Why you should care

Because some desserts, like ruggedly handsome actors, only get better with time.

From our family to yours, OZY staff share their favorite time-honored holiday recipes to keep you warm, stuffed and slightly buzzed all season.

It’s a dessert that goes by many names. Shish Cake. Chocolate Lush. Guadalupe River Bottom Pudding. Some call it the Next Best Thing to Brad Pitt, or perhaps George Clooney. In 1992, it was briefly the Next Best Thing to Luke Perry. But in my family it has always been the Next Best Thing to Robert Redford. And the Next Best Thing, like the Sundance Kid himself, is a richly textured masterpiece containing multiple layers — some hard, some soft — and coming in many incarnations, but always timeless, well-proportioned and inescapably itself.

I grew up in Colorado in the 1970s and ’80s among recovering hippies, the sort who wore Birkenstock sandals to the Vitamin Cottage in an age before places like Whole Foods transformed a thoughtful, natural lifestyle into a one-hour, $250 shopping excursion. And though we may have tried to resist the convenience of food preservatives and the trappings of popular culture, there was one constant, bright star high above the Rocky Mountains that the sandaled and non-sandaled classes alike would stop to admire: Robert Redford, son of a milkman, committed environmentalist and the man Esquire once labeled “a rugged harmony of pure American manhood.”

And just as there was no resisting Redford — even Legal Eagles received a full-throated defense at our table — when it came to classic desserts, there was no denying the Next Best Thing either, never mind the less-than-natural ingredients like Cool Whip and instant pudding. The rich, creamy layered dessert is just too easy to make and too easy to finish, especially around the holidays. After all, when it comes to both our favorite actors and desserts, we all know deep down that wholesome is really just in the eye, or perhaps the belly, of the beholder.

The Next Best Thing to Robert Redford

Ingredients

1 cup flour

1/2 cup butter

1 cup finely chopped pecans or walnuts

8 ounces cream cheese

1 cup sugar

8 ounces Cool Whip

1 package (5.1 ounces) vanilla instant pudding

1 package (5.1 ounces) chocolate instant pudding

3 cups cold milk

1 Hershey’s chocolate bar, grated

Instructions

1. Prepare crust: Mix flour, butter and nuts in a large bowl until crumbly and then press into a greased 13 x 9 baking pan. Bake at 350 F for 15 minutes or until lightly golden. Let cool completely.

2. Add layers: Beat together cream cheese, sugar and half of Cool Whip, and spread over cooled crust. Combine vanilla and chocolate pudding with cold milk until smooth, then spread over cream cheese layer. Spread remaining Cool Whip over the top and sprinkle with grated Hershey’s chocolate bar.

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