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A Just-Desserts Buffet

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Pulling off this sweet buffet is easy because you can make everything ahead

I’ve long held that dessert is the most essential and anticipated part of any meal, especially during the holidays. So why not create an entire party that’s devoted only to desserts? Sure, this is a slightly radical idea, but the way I see it, a dessert party is the ultimate holiday event: unexpected, festive, and ever-so-slightly decadent. A desserts-only bash is also an amazingly carefree way to entertain, because everything can be made ahead. With just a few finishing touches before your guests arrive, you’ll be party-ready.

Menu Timeline

Up to 6 weeks ahead:

  • Make and freeze the biscotti.

Up to 1 month ahead:

  • Make and freeze the cheesecakes.
  • Bake (but don’t fill) the carmel thumbprint cookies and freeze.
  • Make and freeze the pan of Kahlúa triangles (but don’t cut into triangles).

Two days ahead:

  • Make the pound cake but don’t dust with sugar; store at room temperature.
  • Remove the mini cheesecakes and the Kahlúa triangles from the freezer and thaw, still wrapped, in the refrigerator.

One day ahead:

  • Make the caramel filling for the thumbprint cookies and fill them; store at room temperature.
  • Cut the Kahlúa truffles into triangles, arrange on a rimmed sheet pan in a single layer, cover the pan with plastic, and refrigerate.
  • Remove the biscotti straws from the freezer and thaw, in the container, at room temperature.
  • Select the serving plates and utensils for the desserts, along with linens, candles, and other table decorations, and set the table.

The morning of the party:

  • Put the pound cake on a serving plate, cover loosely with plastic wrap, and set on the table.
  • Arrange the Kahlúa triangles and mini cheesecakes on platters or plates, cover loosely with plastic, and refrigerate.
  • Taste the biscotti straws and, if you like, refresh their flavor by baking them on a cookie sheet at 350°F for 5 minutes; arrange the biscotti in a tall glass or on a platter and set on the table.

Up to 4 hours ahead:

  • Make sure you’ve left room on the table for all of the desserts; some will stay in the fridge until the last minute.
  • Arrange the thumbprint cookies on a plate or platter, cover loosely with plastic, and set out on the table.
  • Make the brown sugar whipped cream, spoon into a serving dish, and refrigerate.

Just before the guests arrive:

  • Remove plastic wrap from desserts on the table.
  • Dust the pound cake with sugar.
  • Light the candles.

As guests arrive:

  • Remove the whipped cream, Kahlúa triangles, and cheesecakes from the fridge and put them on the table.

Shopping List

Fresh Produce:

  • 2 oranges (for 1 Tbs. of zest and 1 Tbs. of juice)

Eggs & Dairy:

  • 12 large eggs
  • 2 packages (8 oz. each) cream cheese
  • 8 oz. mascarpone
  • 1 pint heavy cream
  • 1 quart whole or 2% milk
  • 1 quart buttermilk
  • 7 sticks (1-3/4 lb.) unsalted butter

Other Groceries:

  • 1 can pure solid-pack canned pumpkin
  • 3/4 cup unsalted shelled pistachio nuts
  • 1/2 cup sweetened dried cranberries
  • 1/2 cup crystallized ginger
  • 6 oz. individually wrapped caramels, such as Kraft brand
  • 2 oz. pecan halves (enough for 1/3 cup chopped)
  • 1 lb. bittersweet or semi-sweet chocolate
  • 1 bottle Kahlúa (2 Tbs. needed)

Pantry Staples:

  • 8 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3 cups granulated sugar
  • 2 cups confectioners’ sugar
  • 1 cup light brown sugar
  • 3 Tbs. pure vanilla extract
  • 3-1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • 2-3/4 tsp. ground ginger
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/8 tsp. ground nutmeg
  • table salt
  • cooking spray

Pairing drinks with holiday sweets
At this party, you can’t go wrong with setting out a selection of coffees and teas for your guests to choose from. If you’d like to serve alcohol too, the key to matching drinks with desserts is to choose liqueurs or wines that are sweeter than the dessert. Try one or more of these ideas:

  • Coffee liqueurs like Kahlúa always taste good with chocolate or coffee-chocolate desserts. Enjoy the liqueurs in French- or Italian-roast coffee topped with fresh whipped cream, or straightup in a liqueur glass.
  • Fruit-based liqueurs like the legendary French raspberry liqueur Chambord work well with any dessert that has a fruit element. Serve fruit-based liqueurs chilled without ice in a liqueur glass, or add an ounce to a glass of sparkling wine or nonvintage Champagne.
  • A sweet fortified wine, such as Pedro Ximenez sherry or Moscatel sherry, is delicious with chocolate or caramel desserts; serve either at room temperature in a small wine glass. —Tim Gaiser, contributing editor and master sommelier

The Menu


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