20 Holiday Desserts That You Can Make Ahead

The holidays are a joyous time of year, but for those on kitchen duty, the holidays can also be a headache-inducing, stressful, time management nightmare all the same. While you're fussing over a turkey, mashed potatoes, mac and cheese, and appetizers to keep hungry guests at bay, it's pretty easy to overlook the conclusion of the meal — that is, of course, the dessert.

Though easy to overlook, some might argue that dessert is the most important part of any meal, especially a holiday one. The best way to ensure that your meal will end on a sweet note without stressing about it as you cook the main course is to prep the dessert ahead of time. The beauty of most baked goods is that they aren't incredibly time-sensitive; in fact, there are quite a few make-ahead desserts out there that actually benefit from some resting time in the fridge, allowing the sweet and spiced flavors to meld to absolute perfection.

If you're stressed about making the best holiday dessert but have a million other cooking tasks on your mind, let our best holiday desserts that you can make ahead help ease the burden. From cookies to pie to ice cream to bars, the perfect holiday dessert is just waiting for its time to shine — after being prepared a day or two in advance, of course.

1. Sea Salt Brownie Brittle

Of all the holiday desserts you could make, this sea salt brownie brittle is something of an underdog as it's incredibly easy to prepare and doesn't even require a fridge for storage. In fact, your batch will be ready to go in less than 30 minutes, and when it comes to storing leftovers, you can simply toss the pieces into a Tupperware container and call it a day — it doesn't get more make-ahead friendly than that.

It's no secret that brittle isn't the most popular dessert out there, but this brownie-inspired version certainly ups the ante. Chocolatey goodness absolutely inundated this crispy treat, and the final garnish of sea salt adds just the right pop to help those sweet, rich flavors shine.

Recipe: Sea Salt Brownie Brittle

2. Decadent Peanut Butter Pie

Peanut butter pie — it's rich, creamy, and delightfully nutty, and it happens to taste best straight from the fridge. This is the type of pie that not only works well as a make-ahead dessert but essentially calls for it — you need to give the pie a solid four hours to set in the fridge, though you can easily leave it to chill for several days.

Another big perk to this pie is that it features a graham cracker crust, so you don't have to worry about prepping a flour-based crust and letting the dough rest in the fridge. This pie is easy to make from start to finish, though one look at the finished product will certainly make your guests think otherwise.

Recipe: Decadent Peanut Butter Pie

3. Peppermint Bark

If a dessert features peppermint flavor and is, better yet, adorned with red and white peppermint candy, then you already know it belongs on a holiday spread. Even better yet when the peppermint dessert in question happens to be a bark, one of the most shelf-stable treats out there. You can easily hold onto bark for several days at room temperature, and while you're at it, why not bag some pieces up and hand them out as a gift to your guests?

This peppermint bark is especially delicious because it features both semi-sweet and white chocolate, resulting in a balanced treat that has some bitter notes to mellow out all of that sweetness. And, of course, we can't overlook the peppermint aspect of the bark, which shines through thanks to the easy-to-source inclusion of crushed-up candy canes.

Recipe: Peppermint Bark

4. Old-Fashioned Peanut Butter Fudge

Fudge can come in all sorts of flavor varieties, with most of them focusing on milk or dark chocolate. This fudge recipe does indeed feature white chocolate, though the main flavor profile is peanut butter, making for the ultimate treat for those who love nutty desserts.

You only need five ingredients to make the peanut butter fudge magic happen, and better yet, the prep work takes all of 20 minutes. You will need to let the fudge rest for at least two hours to set, but that only adds to the make-ahead nature of the recipe. Don't forget the melted peanut butter and extra white chocolate as the final elegant garnish.

Recipe: Old-Fashioned Peanut Butter Fudge

5. Best Eggnog Cake

Eggnog is a spiced, creamy beverage that certainly sees a spike in popularity when the holidays roll around, but why limit your consumption of it to just liquid form? You can infuse eggnog into a plethora of baked goods, like this eggnog bundt cake, which will certainly up the ante from your typical vanilla or chocolate cake.

Not only does the cake itself feature eggnog, but the frosting also gets a healthy dose of the festive beverage, making for a cake that takes its eggnog title very seriously. You'll also taste notes of cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger, so even those who aren't too keen on the holiday drink might just enjoy this sweet and spiced cake.

As for the make-ahead aspect of this cake, you can make and frost the whole cake and store it in the fridge for several days. You can also make the cake, store it, and then frost it just before serving, making for a perfectly flexible dessert that definitely checks the holiday-appropriate box.

Recipe: Best Eggnog Cake

6. German Spice Cookies (Pfeffernüsse)

Pfeffernüsse, also known as German spice cookies, sort of look like donut holes at first glance, though one bite into these festive little cookies will prove why the word spice is in the name. These cookies feature a blend of spices including cinnamon, cloves, allspice, star anise, and even some mace for good measure. If you're worried about them being a little too spiced and not quite sweet enough, fear not — there's plenty of sugar in the cookies themselves, along with a simple glaze to contrast with the spicy nature of the cookies quite nicely.

Once you finish baking, glazing, and cooling the pfeffernüsse, it's straight to the airtight container they go. You can store these cookies for days before serving them, and they might even taste better after all of those spices have some time to get acquainted.

Recipe: German Spice Cookies (Pfeffernüsse)

7. Best Lemon Bars

Lemon bars are a classic dessert, and while they aren't necessarily the most festive fare out there, we can guarantee that no one will be upset to see them on your holiday dessert table. These dense, chewy, and bright lemon bars will make for a great after-dinner treat — especially if that dinner was a rather large one, as holiday feasts tend to be.

You'll need to store these lemon bars in the fridge should you make them ahead of time, but then you can just pop them right out and brighten everyone's evening. Speaking of the fridge, you'll also need to give the bars plenty of time to chill and set — at least four hours — but that just adds to their flexibility. Make them the night before or the morning of the big day and you'll be as golden as the bars themselves.

Recipe: Best Lemon Bars

8. Classic Fudge

If you're looking for a dessert that's equal parts timeless, easy to make, and shelf-stable, then the answer is always going to be classic fudge. There's virtually no limit to the ways you can customize fudge, but if you want a guaranteed crowd-pleaser, then it's best to stick with the rich and chocolatey kind.

Now, just because this is a classic fudge recipe doesn't mean that it's boring. Aside from the chocolate, you'll also find ingredients like marshmallow creme and espresso powder to enhance both the flavor and texture of the fudge. If you want to get a little creative with the toppings, you could opt for colorful sprinkles or nuts, though there's nothing wrong with serving the sweet little cubes just as they are.

Recipe: Classic Fudge

9. Peppermint Ice Cream

We've got some good news for those with seldom-used ice cream machines at home: You can finally put your device to good use with this peppermint ice cream recipe. Not everyone has access to such a contraption, but if you happen to be big on the homemade ice cream game, then you can give the frozen dairy treat a much-needed holiday upgrade, all while preparing a dessert in advance.

This peppermint ice cream mainly gets its flavor thanks to a dash of peppermint extract, though crushed-up candy canes also add some minty goodness, not to mention a nice crunch. Naturally, this ice cream is the type of dessert that plays well in a make-in-advance context; you could make this ice cream days, even weeks ahead, and keep it in your freezer until go-time.

Recipe: Peppermint Ice Cream

10. Classic Snowball Cookies

Cookies are always a good idea at a holiday gathering, even if they're just plain chocolate chip or sugar cookies; after all, fewer desserts offer more grab-and-go convenience than a good old cookie. Of course, because we're talking about the holidays here, it's always good to prioritize those desserts that fit the theme, and these delightful little snowball cookies definitely check the winter-themed box.

In case you aren't familiar with snowball cookies, they are one of the simplest varieties out there. Featuring a simple dough base of butter, powdered sugar, vanilla, salt, flour, and pecans, these cookies are rolled up into little balls to get that snowball shape. Then, to get the "snow" effect, you'll roll the cookies in extra powdered sugar, which also conveniently ups the sweetness factor, too.

Recipe: Classic Snowball Cookies

11. Eggnog Cheesecake

Cheesecake is a notorious crowd-pleaser, not to mention one that is better served chilled — so that means that it's actually best for you to whip the dessert up in advance. While no one would be mad if you pulled out a classic cheesecake after dinner, this eggnog version ups the holiday ante and, let's face it, is simply more exciting than plain old cheesecake.

Anyone who has made cheesecake before knows that there is a decent amount of work that goes into it. You have to bake the dish for an hour and a half to begin with, then let it chill in the fridge for at least six hours. If you were trying to juggle making this cheesecake while simultaneously making dinner, it'd be a recipe for disaster. But, if you make this eggnog-infused treat the night before and chill it overnight, then you won't even have to think about dessert until you're ready to serve it.

Recipe: Eggnog Cheesecake

12. Classic Pecan Pie

We aren't going to pretend like pecan pie is the most popular dessert out there or even the most popular type of pie. Indeed, the nutty pie can be a somewhat polarizing one, though it's impossible to deny its place on a holiday dessert table. And, for those who do look forward to it every year, we can guarantee that they'll be grateful when you pull out this classic pecan pie.

Many of us envision enjoying a pie straight from the oven, but realistically, that's almost never the case. Regardless of the type of pie — be it pumpkin, apple, or pecan — you have to let it cool down before serving, which is why this recipe is ideal for making ahead of time. You can easily whip up this pecan pie in the morning and let it sit out and tempt your guests all the way through the evening.

Recipe: Classic Pecan Pie

13. Italian Biscotti

If you plan on serving coffee after your holiday feast, then you'd be remiss to not serve up these Italian biscotti alongside it. These crunchy, cookie-like biscotti are also a great option for rounding out a cookie platter, as they supply an option for those who want a sweet treat but don't want something too sweet. These biscotti are nice and mellow, featuring a nice chocolatey touch that pairs well with coffee or perhaps a glass of eggnog.

Though you can easily pick up a pack of biscotti from most grocery stores, nothing beats the freshness of a homemade batch. Plus, we can guarantee that these subtly spiced, perfectly nutty biscotti will taste far better than anything store-bought.

Recipe: Italian Biscotti

14. Easy Christmas Shortbread Cookies

These Christmas shortbread cookies are arguably one of the easiest recipes on this list. They require only six ingredients to make (five if you don't care for sprinkles) and whip up in a jiffy, especially if you have a stand mixer to do the heavy lifting. Even if you don't have a stand mixer, you can easily make these cookies — you'll just have to fluff up the butter using a hand mixer, but the whole process only takes a few minutes.

After these festive cookies bake for about 30 minutes, all you have to do is let them cool down, then slice them up and serve as desired. While you certainly can serve them right away, they'll also keep well in an airtight container for up to a whole week — but we doubt they'll last that long.

Recipe: Easy Christmas Shortbread Cookies

15. White Christmas Pie

If you're the type who insists that a dessert looks festive to be considered for a holiday spread, then this white Christmas pie is just the recipe you're looking for. One glance at this coconut-topped pie will conjure up images of fresh snowfall — a win-win for Christmas and coconut lovers alike.

Another perk to this recipe is that it takes a few clever shortcuts, so it's ideal for those who want to make a dessert but don't want to fuss over it too much. You'll use Jiffy pie crust mix to whip up a shortcut crust, and unflavored gelatin will make up the bulk of the pie itself. But don't worry, plenty of ingredients will go into the gelatin mix, including sugar, vanilla, milk, and heavy cream.

Recipe: White Christmas Pie

16. Classic New York-Style Cheesecake

Sometimes, the simplest answer is the correct one, and that's certainly the case with this classic New York-style cheesecake recipe. While there's nothing about this dessert that's particularly festive, it is a guaranteed crowd-pleaser — while you can't guarantee that your guests will enjoy a cherry-topped or chocolate-laden cheesecake, it's safe to assume they'll like a plain one.

Like most cheesecakes, this New York-style one also works well as a make-ahead dish, seeing as you can store the finished product in the fridge until you're ready to serve. And, if you're worried about it being too plain, you can supply a toppings bar consisting of fruit and chocolate sauce so your guests can customize their cheesecake as they desire.

Recipe: Classic New York-Style Cheesecake

17. Best Gingerbread Cheesecake

Gingerbread men are little cookies that see a spike in popularity around the holidays, though realistically, very few people are ecstatic over the thought of munching on the little cookies. If you want gingerbread men to make an appearance in your holiday dessert but you don't want the dessert to be plain old cookies, then this festive gingerbread cheesecake is just the solution.

The cheesecake itself is full of warm, spiced flavor, and you'll even find crushed-up gingerbread cookies in the crust. As a final garnish, gingerbread men are happily strewn across the top of the cheesecake, making for a dessert that's equal parts festive and adorable.

Recipe: Best Gingerbread Cheesecake

18. Christmas Wreath Cookies

These Christmas wreath cookies are the type of treat that delights both kids and adults alike. Crispy cornflakes make up the bulk of these sweets, so they're especially ideal for those who prefer a little crunch in their cookie.

Of course, those aforementioned cornflakes undergo a sugary treatment to make them suitable for a holiday dessert spread. Once all is said and done, you can store these cookies for up to four days at room temperature, so if you're traveling for the holidays but don't want to show up empty-handed, these cookies will survive the trip with ease.

Recipe: Christmas Wreath Cookies

19. Eggnog Ice Cream

Surprisingly, this eggnog ice cream doesn't actually contain eggnog; instead, it contains ingredients that will mimic the flavors of the iconic holiday beverage, but it's suitable for those who have an egg allergy. Heavy cream and sweetened condensed milk help give this ice cream that classic eggnog creaminess, whereas nutmeg and cinnamon help spice things up.

Another perk to this ice cream recipe is that it's a no-churn one, so you don't need any special equipment to make the magic happen. You will need plenty of time to chill the ice cream (at least 12 hours), but since you'll be making this dessert ahead of time, that shouldn't be an issue.

Recipe: Eggnog Ice Cream

20. Chocolate Trifle

This chocolate trifle is not for the weak — featuring layers of chocolate mousse, brownie chunks, and Amaretto-infused cream, this rich dessert tastes as good as it looks. And, one glance at this exquisitely-presented dessert shows that it looks pretty good, certainly good enough to serve as the centerpiece on your holiday dessert table.

While there is some work involved in making all of those layers look just right, once everything is assembled in the trifle dish, you can just pop the whole thing in the fridge. Once you're ready to serve, simply pull the dish out and scoop up individual servings — just be sure that each plate has a little bit of everything, all the way down to the brownie crumbles.

Recipe: Chocolate Trifle