Growing up in Africa there was only one thing about Christmas Day my sisters and I didn’t like: dessert. Insane, I know. What kid doesn’t like sweets? But dessert when I was a kid was Christmas Pudding, which was essentially a steamed fruit and nut cake slathered in brandy butter. My mother would spend months preparing it and she was always horrified we hid ours under our napkins.


It’s years later now, I no longer live in Africa, and I’m sure I’d love that pudding if served today. That said, there’s no need to test the theory in Loudoun because there are so many other dessert options to choose from: apple, pecan and pumpkin pie; pastries, cookies and cake; even beignets - that New Orleans classic. In short, Loudoun has some of the finest sweet treats around.


To help you plan your big holiday meals this festive season, try some of these sweet favorites. We guarantee your kids won’t be hiding their plates under their napkins.


Bilstad’s Beignets

“Where have you beignet all my life?” is the witty slogan of Scott and Jenny Bilstad’s beignet shop in Ashburn. A US Navy-trained chef, Scott started baking beignets for his neighbors and they proved so popular he turned to doing it full time. A devotee of Southern cuisine, his beignet twist is to add a little ginger to the glaze – a touch of spice with the sweet. You can eat them hot and fresh at the shop (they also do sandwiches and coffee) or take home and follow the enclosed instructions on how to heat them to the perfect temp. For the ultimate experience, serve with some chicory coffee from Café du Monde, that world-famous beignet temple in the heart of New Orleans.


Cowbell Kitchen

Custom cakes, pastries and desserts made with farm-fresh, locally sourced produce are the name of the game at this shoebox-sized organic café in downtown Leesburg. The owners do it all: tangy vanilla bean pound cake, Old Fashion birthday cake with buttercream and sprinkles, walnut chocolate chip cookies, exquisitely decorated peanut butter cheesecake, walnut blondies and pecan and pumpkin tarts. The cookie bag filled with peanut butter, chocolate chip and homemade Oreos is a hit. It’s almost easy to forget they do farm-fresh salads, sandwiches, avocado toast and breakfast bowls, too. A true gem.


Little Austria

Try traditional Austrian pastry strudels and creative new takes on the flakily delicious European dessert from the Sterling-based operation of Austrian transplants Bemi and Helene Gallent. The couple stay true to their home country tradition by hand-stretching the dough, using locally sourced, high-quality ingredients (including Virginia apples) and making each strudel from scratch. Order them online or in person from the Gallents at weekly farmers markets and special events such as the Loudoun County Fair and the Ida Lee Holiday Market. Which one to try? The Cheese Blackberry Strudel is out of this world.


Dolce & Ciabatta Bakery

Jamaican born master baker Godfrey McKenzie and his wife Tatiana oversee the quirkily named Dolce & Ciabatta Bakery at King’s Corner on Leesburg’s Catoctin Circle. Using old-world artisan techniques and a special stone-hearth German-engineered oven, they do a range of breads including rustic baguettes and crunchy Italian loaves, as well as fresh light-as-air croissants, decadent sponge cakes, crunchy cookies, creamy eclairs and a range of colorful macarons. Don’t miss their delicate fruit tarts and tartlets.


La Petite LouLou Creperie

Tiled floors, mirrored walls, rattan tables, windows open to the street… you’ll feel as if you’ve been transported to Paris in the 1920s when you enter this chic Purcellville bistro. The owners make cookies, hand-rolled croissants, apple turnovers and almond pastries that go well with breakfast coffee, but their specialties are the delicate savory and sweet crepes made right in front of you. Try the Sweet Nutella made with creamy chocolate hazelnut spread and sprinkled with powdered sugar. To die for.


Dana’s Cake Shoppe

At this sweet-smelling emporium in the Village at Leesburg Syrian-born Dana Alfahham and her team make everything from cupcakes, cookies, pastries and gourmet pies to colorful macarons, cookies, cupcakes and fruit tarts. But it’s her extraordinary array of ornately decorated sponge cakes (she cut her teeth baking wedding cakes), that really steal the show. What to choose? You could try the decadent Triple Chocolate and Black Forest options or the fresh, pineapple-rich Pina Colada cake, but our favorite is the spongy Red Velvet masterpiece that should win national baking awards. If you’re looking for a custom decorated cake for the holidays, she will do that too.


Mom’s Apple Pie

The lines outside this timeless pie temple in downtown Leesburg are testament to its enduring popularity. They do it all. Traditional apple, cherry, peach and blueberry pies are bursting with treacly fruity goodness, while our own favorites - pecan pie and bourbon walnut – are too decadent for words. You can order by the slice, too, if the sweet tooth gets you at lunch. Mom’s offers a range of cookies and pastries too. If the holiday wait line is too long, visit the second Loudoun location at Hill High Market near Round Hill.


The Upper Crust

Open more than 40 years, this classic bakery on Pendleton Street is a local favorite, still going strong. While the store offers coffee, sandwiches and ice cream, you come for the wonderful baked goods: fresh breads, cookies and a range of pastries including chocolate and regular croissants, delectable cinnamon buns and decadent apple fritters. Order your sweet treat with coffee and eat at a table on the small patio out back.