25 Sweet Fall Treats, Ranked Worst To Best

Fall pies on wood
Fall pies on wood - Jenifoto/Getty Images

Forget the chili, candy corn, and Thanksgiving turkey. When autumn arrives, the best thing to look forward to is the sweet treats. These foods, including everything from breakfast to dinner, are the highlight of fall and there's seemingly never enough sugar-laden treats, from pumpkin pie to apple crisp.

But not all favorite fall goodies are created equal. Some embody the definition of fall; they're filled with seasonal ingredients and warming spices, and they embody the seasonal essence of warmth and hospitality. Others, well, no real rhyme or reason — but they sure do taste good.

Below is a ranking of the very best sweet fall treats. Factored into consideration is the versatility of the dish, ease of the recipe, overall tastes and other fall-infused factors. Read on for the best selections in autumnal fare — and what should be avoided.

Read more: The Biggest Mistakes You're Making While Baking

Caramel Apples

Caramel apples on plate
Caramel apples on plate - Brent Hofacker/Shutterstock

Caramel apples are at the bottom of this, and pretty much any, list of fall treats. Honestly, caramel apples deserve to be cancelled, because although they might be sweet, they are anything but a treat.

Biting into a rock hard, caramel-coated apple is an experience that borders on the barbaric. Without fail, the consumer ends up with caramel sauce stuck all over their face, clothes, and every other surface within a five-foot proximity. The shape of an apple guarantees you'll rarely get an equal ratio of apple to caramel, defeating the purpose of even dipping the fruit into the caramel. Then there are candy apples, slightly different but no better, serving only to raise the question of why anyone would ever cover up a perfectly good apple with a bunch of a fake-red, sticky sugar syrup.

Candied Yams

Candied yams in cast iron
Candied yams in cast iron - Marie Sonmez Photography/Shutterstock

Many believe that no Thanksgiving table is complete without a candied yam casserole. Recipes typically feature a base of mashed sweet potatoes, interlaced with brown sugar and covered in lightly browned marshmallows. Although jam-packed with sweet, almost desert-like ingredients, it's nonetheless traditionally placed on the table alongside the bird, mashed potatoes and the other dishes in the main course.

They are an outlier, a main course-imposter that doesn't deserve precious plate real estate come Thanksgiving. Someone should file a petition to officially make candied yams a dessert, rather than part of the entrée. While it may be true that but that root vegetables, brown sugar, and cinnamon are fall flavors, candied yams belong with the after-dinner pies.

Pumpkin Ice Cream

Pumpkin ice cream being scooped
Pumpkin ice cream being scooped - Debbismirnoff/Getty Images

Depending on where you live in the United States, fall can be downright cold. While ice cream is undeniably delicious, and some flavors feel ideal for autumn, the last thing on your mind on a 30-degree day that is eating something cold.

Nevertheless, people eat pumpkin ice cream to savor the tastes and feelings of fall into the winter and spring months. Since the frozen dessert stays fresh in the freezer, it's easily pulled out for an afternoon at the pumpkin patch or cozy flannels by the fire. Some brands of pumpkin ice cream have a profound spice element, while others concentrate on amplifying the pumpkin notes, to the point where things might feel artificial. There's just too much variation in pumpkin ice cream for it to be dependable; save it for the summer.

Pumpkin Pie

Pumpkin pie slice on plate
Pumpkin pie slice on plate - Bhofack2/Getty Images

There might be some disgruntled comments about ranking pumpkin pie so low on a list of fall desserts, but there's something about the texture of this dessert that is undeniably off-putting. The crust, first of all, needs to be perfectly done for this pie to succeed (which, unfortunately, is rarely the case with finicky pie crust). Then there's the filling, which needs to be heavily spiced to elevate the dish to more than just flavored mush in a pie shell, but so rarely is.

What isn't up for debate is that pumpkin pie is iconic, a Thanksgiving standby that will always have a place at tables nationwide. But ask yourself: How much of that is just a token nod to tradition? How much of that is because you actually enjoy the taste of pumpkin pie? And finally, when was the last time you ate pumpkin pie when it wasn't Thanksgiving? Quite simply, it's an annual one-timer, not even deserving of a return for seconds.

Pecan Pie

Pecan pie in pie plate
Pecan pie in pie plate - Kirbying/Getty Images

What can go wrong with coating an already sweet filling in more syrup? Apparently, when it comes to pecan pie, not a thing.

Nobody's going to argue that desserts shouldn't be sweet, but pecan pie is perhaps where everyone needs to draw the line. Nearly every pecan pie is much too sweet — to the point where the sugar masks any other flavor complexities that could elevate it to another level. The sheer sweetness of the pie makes it too indulgent to eat more than a few bites, which defeats the purpose of eating it for dessert. If more bakers had the self-discipline to dial back the sweetness of the pecan pie (which would fundamentally change its very essence), perhaps it too would become more than a Thanksgiving one-timer.

Apple Turnovers

Apple turnovers on sheet pan
Apple turnovers on sheet pan - Nature, Food, Landscape, Travel/Getty Images

Like a little kiss of fall, apple turnovers capture the season without committing too much to the idea. The biggest issue with these pastries, however, is that they are chronically underfilled with apple.

A typical apple turnover requires the consumer to have to dissect it to find any sort of apple filling tucked inside those delicate layers of pastry. On average, it seems like the typical turnover probably has 80% pastry to 20% filling. At that point, just order a croissant. An apple turnover with more filling? Bring it on. But until those ratios reliably improve, this is one sweet treat best left in the bakery cabinet.


Fried churros as background
Fried churros as background - Jimmytrueno/Getty Images

Want a dessert? How about a snack? Better yet, why not have both?

That seems to be the thinking behind churros, a Spanish treat with a crisp exterior coated in a cinnamon sugar coating and sometimes served with a side of melted chocolate. If cooked, piped, and fried correctly, these treats are delicious, snappy, and flavorful.

It's another fried dough-fueled treat commonly found at fall county fairs. But it's far from the first dessert anyone would think of when listing fall favorites. Unlike other fall treats, these are also difficult to make at home; there's a lot that can go wrong, and churros aren't an easy recipe to perfect.

Apple Fritters

Glazed apple fritters on plate
Glazed apple fritters on plate - Bhofack2/Getty Images

Apple fritters are an odd dessert. They're technically a donut, but there isn't much in common between these massive, rock-like hunks and a light, airy chocolate-frosted. The batter combines conventional donut ingredients with chunks of fresh apples before plunging them into a pot filled with shallow oil. Once the fritters are finished cooking, they're coated in a thick glaze and served piping hot.

Apple fritters aren't overtly apple-flavored, so they're one of the more subdued options for serving during the fall season. Where fritters typically go off-the-rails is with improper preparation, such as not having the cooking oil hot enough, which results in a grease-ladened hunk of batter. All-in-all, apple fritters aren't a bad dessert, but they're not that great either.

Pumpkin Cheesecake

Pumpkin cheesecake slices on plate
Pumpkin cheesecake slices on plate - Elena Veselova/Shutterstock

Cheesecake is a year-round dessert; adding pumpkin just adds additional reason to dive into a slice during autumn. Not only is classic pumpkin cheesecake filling made with pumpkin purée, but it also includes mixed spice and cinnamon to amplify the fall flavors. Infuse even more flavor into the crust by substituting the graham crackers with a spicy gingersnap or Biscoff cookie.

Pumpkin cheesecake beats pumpkin pie because the cheesecake has more flavor complexities and a spongier, lighter mouthfeel. But, like all cheesecakes, it's not a recipe that can be thrown together and served in 30 minutes. A bain-marie has to be set up, to prevent the cake from cracking. Then, it has to be incrementally cooled for several hours to ensure perfect consistency. Is the end result worth it? That's a matter of opinion.

Apple Cider Donuts

Box of apple cider donuts
Box of apple cider donuts - Kenishirotie/Shutterstock

Even people who aren't donut people tend to become donut people when fall rolls around. Apple cider donuts are a mainstay in New England; there's something about that cinnamon sugar coating getting all over the fingers, dunking one into some warm apple cider, that is indicative of how magical fall can be.

Those unfamiliar with Yankee cuisine, however, probably wouldn't be able to parcel out the apple cider in its ingredient list. The donuts themselves aren't particularly acidic or strongly apple-tasting, which means that when you strip away the autumnal affectations, apple cider donuts can be just plain bland.

Apple Strudel

Apple strudel with ice cream
Apple strudel with ice cream - algus/Shutterstock

Apple strudel will never be able to beat other fall dessert picks, but it does deserve an honorable mention for its delicate layers of pastry and sweet apple filling. This German-Austrian dish can be made at home with frozen puff pastry, making it an easy dessert to assemble and bake for loved ones. Just be sure to cook the filling down beforehand, since the apples tend to deflate when they cook. Failing to do so will leave you with insufficient apple filling and an unbalanced ratio of filling to puff.

One of the major upsides to this dessert is that it's portable and has all the sweet, buttery, crispy elements of a quintessential fall dessert. It just happens to lack the reputation, flexibility and overall fall vibe to place higher.

Apple Crisp

Apple crisp in skillet
Apple crisp in skillet - Rudisill/Getty Images

Dessert for those who hate working with pie dough, apple crisp is full of fall flavors, and is one of the easiest dishes for an amateur cook to prepare. Simply mix apples with a bit of sugar, starch, and lemon juice, then pile them into the bottom of a baking pan. Evenly mix flour, butter, sugar, and cinnamon on top, then bake until golden brown. Put a creative spin on the dessert by adding oatmeal for texture or additional fruits, like cranberries.

The primary reason apple crisp isn't a top treat is because its flavor can be one-sided. Depending on the apples chosen for the recipe, things can sometimes get overly sweet.

Carrot Cake

Carrot cake slice on table
Carrot cake slice on table -

Is carrot cake actually a fall dessert, or merely a spring one hiding in plain sight? This spice cake is filled with decadent notes of cinnamon and nutmeg, which are essentially fall spices. Complementary notes of nuts, and the sweet cream cheese frosting, elevate it significantly.

Carrot cake is difficult to mess up; it's moist, flavorful, and filled with the textural additions of grated carrots. Take things to another level by adding raisins and other dried fruit, or even shredded beets. But it just doesn't scream fall, at least not as much as conventional apple and pumpkin desserts.

Apple Pie

Slice of apple pie on plate
Slice of apple pie on plate - Esin Deniz/Shutterstock

The quintessential all-American dessert — even if its origin wasn't actually in America — it's hard to beat apple pie. Perfect for showing how proficient and technical a baker is in the kitchen, those who master a snappy crust that holds up to a soggy filling, and can perfectly balance the sweetness of the apples, bring the goods.

Apple pie has been interpreted countless ways over the years, with artistic crusts, additional fruits, and in other ways — but apple pie can still be messy, and it isn't as portable as other recipes. If it's not done well, it can be disappointing.

Apple Cake

Hungarian apple cake sliced
Hungarian apple cake sliced - Ahanov Michael/Shutterstock

Apple cake is the perfect recipe for those who want apples in a dessert, but don't want to make it the center of everything. Apple cake can be made in many different ways, including adding seasoned apples to the top of the cake batter for a visually appealing garnish that tastes good, too. Or, take the easy way out with an apple dump cake made with white boxed cake mix, seasoned apples, and other basic cake ingredients.

The thing that separates apple cake from pumpkin bread is that the former tends to be a bit drier. The apple pieces don't add any additional moisture to the recipe, but they add the softness required in any great cake.

Snickerdoodle Cookies

Snickerdoodle cookies on wire rack
Snickerdoodle cookies on wire rack - Michelle Lee Photography/Shutterstock

Snickerdoodle cookies trickle from the fall into the winter holiday season — and they're just too good to not savor. To make the perfect traditional snickerdoodle cookie, supplement the cookie with cream of tartar and a thick coating of sugar and cinnamon.

Snickerdoodles are a classic for a reason. It's hard to resist the unique tang and balanced flavors in every bite. However, this cookie never really screams fall, especially compared to recipes that contain cinnamon, pumpkin, maple, and apple. Nevertheless, it does showcase all the qualities of a darn good cookie.

Gingersnap Cookies

Gingersnap cookies on plate
Gingersnap cookies on plate - Bhofack2/Getty Images

Everybody loves the classic chocolate chip cookie, but some love needs to be reserved for gingersnaps, another great cookie favorite. Gingersnap cookies are often made with molasses to give them a darker, more complex flavor. A bit of maple extract makes for a stronger fall undertone and subtly oaky flavor.

These cookies have strong gingery profiles, perfect for sipping alongside a warm cup of tea, but admittedly they can become a bit one-dimensional if the cookie's ingredients aren't spot-on. There are other avenues for integrating diverse fall flavors; feel free to experiment and embrace autumn a bit more fully.

Bread Pudding

Bread pudding with whiskey sauce
Bread pudding with whiskey sauce - Bhofack2/Getty Images

Bread pudding doesn't always have autumnal ingredients mixed in, but it does contain dense, custardy bread that sticks to the ribs. There are tons of ways to elevate bread pudding with ingredients like roasted butternut squash, dried fruit, maple syrup, and pumpkin purée. Or, stick to a more traditional variation and serve with vanilla ice cream.

The primary reason why bread pudding isn't a better fall treat is because it can sometimes be too dense; after a few bites, you feel full. A good dessert always leaves a person wanting more, and should leave enough room to go for it.

Coffee Cake

Cinnamon coffee cake ring dessert
Cinnamon coffee cake ring dessert - Debbismirnoff/Getty Images

Another dessert that can be eaten any time of the year, coffee cake is particularly satisfying in the cool autumn air with a cup of hot coffee in hand. If done correctly (and with a ton of moisture-inducing ingredients), it can also be an absolutely divine breakfast. But done incorrectly, it can come out mealy, imbalanced and dry as can be.

A nutty coffee cake, made with blanched almond flour, can add significant texture. Another great idea is to try adding chocolate, espresso powder, and pomegranate molasses, resulting in a Mediterranean take on a chocolate Turkish coffee cake.

Apple Dumplings

Apple dumpling on plate
Apple dumpling on plate - Dianna Paulk/Getty Images

Apple dumplings are apple pies made portable; each pillow is filled with copious amounts of spiced apple filling wrapped in pie dough. You can even make mini apple dumplings by wrapping apple wedges in canned crescent dough and coating them in melted butter, cinnamon, and sugar. Pop one in your mouth for an easy after-dinner dessert.

The only downside to their unique shape is that you can't add a scoop of ice cream without it all falling off. You will also need to cook the filling ahead of time, and add sufficient filling to prevent the dome effect.

Pumpkin Whoopie Pies

Pumpkin whoopie pies on table
Pumpkin whoopie pies on table - Stephanie Frey/Shutterstock

When it comes to whoopie pies, don't mess with perfection. The original whoopie pie recipe features a chocolate cake base, filled with a whipped cream filling. The pumpkin version substitutes that base with a pumpkin-flavored vanilla cake. Some recipes will even add cinnamon or maple to the filling to make it a more cohesive dessert.

It's hard to say "no" to a pumpkin whoopie pie, but it's not at the top of any must-have lists most autumns. Other desserts have a more profound pumpkin flavor, even if they could never hope to be as portable as a whoopie pie.

Monkey Bread

Monkey bread in tin
Monkey bread in tin - Lauripatterson/Getty Images

The zenith of shareable bread recipes, Monkey bread can be made from home-baked bread pieces, or people can take the easy way out with cubed crescent roll dough. When a sugary cinnamon syrup is added, it makes the pieces of bread stick together; bake, then pop it out of the bundt tin with ease.

This dessert scores high on fall rankings because of its customizable opportunities. Add pumpkin purée to the sugar mixture, cube up apples with chopped pecans, or add other autumnal touches for a seasonal twist. But don't get it twisted: Monkey bread is not exclusively a fall recipe.

Cinnamon Rolls

Cinnamon rolls in cast iron skillet
Cinnamon rolls in cast iron skillet - Rudisill/Getty Images

Cinnamon rolls have a profound nostalgic value, making them a perfect option to have on the table for eaters of all ages. Customize the rolls to include pumpkin purée, spiced apples, or chai. There's no wrong way to make cinnamon rolls; they can even be bought straight from a grocery store's refrigerated section without brunch guests getting wise.

The main qualm with cinnamon rolls is that they can be fall-inspired, yet are not exclusive to fall. Other recipes with a stronger fall influence, then, must take precedence over these cinnamon rolls — even if they are that good.

Pumpkin Roll

Pumpkin roll with cream cheese
Pumpkin roll with cream cheese - Nredmond/Getty Images

Pumpkin roll cake delivers the perfect blend of pumpkin-flavored cake and decadent cream cheese swirl. Combine pumpkin purée with a standard cake recipe, bake in a rectangular pan, and adequately cool it before schmearing with cream cheese. Then roll it up, slice it, and serve for breakfast, a snack, or dessert.

Rolled cakes are always much more difficult to make than it seems. If the cake isn't moist enough, it will crack. Too hot? The filling will melt and splatter out. But those who are patient and take care in the fundamentals will be rewarded with a wholesome, slice-and-serve treat.

Pumpkin Bread

Slices of chocolate chip pumpkin bread
Slices of chocolate chip pumpkin bread - Bhofack2/Getty Images

The sweetness of pumpkin bread is balanced enough to eat a slice for breakfast or smother in ice cream for dessert. The standard recipe is made in a loaf pan, but for an easier twist, turn it into a dump cake by stirring pumpkin purée, wet ingredients, and spices with a box of yellow cake mix and dumping it into a cake pan.

Pumpkin bread is a versatile recipe that can be modified for more sweetness, more spice, and add-ins like chocolate chips, nuts, and dried fruit. There's really no wrong way to eat pumpkin bread — which is why it is the best sweet fall treat.

Read the original article on Tasting Table.