Carla Hall Reveals Her Favorite Holiday Desserts, With Ideas for Every Kind of Baker

Cake or cookies? Make-ahead or last-minute? Hall's here to help.

Carla Hall with linzer cookies on a red and green background
Photo: Allrecipes Illustration / Photo: Peter Taylor

If you're like us, you know Carla Hall as a co-host on The Chew, a former Top Chef judge, a cookbook author, and the celebrity chef you wish you could call your sister or cool aunt ⁠— and not just because you'd love to borrow a few accessories from her closet.

To a lucky few, however, Hall really is family. And that means enjoying holiday meals with someone who wrote an entire cookbook on soul food.

"My mother is the matriarch. I'm the culinary matriarch," says Hall, who takes special ownership of the desserts on holidays. In an interview with Allrecipes, Hall revealed which desserts she makes for the holidays, including the old-fashioned cake she adapted from her grandmother. She also gave us ideas for last-minute desserts, make-ahead desserts, and a multitasking cookie recipe.

No-Fail Family Recipes

Whatever kind of baker you are, Hall recommends going with a dessert you've made before. "You don't want to be nervous about it turning out right. You can tweak it, change the flavor profile, but I think you should make something that's familiar, something you are very proud to share," she says.

For many, that's a family recipe. And if you're ever reluctant to turn to the same recipe year after year, know that even chefs do it. "I think in my family, we want something that's familiar ⁠— that's why we're coming together," says Hall.

Hall's go-to holiday recipes come from her beloved grandmother, Granny, who even inspired her new children's book, Carla and the Christmas Cornbread. Hall grew up eating Granny's five flavor pound cake, an old-fashioned recipe that achieves a "bouquet of flavors" using vanilla, lemon, rum, coconut, and almond extracts. Hall continues her grandmother's tradition, only slightly adjusting the method. Hall sets the oven to 300 degrees F when the cake goes in (no pre-heating!) and bakes it low and slow to achieve a tight crumb and crispy top.

"She would also do boiled custard, which, I realized later, was simply creme anglaise," Hall says. "Those two desserts remind me of my grandmother for the holidays, so they're staples at our house."

Hear Carla Hall talk about biscuits, her mom's meatloaf, and her grandmother's cast-iron skillet on Homemade, the Allrecipes podcast!

Episode Transcript

Hall's Holiday Cookie Hack

Christmas and cookies go hand in hand, and Linzer cookies are one of the most classic. Hall, however, has a fresh take. She uses cranberry-ginger jam instead of the traditional raspberry because it pairs well with the cinnamon in the batter ⁠— and for one more reason.

"You can use that jam in other places, even as cranberry sauce," Hall says.

That's right: Hall's Linzer torte cookie recipe makes enough jam to pair the leftovers with turkey. "I'm all about efficiency. So, if I make something, I'm like, where else can I use it?"

Hall recommends these cookies for exchanges and holiday meals alike, as they're different enough from other holiday staple sweets to really stand out. "I do like cake and pies, but I also like to have that snap," she says, referring to the Linzer cookie's crisp texture.

Hall recently partnered with Avast, a digital security and privacy service known for its free antivirus software and other programs, to share her Linzer torte cookie recipe as part of a campaign about Internet cookies and online safety. You can watch her bake the cookies from start to finish on the Avast website, where she also provides tips with Avast on how to stay safe online, especially during the holiday season.

Carla Hall with baked Linzer cookies
Peter Taylor

Get the recipe: Cranberry-Ginger Linzer Torte Cookies

Make-Ahead Desserts

To help take the hassle out of the holiday meal, Hall offers this advice: "Understand what you can make ahead of time."

The chef considers her Linzer torte cookies one of her favorite make-ahead desserts. You can freeze the dough, cut out the cookies and freeze them without the jam, or freeze the finished cookies and dust them with a little more powdered sugar once they thaw. "They're just as good right out of the freezer," she says. Pie crust holds up well in the freezer too, she adds.

You can also make frosting ahead of time, storing it in the refrigerator or freezer depending on how far in advance you work. "You want to have it slowly come back up to room temperature and then you whip it again," Hall says.

Last-Minute Desserts

Finally, if you wait till the day before a holiday to even think about dessert, you can still pull through. Hall shared two smart, simple dessert ideas for last-minute cooks, and how to make them special occasion worthy.

First up: an icebox cake. "You don't have to make anything from scratch, but you do have to make it the day before," Hall said. She suggests layering thin ginger shortbread with lemon cream, which you can make by folding store-bought lemon curd into whipped cream," Hall said. You can even use lemon pudding. "As a surprise, use some cranberry jam or something that's really tart in the very center as you're building it," she says.

For a true last-minute dessert: a mousse. Adding jam to a mousse recipe can jazz it up. You can run the jam through a food processor and strain it to get it smooth, Hall said. Then, fold the jam into whipped cream. "If you want to stabilize your whipped cream, you can do sour cream and whipped cream," she said. For an easy presentation, scoop the mixture into parfait glasses and top each with a small cookie. If you make chocolate mousse, Hall recommends topping it with crushed-up candy canes and small bits of chocolate.


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