Holiday Beauties

Though the focus of celebratory holiday meals tends to be the large, protein-heavy, Norman Rockwell-esque roasts that are dramatically presented and carved at the table, I love the elaborate desserts we tend to wait for special occasions to justify making. Beyond that, it’s nice to have a special dessert made only at a specific time of year, building on the nostalgia that drives so many of our dining decisions at this time of year.

Here are three recipes that can be prepped ahead, and require at most a minimal last-minute assembly, but are likely to generate an enthusiastic response table-side, no matter how full everyone is from dinner.

Discover more recipes to try this season in our holiday edition: Lamingtons and Sunken Chocolate Cake with Berry Fool.

Upside-down Pear Gingerbread

This has been our family’s go-to holiday dessert for decades — I just love it. It makes a fantastic vehicle for ice cream or whipped cream, and comes out of the pan pre-decorated… if a slice or two of pear sticks to the pan, just peel it off and put it back where it belongs.
Servings 8
Author Julie Van Rosendaal



  • 2 tbsp butter, 30 ml
  • 2 tbsp honey or corn syrup, 30 ml
  • 1/3 cup packed brown sugar, 80 ml


  • 1-2 ripe but firm pears (or tart apples), peeled and thinly sliced


  • 1/4 cup butter, at room temperature, 60 ml
  • 1/2 cup packed brown sugar, 125 ml
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/4 cup dark molasses, 60 ml
  • 1 tbsp grated fresh ginger, or 2 tsp. powdered ginger (or both, 15 ml
  • 1 tsp vanilla, 5 ml
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour, 250 ml
  • 1 tsp baking soda, 5 ml
  • 1 tsp cinnamon, 5 ml
  • 1/4 tsp allspice (optional), 1 ml
  • 1/4 tsp salt, 1 ml
  • 3/4 cup buttermilk or plain yogurt thinned with milk, 180 ml


  • In a small bowl, stir together the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, allspice and salt.
  • Add half of the dry ingredients to the molasses mixture and stir by hand or on the lowest speed of an electric mixer just until the batter is combined. Add the buttermilk, and then the remaining dry ingredients in the same manner. Pour the batter over the sliced pears.
  • Bake the cake for about 40 minutes, until the top is springy to the touch. Let it stand for 5 minutes, then run a knife around the edge of the cake and invert it onto a plate while it’s still warm. (If it cools too much and sticks to the pan, warm it in the oven again before you try to invert it.) Don’t worry if any pear slices stick to the bottom of the pan – simply peel them out and place them back on top of the cake where they belong.
  • Serve with whipped cream.