I am a notorious dessert lover. According to my parents, my go-to question at any meal growing up was “Is it sweet?” Now in my late twenties, I still have a propensity toward sweets but my sugar threshold has significantly dropped. In an effort to satiate this craving and indulge my love of fall baking, I’ve rounded up some creative, seasonally inspired dessert recipes to share with you. These seven dishes all utilize alternative sweeteners, grains, and even vegetables to provide depth of flavor and avoid becoming overly saccharine. I hope they bring lots of joy to your kitchens and inspire you to save room for the last (and best) course of a meal.
Grapes aren’t typically a fruit that comes to mind when you think of dessert. But, with such a plethora of grape varietals arriving each fall, they really should be a prime candidate for baking projects this time of year. Concord grapes (the type that grape jelly is typically made from) are a particularly excellent choice given their deep, fruity sweetness and striking violet color. These handpies from Apartment 2B Baking Co. put concord grapes at the forefront by cooking them down into a concentrated jam (spiked with lots of citrus) and using that as filling between flaky buttery pastry. The result is a satisfying, handheld dessert that is sure to bring out the child in you. Get the recipe on Apartment 2B Baking Co.
Pumpkin pie may be the most well-known fall dessert, but more often than not, it lacks that wow factor. Sprouted Kitchen’s pumpkin pie tart takes this traditional pie and morphs it into a show-stopping tart. The base of the dish is a play on a “crumb-crust” but instead of using ground cookies, sugar, and butter, they opt for more nourishing ingredients like ground pecans and rolled oats, medjool dates for sweetness, and coconut oil to bind. The pumpkin filling is sweetened with maple syrup and just a smidge of cane sugar and complemented by coconut milk. After baking, the final product gets topped off with a coconut whipped cream made with chilled coconut milk and a whisper of vanilla. Get the recipe on Sprouted Kitchen.
The queen of home cooking, Deb Perelman of Smitten Kitchen, has always been a huge inspiration to me when it comes to desserts, especially elevated twists on classic dishes. One such recipe that recently caught my eye was what she calls “Magic Apple Plum Cobbler,” which is actually an inverse of a traditional cobbler. Instead of basing the dish in fruit and topping with biscuits, she makes a thin, fluffy, lightly-sweetened, batter and tops it with loads of apples and plums. During baking, the fruit morphs into little jammy pockets that provide a tart, nuanced contrast to the airy cake. If you weren’t already sold, this whole pan of goodness comes together in less than an hour, making it a great dish to bring to a party or to treat yourself to after a weeknight dinner. Get the recipe on Smitten Kitchen.
Even though I love to bake, sometimes my sweet craving is so strong that I must satiate it immediately. This is where raw recipes come in handy, as they require no baking or major amounts of prep. Oh Ladycakes’ Almost Raw Brownies are a prime example of this. Not only does the entire mixture come together in the food processor, but the final bars only require 20 minutes to chill before eating. The batter itself is based with cashews and rolled oats as well as a generous amount of cocoa powder and medjool dates. These star ingredients get bound together with both coconut oil and unsweetened almond milk, making this a dairy-free, gluten-free (if you use GF rolled oats), and vegan dessert all in one. For extra flair, you can whip up a maple ganache (made from just maple syrup, cocoa powder, and coconut oil) to go on top of the bars after chilling, giving them a glossy, picture-perfect look. Get the recipe on Oh Ladycakes.
It’s hard to beat a classic apple pie, but it’s a project that often tends to require too much time and energy. To get the flavor of this fall favorite with nearly none of the work, check out Minimalist Baker’s Apple Pie Sundaes. These sundaes start with a base of sautéed apples, seasoned with cinnamon, ginger, and lemon before getting topped off with vanilla ice cream, coconut whipped cream, and some lightly sweetened baked pecans for crunch. A hot-cold dessert delight that delivers all the fun without that pesky stomachache. Get the recipe on Minimalist Baker.
Vegetables aren’t conventionally commonplace in dessert recipes. However, certain varietals, especially squash, sweet potato, and pumpkin, can lend both a creamy texture and earthy flavor to sweets. Dolly and Oatmeal takes advantage of these properties in her Butternut Squash Squares. This recipe is essentially a homemade granola bar loaded with whole grains, nuts, seeds, and spices bound together by pureed butternut squash. After baking, the bars get drizzled with a bit of melted dark chocolate and a pinch of flaky salt for that sweet salty bite that can’t be beat. Get the recipe on Dolly and Oatmeal.
It doesn’t get more fall than a caramel apple. Molly Yeh takes this favorite and gives it grownup flair by incorporating tahini (ground sesame paste reminiscent in flavor to peanut butter) into the caramel apple coating, as well as a pinch of cinnamon for spice. The dipped tart apples then get a final sprinkle of sesame seeds for a bit of crunch. This recipe is a prime candidate for a Halloween gathering or a fun hands-on project to make with kids. Get the recipe on My Name is Yeh.
While you’re getting your fall dessert fix, take a moment to remember that not everyone has easy, regular access to wholesome food. Feed your stomach, then your soul by joining the fight to end world hunger.
Maddie Mays is a Chicago-born personal chef, caterer, and writer. Her love of gastronomy began with an introduction to the Food Network as a teenager and has since blossomed into a deep-rooted passion. She spent her early career in the food world working at the famed Zingerman’s Deli in Ann Arbor, Michigan, before moving on to other notable spots including Detroit’s Sister Pie bakery, and Floriole Bakery, Read It and Eat bookstore, and The Social Table in Chicago. In her spare time, she can be found practicing yoga, hosting dinner parties for friends, and sifting through her ever-growing cookbook collection. Maddie is also a supporter of PAWS Chicago. Since adopting her two cats from the shelter, she has served as a volunteer and donated her cooking services as an auction item at fundraisers. Get in touch with Maddie at madonfood.com