Easter offers no shortage of opportunities for eating sweets, between all the Cadbury eggs and chocolate bunnies, jelly beans and marshmallow Peeps. There's nothing wrong with store-bought candy—what kid doesn't love an Easter basket?—but a fancy holiday meal may call for a sweet ending that's a little more adult. Since the first signs of spring put us in mind of bright, clean flavors and delicate textures, many of the 21 dessert recipes below are on the lighter side, including an airy fruit mousse and a tall and fluffy angel food cake. But there's room for richer fare, too, including traditional hot cross buns, a stunning brown butter–infused carrot cake, and an updated take on the classic mint-chocolate flavors of a grasshopper pie. And, for the unsophisticated kid in you (or in your household), there's no better way to put an afternoon and a box of Peeps to use than a plate of colorful Peepshi.
BraveTart's Brown Butter Carrot Cake
Bright and crunchy carrots can't help but remind us of Easter—what else would you leave out for the Easter Bunny the night before?—and their natural sweetness is on full display in this elegant-looking layer cake. Nutty brown butter highlights the earthiness of carrots and pecans and the graham cracker–like notes of whole wheat flour. Sandwich the fluffy layers with a tangy cream cheese buttercream frosting, and, for an extra-special touch, top the whole creation off with decorative (but edible!) roses made from twisted carrot curls poached in sugar syrup. It's a time-consuming recipe, but there's a lot you can do in advance, including browning the butter, shredding the carrots, making the frosting, and toasting the nuts.
Effortless Angel Food Cake
This cloud-like angel food cake is shockingly easy to prepare, with a meringue that's as simple as whipping up egg whites, sugar, and vanilla, plus a bit of lemon juice and salt, in a stand mixer. After that, just stir in cake flour and scrape it all into an aluminum tube pan. We like to serve the cake with a light Lemon Chantilly and sweet berries tossed in Fresh Lemon Syrup. If you're baking for the gluten-intolerant, this gluten-free angel food cake might be even fluffier and more tender than the original recipe. Or, for a slight caramelly edge and subtler sweetness, try Stella's Toasted-Sugar Angel Food Cake instead.
Chocolate Meringue Cake With Whipped Cream and Raspberries
This elegant dessert's gorgeous layers of rich chocolate cake, airy meringue, and fluffy whipped cream make for a showstopping centerpiece. A sweet-tart sauce made with fresh raspberries sits between the layers, complementing the richness of chocolate and brown sugar with bright and tangy fruit. If you have your hands full with the rest of your Easter menu, the cake, meringue, and filling can all be made ahead of time, then assembled right before serving.
Chocolate Cherry Layer Cake
Inspired by the classic combination of cherries and chocolate, this rich cake features high-quality cocoa powder and just enough tart cherry juice to bring out the chocolate's fruity side. The whole thing is slathered in a lovely pastel-pink frosting, made with whipped cream and freeze-dried cherries.
Sour Cream Pound Cake
Pound cake is a staple at many potluck family gatherings, and this one is as dense and buttery-soft as they get. Sour cream replaces a portion of the usual fat and eggs, providing lactose that results in a beautifully browned crust, while a combination of vanilla beans and extract produces a more nuanced vanilla flavor. We love this cake served with a healthy dollop of fruity whipped cream.
Spiced Vanilla Hot Cross Buns
Hot cross buns are traditionally eaten for breakfast on Good Friday, but they're delicious enough to serve again a couple of days later. We use Greek yogurt to keep the dough soft and pliable, yet easy to handle. Candied orange peel, dried cherries and apricots, and an array of spices—coriander, cinnamon, allspice, and nutmeg—lend the buns plenty of fruity chew and heady fragrance.
Dark Chocolate Easter Cookies
If you have more candy than you know what to do with come Easter, don't foist it all on your coworkers Monday morning—set a few handfuls aside for making these cookies. Thanks to Dutch-process cocoa, the chocolate dough mixes up dark as night and slightly bitter, making it perfect for balancing out the sweetness of the candy bits. Use whatever chocolate-friendly candy you have on hand—this recipe is especially handy for using up those big, hollow chocolate bunnies that never seem to get eaten otherwise.
Crispy Lemon-Ginger Sandwich Cookies
Conventional lemons are widely available all year long, including in late winter and early spring, well before most other fruits are in season. That plus the perky lift that the juice or zest lends to a dish makes lemon an especially welcome flavor profile this time of year, when most of us are still struggling through the dregs of the colder months. These cookies were designed to mimic Carr's Ginger Lemon Cremes: crisp, spicy gingerbread cookies with a citrusy filling, ideal for dunking into tea or serving with vanilla ice cream. Using refined coconut oil instead of butter in the filling allows the brightness of the lemon to shine through. The molasses in the dough, aside from contributing to its darker, richer flavor, helps the cookies spread out thin enough to sandwich.
Like a hybrid of lemon shortbread and cotton candy, these sugar-dusted meltaways are almost impossibly delicate. Here, some of the flour that you'd find in a typical cookie dough gets replaced with powdered sugar and tapioca starch—with less flour, these cookies really do melt when they hit your tongue. Unlike cornstarch, tapioca starch won't make the cookies feel chalky and dry when they come out of the oven.
Sunny Lemon Bars
These velvety, rich lemon bars get a double dose of citrus: Lemon zest flavors the tender crust, while juice brightens the curd. Making the tart curd with equal parts whole eggs and egg yolks (as opposed to whole eggs alone) thickens it up without the addition of cornstarch. An anodized aluminum baking pan lined with parchment ensures that the bars don't overcook in the oven or take on any off flavors from the metal (but do make sure your other cookware, including pots and strainers, is made of nonreactive metal, too!).
Fresh and Creamy Lime Pie
This pie resembles a cross between lemon meringue pie and Key lime—and yes, it's as good as that sounds. The nuttier flavor of a whole wheat pie crust does a particularly good job of setting off a deliciously sweet-and-sour custard that's thickened with whole eggs to keep the citrus flavor prominent. Top the pie with fluffy Swiss meringue—you can get fancy with a pastry bag and star tip like Stella's done here, or just swirl it on freeform—which will brown and puff nicely in the oven.
Grasshopper Ice Cream Pie
Refreshing mint is another flavor profile that gets us in a spring kind of mood. Our version of a retro grasshopper pie incorporates Fernet Branca instead of crème de menthe, for a bitter, herbaceous edge to accompany the peppermint extract, and thickens the filling with whole eggs instead of marshmallow for a pie that's richer and less sweet. A cocoa-nib fudge and drizzles of chocolate throughout the filling ensure you'll get a little chocolate in every bite.
No-Bake Chocolate-Nutella "Cheesecake" Verrines
These parfait-style individual desserts look highly sophisticated, but they're a snap to make. Just layer an Oreo crumb crust, dark chocolate and Nutella-cheesecake fillings, and homemade whipped cream in a little glass, then sprinkle on more crushed Oreos and toasted hazelnuts—no baking necessary.
Tangy Strawberry Fools
A classic English fool layers custard with stewed fruit. For a lighter, springier version, we swap a blend of whipped cream and yogurt for the rich custard, and both fresh and macerated strawberries for the traditional cooked fruit. You can also try the same dessert in versions with lemon and blueberry or pineapple, mango, and coconut.
Light and Easy 5-Minute Fruit Mousse
Desserts don't get much simpler than this refreshing fruit mousse—all you need are three ingredients, five minutes, and a food processor. Mixing an egg white with frozen fruit (any kind you'd like) and sugar turns what would otherwise be a plain fruit purée into a fluffy treat.
Vanilla Bean Panna Cotta
Creamy, delicate, and sophisticated, this panna cotta is delicious perfectly plain, but also makes an excellent accompaniment for fresh or lightly macerated fruit. We steep the cream with Tahitian vanilla for at least an hour and up to 24 hours to get the deepest flavor. In place of or in addition to the vanilla, you can also try steeping with lemon zest, cinnamon sticks, lavender, fresh ginger—this recipe makes a brilliant canvas for all kinds of interesting flavors.
Cranachan (Scottish Whipped Cream With Whisky, Raspberries, and Toasted Oats)
A traditional Scottish dessert that's tasty, pretty, and easy, cranachan consists of raspberries layered with toasted oats, honey, and whipped cream spiked with Scotch. Soaking the oats in the cream you'll whip later helps tenderize them, so they turn crisp, not tough, when toasted in the oven. An optional addition of mascarpone in the whipped cream makes the final product richer and more mousse-like.
Meyer Lemon Ice Cream
Thin-skinned Meyer lemons, found in supermarkets from roughly November through March, are sweeter, more floral, and less harsh than conventional lemons, making them a much better choice for infusing into ice cream. The result is rich and creamy, yet bright and tangy at the same time. This ice cream uses fewer eggs than usual, for a leaner, more refreshing profile, with cornstarch added to keep it silky-smooth. An optional splash of orange curaçao or other citrus liqueur plays up the orangey notes in the Meyers.
Meringue Nests With Orange Curd Cream and Easter Eggs
In this delightful spring treat, each delicate meringue "nest" holds a swirl of tangy, bright orange curd and cradles a pair of store-bought candy-covered chocolate eggs. The nests and curd can both be made several days ahead of time—just don't combine them until right before serving, or else the meringue will get soggy.
Chocolate Marshmallow Peeps
Marshmallow Peeps may not be your ideal Easter dessert, assuming you're over the age of nine. But what if you could make them at home, with full control over the flavoring and sugar level? These adorable homemade Peeps, infused with rich cocoa and dabbed with semisweet chocolate for eyes, have the festive look of the mass-produced originals, with a more subdued sweetness. Piping them out into chick-like shapes is easy—just allow the marshmallow to thicken a bit first.
Unlike the previous one, this recipe isn't about elevating marshmallows Peeps so much as...making the most of them. If you've always viewed Peeps as the lowest form of junk food—fit for nothing more than rounding out a kid's Easter basket, then getting furtively dumped before said kid has the chance to ingest them all—you're thinking about these much-maligned poofy treats all wrong. Turns out, they're absolutely terrific as part of a kid-friendly, rainbow-hued culinary art project: Peepshi, or Peep "sushi." You'll need Rice Krispie Treats (to stand in for your sushi rice), Fruit by the Foot (your nori equivalent), a few boxes of Nerds (if you want a tobiko roll), and, of course, Peeps in your desired colors. Our guide will explain how to make a whole platter of Peepshi offerings, including nigiri, maki, and inside-out rolls. Whether you actually eat these afterward is between you and your god.