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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

Time35 minutes
YieldsServes 8 to 10

Molten Chocolate Cakes

Time30 minutes
YieldsServes 4

Momofuku's Crack Pie

Time1 hour 30 minutes
YieldsMakes 2 pies (6 to 8 servings each)

Simpler Salted Caramel-Chocolate Tart

Time3 hours 30 minutes, largely unattended
YieldsServes 8 to 12

Olive oil cake with creme fraiche and candied tangerines

Time1 hour 15 minutes
YieldsServes 12

"Better Than Sex" cake

Time2 hours
YieldsServes 12 to 16

Baklava rouláda cookies

Time2 hours
YieldsMakes about 4 dozen cookies

Black Cat Bistro's sticky toffee pudding

Time1 hour 10 minutes
YieldsServes 6

Blood Orange and Rhubarb Tart

Time2 hours
YieldsServes 8 to 10

Blum's Coffee Crunch Cake

Time30 minutes
YieldsServes 12

Brunos' budino al caramello

Time1 hour
YieldsServes 8

Buche de Noel

Time1 hour
YieldsServes 12 to 14

Candy cane chocolate mandel bread

Time1 hour
YieldsMakes 3 to 4 dozen cookies

Caramel banana bread pudding

Time1 hour 10 minutes
YieldsServes 8

Justice Lillie's chocolate mousse pie

Time1 hour 10 minutes
YieldsServes 12

Caramelized fig cake with lemon anglaise

Time1 hour 15 minutes
YieldsServes 8

Caramelized-apple gateau basque

Time2 hours 10 minutes
YieldsServes 10 to 12

Cayenne Cafe's citrus tiramisu

Time1 hour
YieldsServes 8 to 12

Cherry pistachio rugelach

Time1 hour
YieldsMakes 32 cookies

Chestnut cake (gateau de marrons)

Time2 hours
YieldsServes 8 to 10

Chestnut mousse

Time20 minutes
YieldsServes 4

Chocolate chestnut cake

Time2 hours 45 minutes
YieldsServes 16

Cranberry, caramel and almond tart

Time1 hour
YieldsServes 10 to 12

Cucina Rustica's chocolate trio torte

Time1 hour 30 minutes
YieldsServes 16 to 20

Dalgona Tiramisu

Time15 minutes
YieldsServes 2 to 4

Fig and almond tart

Time1 hour 50 minutes
YieldsServes 10 to 12

French-Style Quince Tart

Time3 hours 30 minutes
YieldsServes 8 to 10

Fresh mincemeat pie

Time1 hour 30 minutes
YieldsServes 8 to 10

Gluten-free wedding cakes

Time1 hour 10 minutes
YieldsMakes about 3 1/2 dozen cookies

Gooey Butter Cake Squares

Time1 hour 10 minutes
YieldsMakes 2 dozen

Hazelnut torte with espresso cream

Time1 hour 40 minutes
YieldsServes 10 to 12

Holiday pie

Time1 hour 20 minutes
YieldsServes 10

Linzer cookies with persimmon filling

Time2 hours
YieldsMakes 2 to 3 dozen cookies, depending on size

Love goddess cake

Time2 hours
YieldsServes 10 to 12

Mamie's Million-Dollar Fudge

Time20 minutes
YieldsMakes 117 pieces

Yank Sing's egg tarts

Time1 hour
YieldsMakes 6 to 12 tarts, depending on size

Maple pecan pie bars

Time1 hour 30 minutes
YieldsMakes 2 to 3 dozen bars, depending on size

Marzipan tarts

Time25 minutes
YieldsServes 4

Meyer lemon curd tart

Time2 hours
YieldsServes 8

Meyer lemon lavender shortbread

Time45 minutes
YieldsMakes 20 cookies

Meyer lemon trifle cake

Time1 hour 20 minutes
YieldsServes 12 to 14

Milk's molasses cookies

Time1 hour
YieldsMakes 2 dozen cookies

Pear frangipane tart

Time1 hour 30 minutes
YieldsServes 8

Peppermint Bark Brownies

Time40 minutes
YieldsMakes one 17- by-12-inch tray (about 4 dozen)

Persimmon Cake With Rum Orange Icing

Time2 hours
YieldsServes 20 to 24

Pink Pepper and Raspberry Jam Linzers

Time45 minutes
YieldsMakes about 2 dozen sandwich cookies

Proof Bakery's chocolate espresso layer cake

Time2 hours
YieldsServes 8 to 12

Pumpkin cake with sour cream ganache

Time1 hour 10 minutes
YieldsServes 12 to 16

Pumpkin cheesecake

Time2 hours 50 minutes
YieldsServes 8 to 12

Jeremiah Tower's Pumpkin gingerbread with rum cream

Time50 minutes
YieldsServes 6 to 8

Pumpkin Nemesis

Time1 hour 20 minutes, plus 1 1/2 hours unattended
YieldsServes 8 to 12

République's chocolate fondant cake

Time40 minutes
YieldsServes 6

Rich chocolate-almond cake

Time1 hour
YieldsServes 4 to 6

Rose, cardamom and pistachio snowballs

Time40 minutes
YieldsMakes about 2 dozen cookies.

Royal Sonesta Double Chocolate Cake

Time1 hour 10 minutes
YieldsServes 8 to 10

Salted caramel bread pudding

Time1 hour 30 minutes
YieldsServes 10 to 12

See's Fudge

Time15 minutes
YieldsMakes 24 pieces

Shortbread Bars with Dark Caramel and Chocolate

Time2 hours
YieldsMakes about 5 dozen (3 1/2-inch) bars

'Million Dollar' pie

Time45 minutes
YieldsServes 8

Sicilian rum cake (Cassata)

Time1 hour, plus 1 hour chilling
YieldsServes 8 to 10

Tahini shortbread cookies

Time40 minutes
YieldsMakes about 3 ½ dozen cookies

The Simplest Apple Tart

Time1 hour 15 minutes
YieldsServes 4

Upside-down cranberry cake

TimeActive work time: 20 minutes Total preparation time: 1 hour
YieldsServes 14 to 16

Vegan almond sable cookies with cacao nibs

Time45 minutes
YieldsMakes about 1 1/2 dozen cookies

Vegan Linzer cookies

Time1 hour
YieldsThis makes about 1½ dozen (2½ inch) cookies

White Christmas Chiffon Cake

Time1 hour 50 minutes
YieldsServes 12