7 Make-Ahead Easter Desserts That Will Give You a Head Start on Your Holiday Dinner

Cheesecake, ice-cream cake, parfaits, and sheet cakes all taste better when made in advance—and they give you peace of mind, too.

neapolitan ice cream cake
Photo: Anson Smart

Whether you're planning an Easter feast or just offered to prepare a dessert to bring to a gathering at a loved one's home, one of the best ways to pull off a celebratory sweet is to do as much as possible in advance. Start with recipes that are just as delicious on the day you bake them as they are on the day you serve them.

Some of the recipes in our collection of make-ahead Easter desserts, such as cheesecake and ice-cream cake, benefit from a little time in the refrigerator or freezer. We're also sharing cakes with crumbs so tender, they won't dry out too fast. Ultimately, the hardest part of preparing these stunning desserts will be waiting a day or two to eat them.

Neapolitan Ice Cream Cake

With its delicate spring color palette, now is the perfect time for our Neapolitan Ice Cream Cake to grace your table. Store-bought pistachio, strawberry, and vanilla ice creams are layered with an easy cornbread cake and the dessert is garnished with fresh spring berries.

Make Ahead: Put the cake together up to a week ahead; wrap it well and freeze. The berry mixture is best prepared the day of, but if you're going to be tight on time, it can be assembled up to three days in advance. If you're making it ahead, you'll have a more syrupy, jam-like topping. Store it in an airtight container in the fridge.

To Serve: For easier slicing, plan to let the ice cream cake sit at room temperature for 20 minutes before serving.

plated slices of Coconut Crunch Cake
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Coconut Crunch Cake

Coconut cakes and macarons are Easter traditions in many households, so we combined them into one irresistible dessert: Coconut Crunch Cake. Swapping out some butter with coconut oil doubles down on coconut flavor while creating a super tender cake that stays fresh. A silky chocolate sauce makes it even more stunning when you put a slice down on the table.

Make Ahead: Both the cake and the chocolate sauce can be prepared up to three days in advance. Store the coconut cake in an airtight container at room temperature. Store the chocolate sauce in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

To Serve: Reheat the chocolate sauce gently over a double boiler or in the microwave before drizzling.

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Rhubarb-Raspberry Cheesecake Squares

Pretty in pink, these Rhubarb-Raspberry Cheesecake Squares make an eye-popping finish to an Easter feast. The tart raspberry-rhubarb gelée topping is stunning, but also plays an important role in the flavor of this dessert; it complements the creamy cake and delightful graham cracker crust. These squares are easier and faster to prepare than a whole cheesecake; they are baked in a 9-by-13 baking dish so you can skip the water bath—and it cooks a lot faster, too.

Make Ahead: For the best texture and flavor, cheesecakes require a complete chill in the refrigerator before serving—making this dessert ahead is a must. Prepare and wrap the dessert in plastic wrap, then chill for up to three days prior to Easter dinner.

To Serve: Cut the bars into pieces, using a sawing motion to slice through the rhubarb-raspberry gelée layer; wiping your knife clean between cuts. You can cut the bars ahead of time and refrigerate again until serving or cut just before serving. Bring the bars to room temperature by removing them from the refrigerator about 20 minutes before you will be serving them.

orange-and-poppy-seed sheet cake recipe
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Orange-and-Poppy-Seed Sheet Cake

Sheet cakes serve a crowd and are easier to make than tall layer cakes, but what makes this Orange-and-Poppy-Seed Sheet Cake worthy of your Easter table? It has a burst of tartness from a sweet orange juice-based glaze drizzled on top, then it's finished with a pretty sprinkle of poppy seeds. It's sweet, but not too sweet and the orange juice vibes make it a perfect ending to an Easter brunch (it's also great after dinner.). A touch of sour cream in the batter ensures the crumb stays moist and tender, giving this cake a longer shelf life.

Make Ahead: The iced sheet cake can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to three days.

To Serve: Bring the cake to the table and slice it there.


Carrot-Cake Parfaits

For some, the very best part of a carrot cake is the cream cheese frosting; that's what makes these Carrot Cake Parfaits such a hit. Each parfait has generous layers of cream cheese filling, apricot jam, and cake. Plus who doesn't love an individual dessert? And, as a boon for the cook, this dessert doesn't require any portioning at the table.

Make Ahead: The parfaits can be assembled in serving cups or glasses up to three days in advance. Wrap the top of each cup with plastic to keep them airtight before you refrigerate them.

To Serve: Bring the parfaits straight from the fridge to the table when you are ready to serve dessert.

pastel butter cookies

Pastel Butter Cookies

Most cookies can be made ahead, but few are as well suited to Easter as these Pastel Butter Cookies. (Another excellent make-head cookie for Easter is our Watercolor Easter Bunny Cookies.)

Make Ahead: Cookies can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to one week.

To Serve: Transfer to a platter to serve.

lemon olive oil cake

Lemon-Olive Oil Cake

Extra-virgin olive oil adds moistness and enhances the fruity lemon flavor of this yellow cake. Our Lemon-Olive Oil Cake is light and springlike, and it makes a delicious pairing with a mix of berries (use whatever combination looks best at the store) and a generous amount of mascarpone whipped cream.

Make Ahead: Cake can be made ahead, wrapped, and stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to two days. Dust with powdered sugar on the day it will be served. Prepare the berries, sugar, and lemon juice up to two hours ahead. Prepare the mascarpone whipped cream just before serving or up to an hour ahead.

To Serve: Slice the cake at the table and have guests help themselves to berries and mascarpone whipped cream, or slice the cake and plate the portions with berries and cream in the kitchen.

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