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

From vegan banana bread bursting with festive flavors to hazelnut brownies, here are four holiday dessert recipes to celebrate the season.
a triptych of banana bread, brownies, and chia pudding
Looking for holiday sweet inspiration? Consider one of these indulgent recipes. | Stephanie Evans, Thomas Adams, Stephanie Evans

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?)

Festive Sangria Mocktail

By LIVEKINDLY

Ingredients

  • ½ medium apple, chopped
  • ½ medium orange, chopped
  • 2 cups sparkling pomegranate juice
  • 6 cups cranberry juice
  • 1/4 cup fresh cranberries, optional
  • 4 sprigs  rosemary, mint or thyme, optional
  • 4 orange slices, optional

Preparation

  1. 1
    Chop the apple and orange and add to a pitcher.
  2. 2
    Add the sparkling pomegranate juice (if you don’t have sparkling pomegranate juice, you can make it by mixing sparkling water and pomegranate juice in a one-to-one ratio).
  3. 3
    Muddle with a wooden spoon or muddler to help break down the fruit.
  4. 4
    Add six cups of cranberry juice to the pitcher and stir.
  5. 5
    Pour the sangria mocktail into glasses and garnish with cranberries, fresh herbs like rosemary, mint or thyme, and an orange wedge, slice or pinwheel.
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. 

Warm Chia Pudding

By LIVEKINDLY

Ingredients

  • ¾ cup coconut milk  
  • 3 tablespoons chia seeds  
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons chocolate vegan protein powder, depending on your preference (or 1 tablespoon cocoa powder)
  • 1 teaspoon sugar or other sweetener, optional
  • Topping of strawberries, coconut flakes, and banana, optional

Preparation

  1. 1
    In a saucepan, gently heat up the coconut milk until it starts to simmer.
  2. 2
    Add in the chia seeds and stir until the mixture thickens.
  3. 3
    Mix in the protein powder or cocoa and sugar if using. Top with desired toppings and serve.
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.

Pecan Ginger Banana Bread

By LIVEKINDLY

Ingredients

  • 2 to 3 very ripe bananas, mashed
  • 2 tablespoons ground flaxseed, plus 4 tablespoons water
  • ⅓ cup maple syrup
  • ½ cup coconut yogurt
  • ½ tsp vanilla bean extract
  • 1 cup plain flour
  • ⅔ cup buckwheat flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon ginger
  • pinch of salt
  • ¼ cup vegan butter, melted
  • ⅓ cup chopped pecans, plus a few extra for topping

Preparation

  1. 1
    Preheat oven to 160C and grease a loaf tin with oil.
  2. 2
    In a large bowl, whisk together the banana, flax eggs, maple syrup, yoghurt and vanilla extract until combined.
  3. 3
    Gently mix in the flours, soda, ginger and salt until smooth.
  4. 4
    Melt the butter and stir into the batter with the pecans.
  5. 5
    Pour batter into your loaf tin, and sprinkle over a few extra pecans.
  6. 6
    Bake in the oven for 50 to 60 minutes until a skewer comes out clean. If the top begins to brown too soon, turn the temperature down by 10 degrees.

Recipe Notes

Serve toasted, with lashings of almond butter for a delicious morning breakfast or afternoon tea.

brownies
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.) 

Hazelnut Brownies

By LIVEKINDLY

10 mins to prep
25 mins to cook
Yields 12

Ingredients

  • ½ cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • ¾ cup cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • ½ cup dark chocolate, melted
  • 1 cup soy yogurt (or coconut yogurt)
  • ⅓ cup maple syrup
  • ⅓ cup plant milk
  • 1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
  • pinch of salt
  • ¾ cup chocolate chips
  • ½ cup blanched hazelnuts

Preparation

  1. 1
    Line a 8-inch square baking tin with parchment paper and preheat the oven to 356 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. 2
    Mix together the melted chocolate, soy yogurt, maple syrup, apple cider vinegar and plant milk together in a bowl until completely smooth.
  3. 3
    Sieve together the dry ingredients (flour, cocoa powder, baking powder and salt). Add in most of the hazelnuts and chocolate chips into the dry mix.
  4. 4
    Fold in the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients until fully incorporated.
  5. 5
    Pour the brownie batter into the lined baking tin. Sprinkle the remaining chocolate chips and hazelnuts on top and bake in the oven for 20 to 25 minutes.
  6. 6
    Take out of the oven and allow to cool, then serve.

Recipe Notes

You will need an 8-inch square baking tin.

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