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Photo Courtesy of Oxmoor House
You have a swanky dinner planned for New Year's Eve at your favorite restaurant, but the crew of friends is all headed back to your house to count down to midnight. It's a good idea to great guests with an array of festive desserts so they can nibble and sip while recounting the best memories of the last 365 days. From sweet-tart Lemon Cheesecake Bars to individual Mini Raspberry Cheesecakes, this collection of New Year's desserts has a treat option for everyone at your party.
Tangy Lemon Cheesecake Bars
Classic lemon squares can contain up to 36 grams of sugar per piece. By putting a tangy cheesecake spin on ours, we’ve cut the sugar down to only 6 grams per pop. Your sweet tooth will agree that these bars are good enough to enjoy year-round.
Chocolate Pecan Pie Truffles
Photo: Peter Frank Edwards
This rich confection is a mash-up of cocoa and pecan pie, plus a little hooch for good measure. Rolling the truffles in dry-roasted almonds adds just the right amount of salty crunch along with each luscious bite.
You might have to marry the miller if you want to grind a large batch of nuts into a pure powdery flour. Commercial producers have equipment designed to finely mill nuts without adding extra ingredients. In smaller quantities, though, you can make flours from less-oily nuts (pecans, hazelnuts, almonds, and pistachios) with a small electric coffee grinder. Work in 1/4-cup increments, and add 1 teaspoon flour with each 1/4 cup of nuts to prevent clumping; pulse to prevent making nut butter. For oilier nuts like macadamias (used in the cake below), you can process whole nuts with purchased almond flour. Nut flours work well in cakes and cookies, as sauce thickeners, and as binders for meatballs or crab cakes. There's no difference between nut meals, nut flours, and nut powders. Some people say meal contains the skins of nuts or the grind is finer or coarser depending on the name. But the names are used interchangeably, and they all mean the same thing: pure milled or pulverized nuts.
Marshmallow Popcorn Treats with Dark Chocolate Drizzle
Reminiscent of classic popcorn balls, these salty-sweet treats make for awesome low-fat snacking. Make a batch to enjoy throughout the week.
Mini Raspberry Cheesecakes
We had the greatest success using a pan with 2 1/2-ounce cups, such as Chicago Metallic's 12-Well Mini Cheesecake Pan ($25). This pan has removable bottoms (similar to a tart pan) so that you simply push each cheesecake up to remove it. You can also bake them in a standard muffin tin; line it with foil liners for easier removal.
Super-Fudgy Teff Brownies
These rich treats are such a game-changer that you may never go back to traditional brownies again. Why would you, when they deliver exactly what you're looking for: dense texture, incredibly fudgy interior, amazing sugar crust on top. It’s that superfine teff flour that makes the magic happen; it becomes slightly gelatinous when cooked—which makes for a moist and fudgy brownie. These decadent sweets are 100% whole grain, no refined flour in sight. Did we mention that they’re gluten free, too?
New Classic Red Velvet Cake
Just the name "red velvet cake" suggests something elegant and rich—dramatic, supermoist layers of tinted chocolate cake coated in a dense, creamy white frosting. 'Tis the season for such decadent pleasures, right? Although it may be the time of year to splurge, it's hard to justify an 880-calorie, 57g-of-fat piece of cake. Ho-ho-holy cow! We had to find a better way to bake this favorite holiday cake and feel better about eating it, too.
Our secret weapon: red beets. Cooking the vibrant-red, naturally sweet vegetables with nonfat buttermilk and vanilla, and then pureeing them into a luscious cream adds an ultramoist, velvety texture to the cake that also allows us to use less oil and butter—a savings of 255 calories and 22g fat. Double bonus: The red beet color eliminates any need for artificial dye.
Crunchy-Chewy Salted Chocolate Chunk Cookies
This has been Executive Food Editor Ann Taylor Pittman's go-to "house" cookie for years—when she tells the kids she's making cookies, it's these guys, made with no-frills, good ol' whole-wheat flour. The good news is that they work with other flours, too (like brown rice flour, buckwheat flour, white whole-wheat flour and whole-wheat pastry flour). They're wonderfully crisp around the edges and chewy in the middle; that soft center comes from using all brown sugar (no granulated) and a drizzle of honey.
Almond Butter and Yogurt-Dipped Fruit
Almond butter and Greek yogurt create one protein-packed combination when it comes to sweet treats. Dip your fresh fruit of choice into the yogurt mixture and eat right away, or freeze the fruit to create a shell similar to dark chocolate covered strawberries.
Mini Cranberry Tarts
Cranberry sauce isn't just for savory meals. Implement this classic holiday ingredient into these easy dessert tarts. An indulgent base of creme fraiche and Greek yogurt balance out the tart fruity topping.
Fresh Gingerbread Squares
Teff flour is a soft, almost-fluffy whole-grain flour with an intense nuttiness that makes it excellent for baking. But the beauty of fresh gingerbread is finding the perfect texture—delicate yet dense—so we add a bit of hearty whole-wheat flour to give this treat a heftier, more winter-worthy base. Stout beers adds a pleasantly earthy bitterness that complements the molasses, fresh ginger, and cinnamon; any frothy leftovers will pair nicely with a still-warm baked square. If you don't have any stout on hand, simply use 1/4 cup additional buttermilk instead.
Think of these tasty little tassies as your own personal pecan pie. They're both salty and sweet, with a hit of oaky bourbon. Whole-grain rye flour adds the perfect touch of sour to the shortbread-like crust, while toasted pecans do double duty in the crust and in the maple-splashed filling. As if that weren't enough to jingle your bell, we drizzle warm bittersweet chocolate over each bite to ensure maximum satisfaction.
Mini Vegan Gingerbread Cakes
Gingerbread is the ultimate holiday treat. Sweetness and spice combine for a flavorful dessert that makes the whole house smell like Christmas. These mini bundt cakes are perfect for guests, with everyone getting their own individual treat. For extra hosting flair, wait to dust them with powdered sugar until they're presented on the dining table. The best part? Each of these totally vegan cakes comes in just under 200 calories.
The easiest way to candy nuts is to toss them with an egg white-sugar mixture, then gently bake them until the sugar melts and the egg whites dry out, forming a crispy candy shell around each nut. The whites serve as an adhesive so the sugar and any flavorings can cling to the nuts. There are other, trickier methods, but this one gives you sure fire results. You can play with spices and sweeteners; try maple sugar or granulated honey. The choice of nut is up to you. A crunchy sugar coating goes hand in hand with any nut, but pecans and walnuts really rise to the occasion: Their craggy surfaces are perfect for catching the egg mixture. Candied nuts are pretty durable, so make a big batch, and store them in a cool, dry place for up to one week.
These traditional German Christmas cookies are made with chopped nuts, citrus, and a variety of warm spices, including the pepper that gives the cookies their name. Greenspan provides ingredient weights in grams, an approach we love because it's more precise than using ounces; a scale is key here.
Frozen Pumpkin Tartlets
You won't even have to take up oven space during your next holiday event with these easy no-bake tarlets. Rich pumpkin and cream cheese combines with a hint of pumpkin spice to freeze beautifully in crispy phyllo dough cups. Taking just 20 minutes, these sweet treats give you the chance to worry about the rest of the meal, instead of fretting over dessert.
Iced Whole-Wheat Sugar Cookies
Whole-wheat flour adds a layer of complexity to these cookies that all-purpose flour can't achieve; the wheat in the whole grain actually enhances the flavors of butter and vanilla. Unlike classic royal icing, which starts with a pound of powdered sugar, we use just 1/2 cup and thicken it with Greek yogurt. Looking for festive colors without the chemicals? Try naturally colored sparkling sugars (such as those from India Tree), which use colorants derived from plants.
Spiced pumpkin adds seasonal color and warm flavors to this magnificent double-decker dessert. Hazelnuts contribute their unique browned butter note to the wonderfully dense cake beneath the silky cheesecake. Shards of brittle add drama and style.
Macadamia Butter Cookies with Dried Cranberries
Photo: Becky Luigart-Stayner
We love these thick, satisfying cookies as humble as peanut butter cookies but not as crumbly. Dried cranberries provide a slightly tart counterpoint to the macadamia nuts' richness. The dough is somewhat sticky; chilling it briefly makes handling easier. Swap in dried cherries, strawberries, or blueberries for the cranberries to suit your taste. They may look like old-fashioned peanut butter cookies, even down to the crosshatch pattern pressed in with a fork, but these treats are completely unique.
Chocolate-Triple Hazelnut Truffles
Photo Courtesy of Oxmoor House
You’ll find a triple hit of hazelnut goodness in these creamy two-bite truffles: hazelnut liqueur, chocolate-hazelnut spread, and toasted salted hazelnuts. Eating just one of these über rich chocolate bites will leave you satisfied.