Easy Entertaining: A Dessert Buffet
You may not be serving Grandma's recipes at your gathering, but your invitation can still convey old-fashioned charm. To make the one pictured here, download the Dessert Buffet Invite and print it on standard card stock (shown: Solid Collection 8 1/2-by-11-inch sheets in Kraft, $40 for 250 sheets, papercompany.com). Punch a hole in the upper-left-hand corner and tie a knot using bakers' twine or kitchen string.
Buying Supplies for Your Dessert Buffet
Aim for these quantities if you would like to send guests home with leftover pastries:
For eight people: 80 pastries, 4 bottles of wine, 2 pots of coffee
For 16 people: 160 pastries, 8 bottles of wine, 3 pots of coffee
For 24 people: 240 pastries, 12 bottles of wine, 5 pots of coffee
Keep in mind that it’s entirely acceptable to set out a mishmash of dishes, alternating styles as you stack them. If you don’t own 36 crystal flutes or silver for 24, borrow from friends, use disposables, or call a party-rental company (look in the Yellow Pages under categories such as “Party Equipment and Supplies”). Most deliver the day before the event, pick up the day after, and―bless them―require only that you scrape, not wash, the dishes.
Prices vary according to glitz. For a standard dessert plate, fork, and Champagne flute, expect to pay about $1.50 a person. Delivery fees start around $40; a minimum order is sometimes required. The cost increases with the number of guests―but so does the benefit of having someone else do the dishes.
Set up the buffet table―minus the pastries and beverages―the night before. Before setting out your dessert spread, keep these table tips in mind.
- 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.
- Place a couple of small platters or plates of assorted pastries around the room on a coffee table or a mantel.
- Set out dishes of your favorite chocolates or chocolate-covered nuts.
- 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.
- You can never have too many cocktail napkins, both on the buffet and on end tables.
- Once the party starts, maintain! When a tray empties, refill it or remove it.
There’s no need to offer a full bar, regular and decaffeinated coffee, three kinds of tea, and sparkling as well as still water. If you don’t know your guests’ preferences, stick with a single sparkling wine (wine expert Andrea Robinson suggests a sweet sparkling wine, such as Giorgio Rivetti La Spinetta Moscato d’Asti), decaffeinated coffee, and still water. (And, if you’d like, some hot water for tea. Rather than brewing a pot, consider offering tea bags.) After you make the first pot of coffee or hot water, set up a second run so it will be ready when you need it.
Dessert Buffet Tips and Recipes
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.