Here's How Long Your Holiday Treats Will Stay Fresh

Which desserts to eat right away, and which ones you can preserve for weeks or months.

Christmas cookies keep rolling in. Perhaps your aunt has sent her annual gift of homemade fudge, and the friend who specializes in homemade Chex Mix has already dropped off a jar. Your kitchen counter and dining room table might be overloaded right now with holiday goodies that you can't possibly consume by New Year's. Although you appreciate the gesture, you're wondering whether you're going to have to throw some of it away, which seems both ungracious and a terrible waste.

Luckily, a number of these sweets and treats can last for weeks or even months after you receive them. Here's a brief rundown of which holiday goodies you should eat right away and which can be safely stowed in the cupboard, fridge, or freezer.

Which holiday treats to eat right now

Anything made with ingredients that might disintegrate, degrade, or otherwise become structurally unsound should be consumed quickly. One example of this is trifle, that decadent holiday bowl of cake, fruit, custard, and whipped cream. Bûche de Noël, or a yule log cake, is also best when fresh. If a dessert has whipped meringue, dive in immediately. Likewise, if someone brings you a dish of boozy fruits, like strawberries in champagne or alcohol soaked fruit salad, those should be consumed before they turn to mush. (Of course, you could always blend them into an adult smoothie to make them last a few more days...)


When to eat treats stored in a metal tin

Those decorated tins from IKEA or Michael's are perfect for cookie storage. They help keep desserts fresh whether they're left on the counter or stashed in the fridge, and you can keep most cookies and brownies for 5-7 days this way. When you're filling these tins, place a layer of parchment or wax paper on the bottom, a layer of cookies, then paper in between each additional layer of cookies so that the treats don't all stick together. Plastic containers with snap-on lids are also useful for extending shelf life. Just make sure that both tins and plastic containers are completely dry inside before filling them, because moisture is the enemy of keeping cookies crisp.


Which holiday treats will keep for at least a week

This is prime time for decorated sugar cookies. Little kids love slathering icing on cut-outs of snowmen, trees, and bells, and those with more skill are using these cookies as canvases for elaborate decorations. The good news is that decorated sugar cookies should keep on the counter for about two weeks. The one risk you run here is that the sugar cookie itself could taste stale beneath the icing, especially if it's exposed to warm temperatures like your oven or radiator.


Other baked cookies, including gingerbread, bar cookies, and peanut butter blossoms, are all fine when left out on a cookie plate for a week. Cover them with plastic wrap or a dish towel if they will be sitting out overnight. Likewise, if you're trying to ration your Chex Mix or Puppy Chow, put that in an airtight container, where it will keep well for a week or longer.

Cookies covered with powdered sugar, such as Russian Tea Cakes (aka Mexican Wedding Cookies) and German pfeffernusse, will survive in the fridge, but powdered sugar can fall off or become a matted, sticky layer if the cookies are left there too long. Macarons should last for around a week, or even longer, depending on the creaminess of the filling and how much is present.


Long-term holiday cookie preservation

Many cookies will last for weeks in the fridge if you place them in tins or plastic containers. I recommend this for chocolate-dominated treats like Chinese New Year's Cookies or Church Windows. Traditional cookies like German anise-flavored Springerles and iced Lebkuchen, as well as no-bake fruit balls and rum balls, last well in the fridge. So do Taffy Chewies, a family favorite recipe for chocolate chip date cookies with festive sprinkles.


Sometimes, these cookies seem to grow hard when refrigerated. In that case, let them sit on the counter for 30 minutes or, in a pinch, microwave them in a single layer for no more than 10 seconds.

Chocolate Santas can hang around

The great news about chocolate is that it's shelf-stable, as long as it's kept below 70 degrees Fahrenheit. You can safely keep chocolate Santas, chocolate bars, and boxes of assorted chocolates in a cool, dark place for six to nine months, and even longer depending on the variety. Filled chocolates such as miniature booze bottles can last for up to two years. Fudge lasts just fine in the fridge. The exception is anything with a delicate filling, like fresh chocolate covered fruits or sponge candy. Fresh fruit needs to be eaten in a few days, while sponge candy will last about two months.


Hard candy is virtually indestructible

If you're a fan of ribbon candy, candy canes, or old-fashioned Christmas mixes, you are in luck: All that sugar and corn syrup help to make those candies last for as long as five years, if properly stored. The one danger with hard candy is that it can get tacky when exposed to sunshine or heat. If you plan to put it away and bring it out again next year, try to keep the pieces in a single layer in a cool, dark place.


How to store crunchy and nutty holiday treats

Mixed nuts, whether in the shell or in cans, ought to be good for weeks, and you can stash them in the fridge if you're worried your kitchen is too warm. I've found that the sweet and spicy pecans I make for friends are tastiest within a month. (I've tried keeping them longer and had to toss them because the nuts got rancid.)


There's some disagreement about homemade Chex Mix and how long it stays fresh. The classic recipe contains butter, and if there's too much, the cereal can get soft within a few days. However, some cooks prepare it without butter, simply tossing the ingredients with worchestershire and other seasonings. In that case, Chex Mix can last for two to three months in an airtight container, if you can resist polishing off the batch for that long.