Easy Entertaining: A Dessert Buffet
Pastry in a Package
When there’s no time for made-from-scratch desserts, opt for almost-homemade with the help of a few packaged doughs.
Puff pastry is a rich, buttery dough that expands into thin, flaky layers when heated. Available frozen, it requires thawing. Pepperidge Farm ($4) works fine, but a richer, all-butter alternative is Dufour (about $9), sold at Whole Foods Markets and specialty stores.
Piecrust isn’t just for pies. It can also be used for rolled cookies, like rugelach. In addition to crust that comes in a pie plate, Pillsbury makes two others ― one that’s folded and one that’s rolled ($3 each)―that are perfect when you’re not making pie.
Sugar cookie dough, packaged in logs and ready to bake, can be kept in the refrigerator for last-minute holiday cravings. It’s sticky, so roll it out on a floured work surface.
Dessert Buffet Recipes
Indulge your guests’ inner children by setting up a self-serve brownie station.
Brownies: Start with a boxed mix―no one will know the difference. Pour the batter into a 9-inch springform or cake pan lined with an 11-inch circle of parchment paper (use an overturned mixing bowl to trace a circle). Bake at 350° F for 35 minutes. Let cool. Remove the side of the pan if using a springform; if using a cake pan, invert onto a plate, then invert again. Place the brownie (and parchment) on a cake stand.
Whipped cream: A few minutes before your guests arrive, beat 1 pint of heavy cream with 3 tablespoons of confectioners’ sugar until stiff peaks form. The cream should remain whipped for at least an hour. Keep watch and remove it from the table when the peaks start to sag.
Chocolate sauce: Pour a jar of chocolate or fudge sauce into a serving dish and hide the evidence. Splurge on a specialty label. (Nothing is more disappointing than chocolate that’s not worth the calories.)
Dulce de leche: This Latin American delicacy, made by slowly simmering milk until the sugars caramelize, is rich, creamy, and fabulously sweet. It’s available in cans or jars at many supermarkets and specialty stores.