Tradition is key when it comes to many Christmas dinners. Whether it’s a repeat of Thanksgiving with turkey, stuffing, and all the trimmings, an Italian dinner with both turkey and lasagna, or a Southern twist with a big bowl of mac and cheese on the table, many families have a set dinner menu that doesn’t vary much.


When it comes to Christmas desserts, though, no one minds a little variety and new treats that are served alongside of the pumpkin pie and the Christmas tree-shaped cookies. This Christmas, you might want to add one of these festive desserts to your table or choose one to make for the hostess who asks you to bring dessert and tells you to make whatever strikes your fancy.


Hazelnut Orange Shortbread Cookies – Orange zest gives a little zing to hazelnut shortbread cookies that are topped with melted chocolate - an easy cookie to make. Hazelnuts and chocolate are a great combination. Orange and chocolate are a great combination. The three of them together must make one great cookie.


Pecan Pie Bars – Here’s a twist on the traditional Christmas pecan pie. These bars have all the flavors of pecan pie but aren’t nearly as much work. They’ll also feed more people than one pie will so they’re great for a big crowd.


Flourless Peanut Butter Cake – Everyone knows chocolate and peanut butter go together wonderfully, and the two are the basis for this gluten-free, decadent dessert. And, if you read the comments, you’ll find substitutions for making this not only gluten-free but also kosher for a great Hanukkah dessert.


Eggnon cheesecake barsEggnog Cheesecake Bars – Eggnog, nutmeg, and brandy – all flavors associated with Christmas - fill these cheesecake bars (at right).  Like the pecan pie bars above, they’re easier to make than the traditional version and will feed a bigger crowd.


Cranberry Upside-Down Cake – Cranberries are fresh and easily available around Christmas. They’re used in this cake made with whole-wheat flour and low-fat milk for a healthier version of a pretty cake to serve during the holidays. Serve it warm with homemade whipped cream.


Almond Sherry Christmas Trifle – This dessert is a bit complicated, but it can be made two days ahead of time (minus the whipped cream topping). This trifle doesn’t use pre-made lady fingers like many do; the cake is homemade as is the vanilla custard that soaks into the cake as it marinates together. If you’re looking for a dessert that’s going to impress, this will definitely do the trick.


Vanilla Coconut Panna Cotta with Pomegranate Jelly – If the trifle dessert is a little more work than you have time for this holiday season, try this panna cotta that’s just as pretty but so much less work. This dessert can be served in individual glasses. Try martini, shot, or stemless wine glasses – whatever you won’t be using to drink from at your dinner.


Apple Pear Cranberry Crostata – This dessert has a trio of seasonal fruits wrapped in a sweet pastry dough. The recipe makes two smaller crostata instead of one large one because they’re easier to handle that way. A lovely dessert that’s not quite a pie but will satisfy the pie lovers at your table.


Mocha Buche de Noel (Yule Log) – A flourless chocolate cake roll is filled with coffee flavored cream filling and covered in a chocolate glaze. A traditional dessert with a grown up flavor twist that can be made a day ahead of time, refrigerated, and brought to room temperature before serving.


What are your favorite Christmas desserts to indulge in after dinner?


Photo: Brown Eyed Baker