Bring any one of Anna Olson’s impressive creations to the table after your Christmas feast and even the most stuffed diners will want just a little taste. From a glistening caramel tower of croquembouche to a chocolate gingerbread house cake, these desserts are showstoppers in their own rights.
Flourless Black Forest Roulade
A lighter-than-air flourless jelly roll wraps around kirsch cherry filling and chocolate cream for a version of black forest cake that’s pretty at Christmas or any time of the year.
A throwback Christmas recipe, you may just want to bring back the mincemeat pie as a holiday staple. If you’ve never had it, rest assured, it doesn’t actually contain any meat. The sweet and spiced filling is packed with apples, raisins, currants, cranberries and candied ginger.
Chocolate Spice Gingerbread House Cake
There’s a secret behind this gingerbread house. Instead of being a hollow house, this treat is filled with a sumptuous, spiced chocolate cake. See here for Anna Olson’s best chocolate recipes ever.
You’ll need a (clean) ruler for this by-the-numbers checkerboard cookie recipe. Interspersing strips of chocolate and vanilla dough results in a neat pattern of alternating squares and an impressive result.
White Chocolate Cranberry Mousse
You can use fresh or frozen cranberries as a counterpoint to sweet white chocolate mousse in this vibrant tart. An easy two-ingredient chocolate crumb crust and a removable bottom tart pan make this recipe a simple dessert option that can be prepared up to three days ahead.
Chocolate Pistachio Cantucci
A lighter version of biscotti, these cookies are twice baked for extra crunch and studded with dark chocolate and pistachios. Serve at the holidays with after-dinner cappuccinos or any time for a sweet treat.
Brown Butter Cranberry Gingerbread Cakes
These individual cakes are a little on the fancier side, but so worth it. The components—including a mouthwatering brown butter caramel sauce—can also be made ahead until ready to bake and serve.
Grand Plum Pudding
If you’ve never steamed a pudding before, this plum version is truly grand. This version uses a deep stockpot to hold the 8-cup mould, which is then turned out, cooled and served with crème anglaise.
Chocolate Shortbread and Raspberry Napoleons
This unique take on the traditional napoleon dispenses with the store-bought puff pastry and uses wafer-thin homemade chocolate shortbread. Paired with fresh raspberries and whipped cream, these pretty parcels can be assembled up to four hours in advance, making serving a snap.
A marvel of colourful hues and pastry engineering, this macaron tower is guaranteed to awe. Anna Olson recommends leaving sufficient time for baking and assembly and not to be disheartened at the occasional mishap — a 16” sculpture with 80 to 100 macarons takes time, patience and a steady hand.
A polar opposite to the macaron tower, a croquembouche needs to be assembled as close to serving time as possible in order to avoid sogginess or (horrors) loss of structural integrity in this sky-high stack. Build your own cloud-high tower of fluffy cream puffs with Anna Olson’s precise step-by-step instructions for foolproof profiteroles and caramel spun sugar.
Convert fruitcake haters with this wintery dessert, packed with dried, candied and fresh fruit, plus juice and zest, as well as pecans and a hefty splash of sweet sherry. On the off chance that you don’t get enough takers, these fruitcakes keep for up to eight weeks in a cool place.
Biscotti Ricotta Cheesecake
With a biscotti crust and a ricotta interior reminiscent of cannoli, this cheesecake is truly Italian inspired. Sweet marsala wine pairs nicely with the citrus zest and dark chocolate in the filling.
Gateau St. Honoré
For those who can’t decide over dessert, a Gateau St. Honoré has a little bit of everything: profiteroles with caramel discs, pastry cream, whipped cream and puff pastry. It’s a commitment of time and effort, but the end result is a worthy testament to St. Honoré, the patron saint of pastry chefs.
Leslie Wu is a Toronto-based food and travel writer, editor and explorer. Follow her on Twitter at @leslie_wu.