45 Make-Ahead Dessert Recipes That Make Hosting Easier Than Ever
There’s nothing we love more than a make-ahead recipe. Whether it’s a trusty casserole waiting patiently in your freezer, a slow-cooker recipe that’s ready when you get home from work, or a batch of fudge you can hold onto until the weekend’s party, make-ahead recipe are valuable to every busy Southern cook. That’s why we gathered all of our best make-ahead desserts in one convenient location for you. Christmas cookie swap? Make it ahead. Potluck dessert for a crowd? Make it ahead. Kid’s birthday cake? Make it ahead. With dozens of make-ahead dessert options, you’ll be prepared for any and every event you can imagine. If you need food gifts for teachers during the holidays or a bake-sale ready dessert during the spring, these make-ahead desserts will see you through it all. These make-ahead desserts will save you time and oven space ahead of gatherings big and small.
Creamy Peach Icebox Cake
Recipe: Creamy Peach Icebox Cake
You only need a handful of ingredients to put this impressive-looking cake together.
Gingerbread Cheesecake with Lemon-Ginger Glaze
This beautiful cheesecake combines festive gingerbread with bright lemon for a holiday dessert that’s totally new. Not only does the cheesecake need to chill for at least eight hours, but the glaze can be made up to two days in advance, so you can make this recipe piece by piece leading up to your Christmas dinner.
Red Velvet Cake Mix Cookies
Recipe: Red Velvet Cake Mix Cookies
Cake mix cookies? Count us in! The higher oil content in these cookies helps them save better than other recipes.
Chocolate-Coconut Pavlova Cake
Recipe: Chocolate-Coconut Pavlova Cake
If you have family with dairy sensitivities or allergies, they’ll be amazed that this stunner is actually dairy-free.
Fudgy Pecan Bourbon Balls
Recipe: Fudgy Pecan Bourbon Balls
Bourbon balls are an amazing cocktail party dessert that guests can grab and go as they please without stopping to cut a slice of cake or requiring you to clean dessert spoons once the party is over. They can be stored in the refrigerator for up to one week or frozen for as long as you need.
Banana Pudding Poke Cake
Recipe: Banana Pudding Poke Cake
It’s preferred for this moist cake to be chilled overnight for the best results, so it’s the perfect big-batch way to make banana pudding ahead.
Crème Brûlée Cheesecake
Recipe: Crème Brûlée Cheesecake
This elegant cheesecake will wow dinner guests with its presentation, and you can get it done the night before and let it chill overnight before finishing off the gorgeous caramelized top.
Recipe: Buttermilk-Pecan Pralines
This New Orleans favorite treat is a go-to food gift during the holidays, and it can be stored in an airtight container for up to one week.
Fresh Peach Ice Cream
Recipe: Fresh Peach Ice Cream
There’s nothing better than a bowl of homemade ice cream on a steaming summer day, and with this easy recipe, you can have it at the ready all season long.
Luscious Lemon Bars
Recipe: Luscious Lemon Bars
Classic lemon squares are a luncheon staple, and this recipe can be stored in the freezer for up to one month for every last-minute drop-by.
Recipe: Chocolate Parfaits
This simple layered dessert is perfect for when the kids have company, as everyone gets the same portion and it’s easy to make ahead.
Tres Leches Cake
Recipe: Tres Leches Cake
This luscious cake needs ample time to chill to soak up all three milks in the recipe, so your only option is to make it ahead, which helps out the day of your party.
Mamie Eisenhower’s Chocolate Fudge
This vintage fudge recipe has been a go-to of Southern cooks for decades, and it keeps for up to two weeks, so it’s the gift that keeps on giving.
Crunchy Pecan Pie Bites
Recipe: Crunchy Pecan Pie Bites
This adorable mini dessert is easy for cocktail parties or gift-giving during the holidays.
Recipe: Oreo Cheesecake
This kid-friendly cake will bring back a wave of nostalgia for adults, too.
Red Velvet Ice-Cream Cake
Recipe: Red Velvet Ice-Cream Cake
When topped with fresh blueberries, this chilled dessert is ready for your Fourth of July celebration. Your family will be incredibly impressed when you show up with this layered stunner.
Caramel-Pecan-Pumpkin Bread Puddings
This comforting bread pudding has all of your favorite fall flavors, and it can be made in individual ramekins or your trusty 13x9 dish.
Salty-Sweet Nut Brittle
Recipe: Salty-Sweet Nut Brittle
This holiday staple can be stored for up to two weeks, so you can have it on hand for any last-minute gift needs.
Recipe: Orange-Buttermilk Trifle
Every element of this impressive-looking trifle can be made in advance, so you can work on it little by little the week of your dinner party.
Cappuccino Swirl Bars
Recipe: Cappuccino Swirl Bars
These layered bars look and taste fancier than they are to make, and they can be refrigerated for up to three days before you have the girls over to enjoy them.
Recipe: Vanilla Macarons
A tip from the Test Kitchen: Macarons are actually best the day after assembly, so they’ll save you time and taste even more delicious the next day.
Key Lime Icebox Cake
Recipe: Key Lime Icebox Cake
Southerners have been turning to icebox cakes and pies for decades when they’re in need of a no-cook, make-ahead dessert that will feed a crowd, and this is one of our best.
Salted Butter-Pecan Shortbread Cookies
Make this yummy fall cookie dough up to two days in advance and bake it the day of your get-together so your house smells amazing.
Banana Pudding Cheesecake
Recipe: Banana Pudding Cheesecake
Packed with all the traditional flavors of banana pudding, this dreamy cheesecake will both impress and delight your crowd.
Cookies and Cream Ice Cream
Recipe: Cookies-and-Cream Ice Cream
A scoop of homemade ice cream adds the most delicious personal touch to any dessert.
Apple Stack Cake
Recipe: Apple Stack Cake
Because this gorgeous cake needs to “ripen” for two to three days before serving, you have no choice but to make it ahead. This stunner is a labor of love, but the payoff is unreal.
Rebecca's Black Bottom Icebox Pie
Chill this decadent chocolate pie for at least eight and up to 24 hours before adding the whipped topping and serving to hungry guests.
Peach Bread Pudding with Bourbon Caramel
You might think of bread pudding as a cold-weather treat, but fresh summer peaches bring it right into the season.
Chocolate Chip Cherry Cookies
Recipe: Chocolate Chip Cherry Cookies
Chef Damaris Phillips shared this sweet recipe with us (the first one she ever wrote!). To be sure no sweet tooth goes without tending to, this dough can be made ahead and stored in the fridge for one week or the freezer for six.
Ice Cream Sandwich Cake
Recipe: Ice Cream Sandwich Cake
A cake made with layers of ice cream sandwiches says one thing and one thing only: Let’s celebrate! (No occasion required.)
Recipe: Rum Balls
This boozy confection first appeared in our December 1993 issue, and it’s been popping up on dessert tables and in gift boxes ever since. They keep in the refrigerator for up to one month, so have a stash handy throughout the holidays for drop-by guests.
Layered Pumpkin Cheesecake
Recipe: Layered Pumpkin Cheesecake
If you’ve been assigned to bring dessert to this year’s Friendsgiving, don’t show up with a store-bought pumpkin pie. Wow everyone with this multi-layer, Instagram-worthy cheesecake.
No-Bake Fudgy Toffee Bars
Recipe: No-Bake Fudgy Toffee Bars
We can assume that just from reading “No-Bake, “Fudgy,” and “Toffee,” you already want to make these insanely delicious bars, but you’ll love them even more when you find out you can put them together the night before.
Recipe: Plum Pudding
Although the name is misleading (no plums here), this classic holiday confection is truly a must-try for avid bakers.
Recipe: Strawberry-Mango Semifreddo
This recipe tastes as beautifully bright as it looks on your summer table, and you can make it up to five days before serving—no joke.
Homemade Oatmeal Cream Pies
Recipe: Homemade Oatmeal Cream Pies
Serve up some major nostalgia with these homemade sweets that will bring you right back to childhood summers. They hold in the fridge for three days or freezer for two weeks, so make a big batch.
Cherry-Spice Cake Trifle
Recipe: Cherry Spice Cake Trifle
There’s no need for a Christmas centerpiece when you have this gorgeous creation to show off! Layers of holiday spice cake, cherry and cranberry filling, homemade custard, and a fluffy, fresh whipped topping make each bite unbelievable.
Blackberry Gelato Recipe
Recipe: Blackberry Gelato
Make this creamy chilled treat in the height of summer, when blackberries are at their freshest. This recipe needs two days to chill before going into the ice-cream freezer, so plan accordingly.
Chocolate Peanut Butter-Fudge Bars
Red Velvet Crackle Sandwich Cookies
Ice Cream Sandwich Layer Cake
Recipe: Ice Cream Sandwich Layer Cake
For the best results, this kid-favorite cake should be chilled overnight, so mark it off your to-do list the night before your event.
Recipe: Fruitcake Bark
Your memories of Aunt Nancy’s fruitcake might not be so fond, but this festive candy recipe will flip the script on fruitcake in your family this holiday season. Store at room temperature for up to a week.
Recipe: Chocolate Trifle
Easy enough for any novice baker, this chocolate-lover’s trifle needs at least eight hours to chill before serving, so you can finish it up well in advance of your party.