12 Recipes We Only Make At The Holidays Because They Are So Time Consuming

Red Velvet Doberge Cake With Cheesecake Custard
PHOTO: ANTONIS ACHILLEOS; PROP STYLIST: LYDIA PURSELL; FOOD STYLIST: EMILY NABORS HALL

Cooking for and feeding our friends and loved ones is a joy, one so many of us fully embrace around the holidays. Between planning special feasts, crafting elaborate desserts, and baking up tray after tray of cookies, it’s a busy time, especially for the cooks of the family. Still, it’s not so busy that we won’t also make the effort to cook some of the most difficult and time-consuming recipes in our cookbooks and recipe tins.

Sure, amid the flurry of finding gifts and wrapping everything elaborately, who has time to stack meringues and glue them together with buttercream? Well, you do. Or at least, you’ll find the time—because the holidays are precisely when we want to put on our best show and really pull out all the stops.

These 12 recipes are among the most time-consuming holiday recipes we love to make, even if they test our patience and time management skills. Which of these are on your menu this season?

Southern Living Chocolate Babka sliced on a plate to serve with coffee
FRED HARDY, FOOD STYLIST: CHELSEA ZIMMER

Babka

We probably don’t have to tell you twice how special babka is. Today, this sweet braided bread is a favorite in the Jewish diaspora, having originated in Eastern European Jewish communities. It has certainly made its way into baking circles far beyond that, of course.

Chocolate or Nutella babka is a favorite at the holidays, but these breads can also be made with jams, nuts, and spiced fillings. With all the time needed for the yeast to rise, the braiding of the bread, more rising, and then of course the baking and cooling, a babka isn’t the easiest treat to make. Good thing most recipes make two loaves so you can put one in the freezer for later.

Beef Wellington

An elegant main course first cooked in England, Beef Wellington has never found itself on the outs of fashionable food. For this dish, a beef tenderloin is coated in pâté de foie gras or a mushroom purée and then wrapped in puff pastry. The pastry gets a simple egg wash, and artists will then use their knife skills to create intricate designs and basketweave patterns across the pastry before it’s baked to a glorious golden brown. All the steps of this dish add up to a really time-consuming but altogether beautiful dinner.

Old-Fashioned Caramel Cake
COURTNEY WEST

Old-Fashioned Caramel Cake

This one has special meaning to me—and a few associated headaches. My grandmother made caramel cakes for every Christmas dinner when I was growing up. As she got older, it became difficult for her to manage the many hours of stirring it takes to make the caramel frosting, and I had no idea the commitment when I took on the responsibility at my brother’s wedding. Unlike our recipe for Caramel Frosting, my grandmother’s time-tested version instructs you to stir the frosting as it cools down to a spreadable consistency. That’s easily an hour-plus of stirring, which is why I will only make this cake for special occasions now.

Southern Living Fruit Cake brushing with brandy or rum
CAITLIN BENSEL; FOOD STYLIST: TORIE COX

Fruitcake

Step one of a fruitcake is soaking pounds of dried fruit until it’s plump and filled with bourbon. That takes up to 12 hours. Step two is simple: making and baking the loaves. Step three can add a few hours—or a few weeks—to the timeline. That’s the point at which you brush the fruitcake with bourbon, brandy, or rum as it cools or as it sits for weeks. You can surely serve a fruitcake the next day, but many people believe it must be fully saturated after weeks of sitting under a spirits-soaked cheesecloth, and if you’re one of those people, you surely only make this treat once a year because that is a huge commitment. We applaud you.

Southern Living Let It Snow Pavlova on a cake plate ready to serve
VICTOR PROTASIO; FOOD STYLIST: CHELSEA ZIMMER; PROP STYLIST: CHRISTINA BROCKMAN

Meringue

Whether you’re making meringue kisses, pavlova, or just a beautiful Italian meringue for the top of a pie, you know what a chore meringue is. It’s time consuming to whip egg whites to the right stiffness, even with a machine doing the work. But if you take it a step beyond that and bake the meringue, well you’re just a saint.

Meringues are finicky and require a special touch. After baking at such a low temperature most of our ovens can’t reach it easily, they sit for hours until they’re crisped and hard enough to hold—which is precisely the moment you have to move them and hope they don’t shatter.

If you manage all that, why not show off with a splashy stacked cake or fruit- and whipped cream-topped masterpiece?

Red Velvet Doberge Cake With Cheesecake Custard
ANTONIS ACHILLEOS; PROP STYLIST: LYDIA PURSELL; FOOD STYLIST: EMILY NABORS HALL

Doberge Cake

We will take our lumps on this one and admit that last year’s Big White Cake was a doozy. Doberge cakes by their nature are time consuming, and they can eat up more of the clock depending on how you assemble and decorate them.

You have to start by making multiple smaller layers of cake or slicing larger layers in half. Those are then stacked with a curd or custard that you also have to make, followed by a delicate homemade frosting and decorating. Thankfully, this Red Velvet Doberge Cake is well worth every minute.

Croquembouche

This classic French Christmas pastry is both a baking and architectural miracle. Dozens of choux pastry puffs are baked, filled with cream, and then glued and stacked together with caramel. If you do this every year, invite us over. We want to watch and enjoy the fruits of your many hours of labor. These towers are a true beauty.

Cassoulet

There are shortcut versions of cassoulet, and we’ve made plenty in our Test Kitchen over the years. But the traditional dish, as it was originally made in France, is a day-long process, requiring hours and hours of slow cooking and simmering (and we don’t mean in a Crockpot). The classic version is usually made with multiple meats—pork, ham, chicken, sausage, even duck are common—and some vegetables and beans for flavor and good measure. It’s all cooked until it’s rich, thick, and chocolate brown. The cost from the clock? Usually 12 hours or more.

Southern Living White Christmas Buche de Noel topped with meringue mushrooms and sugared rosemary
VICTOR PROTASIO; FOOD STYLIST: CHELSEA ZIMMER; PROP STYLIST: CHRISTINA BROCKMAN

Bûche de Noël

You’ll need several hours and the patience of Job for this holiday favorite. A bûche de Noël, or yule log cake, calls for you to bake a cake and then roll it while it’s still hot so that it’ll hold its log shape. Then, you’ll fill the roll with some form of cream or custard before twirling it back up and sealing it with buttercream and hoping it holds its shape while you frost it and decorate it to look like the most beautiful snow-capped log in the forest. (Did we mention you might want to make meringue mushrooms, too?) It hurts our heart, too, when it’s all gone, but at least you know all that work was thoroughly loved and appreciated.

Mom's Potato Latkes
VICTOR PROTASIO; FOOD STYLING: RUTH BLACKBURN; PROP STYLING: CHRISTINE KEELY

Latkes

It isn’t so much the making of the latkes that is difficult. It’s that you have to repeat the process over and over and over to get enough latkes to feed your family. Senior Digital News Editor Rebecca Angel Baer describes her mother’s kitchen as a “potato latke factory,” in which she churns out hundreds of latkes every Hanukkah. When you’re frying six at a time (to keep the oil hot enough for the crisp edges you crave), everything just takes longer, but we’ll be ready with the applesauce when they come out of the pan.

Secrets to Best Christmas Goose
GETTY/GMVOZD

Goose

The hunt for the goose might take as long or longer than actually preparing the goose itself. Grocery stores stock only a few at a time, and just when you’re ready to buy one, they’re all gone. (Pro tip: Call ahead and ask the store to reserve one for you.)

As far as cooking, roasting a goose takes several hours more than roasting a turkey, which is more time you don’t have access to your oven for sides and breads; plan for about 5 hours from start to finish. (Oh, and did we mention how long it takes to thaw?)

Southern Living Southern Cracklin' Pork Roast With Lemony-Herb Sauce
GREG DUPREE; FOOD STYLIST: MICAH MORTON; PROP STYLIST: GINNY BRANCH

Porchetta

Block off your day if you’re putting porchetta on your holiday menu—and you should at least once. This elaborate pork roast is well worth the effort and the bragging rights that come with having survived making one.

Once you score the pork skin, cook the filling, and roll the pork belly into a tight spiral, it has to sit for 12 hours, uncovered, in the fridge so the skin can get extra crispy during roasting. And speaking of roasting, it’ll take 4 to 6 hours at 275°F for this holiday entrée to reach the perfect temperature.