22 Make-Ahead Labor Day Desserts for a Labor-Less Weekend

Save your energy for traffic jams.

August 12, 2019
Photo by James Ransom

For the best Labor Day dessert recipes, we thought we'd reach into our archives for easy, make-ahead summer desserts that follow the Nigella Lawson mantra: Minimum effort, maximum pleasure. Read on for the Labor Day desserts we can't wait to make this holiday season.

Yes, we love day-long baking projects, and you can bet we’re going to labor over stunning cakes and pies worthy of Instagram stardom.

But over holiday weekends, what we love even more than a pièce de résistance is a crowd-pleaser that can handle the jolts and jerks of travel. Labor Day is nigh, and we know that portability and time-saving recipes are of the essence.

So here are 22 no-fuss, totally delicious, make-ahead Labor Day desserts that will be ready to get in the car before your pokey family. (Save your strength for traffic jams.)

Our Best Labor Day Desserts

1. Magic Cookie Bars

"Sometimes, you can't beat a classic," writes recipe author Posie (Harwood) Brien). "These versatile bars are loaded with coconut, chocolate, and nuts—use the basic template and add as many layers as you like: caramel, chopped candies, peanut butter, and so on are all very welcome."

2. Lemon Ricotta Bars

Everything you want in a lemon bar, and then some. "After testing a few recipes during a long time," says kuka, "I discovered that using confectioners' sugar and corn starch in the crust, and adding just 1 cup ricotta to the filling, gave the bars just the right height."

3. Olive (Oil) Cake

"This is a flawless, crisp-chewy, endlessly malleable olive oil cake blueprint you will want to pocket, even without the crazy-sounding addition of olives," claims our Genius Recipes columnist Kristen Miglore. "But you should really suspend disbelief and give them a try." Travels well, too.

4. Oatmeal Raisin Cookies

Is there anything more make-ahead than cookies? Chewy cookie fans can rejoin in this oatmeal-raisin update on the fan-favorite recipe from the Quaker Oatmeal lid. A few tweaks from Posie make all the difference in the world.

5. Caroline's Carrot Cake

"Four moist layers of carrot cake, filled and iced with the creamiest of cream cheese icings," My Family Recipe contributing writer Richard Reutter says about his mother's famous carrot cake. "It has remained one of my favorites to this day."

6. Hippie Crispy Treats

In search of a marshmallow crispy treat with a little more going for it, Alanna "used chocolate, almond butter, coconut oil, and rice and maple syrups as the goo to bind the treats together, and topped them with a chocolate-coconut oil ganache."

7. Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies With Rainbow Fennel Seeds

Our Table for One columnist Eric Kim loves the "malted nuttiness" and bitter, aniseed flavor of candied fennel seeds. Here, they provide a rainbow tweak to classic chocolate chip cookies.

8. Quick Peanut Butter & Chocolate Square Bars

Classic chocolate and peanut butter get turned into a no-bake bar cookie that's ideal for making ahead. Keep this one in your back pocket for Labor Day weekend.

9. Maialino's Olive Oil Cake

This is, according to Kristen, the olive oil cake that will ruin you for all others. Hailing from Maialino Restaurant in New York City, it can be made for breakfast in muffin form or even layered with mascarpone buttercream for birthdays.

10. Banana Bread Blondies

"My teenager doesn't like bananas, but he loves these blondes," writes one reviewer. "I have made these three times already. Definitely a keeper!"

11. Helen’s Summer Berry Pudding With Rose Cream

Baking expert Alice Medrich advises that you make this luscious summer pudding "at least 1 and up to 3 days ahead, so there’s never any last minute pressure." Sounds good to us!

12. Chocolate-Hazelnut Mousse

Who would say no to chocolate on Labor Day? This chocolate-hazelnut gem (also from Alice) is inspired by the "Gianduja Mousse" in the December 1995 issue of Sunset magazine.

13. Cinnamon Spice Marshmallow Crispy Treat S'mores

Still simple but even more special thanks to cinnamon and nutmeg, recipe author Kendra Vaculin's marshmallow crispy treats are spiced then dipped in melted semi-sweet chocolate for extra pizzazz.

14. No-Bake Peanut Butter Oreo Bars

Buttery Oreo crust, voluptuous peanut butter fluff, and more chocolate sandwich cookies strewn on top like streusel? Sign me up.

15. Fresh Blueberry Pie

"This is a brighter, lighter blueberry pie than you're used to," Kristen writes, "one that keeps all the texture and integrity of blueberries intact. You can use your go-to pie crust—just roll out a single crust and blind bake it."

16. Maya's Chocolate Fudge Sheet Cake

There's nothing more crowd-friendly than sheet cake—and chocolate sheet cake? Forget about it.

17. Vegan Chocolate Birthday Cake With Super-Fluffy Frosting

"Disappointed by vegan buttercreams," Kristen says, "Anita Shepherd consulted the back of a Cool Whip container and spied a whole lot of corn syrup. She turned to its more wholesome equivalent: brown rice syrup. Added on its own, the syrup made the frosting sleek and glossy, but still heavier and stickier than she wanted. But she discovered that the syrup helped stabilize the base enough that adding almond milk (a whole cup!), made it poof into pillowy ripples in the mixer."

18. Atlantic Beach Pie

You've seen this pie all summer (and you've probably eaten it, too). As one of our most popular recipes this summer, we couldn't not add it to this list for Labor Day, could we?

19. Rhubarb Cherry Hibiscus Crumble

We love this warm, gooey, ruby-red crumble with whipped cream or ice cream on top. The hibiscus adds nice flavor and, of course, gorgeous color.

20. Yogurt & Berry Tart With a Pecan Crust

"I often will eat fruits and nuts plus yogurt for breakfast," says recipe author fiveandspice. "This is basically a fancified version of that very simple breakfast. And look how pretty it is!"

21. Homemade Cracker Jack

An updated version of the old-school classic, this homemade caramel popcorn is airy, crisp, and buttery with crunchy-salty peanuts for even more flair.

22. Rocky Road

Because there's always room for more chocolate, especially on a long holiday weekend.

What desserts are you making this Labor Day? Let us know in the comments below.
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Katie is a food writer and editor who loves cheesy puns and cheesy cheese.