“Primal” Holiday Desserts

12 Desserts to Satisfy Your Holiday Cravings

By Riki Shore

Does the holiday season bring to mind desserts like Christmas cookies, buche de noel or – my favorite – chocolate babka?

Making these traditional desserts is time-consuming and complicated, not to mention that they’re loaded with white sugar and flour – the very foods you’re trying to avoid in order to stay healthy.

But eating Paleo doesn’t mean you have to miss out on dessert.

Simple fruit compotes, whipped creams, nuts and dark chocolate make some of the most elegant finales to holiday meals. And sometimes, when it comes to food prep, less is more.

Read on for 12 outstanding Paleo dessert ideas. These treats are loaded with flavor and they’re a snap to make. You’ll be eating these long after you ring in the New Year.

1. Citrus Salad

Citrus is at its peak in the winter months, making it a natural holiday treat. Gather together a variety of citrus, including Ruby Red grapefruit, Oro Blanco grapefruit, navel oranges, and tangelos. Cut each fruit into segments, dropping the cut pieces into a bowl.

At this point, you can add some pomegranate seeds and juice, a drizzle of honey or brandy, or a pinch of sugar. You can also leave the citrus as-is. Chill for several hours before serving. Presenting the citrus in beautiful cut glass bowls ups the sophistication of this dessert.

2. Dark Chocolate and Roasted Nuts

Chocolate and nuts are flavorful and packed with nutrients. Choose a nut that’s low in Omega-6 fatty acids, such as macadamias, hazelnuts, almonds or pistachios. I like to buy raw nuts and toast them, adding sea salt and good olive oil at the end of the roasting time.

Buy the highest quality chocolate you can afford, since it needs to stand on its own. A few of my favorites are Green & Black’s Dark 85%, Scharffen Berger Extra Dark 82%, and Amadei 9 75%. (Mark Sisson gives great tasting notes on these and other chocolate bars.)

To serve at the end of a holiday meal, buy a couple of bars of chocolate and break them into big pieces. Scatter them on a wooden platter or cutting board with the nuts and place in the middle of the table. A glass of good port would go beautifully here as well.

3. Pears and Stilton

There’s nothing like a perfectly ripened pear to finish a holiday meal. Bosc, d’Anjou and Bartletts are all excellent to serve on their own. Simply rinse, dry and slice the pears just before serving. Blue cheese makes a natural counterpoint to the crisp sweetness of the pears. Stilton is a favorite blue cheese, and Humboldt Fog is a great domestic option.

4. Apples and Cheddar

Along the same lines, apples and cheddar cheese naturally go well together. Choose apples that are uncoated, firm and fresh – you want to avoid any fruits with soft spots. Pink Lady and Fuji apples have been delicious recently. Favorite cheddar cheeses include Black Diamond, Grafton and Cabot Clothbound Cheddar.

5. Pear Ginger Sorbet

A refreshing sorbet is the perfect finish to a rich holiday meal. This pear ginger sorbet can be made with no added sugar if you prefer. As it is, there’s very little sugar, which means you get the full flavor of pear without any cloying sweetness.

6. Roasted Pineapple with Vanilla and Rum

Roasting a pineapple brings out the natural sweetness of this tangy tropical fruit. When choosing a pineapple, pluck a leaf from the top. If it comes off easily, smell the bottom of the fruit. If you get a good blast of sweet pineapple, you know it’s ripe.

Trim the top and bottom off the fruit, then cut along the sides to remove the rough skin. Cut the fruit in quarters lengthwise, then remove the core from each quarter. Cut each quarter into two or three slices lengthwise to create long spears of pineapple.

Heat some butter in a large skillet over medium heat. When the butter foams, add the pineapple and a split vanilla bean, scraping the seeds out of the bean pod before adding it to the pan. Cook the pineapple on all sides until it’s soft and slightly browned, about 20 – 25 minutes.

Add a dash of rum to the pan and toss everything together for another minute. Turn the pineapple onto a platter and serve with a fork and knife. This dessert is also delicious with a dollop of freshly whipped cream or coconut milk ice cream – in which case you’ll need spoons!

7. Coconut Milk Ice Cream

Coconut milk is loaded with flavor and healthy fats. It blends well with so many flavors – chocolate, tropical fruits, and nuts, to name a few. It’s also a boon for your friends who are avoiding dairy. The dairy eaters won’t even miss the “cream” in this ice cream.

Two of my favorite recipes for coconut milk ice cream are Elana Amsterdam’s Roasted Banana and Coconut Ice Cream and The Whole Life Nutrition Kitchen’s Strawberry Coconut Ice Cream.

8. Winter Compote

Compote is basically a stew of fruit with wine, citrus zest, and sugar. Several winter fruits are so sweet that you can make compote without adding the sugar.

I’ve written instructions for prune and kumquat compote inspired by a recipe from Alice Waters. But you can get creative here. Compote recipes abound online and you can easily use whatever winter fruit is available where you live – persimmon, figs and dates all come to mind.

12 kumquats, sliced thin and seeded

1 pound dried prunes

1 cup sweet white wine

1 ½ cups water

½ cup crème fraiche (optional)

Place all ingredients except the crème fraiche in a medium saucepan. Simmer over low heat, stirring occasionally, until the prunes are plump, about 30 minutes. Let everything cool, then serve at room temperature with a dollop of crème fraiche. If you’re avoiding dairy, you can sprinkle some chopped toasted nuts instead.

9. Papaya Halves with Lime

Papaya is a delicious tropical fruit that contains loads of digestive enzymes. Its thick juicy flesh, a pleasure to slurp down, is low in acidity, making it a perfect counterpart to freshly squeezed lime juice.

Simply halve the papayas and scoop out the glistening black seeds. Taste a seed; they’re edible and you can add them on top of the fruit if you like the flavor. Sprinkle the fruit all over with lime juice.

Pass toppings for each person to add to their dessert: toasted unsweetened coconut flakes, chopped toasted macadamias or chopped crystallized ginger all make nice additions. Serve in beautiful bowls with spoons.

10. Clementines

Clementines are at their peak in December and early January. These tiny oranges are easy to peel and contain no seeds, unlike their cousins the satsumas and tangerines. A big bowl of these beautiful orange fruits makes a festive centerpiece and dessert all in one. Nobody will complain if you pass a bar of dark chocolate at the same time.

11. Greek Yogurt Parfaits

Full fat Greek yogurt is creamy and packed with protein, healthy fats and calcium. Empty a couple containers of yogurt into a bowl and whisk it to lighten it up. Drizzle some honey and whisk to blend.

Serve the yogurt in parfait glasses or glass bowls layered with your choice of toppings: fresh winter fruits, chopped toasted nuts, roasted cocoa nibs, bee pollen, minced crystallized ginger, candied orange peel, or toasted unsweetened coconut flakes. Better yet, set everything out in bowls and let your guests make their own parfaits.

12. Dried Apricots and Figs Dipped in Dark Chocolate

Dried fruit is naturally sweet – so much so that I don’t eat too much of it. When dipped in dark chocolate, it looks elegant on the table and a little goes a long way. One piece of this “candy” is enough to end your holiday meal.

Choose plump dried apricots and figs; you want to avoid dried fruit that’s very old and dehydrated to the point of being too hard to eat.

Melt your favorite dark chocolate in a bowl set over a pot of lightly simmering water, stirring occasionally. Once the chocolate is melted and easy to stir, remove the pot to a towel on your counter.

Dip half of each piece of dried fruit into the chocolate, then place it carefully on a sheet tray lined with parchment paper or Silpat. Leave the fruits in a cool place (refrigerate if you must) until the chocolate it set. Carefully pick each piece off the tray and place on a pretty serving platter or dish.

These fruits will keep for a week or more in an airtight, moisture-free container in a cool, dark place. In Los Angeles, this means the refrigerator, but if you live in a wintry location, cool room temperature should be enough.

For more great holiday recipes, both savory and sweet, check out the recipe section of Three Squares.

Riki Shore blogs at Three Squares where she writes original recipes, conducts interviews, organizes quizzes and takes awesome photos. A professionally trained pastry chef, she’s gluten-intolerant and represents the intersection of gluten-free and Paleo diets. Like her on Facebook, follow her on Twitter, or visit her blog.

Categories: Cooking, Recipes


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  1. Chris says

    I like this list! I know I will be making some of these for the few paleo eaters in my family.

    A couple more to try on the savory side are;

    Bacon Wrapped Figs – bake until bacon is done then drizzle with honey.

    Thick Cut Bacon Dipped in Dark Chocolate.

    The saltiness of the bacon will highlight the natural sweetness of the figs or chocolate. A different kind of dessert, but definitely delicious!


    • says

      @Erica “Primal” Holiday Desserts… The title isn’t Paleo holiday desserts.

      @the author of the article, thanks for providing some decadent choices to celebrate with but not come completely off the rails either. :-)
      I love being able to share some really delicious things with my family so that they exclaim “you can eat that?” when they think I have orthorexia!


    • Jay says

      Erica, I could be wrong on this, but I believe that the fermentation process of sour yogurts and the way butter is made rids both of them of the negatives usually associated with dairy. I’m not sure how either process would effect lactose though. I’ll have to do some research on that.

  2. says

    Thanks for your question about dairy. Personally, I try to eat very minimal amounts. Some following a strict Paleo diet eat no dairy at all. Others seem to find that butter is OK for their bodies. Still others eat a limited amount of cream. I included those options, along with plenty of non-dairy desserts, so readers could make their own choices. Good luck and Happy Holidays!

  3. says

    Thank you for some other wonderful article. Where else may anyone get that type of info in such a perfect means of writing? I’ve a presentation next week, and I’m on the look for such info.

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