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Exciting Holiday Desserts That Go Beyond the Expected

As friends and family gather, it's the perfect time to try something new

spinner image A woman kneading dough
Kerkez / Getty Images

Pies and Christmas cookies will always have a place at the holiday table. But that doesn't mean you can't mix things up with nontraditional desserts to surprise and delight your family and guests.

​This year’s celebrations are extra special as friends and family come together, so it could be the right time to experiment.

"It's always great to do another type of dessert than your traditional pies,” says Robert Nieto, pastry chef with Jackson Family Wines in California's Sonoma County. “With all the seasonal fruits that are out there right now that you can use, it's interesting to try something other than pumpkin, pecans and apples.”

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Nieto suggests a persimmon tart that's as pretty as it tastes—and surprisingly easy to make, particularly if you substitute store-bought dough for homemade.

"Dessert is really important, especially during the holidays,” says Nieto. “It's the finale of the night, and you want people to love what you just made.”

This year, try these nontraditional dessert recipes for your own grand finale.

spinner image Persimmon Tartetatin
Allen Campbell Photography

Tarte tatin made with festive persimmons

Usually made with apples, tarte tatin takes on orangey autumn hues when you make it with persimmons instead.

"Persimmons are very different,” says Nieto. “Their taste is not too sweet. They have a crunchy texture almost like an apple.”

The reveal comes when you flip this tart over to uncover the beautiful caramelized pattern of the fruit.

Persimmon Tarte Tatin

For the caramelized persimmons:

  • 2/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 tablespoons firmly packed light brown sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon powdered pectin
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 5 to 7 fuyu persimmons peeled, halved and sliced crosswise 1/4 inch thick

For the dough:

  • 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup cold unsalted butter, cubed
  • 1/3 cup ice-cold water

1. Preheat the oven to 350°F.

2. Prepare the dough by combining flour, sugar and salt and mixing on low. Scatter butter over flour mixture and beat on medium for one minute, until the butter is the size of small peas. Slowly add the ice water and beat until the dough comes together and is evenly moistened. Roll dough on a lightly floured surface into a round 1/8 inch thick. Cut to 9 1/2 inches diameter. (Store-bought dough can be substituted.)

3. Prepare the caramel sauce by stirring together both sugars, salt and pectin in a bowl and set aside. Set an eight-inch ovenproof skillet on the stove over medium heat and add butter. Once melted, sprinkle sugar mixture evenly over the butter. Use a spatula to combine butter and sugar, stirring occasionally, 3 to 5 minutes, until an amber color. Stir in lemon juice and mix until fully incorporated, then remove from heat.

4. Arrange persimmon slices over the hot caramel, starting from the side of the skillet and working toward the center, carefully overlapping slices. Cover skillet with a lid or aluminum foil and bake for 18 minutes, until slightly bubbly.

5. Remove the pan from the oven and carefully lay the dough round atop the persimmons. Return pan to the oven and bake for 35 to 40 minutes, until dough is cooked though and golden brown. Remove tart from oven and let rest for 10 minutes.

6. Gently invert a 10- or 12-inch plate over the skillet and carefully flip the pan and plate together. Lift off the pan and let the tart cool for 25 to 30 minutes. Cut into wedges and serve with whipped cream or ice cream.

spinner image Pumpkin flan cheesecake
Sandor Mejias Brito / Getty Images

A pumpkin spin on a Latin American sweet

Who needs pumpkin pie when you can serve this creamy pumpkin flan? Dolores Wiarco Dweck of the popular Mexican recipe website Lola's Cocina says the flavor combinations of flan, cheesecake and pumpkin pie are magical.

"Top it with edible flowers or fresh berries for that extra wow factor,” Dweck says.

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Pumpkin Cheese Flan

  • 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 15-ounce can pumpkin puree
  • 1 12-ounce can evaporated milk
  • 1 14-ounce can condensed milk
  • 4 ounces cream cheese
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 tablespoon pure Mexican vanilla extract
  • 5 eggs at room temperature

1. Heat oven to 350°F.

2. Prepare caramel by dissolving sugar in a small saucepan over medium-low heat. Once sugar comes to a boil, stir frequently with a wooden spatula until smooth. Working quickly, pour caramelized sugar mixture into a flan pan, a shallow pan often made of non-stick material, tin, steel or glass. Swirl to coat the bottom and sides. Do not touch or attempt to taste caramel — it will be extremely hot.

3. Combine evaporated and condensed milks, pumpkin, cream cheese, cinnamon and vanilla extract and blend until smooth, about 30 seconds. Add eggs and blend another 10 seconds, until just incorporated.

4. Pour mixture into a flan pan.

5. Prepare a water bath by setting flan pan in a larger baking pan or pot. Pour enough hot water into the larger baking pan to come halfway up the sides of flan pan. Place in oven.

6. Bake for approximately 60 minutes or until center of flan is set. Insert a thin-bladed knife into center to check: It should come out clean. It's okay if the knife comes out slightly wet because flan will continue to cook as it cools and sets.

7. Remove from oven and let water cool before removing flan pan from water bath. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

8. To de-mold flan, run a knife carefully around the edges without cutting into flan. Place plate over pan and invert onto a plate. Flan should come out easily with the caramel sauce.

spinner image Caramel apple float
Sarsmis /Getty Images

A boozy after-dinner drink that doubles as dessert

For a 21-and-up twist on apple pie, this boozy, caramel apple-inspired drink has a pretty presentation, is easy to throw together and is bound to impress. If apple pie had a grownup party in a glass, this is what it would taste like.

"The vanilla bean bourbon ice cream also adds creamy flavors and whiskey notes that complement the caramel really well,” say Melissa Tavss, founder of Tipsy Scoop, which sells booze-infused ice cream.

Caramel Apple Float

  • 4 ounces Prosecco or any sparkling white wine
  • 1 scoop Tipsy Scoop Vanilla Bean Bourbon Ice Cream, or similarly flavored ice cream
  • 1 tablespoon jarred caramel sauce
  • Store-bought caramel apple lollipop

1. Drizzle caramel sauce into the bottom of a “rocks” glass.

2. Place one large scoop Vanilla Bourbon Ice Cream into the glass, top with Prosecco.

3. Add another drizzle of caramel sauce on top and garnish with a caramel apple lollipop.

spinner image Chocolate bread pudding
Courtesy St. Pierre Groupe

Bread pudding that goes beyond the expected

Bread pudding is a classic holiday comfort food. You can prepare this decadent dessert, which  comes from European bakery brand provider St. Pierre, the night before to give it time to settle. Then all you have to do is pop it in the oven to enjoy. You can find St. Pierre sweets, like the brioche loaf mentioned below, in many supermarkets and national retailers.

Chocolate Chip Bread and Butter Pudding

  • 8 slices chocolate chip brioche loaf, available in bakeries or online
  • 1 3/4 cups heavy cream
  • 5 1/3 ounces semisweet chocolate
  • 3 1/2 ounces superfine sugar
  • 3 ounces butter
  • 3 large eggs
  • Confectioners’ sugar

1. Butter the sides and bottom of an ovenproof dish.

2. Cut the brioche slices into small triangular pieces, and place in the dish.

3. Place a large mixing bowl on top of a pan of simmering water.

4. Melt the chocolate, butter, sugar and cream in the bowl and stir gently.

5. Beat the eggs together in a separate bowl. Mix the beaten eggs with the chocolate mixture and pour over the brioche.

6. Place the ovenproof dish into the fridge to chill. Leave overnight, if possible.

7. Pre-heat the oven to 300°F and bake for 25-30 minutes.

8. Remove from the oven and dust with confectioners’ sugar. Serve warm with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

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