Dessert Party Checklist

Want to experience la dolce vita? Nothing says the sweet life like an indulgent, all-desserts (and all-adults) party.

Mocha-Walnut Brownies
Photo: David Prince

Three Weeks Before

  • Make an invitation list.
  • Send invitations.

    Turn pink note cards into invitations with an appropriately tempting message (try "Sugar and spice, and everything nice, that's what this party is made of"). Or write all of the information on a blank recipe card, and tie a bakery-string bow through a hole punched in the corner.

  • Buy decorations.

    Pick up some doilies on which to display each of your desserts (and stacks of plates). Pink paper cupcake liners make cute decorations, too. Cut small slits through the center of the liners and poke bulbs from a string of white holiday lights through. You can drape the string along a mantel or a table's edge.

  • Plan the menu.

    Assemble the recipes, making sure to include at least one low-fat or low-sugar option for anyone watching her weight. Try a fruit salad, berries and yogurt dip, or a low-calorie baked good, like angel food cake. For eight guests, plan to make 80 pastries; for 16, 160; for 24, 240. Make a list of how far in advance each recipe can be baked, and compile a shopping list.

  • Plan activities.

    Consider setting up a make-your-own truffles table or a brownie bar.

Two Weeks Before

  • Clean any crystal and china you'll be using.

    And launder and iron linens.

  • Come up with a playlist.

    Download fun food-related titles like "I Can't Help Myself (Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch)" by The Four Tops and "Ice Cream" by Sarah McLachlan.

  • Do a first round of grocery shopping.

    Pick up lots of cocktail napkins as well as plastic forks and spoons for offerings not meant to be eaten with fingers.

One Week Before

  • Clean the house thoroughly.

    This way, you'll need only a quick once-over before the party.

  • Set the stage.

    Arrange the furniture as you'll want it for the party, making sure that guests can move easily from one part of your house to another. Tuck away things that will be in the way, precious items that might get broken (or even be taken), and any clutter. Figure out the lighting: Using low-wattage bulbs or candlelight will create the right mood.

  • Take inventory of bakeware and serving dishes.

    If you don't have enough for every dessert you're serving, baking tins lined with parchment paper (for easy cleanup) can hold the sweets.

  • Stock the bar.

    Try time-tested classic dessert wines, such as Malmsey Madeira and tawny port. Plan three bottles of wine for every four people.

Three Days Before

  • Check the medicine cabinet.

    Remove any personal items you wouldn't want guests to see.

  • Set up clean-up stations.

    Place a box of salt, Wine Away (red wine stain remover), club soda, and a couple of rags in a wicker basket, and store a few in strategic places in case a nasty spill occurs.

  • Specify a place for coats.

    Make space in a closet and fill it with hangers. You could also choose a bed for coats (make sure the room is especially tidy and free of valuables, so you won't need to worry about them).

  • Finish grocery shopping.

    Make a detailed baking schedule for your pastries.

One Day Before

  • Set up the buffet table.

    Place the plates at the far end of the table, the food in the middle, and the beverages, cutlery, and napkins at the other end so guests are free to reach for the pastries. If you have a cake stand, use it. The height will add visual impact to the table and will offer a bit of extra space on the crowded buffet table.

  • Buy and arrange flowers.
  • Finish as much of the baking as you can.
  • Give your house a once-over.

    Do whatever touch-ups are needed.

Day of the Party

  • Finish any last-minute baking.
  • Place chairs.

    Don't worry about having enough seating for everyone; fewer seats will encourage mingling.

  • Display food.

    Place a couple of small platters or plates of assorted pastries around the room or on a coffee table or mantel. Set out dishes of your favorite chocolates or chocolate-covered nuts.

  • Make coffee.

    Plan two pots for eight people; three pots for 16; five pots for 24. (If you don't know your guests' preferences and don't want to make both regular and decaffeinated coffee, your best bet is to stick with decaffeinated.) After you make the first pot of coffee, set up a second run so it will be ready when you need it.

  • Set out beverages.

    Offer the wine, the coffee, still water, and tea bags (microwave the water in individual mugs if you don't want to make a whole pot of hot water). You can also fill large ceramic mixing bowls with ice and set old-fashioned glass bottles (or clear plastic containers) of milk in them.

  • Greet guests as they arrive.

    Things should be organized so you're free to mingle, not tied to the kitchen.

  • Send them home with goodies.

    Purchase a pack of bakery boxes (sold at baking-supply stores) and line each with wax paper. At the end of the party, load them up with leftovers, then secure the parcels with bakery string or ribbon.

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