Entertaining: Desserts


Food and food styling by Cindy Philipp, Philipp’s Bakery
Table settings and styling by Nicole Turner, The French Hen
Photographed at the home of Beth and Paul Harney

Too busy to entertain? Throw a dessert buffet—and let your favorite bakery do all the work.

Looking for shortcuts this holiday season? If you’d like to throw a party but don’t have the time to cook, consider hosting a holiday dessert buffet.

The trick: Don’t do the baking yourself. Instead, turn to your favorite bakery for delicious cakes, pies, cookies and other sweet treats. That will free you up for the fun stuff: making your home and table look beautiful.

Here’s how to put on a no-cook party that’s a no-brainer for the time-challenged host or hostess.

What To Serve

“A dessert buffet is like a cocktail party,” says Cindy Philipp, owner of Philipp’s Bakery in East Sacramento, comparing the sweets to hors d’oeuvres. “Everyone likes to try more than one thing, so serve a variety of small pieces.”

Philipp recommends bite-sized desserts such as mini éclairs, tiny tarts, small cupcakes and cookies. “It’s nice if you don’t need a plate,” she says. “Your guests can have a drink in one hand and grab a dessert with the other.” She also suggests serving something chocolate (“Everyone loves chocolate”) and a seasonal favorite such as bûche de Noël, a traditional French Christmas cake baked to resemble a log and decorated with meringue mushrooms. Finally, opt for a visual showstopper such as croquembouche (French for “crisp in the mouth”), a tower of cream puffs coated in caramel and sometimes wreathed in spun sugar.

How much should you plan to serve? As with hors d’oeuvres, the rule of thumb is four to six “bites” per person.

Putting Your Imprint on the Party

If you simply must do some of the baking yourself, make a batch of your favorite old-fashioned holiday cookies, such as sugar, spritz or thumbprint cookies. Let the bakery handle the rest.

Setting the Scene

A dessert buffet should be a feast for the eyes. Nicole Turner, owner of The French Hen in East Sacramento, suggests using a whimsical red-and-pink color scheme, a fun departure from the traditional holiday red and green. To create your own flower arrangements, she says, mound red roses, red tulips and pink carnations in containers found around the house, such as pitchers, sugar bowls and teapots. “Look around and see what you have,” she advises.

For visual interest, Turner says, display the desserts at differing heights. To make an impromptu cake stand, turn a sturdy vase upside down and top it with a plate. For other display ideas, think outside the box: Remove the candles from a candelabrum and place cupcakes on the candleholders. Or fill a hatbox or wide-mouthed vase with colored tissue paper and tuck cookies into the tissue.


When it comes to drinks, Philipp says, keep it simple: You don’t need a full bar. Instead, serve Champagne and a single festive cocktail, such as a Poinsettia, made with vodka, Champagne and cranberry juice. So you’re not mixing drinks all night long, make a big batch of Poinsettias before the party and serve in a punch bowl. For nondrinkers, have lots of sparkling water on hand, along with hot cider and coffee. Keep the cider simmering on top of the stove so guests can help themselves.

Poinsettia Cocktail

Adapted from Emeril’s Creole Christmas by Emeril Lagasse (Morrow Cookbooks)                                                    

1    750-ml. bottle vodka, chilled
1    750-ml. bottle Champagne, chilled
6    cups cranberry juice, chilled

Fresh cranberries and orange slices for garnish

Combine the vodka, Champagne and cranberry juice in a punch bowl. Garnish with cranberries and orange slices. Serves 12.