20 Refreshing Lemon Desserts Like My Grandma Served for Thanksgiving

overhead view of Grandma's Luscious Lemon Cream Pie garnished with lemon slices and fresh mint sprigs
Photo: Natalie Titanov

It might be controversial take, but I argue that the best Thanksgiving desserts are tart and lemony. Before you accuse me of heresy, please know I love traditional apple, pumpkin, pecan, and sweet potato pies. I just don't want to eat them after I have stuffed myself to the gills with rich, heavy foods. At the end of a multi-course feast like Thanksgiving, what I want is something light, bright, and refreshing. Lemon cuts through the flavor fatigue of all that came before, and it comes in all sorts of desserts. I learned this from my grandmother, who loved a white cake with lemon curd filling and a fluffy seven-minute boiled meringue-style frosting after heavy holiday suppers. My personal tradition includes a very punchy thin lemon tart topped with lightly sweetened whipped cream. If you want to give a lemony Thanksgiving dessert a try, you can't go wrong with any of these delicious options!

01 of 21

Lemon Icebox Pie III

overhead view of homemade Lemon Ice Box Pie III garnished with whipped cream, lemon slices, and mint leaves

No-bake lemon pies are a summertime classic, but they're also perfect after a rich holiday feast. Recipe contributor Heather Simpson says, "A family favorite when a no-bake, fast pie is needed. (And family members too small to use the oven can make dessert!) Very pretty when garnished with whipped cream and mint leaves."

02 of 21

Grandma's Lemon Meringue Pie

Grandma's Lemon Meringue Pie

"This is a very fun recipe to follow, because Grandma makes it sweet and simple," says recipe contributor Emilie S. With a solid 5-star rating and more than 3,000 reviews, this is one of our most popular lemon desserts of all time.

03 of 21

Tart Lemon Triangles

Tart Lemon Triangles

I love the French style of tarte au citron, a thinner, lighter version with no topping at all, which makes for an elegant meal-finisher.

04 of 21

Pavlova with Winter Fruits

overhead view of homemade Pavlova with Winter Fruits recipe topped with lemon curd, whipped cream, citrus fruits, pomegranate seeds and mint leaves

Have a gluten-free diner at your Thanksgiving table? This gorgeous Pavlova has a meringue base topped with homemade lemon curd, whipped cream, citrus fruits, and pomegranate seeds. Fresh mint leaves provide a touch of holiday color.

05 of 21

Whole Lemon Layer Cake

whole lemon layer cake
Jill Lightner

Whole Meyer lemons are simmered, ground up, and incorporated into the batter for this intensely lemony cake. A layer of lemon curd gets sandwiched in the middle and the whole thing is topped off with cream cheese frosting.

06 of 21

Lemon-Lime Ricotta Pound Cake

slice of ricotta lemon-lime pound cake with whole bundt cake in background

"A rich, dense, buttery pound cake, with hints of citrus, gets a flavor and texture boost from the addition of ricotta cheese. Pairing the cake with a bright, fresh, lemon-lime icing makes for a wonderful, and beautiful, dessert." — Kim

07 of 21

Italian Lemon Cream Cake

Italian Lemon Cream Cake
Cynthia Altamira

Leave it to the Italians to make a lemon cake a true work of art. No one can argue that this lemon cream cake showstopper isn't holiday-worthy. Home cook Mim says, "I love this, it's like my Italian gramma used to make, but easier because of the cake mix, I used 3 tablespoons lemon juice and 1 tablespoon lemon zest as her cake called for in the cake and it was perfect. I followed the filling as it was. Thanks for making this wonderful family favorite so easy."

08 of 21

Lemon Cake with Lemon Filling and Lemon Butter Frosting

Lemon Cake with Lemon Filling and Lemon Butter Frosting
Jens Zalzala

More lemon, more better. This festive lemon cake has a lemon filling and is garnished with lemon frosting. Home cook DLSPENCER says, "I've made this recipe a number of times and I always get rave reviews!! I have changed it a little: I have increased the filling ingredients by one-half and I've changed the cake by reducing the milk to ¾ cup and adding 1/4 cup lemon juice. I love how lemony it is!"

09 of 21

Lemon Cheesecake

lemon cheesecake topped with lemon zest
Katie Mak

This popular cheesecake is made with low-fat ingredients and still gets rave reviews. "Unbelievable! This cheesecake is SO good, says home cook Steph. "It reminds me of the lemon cheesecake I used to always get at The Cheesecake Factory until the discontinued it." Many reviewers added lemon zest to make it even more lemony.

10 of 21

Lemon Meringue Cheesecake

Lemon meringue cheesecake

Can't decide between cheesecake and lemon meringue pie? This 5-star winner offers the best of both desserts. A creamy lemon cheesecake is topped with a layer of lemon curd and finished with a light and fluffy meringue topping.

11 of 21

Lemon Madeleines

Lemon Madeleines

Madeleines are delicate little cakes that pack a great lemon pop. Slightly crisp on the outside and tender within, they are a wonderful small dessert. Reviewer Zoey says, "I LOVE THIS RECIPE!! Fast easy and excellent for dunking in tea or coffee. I did not find them too dense at all but I do whip the eggs and sugar until they are nice and fluffy. I also use the zest of a whole lemon rather than half. I make them all the time now and I've only had one mishap (used too much lemon juice and they came out like pucks!)."

12 of 21

Lemon Crinkle Cookies

Lemon Crinkle Cookies on a cooling rack
Kim's Cooking Now

"This is a very cakey soft cookie. I used 2 tablespoons of fresh lemon juice as my lemon was huge and I was concerned the batter would be too thin. That seemed to be the perfect amount," says reviewer bbowling

13 of 21

Lemon Bars I

overhead view of The Best Lemon Bars recipe on a white platter
Allrecipes Magazine

Lemon bars, or as my grandmother always called them, "lemon love notes," are classic for a reason. Don't just save them for the bake sale, bust them out at the holidays! "Excellent, everything a true lemon bar should be. Buttery, tender and tart. Definitely use at least ½ cup of lemon juice or more," says home cook MommyFromSeattle.

14 of 21

Limoncello Lemon Sorbet (With or Without Mint)

bowl of homemade Limoncello Lemon Sorbet garnished with mint leaves and lemon slices

The only thing more refreshing than a lemon dessert, is a cold lemon dessert. Homemade sorbet is easy to make and acts as an instant palate cleanser. This one is made with limoncello liqueur, so you might want to make a different lemon sorbet for the younger diners.

15 of 21

Lemon Gingersnap Posset

homemade Lemon Gingersnap Posset in a dessert glass topped with whipped cream and pomegranate seeds
Chef John

This simple, easy-to-make dessert takes only 5 ingredients. Chef John says, "Not only does it feature a rich, thick, luxurious texture and intense, clean citrus taste, but it's also free of eggs, starch, and gelatin. The lemon flavor is even more intense than that in lemon curd, despite using less juice. Garnish with whipped cream and pomegranate, or any seasonal fruit."

16 of 21

Lemon Panna Cotta

individual servings of Lemon Panna Cotta in dessert glasses
Deb C

Recipe contributor lutzflcat says, "Panna Cotta is an old treat from the mountains of Italy, and you'll be so surprised how incredibly easy it is to make. It's luscious, has a silky texture, refreshing with subtle lemon flavor, and a great choice for family dinners or special company. Feel free to garnish with any fresh fruit that's in season if you desire."

17 of 21

Lemon Cheesecake Mousse

individual servings of lemon cheesecake mousse
Maria Eldred

"Creamy, thick, and tangy mousse. This mousse is a delight for special occasions and individual desserts. This can be made up to 2 days in advance of serving," says recipe contributor Maria Eldred.

18 of 21

Lemon Cupcakes

Lemon Cupcakes

Sweet and tart lemon cupcakes make a perfect addition to your Thanksgiving dessert buffet. The recipe calls for self-rising flour, but if you don't keep that on hand, here's how to make your own self-rising flour.

19 of 21

Lemon Curd Thumbprint Cookies

a tray of lemon curd thumbprint cookies with lemons in the background

You need only 5 ingredients to make these bright and sunny cookies. "Shortbread cookies are good by themselves, but adding lemon curd and zest makes them absolutely fabulous," says recipe contributor inugrl21. BarbaraB adds, "I made this as indicated. They vanished quickly. I used homemade microwave lemon curd. When I ran out of curd I just made a small log with the remaining dough, sliced it, and baked it - it was delicious all by itself."

20 of 21

Grandma's Luscious Lemon Cream Pie

overhead view of Grandma's Luscious Lemon Cream Pie garnished with lemon slices and fresh mint sprigs
Natalie Titanov

This classic no-bake lemon pie is filled with silky smooth homemade lemon curd folded with whipped cream and tart sour cream. You can use either a baked pastry shell or a graham cracker crumb pie shell to hold the filling. Chill for at least 2 hours before serving to an adoring crowd.

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