Foolproof Holiday Desserts

With the right recipe and gear, you’ll be amazed by how easy it is to pull off a showstopping holiday dessert.

The first step to producing picture-perfect pies takes place well before you turn on the oven: It's having the best equipment. Our winning pie plate browns crusts evenly and releases them neatly. Sturdy and secure pot holders, such as our longtime favorites, are a must-have for rotating pies as they bake and removing them from the oven. Another must-have is The Perfect Pie, a beautiful collection of 182 elegant pies and tarts—and lots of photos and tips to guarantee success.

Our winning pie server felt “remarkably comfortable” and “balanced” in our hands, and testers liked its rubbery grip. This server's sharp serrated blade was able to slice through all types of pie (even tough pecan pie) with ease, and it slid neatly under wedges, making removal quick and tidy and producing picture-perfect slices.  More on this test

One package of these weights contains 1 cup of ceramic balls. To completely fill an aluminum foil–lined pie shell, we found that we had to use four packages, or 4 cups, which weighed about 2 pounds. When we completely filled a pie shell with these weights, they were heavy enough to keep the bottom from bubbling or puffing and the fragile sides from slumping.   More on this test

This golden-hued metal plate baked crusts beautifully without overbrowning; even bottom crusts emerged crisp and flaky. Additionally, we liked this plate’s nonfluted lip, which allowed for maximum crust-crimping flexibility. One minor drawback: The metal surface is susceptible to cuts and nicks, but we found that this didn’t affect its performance.  More on this test

Our favorite potholders are fashioned as pockets with a sheet of silicone on one side, a panel of cotton fabric on the back, and soft cotton lining in between. The silicone layer offered excellent protection from the heat. Our hands never became too hot during kitchen tests and we were able to hold a 350-degree cast-iron skillet comfortably for 23 seconds. They were also flexible, which allowed testers to feel like they had control when maneuvering hot pans. Although both the silicone and cotton fabric remained stained after our durability tests, it didn't shrink or warp. We liked that it is machine-washable.  More on this test

Coming in a variety of useful sizes that nest for compact storage, our winning set performed ably on almost every test. Its wide, shallow bowls were easy to hold, fill, empty, and clean. They can be used in the microwave and the oven. While the bowls in this set were the only ones to break when dropped, the heaviness of the glass with which they’re made makes it unlikely that they’ll easily fly off the counter.  More on this test

This scoop’s gently curved oval bowl forms perfect round orbs that release easily. Even better, its wide, comfortable handle contains heat-conductive fluid that warms up instantly when your hand grips the exterior; when that heat travels to the bowl, the warm metal slightly melts the ice cream or sorbet so that it’s particularly easy to scoop.  More on this test

"There's a reason we have 20 or 30 of these in this kitchen," said a tester; others agreed, calling it "Old Faithful." They found it notably sharp, with "great maneuverability." In sum: "This is exactly what a knife is supposed to be." Update: November 2013 Since our story appeared, the price of our winning Victorinox Swiss Army 8" Chef's Knife with Fibrox Handle has risen from $27.21 to about $39.95. We always report the price we paid for products when we bought them for testing; however, product prices are subject to change.  More on this test

These precut parchment sheets, which come in a large plastic zipper-lock bag, are the only ones in our lineup that are stored completely flat. They're also sized just right to slide easily into a standard rimmed baking sheet, although we did have to use two overlapping sheets when rolling jelly roll cakes into coils. Their superior convenience made them the runaway favorite. Don't let the purchase price distract you: The per-sheet cost falls squarely in the middle of our lineup.  More on this test