Our most recent entertaining venture was our annual Nutcracker's Sweets Dessert Open House. It occurred on an absolutely frigid evening, but it was cozy inside and a delight to celebrate the end of the holiday season and the beginning of a new year with family and friends.
I've been hosting this event for most of the last 25 years and it has evolved over time to include a lavish display of dessert offerings as well as a cheese table for a bit of savory indulgence. Deciding on a menu is the first order of business each year. There are a few non negotiable items; my children insist on banana cake with cream cheese frosting (which MUST, apparently, be decorated with a basket-weave frosting design - I deviated to a mini cupcake version one year, which created an identity crisis for the cake...), and there are rabid creme caramel fans. Toffee cheesecake is ever popular as is chocolate mousse, and now a flourless chocolate cake that is perfect for both my gluten-free friends and the serious chocoholics.
Designing a menu is much the same as designing a room. I plan for a mix of sizes and shapes - showstopper elaborately decorated cakes alongside simpler full size desserts, and an assortment of mini sized individual portions. A mix of round, square, and oblong shaped cakes and serving pieces add interest. The variety creates a pleasing rhythm to the look of the table. It is also important to have variation in colors and flavors, thus a mix of creamy and nutty, chocolate, and fruity, and of course caramel! Another consideration, similar to room design, is the sort of functionality and livability of the menu - for example the toffee cheesecake is really difficult to cut cleanly and so looks a hot mess halfway through the party, so I adapted the recipe into individual portions that don't have to be cut and can easily be replenished. Whether you are designing a room or a party, you want it to wear well so the enjoyment lasts!
The menu this year included:
Banana Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting
Chocolate Mousse Cups
Raspberry Crumble Bars
Key Lime Tart
Raspberry Almond Cake with Almond Cream Cheese Frosting
Flourless Chocolate Cake with Chocolate Ganache
German Chocolate Cake
Mini Toffee Cheesecakes
Chocolate Coconut Almond Tart
Chocolate Sea Salt Caramel Brownies