Four Courses of Holiday Sweets: Aperitif, Appetizer, Main Course, and Dessert

a triptych of banana bread, brownies, and chia pudding

In 1984, Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers crooned together on their holiday album: “I just have no use for Christmas without you.” We feel that way about a holiday season without sweets. Whether you’ve got a couple of scaled-down parties on your calendar or you’re planning on spending the season at home, it doesn’t feel like ‘tis the season without baked goods. Here, we’ve curated holiday dessert recipes that are sure to get you in a spirited mood, from a vegan pecan ginger banana bread to an alcohol-free sangria that’s bursting with festive fruity flavors. Consider them your aperitif, appetizer, main course, and dessert—in that order, if you will.

Festive sangria mocktail

Fruity. Festive. Bubbly. (Do we have your attention yet?) This bubbly sangria-inspired drink is made with sparkling pomegranate juice and cranberry juice instead of wine, plus apples, oranges, and fresh cranberries. Add a splash of brandy if you want to give it a little bit of a kick. We highly recommend adding the optional rosemary and thyme, and serving while you play board games with friends while a holiday movie plays in the background. (Might we suggest Die Hard or Batman Returns?)

chia pudding
Take your chia pudding up a notch by heating it on the stove. | Stephanie Evans

Warm chocolate chia pudding

Out of all the times we winged a chia pudding recipe, how did it never occur to us to serve it warm? We don’t have anything against the chilled version, but heating it up on the stovetop is an ingenious way to switch up your average chia pudding in winter, when the last thing on your mind is a cold pudding. And, this recipe is ready in about five minutes tops. For a get-together, serve this in individual glasses with bowls full of toppings such as shredded coconut, chocolate chips, and walnuts. 

banana bread
Use up over-ripe bananas and bake some delicious banana bread. | Stephanie Evans

Pecan ginger banana bread

Banana bread always has, and always will be the best use of over-ripe bananas in our books. (Sorry, green smoothies.) It tastes like it should be a dessert, but it’s technically breakfast, which means that we get to eat cake in the morning. Cake that’s very, very easy to make. Pecans, maple syrup, and ginger give this banana bread a deliciously nutty texture and festive flavor. Serve toasted with lashings of almond butter for a sweet and spicy breakfast or an afternoon tea.

Pack brownies with chocolate chips and hazelnuts for an extra crunch. | Thomas Adams

Chocolate hazelnut brownies

Brownies have got to be one of the best things in the world to ever come out of an oven. Featuring a triple threat of cocoa powder, chopped dark chocolate, and chocolate chips, plus hazelnuts, these brownies have an intensely fudgy texture with a satisfying crunch. And they’re so easy to make that even a beginner baker can handle the heat. (Of the oven, that is.)