35 Vintage Christmas Desserts We’ll Never Stop Making
Tradition is something Southerners love to keep around, no matter how much everything else changes, and many of our dearest memories are tied to time-honored traditions we share with our family during the Christmas season. It’s all about spending time together, whether you’re singing carols with your neighbors, going Black Friday holiday shopping with your mother and sister, volunteering at the soup kitchen on Christmas Eve, or picking out the ugliest Christmas tree on the lot. (Don’t get us started on “A Charlie Brown Christmas!”)
But mostly Southerners love to spend time together in the kitchen. We’re making batches and batches of Christmas cookies, spiced pound cakes that are sometimes soaked in rum, old-fashioned candies like divinity and pralines, and even a congealed salad or two—really, who doesn’t love that come-hither jiggle?
These vintage Christmas desserts make an appearance year after year, decade after decade. Because when the kitchen smells like these pecan-studded, cinnamon-swirled, powdered sugar-covered treats, we know it’s finally Christmastime in the South.
Here are 35 traditional Christmas desserts we’ll never stop making.
Recipe: Buttermilk-Pecan Pralines
Thanks to a super creamy finishing touch (buttermilk really is something!), these classic Southern candies stand out from your basic recipe.
Fudgy Pecan Bourbon Balls
Recipe: Fudgy Pecan Bourbon Balls
These bite-sized bourbon-soaked treats might be the ultimate holiday treat. This recipe is extra fudgy, super nutty, and totally delicious.
Cassandra’s “Light” Fruitcake
Recipe: Cassandra's "Light" Fruitcake
Cassandra, some Southerners love you—and some not so much. Fruitcake might be an acquired taste, but this recipe is as close as it gets to universally beloved. It'll turn even the staunchest of fruitcake-hating folks.
Marbled Pecan Pound Cake
Recipe: Marbled Pecan Pound Cake
What makes this old-fashioned pound cake a holiday classic is the festive touch of chocolate marbling on the inside. A slice of this cake is perfect for late nights spent wrapping gifts.
Recipe: Peppermint Divinity
These airy confections have been showing up at Southern cookie swaps for generations. Akin to meringues, these candies are made with a base of whipped egg whites and then baked into perfection.
Recipe: Potato Candy
One of the most nostalgic of Southern confections, potato candy is a real-deal vintage recipe worth making at least once.
Ambrosia Pudding Pie
Recipe: Ambrosia Pudding Pie
Following British tradition, the earliest custard pies were referenced as puddings in antebellum cookbooks. Ambrosia makes for a delicious take on the classic Christmas dessert.
Auntie's Apple Cake
Recipe: Auntie's Apple Cake
Would you look at that thing? It's practically dripping with cozy, comforting caramel flavor.
Cranberry Dreamsicle Trifle
Recipe: Cranberry Dreamsicle Trifle
A trifle makes the ultimate show-stopping holiday centerpiece. Fresh or frozen cranberries lend a traditional Christmas flair, while sprigs of fresh rosemary make for a festive garnish.
Recipe: Rum Balls
It's not a Christmas party in the South without some form of tipsy treat, and rum balls just happen to be Aunt Birdie's favorite. Originally from our December 1993 issue, this boozy confection recipe is Christmas food gift-material.
Japanese Fruitcake with Lemon-Coconut Frosting
“It was the signal that Christmas really was coming when this heavenly smell filled the kitchen,” said Susan Houston of Tucker, Georgia. She submitted this family recipe almost 30 years ago, and we just couldn't resist the fluffy (and more crowd-pleasing!) take on holiday fruitcake.
Buche De Noel
Recipe: Buche De Noel
The name of this recipe translates to “yule log.” It's flavored with rich chocolate and coffee and topped with candied cherries. Hint: That's how you know this recipe is really, really old-fashioned.
Recipe: Christmas Buttermints
These'll blow those storebought candies right out of the water. Expect this homemade recipe to deliver crisp, buttery richness and a refreshing minty flavor. Use whichever holiday colors you please.
Belgian Spice Cookies
Recipe: Belgian Spice Cookies
These cozy cookies, also known as Speculoos, will be a favorite of guests young and old. Switch up the powdered sugar design to suit your holiday mood.
Hot Cranberry Bake
Recipe: Hot Cranberry Bake
Put that bowl of decorative Christmas cranberries to work! This simple, crisp-like dessert was sent to us by Sue-Sue Harstern of Louisville, Kentucky, over 25 years ago.
Recipe: Molasses Crinkles
You couldn't fit more Christmas spirit into these cookies if you tried. The recipe is loaded with classic holiday spices like cinnamon, ginger, and cloves. Definitely cookie swap-worthy!
Christmas Snow Salad
Recipe: Christmas Snow Salad
We pulled this colorful, gelatinous recipe from our November 1982 issue. The more maraschino cherries, the better, right?
Cornbread Pudding with Whiskey Caramel
In the South, it's been a long-held tradition to use leftover cornbread for recipes like cornbread pudding and cornbread with sweet milk. This recipe makes it decadent enough to serve at the holiday party or Christmas feast. Tip: Drizzle leftover Whiskey Caramel over pies and ice cream.
Pecan Tea Cakes
Recipe: Pecan Tea Cakes
Whether you're taking these nutty cookies with hot tea or hot cocoa, they make quite the addition to your Christmas cookie lineup.
Sliced Sweet Potato Pie
This lost pie of the South was once one of the most popular desserts served in states like Alabama and Georgia. This sliced recipe is a classic version, while our Brown Butter Sweet Potato Pie recipe will look and taste more akin to your Thanksgiving pumpkin pie.
Cinnamon Coffee Cake
Recipe: Cinnamon Coffee Cake
If it's ever appropriate to eat cake at breakfast, lunch, dinner, and dessert, it has to be during the holidays. This cinnamon-filled recipe is a crowd-pleaser.
Recipe: Classic Gingerbread
Get ready for the most heavenly holiday scent to fill your home when baking this dessert. This might not look like your typical hard-iced gingerbread man cookie, but this traditional recipe will win you over with its perfectly spiced batter, fluffy cake-like texture, and ginger-laced whipped cream topping.
Green Tomato Mincemeat Pie
Recipe: Green Tomato Mincemeat Pie
You're looking at a Southern delicacy stemming back to the 1800s. This Christmas pie is spiced, boozy, and filled with robust ingredients like green tomatoes, apples, pecans, and cranberries.
Pecan Linzer Cookies
Recipe: Pecan Linzer Cookies
These beauties are surprisingly simple to make and will instantly be the hit of the cookie swap or holiday party. Mix and match your presentation by using several jams to fill the batch.
Pecan Snowball Cookies
Recipe: Pecan Snowball Cookies
Coated in powdered sugar and studded with buttery pecans, these shortbread “snowballs” definitely make the short list for "most Southern Christmas cookie."
Molded Cranberry Salad
Recipe: Molded Cranberry Salad
'Tis true: Once there was a time when Southerners favored their gelatinous cranberry in a mold rather than a can. This delicacy is retro, fruity, and oh-so jiggly.
Cream Cheese Christmas Cookies
Recipe: Cream Cheese Christmas Cookies
Dress up easy cream cheese cookies for the holidays by coating the rolls in festive red or green sugar crystals. In true Southern fashion, a pecan makes the perfect garnish.
Milk Punch Frozen Custards
Recipe: Milk Punch Frozen Custards
We recommend making these personal milk punch treats for the most festive of holiday occasions. Freeze the custards in wine glasses, brandy snifters, or even small old-fashioned milkshake glasses depending on your style.
Recipe: Christmas Pudding
Originally a British holiday favorite, this festive dessert is known for its density. It's packed with Christmas spices, dried fruit, and brandy—and we gave it a Southern touch by brushing it with a bourbon simple syrup.
Recipe: Snow Flurries
What makes this recipe a true “lost classic” is the dough, which is infused with fresh lemon zest and both almond and vanilla extract. The star-shaped sandwich cookies are then filled with raspberry jam and sprinkled with powdered sugar for a snow-dusted look.
Gingerbread Baked Alaska
Recipe: Gingerbread Baked Alaska
It doesn't get much more vintage than a statement-making Baked Alaska, but this recipe gives it a holiday-ready makeover by adding gingerbread-inspired flavor.
Recipe: Pecan Tassies
Nothing will get a gaggle of Southern ladies going at Christmastime like a plate of pecan tassies. These well-loved cookies are like a delicious cross between miniature pecan pies and shortbread cookies.
Recipe: Spritz Cookies
Originating in Germany and Scandinavia in the 16th century, Spritz cookies are crumbly, simple, and iconic in homemade Christmas cookie boxes down South.
Coffee Baba au Rhum
Recipe: Coffee Baba au Rhum
It's not Christmas in the South without something that's been decidedly soaked in rum: rum balls, rum cake, rum punch. You get the picture. This coffee-and-rum cake gives a jolt of caffeine with a touch of booze.
Mississippi Mud Medallions
Recipe: Mississippi Mud Medallions
Besides the fact that these sweet treats are downright delicious, they only take four ingredients and a few minutes to make. Santa won't be disappointed.