You’ve filled up on so much goodness already, you really don’t know if you can cram any more in. You’ve packed away every type of nutrition you need — every food group, every treasured taste. You’re nourished, sated, and ready to sit back, relax and get down to the seriously pleasant business of digesting it all.
Only you don’t… not quite yet. Because you know that the next things coming out of the kitchen door are the most memorable of all. It’s the crowd-pleaser, the pièce de la resistance, the ultimate cherry on top.
It’s time for the dessert course.
Over the last few weeks, we’ve been sharing our Home for the Holidays recipe series, with marketing experts and influencers sharing the dishes that they look forward to most. It’s perhaps no surprise that most of the foodie favorites they put forward fall into the dessert category. These are the key ingredients that the holidays wouldn’t be the holidays without. Sweet festive treats form some of our earliest and most magical holiday memories. And you’ll find plenty of inspiration here to help you start making some new ones of your own.
As with the earlier courses in our crowd-sourced festive feast, we’re pairing these delicious deserts with some recipes of ActiveCampaign’s own. Like the desserts, they’re designed to wrap up one experience of your business in a way that leaves your customers craving more. They’re that all-important final element that helps make everything work.
Scroll down for our full selection of delicious holiday desserts – and catch up with all of the other courses with the full recipe selection on our Home for the Holidays site. And make sure you register for our Yule Log Fireside Chat with bestselling author and MarketingProfs Chief Content Officer, Ann Handley. It’s another feast of ideas for adding that final flourish to your customer experiences.
Dessert Number 1: Grammy’s Peanut Blossoms
From Jay Baer, Founder, Convince and Convert
“This is from my grandmother, Florence Meyer (Ranch). She was among the first women to attain a degree in molecular biology from the University of Nebraska and was also a great cook and a fantastic grandma. In fact, loooooong before Spotify and even iPods, she used to record herself reading storybooks to me on an old cassette recorder and send them to me. I was like 6 years old.
Being from Nebraska, my family has a lot of holiday recipes that are meat and potato-oriented. But this is my favorite, a cherished cookie concoction that isn’t necessarily holiday in its ingredients, but that’s when my Grammy would always make them.”
You will need (makes four dozen cookies):
- 1 3/4 cups flour
- 1 tsp baking soda
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
- A shallow dish of white sugar
- 1/2 cup shortening
- 1/2 cup peanut butter
- 1 egg
- 2 tbsp milk
- 1 tsp vanilla
- 48 Hershey’s kisses, unwrapped
- Combine all the ingredients except the candy and white sugar.
- Mix well and shape dough into balls, using a teaspoon.
- Roll the balls in white sugar and place on ungreased cookie sheets before baking in the oven at 375 degrees Fahrenheit for 11 minutes.
- Remove from the oven and top each cookie immediately with a Hershey’s kiss.
- Press down firmly so the cookie cracks around the edges.
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Dessert Number 2: Cheesecake
From Cathy McPhillips, VP of Marketing, Content Marketing Institute
“Christmas Eves dating back to the 70s involved trips to my Aunt Jean and Uncle Mel’s. They had lots of land, and we loved playing there, especially in the snow on the rolling hills on their property. I vividly remember my sister and I being so cold and exhausted from playing in the snow, so we went into the master bedroom and fell asleep under everyone’s coats until our parents woke us for the 45-min trek home, over the river, and through the woods – literally.
Aunt Jean’s go-to recipes on holidays were her stuffed cabbage and her cheesecake. She’d cut the cheesecake in 2 inch squares and put on a platter, and I’d walk by and grab a piece, and then continue to keep passing through the room to take another, not thinking anyone would notice. (They did!) Aunt Jean passed away a few years ago, but thankfully my mom and cousin have mastered this recipe! I don’t have a sweet tooth, but this cheesecake is the only dessert I truly can’t resist.”
You will need:
- 1.5 cups graham cracker crumbs
- ¼ cup margarine
- ¼ cup sugar
- (3) 8 oz. packages of cream cheese, room temperature
- 5 eggs
- 1.5 tsp vanilla
- 1 pint sour cream
- ¼ cup of sugar
- 1 tsp vanilla
For the crust:
- Melt the margarine
- Add the graham cracker crumbs and sugar
- Mix and pour into 9×13 cake pan
- Pat the bottom of the pan and halfway up the sides
To make the filling:
- Put cream cheese in the mixer, add sugar, and mix well
- Add the eggs one at a time, then the vanilla and mix until smooth before adding to the graham cracker crust.
- Then bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 30 to 40 minutes.
- When it’s done, mix the topping ingredients and pour them on top of the warm cheesecake, spreading evenly.
- Put the whole thing back in the oven for 5 minutes. Then remove and refrigerate.
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Dessert Number 3: Thumbprint Cookies
Laura Gassner Otting, Author, Speaker, Coach
“Imagine that you are a nice Jewish Girl from Miami going home for your very first Christmas at the childhood home of a nice Catholic Boy from Cincinnati. Greeting you is your future mother-in-law, and she’s carrying the most delicious cookies you’ve ever tasted: the thumbprint cookies. They are buttery, they are sugary, and filled with red and green frosting. A family tradition! They are, in a word, Christmas, as are the hours you’ll come to spend baking cookies together in the decades to come, talking and getting to know each other until, eventually, your children join in, too, and those memories become Christmas for you.”
P.S. I know that these cookies had already been passed down through the generations before they got to me. Here’s the note that I found with the recipe:
“These are my mom’s recipes, and any details are left to your imagination”
Barbara Otting — December, 1969
You will need:
- 3/4 cup finely chopped nuts
- 1 cup butter
- 1 cup brown sugar – firmly packed!
- 1 egg (yolk and white separated)
- 1 tsp. vanilla
- 1 cup flour
- 1 tsp. salt
- Mix together the butter, brown sugar, egg yolk, and vanilla to form a batter, then stir in flour and salt.
- Chill your batter and then roll it into balls.
- Meanwhile beat the egg white slightly with a fork, dip the balls in the egg white and then roll them in the nuts.
- Place them on a greased baking sheet and bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for five minutes.
- Take them out, place a thumbprint in the center of each one, return to oven and bake for eight minutes more.
- Take them out and decorate the center with icing.
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Dessert Number 4: Coconut Bon Bons
Lee Odden, CEO at TopRank Marketing
“The warm, magical atmosphere of the holidays has been a source of many happy memories for me since I was a kid. Family happily gathered together with kids playing and parents reminiscing, a real fire burning in the fireplace, Bing Crosby or Johnny Mathis singing Christmas songs in the background, tinkling lights, decorations and a cornucopia of delicious smells coming from the kitchen all spell home for me.
One of those intoxicating smells of home came from the wide range of cookies my Mom would make and my favorites were always the Coconut Bon Bons.”
You will need:
- 2 lbs powdered sugar
- 14 oz flaked coconut
- 2 cups chopped walnuts
- 1 stick of butter
- 1 can sweetened condensed milk
- Mix together the sugar, coconut and walnuts, then add the butter and condensed milk.
- After all the ingredients are thoroughly mixed, roll into balls half the size of a golf ball.
- Separately, melt 12 oz chocolate chips with 1/2 sheet of paraffin wax, then use a toothpick to dip the balls into the melted chocolate and place on wax paper to cool.
- Enjoy! And then go run a half marathon to burn the calories 🙂
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Desert Number 5: Yule Log
From Kerry O’Shea Gorgone, Marketing Director at Marketing Profs and Co-Host of The Backpack Show with Chris Brogan
“My parents weren’t much for cooking, but we did occasionally host Christmas dinner at our house. Those dinners were my favorites because our neighbor, Mrs. Gilmore, would come over. She always brought a Yule Log, frosted sponge cake rolled up into a log shape and frosted with chocolate icing. Her Yule Logs always featured elaborate holiday scenes.
She’d place a tiny mirror pond on top of the log, surrounded by snow dusted trees, then finish it with tiny ice skaters. Everyone was different, and they were all tiny windows into a perfect country holiday. I’ve used different recipes over the years, but this one has mascarpone whipped cream, just like Mrs. Gilmore’s. No idea where she got the tiny, pond-shaped mirror, though. That’s a holiday mystery for the ages!”
You will need:
For the chocolate cake:
- 3/4 cup (98g) all-purpose flour
- 1/3 cup (38g) Hershey’s Special Dark cocoa powder
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 4 large eggs, divided
- 3/4 cup (155g) granulated sugar
- 5 tbsp (72g) sour cream
- 1/4 cup butter, melted
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
For the Mascarpone whipped cream filling:
- 1 1/4 cups (300ml) heavy whipping cream, cold
- 3/4 cups (86g) powdered sugar
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 1/8 tsp salt
- 8 oz (226g) mascarpone cheese, softened but still chilled*
For the whipped chocolate ganache:
- 8 oz semi-sweet chocolate, finely chopped
- 1 cup heavy whipping cream
- Sugared cranberries (optional)
- Sugared rosemary (optional)
- Preheat the oven to 350°F.
- Line a 17×12 inch jelly roll sheet pan with parchment paper.
- Make sure the parchment paper sticks up at least an inch above the sides of the pan on all sides (you’ll use it later to lift the cake out of the pan and roll it up)
- Whisk the flour, cocoa, baking powder, and salt together in a medium bowl and set aside.
- Put the egg yolks and sugar in a separate, large bowl and whisk together until well combined.
- Then add the sour cream, melted butter, and vanilla extract to this mixture and whisk again until well combined.
- Whisk in the dry ingredients from your medium bowl, combine well and then set aside.
- Add the egg whites to a separate large mixer bowl and whip at high speed until stiff peaks form. Then gently fold about 1/3 of these whipped egg whites into the chocolate mixture to loosen up the batter.
- Add the remaining egg whites and gently fold together until well combined.
- Spread your cake batter evenly into the prepared pan and bake for 10-12 minutes, or until the top of the cake springs back when touched and a toothpick inserted comes out clean.
- Remove the cake from the oven and immediately lift it out of the pan using the parchment paper and place it on the counter.
- While the cake is hot, use the parchment paper to slowly roll it up, starting at the smaller end. Set it aside to cool completely.
- When the cake has cooled and is ready to be filled, make the filling.
- Add the heavy whipping cream, powdered sugar, vanilla extract, and salt to a large mixer bowl and whip on high speed until soft peaks form.
- Add the mascarpone cheese to the whipped cream and whip until stiff peaks form, which will happen fairly quickly.
- Now unroll the cake roll very carefully, looking out for areas where it may be sticking to release it. You can use an offset spatula or something similar and run it along the parchment paper as you unroll the cake to help release it as it unrolls.
- Spread the filling evenly onto the unrolled cake, then roll it back up without the parchment paper.
- Wrap it up in plastic wrap with the seam side down and refrigerate for at least an hour to firm up.
- When you’re ready to decorate the cake, make the chocolate ganache. Add the chocolate to a medium-sized bowl and set aside.
- Heat the cream in the microwave just until it begins to boil, then pour it over the chocolate.
- Allow the chocolate and cream to sit for a few minutes, then whisk until smooth.
- Let the ganache cool to about room temperature, then transfer to a large mixer bowl and whip on high speed until lightened in color and thick enough to spread.
- To decorate the cake, use a large serrated knife to gently cut off a piece of the log about 3 inches in length. Make the cut with a slight diagonal and use some of the chocolate ganache to attach the small log to the side of the larger log.
- Spread the remaining chocolate ganache all over the cake, then use a fork to create bark-like lines all over it.
- Decorate with sugared cranberries and rosemary, if desired, and refrigerate until you’re ready to serve.
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Dessert Number 6: Pumpkin Bread with Brown Butter Frosting
From Sydney Lynch, Client Success Manager, L2
“I used to live down the street from the ActiveCampaign office and I brought Jay (Quiles, ActiveCampaign Agency Partner Manager) a loaf of this around the holidays a few years ago. He kept telling everyone about my baking without ever tasting anything else I’ve made.”
You will need:
- 3 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 tsp ground cloves
- 1 tsp ground ginger
- 2 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1 tsp ground nutmeg
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1 tsp baking soda
- 1/2 tsp baking powder
- 2 1/2 cups granulated sugar
- 1 cup butter, very soft
- 3 large eggs
- 1 16 oz can of pure pumpkin
And for the browned butter frosting:
- 1/2 cup butter
- 2 cups powdered sugar
- 1 tbsp milk
- 1 tsp vanilla
- Preheat the oven to 350˚F and spray two medium loaf pans with non-stick spray.
- In a medium bowl, mix the flour, spices, salt, baking soda, and baking powder and set aside.
- Cream the sugar, butter and eggs in the bowl of a stand mixer with wire whisk attached, on medium speed for about two minutes or until fluffy.
- Add the pumpkin and combine well, then add the dry ingredients in two or three batches and mix until just incorporated. Scrape the sides between each batch.
- Pour the batter into your pans. Bake side-by-side for about one hour or until the top is golden and an inserted knife comes out clean.
To make the frosting:
- Melt the butter in a small saucepan over a low heat, and let it cook till it’s a delicate brown color.
- Remove from heat, pour into a mixing bowl, and leave to cool.
- Using an electric mixer, combine powdered sugar with browned butter.
- Add the milk and vanilla, and then add more milk as needed to reach spreading consistency.
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Dessert Number 7: Apple Pie by Grandma Ople
From Adam Horsman, Co-Founder, Sakari
“You simply can’t go wrong with a classic apple pie recipe – and this isn’t just any old run of the mill version. It’s officially the most popular apple pie recipe on the internet. As of this posting there are 11,351 reviews with more than 3900 photos, with the overwhelming majority of them being incredibly positive. It’s like the Kenny G* of Apple Pie recipes! (*Kenny G is the best-selling holiday artist of all time).”
You will need:
- Enough pastry for a 9-inch double crust pie
- ½ cup unsalted butter
- 3 tbsps all-purpose flour
- ¼ cup of water
- ½ cup white sugar
- ½ cup packed brown sugar
- 8 Granny Smith apples – peeled, cored, and sliced
- Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F (220 degrees C).
- Meanwhile, melt the butter in a saucepan and stir in the flour to form a paste.
- Add water, white sugar and brown sugar, bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer.
- Place the bottom crust of the pastry in your pan.
- Fill with apples, mounded slightly. Cover with a lattice work crust, and then gently pour the sugar and butter liquid over the crust, going slowly so that it doesn’t runoff.
- Bake the pie for 15 minutes in the preheated oven, then reduce the temperature to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C) and continue baking for 35 to 45 minutes, until the apples are soft.
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Dessert Number 8: Pignoli Cookies
From Jay Acunzo, Founder, Marketing Showrunners. Speaker. Author.
“Every holiday season, my parents’ house basically becomes a Christmas cookie bakery. My sister, my dad, and I all give my mom a hard time about how the insane number of decorations makes it look like Christmas vomited all over the house, but really, we love it. We’re Italians. Of course we do! Christmas Eve with seven types of fish. Christmas Day with endless antipasto, plus a prime rib or ham, and for some reason, a serving of manicotti as an “appetizer.” (That’s pronounced “mon-ee-GAWT,” by the way. Chop the ending, harden the C, and manicotti becomes manigott.)
At the center of all of all of this food is one special treat: the impossibly addictive pignoli cookie. (That’s pronounced “pinYOlee,” by the way. The “gn” in Italian is like the “ñ” in Spanish. It makes a “nyah” sound.”)
Make them now. Thank me later. Enjoy — and happy holidays!”
You will need:
- 1 lb almond paste
- 1 lb pignoli
- 2 cups sugar
- 4 egg whites – large eggs
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Mix the almond paste, sugar, and egg whites in a mixer until blended, then roll into balls the size of large marbles and roll to coat them in pignoli nuts.
- Shape your cookie balls into crescent shapes and place onto cookie sheets lined with parchment paper.
- Bake for 15 minutes until lightly brown, then cool for 10 minutes before removing and placing on racks to finish cooling.
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Dessert Number 9: Thumbprint Cookies
From Carla Johnson, Marketing & Innovation Strategist
“My mom made these cookies once a year – for Christmas. I grew up on a farm, the youngest of five kids, and we saved money however we could. My mom bought the big bags of whole walnut nuts, and my sister and I had to sit at the kitchen table for hours pounding the nuts and digging out the meat. It was a pain in the patootie, but this was my favorite Christmas cookie, so it was always worth it. Also, when it says to press your thumb into the hot cookie dough that just came out of the oven…don’t. Use the end of a wooden spoon or something else along those lines. You’ll save yourself a holiday injury.”
You will need:
- 1 cup soft shortening
- ½ cup brown sugar
- 2 egg yolks
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 2 cups flour
- ½ teaspoon salt
- finely chopped walnuts
- Mix together the shortening, brown sugar, egg yolks, and vanilla, then add the flour and salt.
- Roll the mix into 3 cm balls (1 inch), dip in the slightly beaten egg whites, then roll in finely chopped nuts.
- Heat your oven to 375 F (190 C) and bake for five minutes.
- Once you remove your cookies from the oven press your thumb (or if you don’t fancy burning yourself, the end of a wooden spoon) into each to make a deep indention into the middle.
- Return to the oven and bake another for another eight minutes, then remove and once cooled, fill them with a frosting mixture of powdered sugar, water, and coloring that matches the holidays.
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Dessert Number 10: Chocolate Chip Pumpkin Bread
From Tim Washer, Virtually Funny
“This recipe has been passed down for generations beginning with my great, great grandmother who got it off of Pinterest. It’s always a big hit, except with people who don’t like pumpkin. So before baking it for friends, be sure to check their gourd preferences.”
You will need:
- 1 and 3/4 cups (220g) all-purpose flour
- 1 tsp baking soda
- 2 tsps ground cinnamon
- 1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
- 1/4 tsp ground cloves
- 3/4 tsp salt
- 2 large eggs
- 3/4 cup (150g) granulated sugar
- 1/2 cup (100g) packed light or dark brown sugar
- 1 and 1/2 cups (340g) pumpkin puree (canned or fresh)
- 1/2 cup (120ml) vegetable oil, canola oil, or melted coconut oil
- 1/4 cup (60ml) orange juice (or milk works too!)
- 2/3 cup (120g) semi-sweet chocolate chips
- Adjust the oven rack to the lower third position and preheat the oven to 350°F (177°C). Lowering the oven rack prevents the top of your bread from browning too much too soon.
- Spray a 9×5 inch loaf pan with non-stick spray and set aside.
- In a large bowl, whisk the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, ginger, and salt together until combined.
- Separately, whisk the eggs, granulated sugar, and brown sugar together in a medium bowl, until combined and then whisk in the pumpkin, oil, and orange juice.
- Now pour your wet ingredients from the medium bowl into your dry ingredients in the large bowl and gently mix together using a rubber spatula or a wooden spoon. There will be a few lumps. Do not over-mix.
- Gently fold in the chocolate chips, then pour the batter into the prepared loaf pan and bake for 60-65 minutes.
- Make sure to loosely cover the bread with aluminum foil halfway through to prevent the top from getting too brown.
- The bread is done when a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean with only a few small moist crumbs. This may be before or after 60-65 minutes, depending on your oven, so begin checking every five minutes at the 55-minute mark or so.
- Allow the bread to cool completely in the pan on a wire rack before removing and slicing.
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Dessert Number 11: Pistachio Baklava
From Briana Strauss, Partner Marketing Manager, Jotform
“This classic dessert of the Middle East and the Mediterranean has many variations depending on the country of origin. But what’s always consistent is the crisp pastry layered with nuts and covered in a deliciously sweet sugary syrup that’s sure to be the shining star of your holiday table.”
You will need:
- 2 ¼ cups/300 grams shelled pistachio nuts
- 4 sticks/2 cups/454 grams unsalted butter
- 1 lb phyllo dough, defrosted overnight in the refrigerator
- 3 cups/600 grams of sugar
- Juice of 1/2 lemon, more to taste
- Pulse the pistachios in a food processor until coarsely ground (or you can chop them by hand until very finely chopped). Don’t overprocess the nuts. You want to maintain some texture.
- Clarify the butter by melting it over low heat, then letting it cook until the foam rises to the top and the milk solids fall to the bottom of the pan. This could take up to 15 minutes – don’t rush it or the butter could burn.
- Skim the foam off by straining through a piece of cheesecloth over a bowl.
- Heat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit and brush the inside of a 9-by-13-inch baking pan with a little of the clarified butter.
- Prepare the phyllo dough by trimming the stack of it with scissors to fit the bottom of your baking dish, if necessary. Keep the dough covered with a damp piece of kitchen towel.
- Place one piece of phyllo on the bottom of the baking pan and brush lightly with clarified butter.
- Layer more phyllo sheets on top, brushing each sheet with butter as you go, until half the phyllo is used.
- Spread pistachios on the phyllo in an even layer, then layer with remaining phyllo, brushing each sheet with butter as you go (you might need to rewarm the butter).
- Now cut your pastry layers into 36 pieces, using clean up-and-down strokes and rotating the pan if necessary. Make sure to cut all the way through to bottom of pan.
- Pour any remaining butter evenly over pan.
- Bake your baklava until the top is golden brown, and the lower phyllo layers beneath the pistachios are thoroughly baked through. To test this, use a knife to lift up a corner of one of the pastry rectangles from the center of the pan so you can peek at the bottom layers.
- Start checking after 40 minutes, but it could take an hour or even 1 hour 10 minutes. If the top starts to get too brown before the pastry is cooked through, lay a piece of foil over the top.
- Meanwhile, prepare sugar syrup. In a medium pot, combine sugar with 1 2/3 cups/400 milliliters water.
- Bring to a boil, then let simmer for 10 minutes, until slightly thickened and stir in the lemon juice.
- When the baklava is baked through, reheat the syrup until it comes to a simmer. Remove the pan from the oven and place in the sink or on a rimmed baking sheet to catch any drips of syrup.
- Slowly pour hot sugar syrup over the pastry; it will bubble up and some may overflow. When the syrup stops bubbling, move your pan to the wire rack to cool completely.
- Serve at room temperature.
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