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Seasonal Dessert For 500 People

I have been asked to make a dessert for a fundraiser in October and the organizers are expecting 500 people. I have never in my life made that much food! We will have access to a professional kitchen and the event has a few food requirements:

1. All dishes must be seasonal in nature as well as locally sourced (within 100 miles).
2. We are allowed to begin canning and preserving now as long as what we are canning and preserving is local in nature.

I live in Omaha, Nebraska. We have a wonderful food community here and I know I could ask around. But I love the CH board so much and I was hoping for a wide variety of suggestions.

I rendered my own lard just last week (from local, humanely-raised pigs) so I already have a good start on any sort of crust option.

Apple crisp and ice cream are already taken, but there are still many choices for me! Have any of you ever made anything for such a large crowd? I'll take any suggestion! Some thoughts that popped in my head were a pear/almond tart or a tomato tart, possibly.

I feel overwhelmed already and I've not even begun cooking!

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  1. like a strawberry shortcake but a mixed fruit shortcake. you can easily start freezing what is in season. All you need is fresh biscuits made the day before and whip cream.

    Strawberry shortcake always goes over well at big crowd events!!! have fun

    1 Reply
    1. re: lexpatti

      what a great idea! i didn't think of something like that! such a simple, elegant idea!

    2. With 500 people, I would suspect this will be served outdoors. If that is the case, a cobbler would be the way to go. Make it in huge foil containers then scoop it into individual servings.

      If by chance it is indoors then trifles in individual servings although that will be a lot of work.

      1 Reply
      1. re: Hank Hanover

        Too similar to apple crisp which is already on the menu.

        I suggest bread pudding made from pumpkin nut quick bread. The loaves can be made in the week preceding, since stale bread is a plus when making bread pudding. The bread pudding itself can be made in disposable foil roasting pans, then scooped to serve, with butterscotch sauce and whipped cream.

        Cupcakes made with sweet potato puree.

      2. This is a page from an on-line reference for cooking for a crowd that I've used...and love. Although the amounts on this page refer to buying & serving 100 people, you can easily multiply:

        There are other pages that will give you some ideas about the kinds of desserts that can easily be made for a large number of people.
        Scroll down the main page for the various chapters:

        1. I like the idea of a sweet potato cobbler, which will be seasonal and is similar to the flavor of sweet potato pie...you can buy and par-cook the sweet potatoes now, which could be baked or peeled & steamed or boiled then bagged & frozen. If you have access to a commercial kitchen, perhaps you can order cases of sweet potatoes through a wholesale source?

          The day before, you could make the syrup mixture with some cinnamon, butter, grated orange zest, and maple extract or pure maple syrup, which is expensive but I thought I'd throw it out there. Make the dough topping with oats, flour (I like part wwheat), chopped walnuts or pecans, etc.; roll out and bake on large sheet pans and bake separately. You could also cut out with small biscuit cutters.

          The day of, mix together the sweet potatoes & syrup and bake in whole hotel pans, then using small portion cups or dishes, serve individually with a piece of baked topping and maybe some flavored whipped cream. Baking the dish would take about 45 minutes. You didn't say whether the dessert would be on a buffet, but if so, just bake & set up a chafer with the serving dishes and let everyone serve themselves.

          I've not baked for 500 but have baked for a couple hundred and when making a cobbler, I like to do the crust separately, if you're not doing a buffet so that you can control and make sure everyone gets some of the crust, which, IMO is the best part of a cobbler.

          1. Thank you everyone for all of your suggestions!! I knew this would be a tough one, but you all really helped out!

            The one thing that is tripping me up is the "local" requirement. I have to find out how much of the dish is required to be local. If it is 100% of it, i might have a tough time finding local spices, etc...

            7 Replies
            1. re: atticaster

              I'm in favor of the shortcake idea. Simple and quick. Strawberries are out of season so unavailable unless you've already frozen them. However peaches are in! And peach shortcake is nearly as good as strawberry!

              My experience with "local" dinners is that spices, oils, and such don't count. It's local meat, dairy, eggs, and produce that's emphasized.

              1. re: morwen

                OP says recipes must be seasonal, which for an October event, precludes strawberries - and peaches in October is rather a s-t-r-e-t-c-h..... Apple crisp is already taken, which leaves pears, nuts, pumpkin and sweet potatoes, plus possibly corn and cranberries.

                1. re: greygarious

                  Reread Op's post:

                  "2. We are allowed to begin canning and preserving now as long as what we are canning and preserving is local in nature."

                  I'd be slicing, sugaring, and freezing peaches now.

                  1. re: morwen

                    But I agree that pumpkin spice cake drizzled with a caramel glaze would be easy, and seasonal.

                    1. re: morwen

                      You could do a pumpkin mousse or even a pumpkin trifle. Pumpkin bread as the cake base, pumpkin custard, and whipped cream.

                2. re: morwen

                  They don't grow peaches in Omaha.

                  1. re: John E.

                    A quick search of pickyourown.org shows that peaches are indeed unavailable around Omaha. My apologies and sympathies.

              2. If you don't consider panna cotta too close to ice cream and can procure "local gelatin" (or get a pass), it is a lovely make-ahead dessert. If you can get local buttermilk and local honey, I'm thinking you can make a honey-buttermilk panna cotta and top with local berries or diced local peaches. If you want to get fancy, steep some fresh herbs in the mix, like mint or basil.

                You'd need a fair amount of fridge space for individual servings to chill in cups- hopefully that would not be an issue....

                1 Reply
                1. re: 4Snisl

                  (eep! I see now that this is in the fall....my apologies for the non-seasonal suggestion.)

                2. Now this may be a bit too ordinary or not enough of a dessert type item. What about some sort of bar cookies which could be made in very large sheet pans, or filled linzer type cookies that would use local fruits,

                  1. Strawberry shortcake won't work unless you happened to already freeze local strawberries. How about some sort of pumpkin bars or tarts or tassies? Are sweet potatoes grown locally in Omaha? If you're thinking fruit, and it will be October, I'd go with apples or the pumpkin thing. How far are they going to go with the local thing? Is there a flour miller in Omaha or would you have to buy wheat and grind your own flour? I know it can be done, I've seen home milling machines but it sounds a bit ridiculous. Whenever people get too hard on me about the whole locavore thing, I ask them if they drive a Ford Ranger pickup (made in St. Paul) because if they don't they're not a real locavore.

                    5 Replies
                    1. re: John E.

                      i know, i'm a little stressed about the "local" thing. i'm waiting to hear back how strict they are going to be. i love the sweet potato or pumpkin idea! i'm beginning to regret saying yes to this!! ugh!!

                      1. re: atticaster

                        Surely the restriction is only for the major ingredients. Omaha doesn't have salt mines or pepper bushes, does it?

                        1. re: greygarious

                          That's why I asked about the sweet potatoes and the flour, both would be major ingredients for a pie.

                          1. re: atticaster

                            I've made bread pudding with sweet potato bread and with pumpkin bread. You can doctor it up as much as you want, and they're always a hit. Easy to do in individual cups (or scooping is easy, too). I like to add rum, nutmeg but not sure if you can get the locally. But, you probably have access to great eggs and cream/milk and that would make a huge difference.

                        2. I've just done desserts for a wedding for 150 people. I did a blueberry cheesecake (bars) and also a blackberry mousse - it was really good. If I was doing it again I would serve with some delicate almond cookies. mousse is easy to make and looks nice in glasses. I love pavlovas too. Agree that freezing purees ahead of time is a good idea. Good luck!

                          1. Love this question even though I'm 1,500 miles away! Some great answers already, I like the idea of bread pudding which is remarkably easy to make, just some time in the oven. Get some leftover brioche, challah or raisin bread from a local bakery, cube it and soak in a milk/cream mixture with nutmeg, sugar, etc. You can batch everything up fairly easy for 50 or so puddings. Paul Prudhomme has a great recipe for bread pudding, I'd serve with ice cream or whipped cream.


                            Sweet potato or pumpkin pie would obviously do well if you can handle the crusts properly. I'm just glad I haven't volunteered for this event!

                            1. Thanks so much everyone!!! I think I'll go for a pumpkin bread pudding or spice cake of some sort. I'm super nervous about making SO MUCH FOOD but hopefully it'll be alright! Again, thanks so much for the ideas!!!

                              2 Replies
                              1. re: atticaster

                                You can certainly start with pumpkin bread mix (Trader Joe's is a good one, for example) but if you go the canned pumpkin route you should start stockpiling it NOW if it's on local shelves. The 2009 growing season was poor, so there is already a shortage. Last fall canned pumpkin was in very short supply since the 2008 season was bad.

                                1. re: greygarious

                                  I thought local pumpkins would have to be used, unless there is a pumpkin canning plant near Omaha. I would certainly guess that a Trader Joe's mix would be disqualified as well.