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16 Ambitious Desserts That Are Easier to Make Than You Think

Gain confidence in the kitchen by using these tips to tackle complex desserts.
FACT CHECKED BY Jordan Powers Willard
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The holidays are the perfect time to show off your dessert-making skills. After all, there's no better time to try out a new recipe or attempt a gorgeous dessert you've always wanted to. But admittedly, if you don't regularly bake or spend much time in the kitchen, there are plenty of dessert recipes that can be intimidating and too difficult to try—so you never do. However, knowledge is power. The more workarounds and tips that can aid in simplifying your recipe, the easier it will be to prepare your desserts.

To get advice on how to make these ambitious dessert recipes easier for you to DIY, we spoke with Amber Pankonin, MS, RD, LMNT, CEC, registered dietitian, chef, and owner of the food blog Stirlist.

"Preparing the perfect show-stopper dessert can be intimidating but not impossible, especially if you can learn to beat eggs, the right equipment, and have a working oven," explains Pankonin.

Because we want you to take the word "impossible" out of your repertoire, Pankonin shared her tips on how to make these 16 ambitious desserts easier and less intimidating for any cook in the kitchen. And for more cooking advice, be sure to also check out 20 Super-Simple Dinner Recipes With Just 5 Ingredients.



Meringue is the white, fluffy-looking dessert that is made by mixing egg whites and sugar. But it can be a tricky dessert to nail.

"Meringue can be challenging especially when it comes to achieving the right consistency for the egg whites," says Pankonin. "Make sure to bring your egg whites to room temperature before beating and only beat until peaks are stiff, being careful not to overmix."


coconut macaroons

Coconut fans are probably obsessed with macaroons—and like meringue, they require a special touch with egg whites.

"Coconut macaroons call for egg whites that are whipped and combined with shredded coconut," says Pankonin. "Make sure to use parchment paper when baking to avoid scrubbing baking pans later on. The addition of chocolate can also add a nice touch."

Cream Puffs

cream puffs

Cream Puffs utilize choux pastry, which is made on the stovetop and then can be transferred to a stand mixer. Problems can occur if you add too many eggs or if you do not cook them long enough. Make sure to do a test batch and evaluate doneness before piping in the filling.

Gingerbread houses

gingerbread house

Few things are more holiday than gingerbread and gingerbread houses. If you plan to make one this year, it's important to use a specific icing that will help support the structure.

"Gingerbread is easy to prepare but gingerbread houses can be difficult to construct if there's a lack of (strong) icing," says Pankonin. "Make sure to use royal icing, made of egg whites and sugar, to help act as a glue between pieces.

Figgy pudding

Figgy pudding

The lyrics from "We Wish You a Merry Christmas" don't mention that figgy pudding can actually be really difficult to make.

"The first challenge can be identifying the exact meaning of figgy pudding and what recipe or source to trust when seeking to prepare it. Known for being a traditional English dessert, it's less of a pudding and more of a cake," says Pankonin. "In addition to the proper ingredients, you'll need a good whisk, a bundt mold, and patience, as this dessert is traditionally steamed."

Yule log cake

yule log

A Yule log cake, also known as a bûche de Noël, is a gorgeous chocolate sponge cake that looks like a Swiss roll.

"What's so hard about rolling up sponge cake? Well, if your sponge is too dry or if you waited too long to roll it, it could crack and fall apart," says Pankonin. "Be careful not to overbake the sponge and use oil instead of butter to help prevent cracking."


chocolate dipped biscotti and coffee

There's nothing better than munching on a crunch biscotti with your coffee or tea–but while they may seem simple, nailing the texture requires some extra work.

"Biscotti is meant to be crispy and dry but not too crumbly. Biscotti is essentially a twice baked cookie, so don't try to skip any steps here," says Pankonin. "Get creative by adding chocolate or dried fruits like dried cranberries or yellow raisins."



Cheesecake is a super thick dessert, which means it's one dessert that can take a long time to bake.

"Cheesecake isn't that difficult to prepare, but it can be time consuming," says Pankonin. "You can opt for a no-bake version or purchase a crust that is premade to make preparation less time consuming."


grand marnier souffle

Soufflés are so pretty–light, airy and with lots of height, they can be a high-maintenance dessert to nail.

"One of the biggest mistakes you can make with a soufflé is baking it too long, which causes it to become dry and collapse," says Pankonin. "Also, make sure to bake your soufflé in ramekins on top of a baking sheet, which can prevent excessive movement while transporting from oven to counter."



Fruitcake has a rep for being a detested holiday dessert. But if you want to make one that actually tastes good, find a recipe with ingredients you know you like, as well as alcohol.

"Even though it might not have a great reputation, fruit cake can be delicious when made with ingredients you actually enjoy," says Pankonin. "Fruit cake also involves the addition of alcohol like brandy, sherry, or even rum."

Crème brûlée

crème brûlée

Cracking the top of the crème brûlée is one of the most satisfying experiences. And while it may be a dessert you always order at a restaurant, you can definitely make it at home.

"This dessert uses very simple ingredients but can turn out to be a disaster if you do not have the proper tools," says Pankonin. "Be sure to use shallow ramekins and make sure to invest in a proper kitchen torch instead of using the broil function in your oven. Also, don't go fancy with your choice of sugar. All you need is regular table sugar on top for proper browning and crunch!"

Angel food cake

angel food cake with whipped cream and fresh berries

This light, airy cake can be a challenge in the kitchen if you spend too much time mixing it.

"The biggest challenge with angel food cake after you've whipped the eggs is to make sure you don't overmix when adding ingredients," says Pankonin. "Be sure to invest in the correct pan and don't grease the pan before baking. Applying a frosting or drizzling with chocolate can allow you to cover up mistakes if the final product didn't turn out as planned."



This layered Italian dessert can feel overwhelming to make if you make the ladyfingers from scratch.

"There's nothing like lady fingers that have been soaked in espresso and topped with a mixture of cream and mascarpone," says Pankonin. "In order to save time, purchase lady fingers instead of making them from scratch."



The buttery layers of baklava add so much flavor and texture—but to make it easier, don't try to make the phyllo from scratch.

"Baklava might look intimidating and messy due to all those delicious layers, but it's actually very simple to prepare," says Pankonin. "Use prepared phyllo pastry and layer with a blend of nuts, cinnamon, sugar and syrup."

Lemon curd

lemon curd

Lemon curd gets its tang from fresh lemon juice—which can make it time consuming.

"Lemon curd is delicious served by itself, but is often served on toast or baked into pastries. However, it can be time consuming if you use fresh lemon juice when making a large batch," says Pankonin. "Using bottled lemon juice instead of squeezing fresh lemons can save you time. Also, be sure to use a double boiler and monitor temperatures with a good probe to prevent the mixture from getting too hot."



Macarons are yummy French cookie sandwiches that are known to be finicky to make.

"Macarons are deceiving as they look simple, but there are a lot of variables that might be tough to control such as hot spots in the oven or humidity in the air," says Pankonin. "Macarons can sometimes appear lumpy or bumpy on the top due to the batter not being mixed properly. Make sure to properly sift the flour and sugar before mixing for a smoother batter, creating a smoother top."

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