibility to burden you, you might find yourself with the smaller task of bringing a dessert to whatever gathering you’re attending. In such a case, desserts that can be made ahead of time and are easily transportable are always the first we’ll turn to. Having the option to bake something a day or two in advance—or at least prep the batter early and make it the day of—will keep you from scrambling last minute or giving in to a grocery store cake or pie. From a host of Christmas cookies to a classic yule log and a standout Mexican cheesecake, these are our favorite holiday desserts that you can make in advance and still blow everyone away with.

Christmas Cookies

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Vicky Wasik

For something easily transportable and make-ahead, cookies are a no-brainer. From crisp gingerbread to zesty lemon-ginger sandwich cookies and chocolate-dipped coconut macaroons, we’ve got plenty of options to choose from.

Bibingka (Filipino Rice Cake)

Overhead view of bibingka in cast iron pan
Rezel Kealoha

A coconut-flavored, banana-leaf scented rice cake topped with caramelized coconut strips, Bibingka and Christmas go hand-in-hand in the Philippines. The batter can be prepared in advance and refrigerated in an airtight container for up to five days.

Classic Chocolate Yule Log

A chocolate and pistachio yule log with meringue mushrooms

Our classic yule log comes together with a light and tender chocolate roulade that’s covered in ganache and meringue mushrooms. If you’re filling the cake with whipped cream, it can be refrigerated up to 36 hours and then served at room temperature. If you opt for buttercream or frosting, the cake can be kept at a cool room temperature for up to 36 hours.

Old-Fashioned Jelly Roll

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Vicky Wasik

Jelly rolls are a year-round classic because of their lightness and versatility, but their beautiful spirals lend an especially festive touch to the holiday table. Unfrosted, the cake will keep for about 24 hours at room temperature; if frosted with whipped cream, it will need to be covered, refrigerated for up to 24 hours, and then set out to room temperature about an hour before serving.

Slow and Easy Panettone

Slice of panettone on a plate next to a cup of coffee

Of all the holiday breads that pop-up around this time of year, panettone is the star thanks to its boozy, sweet, and ubiquitous flavors. This recipe has a great shelf life, so you can easily make it a day or two ahead of time.

Epic New York Cheesecake

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Every bite of this cheesecake is rich and creamy, with a fresh and tangy flavor. In an airtight container, the batter can be refrigerated up to one week; bring the cold batter to room temperature before baking. If you’re inclined to serve this dessert with a fruity syrup or sauce, bring it with you in a separate container, then top off each slice before dishing out.

Ginger Spice Brownies

Ginger spiced brownies laid out on a slice of parchment paper.
Liz Voltz

Brownies are a great make-ahead option, and these rich, fudgy ones are sure to blow everyone away. Covered with sparkling strands of crystallized ginger, each bite has just the right amount of chew. What makes them particularly exceptional, though, is a delicate blend of fragrant spices that evoke the flavors of wintertime.

Pay De Queso (Mexican Cheese Pie)

Pays de Queso
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

Pay de queso, or cheese pie, is a smooth, creamy, and not overly sweet cheese-based pie with a cookie crust. It’s pretty much the Mexican version of New York cheesecake. Wrapped in plastic, pay de queso can be refrigerated for up to three days and is best served chilled, with a dollop of strawberry jam or a drizzle of dulce de leche or cajeta.

Classic Pecan Pie

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Vicky Wasik

Honey, brown sugar, vanilla, and roasted nuts give this pie its deep, rich flavor and lots of crunch. Whip this up the night before your festivities and allow it to sit at room temperature until you’re ready to roll.

Maple Angel Food Cake

a slice of chocolate-glazed angel food cake

Sweetened with maple sugar, this airy angel food cake has a mellow flavor that’s not too sweet. When ready to serve, add a drizzle of chocolate ganache for an extra special touch.

Mixed Berry Trifle

Trifle on a white counter
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

This British classic is a decadent combination of wobbly fruit jelly, genoise sponge cake, crème légère, and whipped cream built in a sharing-size glass bowl. It can be assembled 24 hours in advance with the whipped cream, or up to 48 hours in advance without the whipped cream, which can be added before serving.

Pistachio Cake

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Vicky Wasik.

Using good-quality pistachio oil in an olive oil cake recipe makes for a quick and easy cake that’s brimming with nutty aroma and flavor. Feel free to make the cake two or three days ahead of time, leave it out at a cool room temperature, then frost the day-of.

Cannoli

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Vicky Wasik

These cannoli are rich and light, creamy and crunchy—a study in contrast if there ever was one. Make the filling and the shells a few days ahead of time, then fill them right before it’s time for dessert.