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Fabulous desserts for the holidays

70 Recipes
This salted caramel chocolate tart is just one of several fabulous holiday desserts.
(Ben Mims / Los Angeles Times)

Life is uncertain. Make dessert first.

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Remember how, as a kid, you would painstakingly eat every last carrot and pea on your dinner plate only to have your mom give you a slice of cantaloupe or a banana at the end of the meal and call it dessert? Don’t get me wrong. I love fruit. But fruit is not dessert, even when eaten at the end of a meal. As I child, I had difficulty articulating the argument, but some years ago, my friend Zvi laid out his dessert rule for me. For something to qualify as dessert, at least two of three ingredients must be present: flour, sugar, chocolate. If it does not meet the criteria, it is a sweet treat, but it is not dessert.

That is not to say that all dessert has to be a chocolate cake or a chocolate tart or chocolate mousse pie. You only need two of the three. So, tiramisu and Linzer cookies, baklava and mandelbread also qualify. Flourless chocolate cake also qualifies because it has sugar and chocolate.

Fruit can be in dessert as with, say, a Meyer lemon trifle cake or a French-style quince tart, because each has both flour and sugar. Caramelized fig cake with lemon Anglaise; cranberry, caramel and almond tart; and pumpkin cheesecake all qualify as well.

Life being what it is, sometimes when I plan a big menu, I run out of time and something gets left out. This is why I make dessert first. So if my bittersweet chocolate Tartufo with olive oil gelato doesn’t come out quite right, I can still whip together a bread pudding or some cookies or fudge to serve at meal’s end. Neither I nor my guests should ever have to pretend that an apple is dessert.

Momed’s Flourless Chocolate Cake

Time 35 minutes
Yields Serves 8 to 10

Molten Chocolate Cakes

Time 30 minutes
Yields Serves 4

Momofuku's Crack Pie

Time 1 hour 30 minutes
Yields Makes 2 pies (6 to 8 servings each)

Simpler Salted Caramel-Chocolate Tart

Time 3 hours 30 minutes, largely unattended
Yields Serves 8 to 12

Olive oil cake with creme fraiche and candied tangerines

Time 1 hour 15 minutes
Yields Serves 12

"Better Than Sex" cake

Time 2 hours
Yields Serves 12 to 16

Alfajor de Nuez (Walnut Cookies With Dulce de Leche and Coconut)

Time 1 hour 30 minutes
Yields Makes 2 dozen

Baklava rouláda cookies

Time 2 hours
Yields Makes about 4 dozen cookies

Black Cat Bistro's sticky toffee pudding

Time 1 hour 10 minutes
Yields Serves 6

Blood Orange and Rhubarb Tart

Time 2 hours
Yields Serves 8 to 10

Blum's Coffee Crunch Cake

Time 30 minutes
Yields Serves 12

Brunos' budino al caramello

Time 1 hour
Yields Serves 8

Buche de Noel

Time 1 hour
Yields Serves 12 to 14

Candy cane chocolate mandel bread

Time 1 hour
Yields Makes 3 to 4 dozen cookies

Caramel banana bread pudding

Time 1 hour 10 minutes
Yields Serves 8

Justice Lillie's chocolate mousse pie

Time 1 hour 10 minutes
Yields Serves 12

Caramelized fig cake with lemon anglaise

Time 1 hour 15 minutes
Yields Serves 8

Caramelized-apple gateau basque

Time 2 hours 10 minutes
Yields Serves 10 to 12

Cayenne Cafe's citrus tiramisu

Time 1 hour
Yields Serves 8 to 12

Cherry pistachio rugelach

Time 1 hour
Yields Makes 32 cookies

Chestnut cake (gateau de marrons)

Time 2 hours
Yields Serves 8 to 10

Chestnut mousse

Time 20 minutes
Yields Serves 4

Chocolate chestnut cake

Time 2 hours 45 minutes
Yields Serves 16

Cranberry, caramel and almond tart

Time 1 hour
Yields Serves 10 to 12

Cucina Rustica's chocolate trio torte

Time 1 hour 30 minutes
Yields Serves 16 to 20

Dalgona Tiramisu

Time 15 minutes
Yields Serves 2 to 4

Fig and almond tart

Time 1 hour 50 minutes
Yields Serves 10 to 12

French-Style Quince Tart

Time 3 hours 30 minutes
Yields Serves 8 to 10

Fresh mincemeat pie

Time 1 hour 30 minutes
Yields Serves 8 to 10

Gluten-free wedding cakes

Time 1 hour 10 minutes
Yields Makes about 3 1/2 dozen cookies

Gooey Butter Cake Squares

Time 1 hour 10 minutes
Yields Makes 2 dozen

Hazelnut torte with espresso cream

Time 1 hour 40 minutes
Yields Serves 10 to 12

Holiday pie

Time 1 hour 20 minutes
Yields Serves 10

Linzer cookies with persimmon filling

Time 2 hours
Yields Makes 2 to 3 dozen cookies, depending on size

Love goddess cake

Time 2 hours
Yields Serves 10 to 12

Mamie's Million-Dollar Fudge

Time 20 minutes
Yields Makes 117 pieces

Yank Sing's egg tarts

Time 1 hour
Yields Makes 6 to 12 tarts, depending on size

Maple pecan pie bars

Time 1 hour 30 minutes
Yields Makes 2 to 3 dozen bars, depending on size

Marzipan tarts

Time 25 minutes
Yields Serves 4

Meyer lemon curd tart

Time 2 hours
Yields Serves 8

Meyer lemon lavender shortbread

Time 45 minutes
Yields Makes 20 cookies

Meyer lemon trifle cake

Time 1 hour 20 minutes
Yields Serves 12 to 14

Milk's molasses cookies

Time 1 hour
Yields Makes 2 dozen cookies

Pear frangipane tart

Time 1 hour 30 minutes
Yields Serves 8

Peppermint Bark Brownies

Time 40 minutes
Yields Makes one 17- by-12-inch tray (about 4 dozen)

Persimmon Cake With Rum Orange Icing

Time 2 hours
Yields Serves 20 to 24

Pink Pepper and Raspberry Jam Linzers

Time 45 minutes
Yields Makes about 2 dozen sandwich cookies

Proof Bakery's chocolate espresso layer cake

Time 2 hours
Yields Serves 8 to 12

Pumpkin cake with sour cream ganache

Time 1 hour 10 minutes
Yields Serves 12 to 16

Pumpkin cheesecake

Time 2 hours 50 minutes
Yields Serves 8 to 12

Pumpkin gingerbread with rum cream

Time 50 minutes
Yields Serves 6 to 8

Pumpkin Nemesis

Time 1 hour 20 minutes, plus 1 1/2 hours unattended
Yields Serves 8 to 12

République's chocolate fondant cake

Time 40 minutes
Yields Serves 6

Rich chocolate-almond cake

Time 1 hour
Yields Serves 4 to 6

Rose, cardamom and pistachio snowballs

Time 40 minutes
Yields Makes about 2 dozen cookies.

Royal Sonesta Double Chocolate Cake

Time 1 hour 10 minutes
Yields Serves 8 to 10

Salted caramel bread pudding

Time 1 hour 30 minutes
Yields Serves 10 to 12

See's Fudge

Time 15 minutes
Yields Makes 24 pieces

Shortbread bars with dark caramel and chocolate

Time 2 hours
Yields Makes about 5 dozen (3 1/2-inch) bars

'Million Dollar' pie

Time 45 minutes
Yields Serves 8

Sicilian rum cake (Cassata)

Time 1 hour, plus 1 hour chilling
Yields Serves 8 to 10

Tahini shortbread cookies

Time 40 minutes
Yields Makes about 3 ½ dozen cookies

The Simplest Apple Tart

Time 1 hour 15 minutes
Yields Serves 4

Upside-down cranberry cake

Time Active work time: 20 minutes Total preparation time: 1 hour
Yields Serves 14 to 16

Vegan almond sable cookies with cacao nibs

Time 45 minutes
Yields Makes about 1 1/2 dozen cookies

Vegan Linzer cookies

Time 1 hour
Yields This makes about 1½ dozen (2½ inch) cookies

White Christmas Chiffon Cake

Time 1 hour 50 minutes
Yields Serves 12