The Ultimate Ranking Of Thanksgiving Desserts

Now that spooky season is over, the foodie holidays are in sight. That means some of us are gearing up for the challenges of cooking for the whole family — plus some. 

For those who celebrate turkey day, you'll know there are an array of Thanksgiving desserts to choose from. This article was meticulously curated from pies to cookie platters to ensure you get the info you need for the ideal holiday treat. And let's face it, we're all looking forward to dessert.

From my personal favorites and the classics to internet creations and historical traditions, expect to be tantalized by a delightful blend of culinary expertise and a passion for all things sugary. Whether you're a seasoned pie pro or you show up to dinner, prepare your taste buds for an irresistible exploration of Thanksgiving's sweetest offerings. Let's rank the top classic Thanksgiving desserts that are a must for any successful holiday meal.

14. Pecan pie

Pecan pie is a classic Thanksgiving dessert. The pecan is native to North America, as there are traces of indigenous tribes eating this nut dating back to 6,750 B.C. The nut was said to have been given to early settlers as it was a great source of protein and fat. It also has that delicious buttery flavor that makes it the perfect snack or addition to a variety of dishes.

The pie's rich, sweet filling, which is made with ingredients like sugar, butter, and eggs, has become a staple, especially among those in the South. From a traditional passed-down family recipe to innovative creations with additions such as bourbon and chocolate, this pie is classic and versatile.

While it's a top turkey day choice, it's going last on this list because some of us are highly allergic to nuts and can't indulge in this sweet treat as is. And while tradition is great, some of us like the other sugary options, such as fruit notes, chocolate, and the like.

13. Carrot cake

Did you know carrots were traditionally used in desserts in place of more expensive sweeteners like sugar? This veggie-infused cake dates back to the 1700s, hailing from Europe. The recipe came to America with various European immigrants who used carrots to make pudding. Eventually, this dessert was transformed into the cake we know today, bringing a touch of history to every table.

Carrot cake is made the same way as most cakes, with sugar, butter, and flour. Cinnamon is the key component in the flavor profile here, but some add extras like crushed pineapple, raisins, and nuts. Add that cream cheese frosting on top, and you instantly forget you're eating a sweet treat that borders on healthy.

While carrot cake might not be a widely popular choice, its warm, spiced flavors, seasonal ingredients, and moist texture make it a delightful addition to any Thanksgiving feast. From a classic recipe to a fun twist of ingredients, carrot cake could be your next fan favorite. Unfortunately, carrot cake's marketing team hasn't really caught up with the times, leaving this one lower on the list than the others due to it's lack of popularity.

12. Cranberry orange bread

Next up for turkey day dessert choices is cranberry orange bread. While this option isn't a time-honored choice like other pies, it's grown in popularity over the years, even being featured in a classic children's book, "Cranberry Thanksgiving" by Wende and Harry Devlin.

Cranberry orange bread can make for a great Thanksgiving dessert with seasonal flavors and easy prep. It's a refreshing alternative to more common pies and cakes, introducing a variety of flavors and textures to the dessert selection. The tang of the cranberries and the zest of the orange are wonderful, especially when combined with sugar and fall spices. But it lands a bit low on this list because we can't fully count bread as a dessert. 

Yes, if made correctly, it's moist and sweet, but this one reads more like a breakfast pastry than a decadent holiday closer. Add this one to your "give it a try" pile, but don't make it the centerpiece of sweets. It's not going to satisfy those with a strong sweet tooth.

11. Cranberry pie

NPR called cranberry sauce the "Thanksgiving peacock," and that's a hard descriptor to forget. Essentially, it's the true hero of the Thanksgiving table, giving kids a respite from their veggies and adults a sweet flavor profile during a very savory dinner. While we're not talking cranberry sauce here per se, next up on the list is cranberry pie. Yet, if you really think about it, it beautifully features that popular side dish in pie form. 

We know anything cranberry aligns instantly with the Thanksgiving theme. The sweet-tart flavor of cranberry complements the traditional savory side dishes. However, this one may not be suitable for those who prefer more conventional pie choices like pumpkin or apple, and its tartness might not appeal to everyone's palate.

At the end of the day, while cranberry sauce is one of our favorite holiday sides, it's the sweet treat that cuts the savory, the salt, and the starches. But after a meal like that, we're looking for a brand-new flavor profile. We always want variety, and your guests may feel the same way.

10. Apple crisp

The origin of apple crisp is up for debate. There are cookbooks in the U.S. that showcase this dessert popping up in print in 1924, but some claim it's just a version of the British crumble. No matter the history, apple crisp is a classic dessert and a popular Thanksgiving option.

Apple crisp is perfect for fall, as it showcases the comforting flavors of baked apples and cinnamon, which are reminiscent of the season. We love that you can use a variety of apple types to transform the flavor profile, and there is always a welcome scoop of vanilla bean ice cream to create the perfect mouthfeel. 

Its warm, crunchy topping contrasts the soft, tender apples, almost reaching that apple pie greatness. But to us, here lies the major flaw: It's just not apple pie. Is it still good? Absolutely. Is it going to beat out an apple pie? Probably not.

9. Maple bourbon bread pudding

It's funny to think how bread pudding was a dish created to use leftover stale bread, traditionally made by the lower classes in England starting as far back as the 11th century. Today, you can find bread pudding everywhere, from your grandma's recipe book and classic diners to high-end restaurants adding their innovative flair.

When it comes to Thanksgiving, bread pudding might not be a tried and true classic, but you can really turn up the fun with maple bourbon bread pudding. It's a stellar option because it combines rich, warm flavors like maple and bourbon, making it a comforting and indulgent choice for a holiday meal. The custard texture of bread pudding is a delightful departure from traditional pies and adds variety to the dessert spread. It's also easy to make.

However, the idea of bread pudding might not suit everyone's taste, especially those who prefer lighter or less boozy desserts. And if you're not a maple fan, we'll, you'll be pretty upset when you reach the end of your turkey day meal.

8. Sweet potato pie

Sweet potato pie is often seen as a Southern alternative to pumpkin pie, and its popularity during Thanksgiving can be traced back to the abundance of sweet potatoes in the Southern states. Those potatoes, hailing from Peru in the 1700s, changed the dessert game in the U.S., as they were easy to grow and could be used in a wealth of dishes. At that time, slaves would harvest the starch and also cook them for their masters. While there were a variety of recipes in the U.S., there was also a history of sweet potato pie in Western Europe.

While sweet potatoes are the star of the show, their supporting cast of sugar, condensed milk, and spices are going to determine if your pie is a winner. If you're going to attempt to make a good sweet potato pie, ask your friends with a connection to the South because they'll know how to execute this properly.

So, why is this one in the middle of the list, even when we think it's better than pumpkin? Some people make yams or sweet potatoes for their meals, so having a second helping for dessert might not be a great move. While we like variety, we are also constantly looking for flavor diversity at the dinner table.

7. Cheesecake

Researching cheesecake brought us back to the glory days of Greece and Rome, where evidence of cheesecake-style dishes originated. While some feel a cousin of the cheesecake was born on an island in Greece, we do have records of ancient Romans feasting on Savillum, the dessert that's said to be the closer relative of modern-day cheesecake.

While your typical cheesecake is mainly comprised of butter, sugar, cream cheese, and eggs, along with that decadent graham cracker crust, there are so many variations and flavor options to choose from. The possibilities are almost endless, and that makes my heart sing. 

Many people enjoy experimenting with different cheesecake recipes, incorporating seasonal ingredients such as cranberries, pumpkin, or even pecans to give the dessert a Thanksgiving twist. It's cheesecake's adaptability that moves this option to number seven on our list.

And let's be real: You don't have to make it yourself. There are a ton of bakeries and restaurants that will happily get this dessert ready for you — especially during the holidays.

6. Mississippi mud pie

Mississippi mud pie is a rich and luscious dessert that is traditionally made with a chocolate crust and filling and a generous topping of whipped cream or marshmallows. However, this is a dessert option where you can truly get creative, adding an array of extras to the fillings or top.

While its origins are unclear, some say it takes after the mud cake, which found its claim to fame during World War II when people improvised their meals based on the ingredients available. The rest say it was created in the South and named after its resemblance to the banks of the Mississippi River.

We can safely say that after a savory meal, a nice piece of chocolate really cuts the salt. So, a Mississippi mud pie or something comparable is always a winning dish. This one also has layers of dreams waiting to be explored. You can even throw in some candy or cookie pieces to spice things up. Don't be hesitant to get creative with this recipe.

5. Pumpkin roll

People go wild over pumpkin spice foods and drinks when fall arrives, so it's no wonder the pumpkin roll has been making a more consistent appearance in the Thanksgiving scene. A pumpkin roll embodies the quintessential flavors of the fall season, with pumpkin spice at the forefront. And that cream cheese filling? It's delicious. This dessert's elegant presentation also adds a touch of sophistication to the dessert table. 

While this option is a new love in the holiday dessert world, its origins are unclear. There are rumors this dessert hails from Italy, but we do know there are records of a pumpkin roll and versions like it being sold in the U.S. in the early 1900s. No matter the origin, it seems this dessert is here to stay.

But like everything, some people aren't into pumpkin spice goods. A roll that seems to walk the line of cake and bread won't truly cut it at our dessert table, but when done right, they can be pretty good. The fact that it's still more of a pastry keeps this option at number five on our list.

4. Chocolate mousse

Chocolate mousse is a classic dessert and one that can be a star on Thanksgiving. While we are well aware this isn't a classic holiday dish, hear us out. Mousse offers a rich and decadent contrast to the traditional turkey dinner. Not to mention, its smooth and velvety texture, when paired with seasonal garnishes like berries, can provide an elegant finish to the feast.

While we don't have a clear starting point for mousse, we know the French were cooking up this delicious dessert in the 18th century and naming it within their language. We do know this dessert was in the U.S. at the end of the 19th century, as there are records of this dessert from an 1892 food expo in New York City and a recipe posted in the Boston Daily Globe in 1897.

Whether or not chocolate mousse is the right choice for your guests depends. Some prefer more traditional fall flavors, and it could be considered too heavy or intense for a meal that typically focuses on savory and comforting dishes. But this option can also be light and playful with added fruit or other goodies to expand the flavor profile. This one is all about the recipe and who is on your guest list.

3. Pumpkin pie

There's no doubt pumpkin pie is a forged Thanksgiving tradition, and the first recorded pumpkin pie recipes in the U.S. date back to the 1600s. These early pies were quite different from what we're familiar with today, which are often made with a crust and filled with pumpkin, spices, and sweeteners. 

Harvesting pumpkins dates even farther back to around 5,500 B.C. in Central America. In Europe, there are records of pumpkins being brought back from the New World as early as 1536.

Today, pumpkin pie is an essential part of the Thanksgiving meal for many Americans, and they have a pretty simple ingredient list. It's cherished for its warm, spiced flavors that are a mix of ground cinnamon, ginger, clove, and nutmeg, invoking a sense of nostalgia at the holiday table. 

While these flavors may not be everyone's cup of tea, there is something to be said about this classic, and it deserves a place in the top three. This dessert is not our first choice for the sake of variety and stepping away from the overload of pumpkin spice.

2. Cookies

As avid cookie bakers, we can tell you that even when people say they don't want cookies, that might not always be true. Platters are always mysteriously ransacked by the end of the day after a fresh batch of cookies is made. So, don't let a "no" stop you from baking these treats — especially during the holidays with a full house. 

Bringing one or several types of holiday cookies to an event is a surefire way to make your crowd smile. You can never go wrong with classic chocolate chip, peanut butter, or ginger, but why not take it a step further? Experiment with a range of flavor combinations, like chocolate marshmallow and red velvet cookies.

For a safe bet, go with sugar cookies; you can always get creative and decorate them with Thanksgiving and fall-themed designs. Plus, you can hit an array of allergen-free possibilities with multiple flavors and types to ensure everyone in your group is happy and safe.

I love options when it comes to my meals, so a platter of cookies makes me drool. From one flavor to a variety, to decorated to a family recipe, cookies are an enjoyable option that most people won't pass up.

1. Apple pie

If you're from or have visited the U.S., you may have heard the phrase "as American as apple pie." From Fourth of July BBQs to large holiday gatherings, apple pie has become the quintessential dessert in the U.S. 

What's amazing about this option is that apples aren't native to North America, and spices like cinnamon and nutmeg have traveled to the states from as far as Sri Lanka and Indonesia. Be that as it may, you'd be hard-pressed to find a table without one when it comes to Thanksgiving and most other holidays.

Where the other pies fail, apple really takes the win. You get the crust, the liquid gold filling, and the crunch of the apples in every bite. The perfect apple pie is sweet but not too sugary, with a more natural flavor profile coming from the apples. While some may fight me to the death because pumpkin is their thing, apples are still a fall favorite and speak to a wider range of audiences. When it comes to turkey-day pies, we're going with apple for the win.