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Need ideas for Christmas dessert buffet

Hi. This year I get to host my book club's annual December dessert buffet. I love to cook and bake but let's just say I'm not known for my presentation skills. Usually there are about 10 desserts for about 10-12 women, typically an awesome bread pudding, cookies, something that looks incredible and took a ton of time and effort to decorate, a cake and brownies. I am thinking some kind of pie and dried cherry and pistachio biscotti (I have my aunt's recipe).

Any more ideas? I'm trying to plan ahead because with birthdays and school events, December is chaotic.


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  1. are you asking for recipes or how to display things to look pretty?

    for display, I would get two large table clothes in the same color, a few sturdy boxes, maybe a cake stand or footed cake plate and one of those three tier racks you can put plates on. put the table cloth on, then arrange one or two boxes at either corner and drape the other cloth over them, covering them. use the height to make things look interesting, and arrange the other stuff on pretty platters, cake stand, etc. get some wintery looking greenery or flowers or beads/whatever at a craft store to fill in the bits and pieces. use clear plastic plates and cutlery and a solid color napkin (if you're using disposable)

    1. Pecan Pie, Buttermilk Pie, Sweet Potato Pie in individual tart shells...


      1. not gourmet, but always a hit... Nonaimo Bars or Magic Seven Layer Bars
        easy to make ahead as well...
        Chocolate Dipped Macaroons or Meringues
        Pecan Pralines
        Fudge - in a few flavors
        Gramercy Tavern Gingerbread
        Free Form Apple or Pear (or whatever is fresh and looks good) Tart
        Fruit Salad with Lime Simple Syrup and Basil
        Whoopie Pies or Mock Little Debbie's Oatmeal Pies
        Truffles -- some with Bailey's or Rum
        Cheese Plate
        ...for a few ideas...

        1. Croquembouche
          Yule log
          Pignoli cookies
          red and green jello salad
          Trufffles (maybe champagne)
          White fudge scented with rosemary
          Coffee parfaits
          Marron Glace

          1. Great ideas, everyone.

            Actually, I was looking for dessert ideas/recipes that wouldn't be too fussy to make but would still look great. For instance, I don't have the patience to pipe icing on sugar cookies to make snowflakes or to frost cakes beautifully. So probably not the croquembouche, although I have a great Chocolatier recipe for one.

            I love the pecan pie (although it would have to be a chocolate pecan pie!), the trifle (I'm not a big fan of bread pudding so this would be a great alternative), truffles, apple tart, and more. But I still trying to find something elegant and easy.

            Thanks for all your help!!

            6 Replies
            1. re: aekbooth

              Bon Appetit recently ran a recipe for Cappucino brownies that looked good. I'm planning to make them either for Thanksgiving or Christmas. Looked easy to make, and they are cut on the diagonal, which made for pretty triangles. The recipe is also online:


              1. re: aekbooth

                Forgot to add...if you want something easy and elegant, you can always make sables...make a master recipe and divide for variations. You could use that dough or a shortbread dough to make Linzer tarts, too. Plus, sable dough can be made ahead and refrigerated or frozen, then sliced and baked your convenience.

                1. re: aekbooth

                  One of our favorite desserts that never fails to wow is Apple-Walnut Upside Down Cake, which I always make with pecans as I prefer them to walnuts. The recipe first appeared in a Gourmet magazine holiday issue in the early to mid-90s and I've been making this cake ever since. Note also that the recipe includes a caramel-calvados sauce to pour over the cake, which I've never made successfully so now I just omit it (it is gilding the lily anyway) and serve the cake with softly whipped cream or cinnamon ice cream, delicious especially if the cake is served warm (or warmed in the -gasp!- microwave). Anyway, here's the link on epicurious:


                  Another lovely cake I've posted on this board before is Suzanne Goin's hazelnut brown butter cake. Absolutely, utterly delicious:


                  1. re: aekbooth

                    I have a recipe for a chocolate caramel pecan tarte similar to chocolate pecan pie, only better (tarte crust, caramel layer w/ pecans, topped w/ chocolate ganache). It comes together easily and is beautiful. The tarte is topped w/ chocolate ganache and then you pipe lines of white chocolate on top and draw a toothpick through for swirls. I can post the recipe if you're interested.

                    1. re: chowser

                      I love any recipe with chocolate, caramel and pecans, so please post if you get a chance.

                      1. re: aekbooth

                        I forgot I've posted it in the past. It's in this thread. It's called chocolate pecan caramel shortbread.


                  2. Panna Cotta with berries soaked in balsamic, sugar and a little pepper. Get out your crystal and do little individual ones.

                    1. There are so many great dessert idea. But, I would give the Tiramisu dip on the CHOW side of this site consideration. It's super easy, tasty as all get out and served with lady fingers, fresh fruit, cookies or just in indivi cups is really a lovely holiday treat.

                      1. Epicurious has a recipe for chocolate hazelnut linzertorte that's scrumptious, easy to make and attractive at the same time:


                        Some tips:

                        1. You don't need to be too fastidious about peeling all of the hazelnuts because the traditional linzertorte crust (with almonds) doesn't call for blanched nuts.

                        2. If using commercial raspberry jam, add some lemon juice to cut some of the sweetness.

                        3. For more attractive presentation, arrange the strips in a lattice pattern but at an angle less than 90 degrees.

                        Epicurious also has a pain au chocolat bread pudding that is out of this world.


                        IIRC though, I made 1.5x the amount of custard to soak in because my first attempt resulted in a pudding that's too dry.

                        1. Do you have any openings in your book club??? Like, starting this month??? Especially as surely you will have far too much dessert for your group, as small as it is!!!!

                          My recommendation--it's so easy, and so delicious, and so stunning--is a trifle. Whenever I serve it, it goes fast, and there are usually no leftovers.

                          I usually line a glass bowl with ladyfingers, spongy side up (I use the soft ones available in most bakeries in grocery stores) -- you could substitute sponge cake.
                          Make a mixture with some raspberry jam and a bit of water and fruit liqueur to thin it, and use a brush a thin layer on the ladyfingers.
                          Spread about a cup of frozen berries (thawed) on top. I also like to used chopped up peaches with the berries.
                          Cover with a layer of custard (about 1.5 cups, or so), followed by a layer of whipped cream (about 1.5 cups, or so), then another layer of ladyfingers and go through the same process. End with a nice thick layer of whipped cream at the top of the bowl.

                          My measurements are very rough. I just eyeball it, and it will depend on the size and shape of your dish.

                          Once I get the ladyfingers out, the berries thawed, the jam mixed, the custard and whipped cream made, it all goes together in about 5 minutes. It's about 30 minutes work, altogether, and no baking. Plus, you can do it in advance (it's best to have it sitting for a few hours in the fridge prior to serving).

                          Here's another recipe:


                          1 Reply
                          1. re: Full tummy

                            Our book club has degenerated to a food fest. Although our last book was a Pulitzer prize winner, others this year have included Twilight and Marley and Me. Good thing reading isn't even a requirement. Food and drink are. Usually though everyone just brings an appetizer or snack or a bottle of wine. Not as dressy.

                            Trifle sounds good. I want to have a mix of textures and flavors.

                          2. Okay, here's what I'm thinking now:

                            gingerbread popcorn
                            a croquembouche made of Costco's mini profiteroles as per a post on a different thread
                            tiramisu dip
                            apple walnut upside down cake
                            cherry pistachio biscotti
                            chocolate pecan pie? caramel tart? something like that
                            some kind of brownies, maybe those cappuccino ones
                            a trifle

                            3 Replies
                            1. re: aekbooth

                              Sounds delicious. Maybe something salty, too, to counteract all the sugar, like salty nuts or cheese? If you want a good trifle w/ a pretty presentation but slightly different, I like this strawberry caramelized banana one.


                              1. re: aekbooth

                                Hope you all arrive with empty stomachs. What will you be serving to drink?

                                1. re: aekbooth

                                  I wanted to say thanks again for all the input. Book club was tonight and it was a great success even though I had to change my menu many times. I forgot I wasn't going to be home to prep before guests came or to heat things up. Also, with 2 turkeys in my freezer and my refrigerator overloaded with a gift box from my grandmother, cold desserts were out.

                                  I wound up serving a chocolate chunk derby pie; a gingerbread walnut pound cake with warm cinnamon apples with cranberries and nuts on the side; the tiramisu dip which tasted good but I overbeat it a bit and had to add marscapone in to thicken, which I served with ladyfingers and vanilla pizzelles; apricot cold doughs; and dark chocolate buttercrunch. I also purchased an assortment of whoopie pies at market and cut them into fourths to serve. These were a chocolate, hot chocolate (chocolate cake with marshmallow filling), candy cane (yellow cake with a red swirl with mint filling), gingerbread, snickerdoodle, and a yellow cake with coconut cream.

                                  To drink I had a bottle of malbec and a chardonnay. Most of us drank decaf coffee. I also had sodas on hand. Since we had already gone out to dinner and had drinks there, I knew we wouldn't be drinking alcohol much at my house.

                                  Thanks again for all the great suggestions and even if I didn't use them this time, I will keep them in mind for the future.