Optimistically Cautious

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

The Cooking Chronicles: An Afternoon of Desserts

Though I was thoroughly exhausted from the experience of hosting a dinner party last year, at the end of it, I knew I had been bitten by the entertaining bug.

The concept behind a gathering of friends with food is inherently appealing to me – a blank slate to develop an appropriate menu and design an unobtrusive setting and ambiance. Ideally of course, the edibles and the décor will fall away, unnoticed, to allow for conversation and connection.

Though I'm pretty sure the idea of a dessert party was introduced to me by Real Simple Celebrations, the desire to host a sweets-specific shindig has been with me for so long now that I wasn't sure if I'd ever get the planning off the ground. In March, I finally stopped dragging my feet, picked a date, and actually committed my mental fantasy to paper.

Planning

Like my dinner party, I decided that paper invitations were a must. While Facebook (cough) or Evite e-mails may be more convenient, there is nothing like a handmade paper invitation to help set a tone of simple elegance.

I downloaded a fill-in-the-blank template from Real Simple, printed it with Mack's help on kraft-patterned cardstock, and attached a bright segment of ribbon in place of baker's twine. While we could have mailed the finished invitations, we ended up hand-delivering most of them on a Sunday afternoon two weeks prior to the party for an added personal touch.

Invitations

As for the menu, I've had possibilities floating about in my head for months. I knew my ideal menu would contain a "statement" cake, a custard-based dessert, a cupcake, a tartlet, and a white cookie. After a few trials over the past few weeks, I whittled a few shotlisted items down to one selection per category, and compiled a shopping list for a grocery run on Friday.

Preparation

Though Mack blogged that we officially began cooking on Saturday afternoon, it was actually closer to 5pm when we finally got going (he Twittered progress updates throughout the evening).

Tablet station

I wished all of the desserts were as easy as the Panna Cotta to prepare (which I've blogged about in the past). What I failed to recognize until that night was that most of our recipes required the creation of both a base and an icing or a filling, which, if we had access to an unlimited number of disposable bowls and/or a behind-the-scenes Food Network staff to assist us with cleanup, would have been much less painful.

One of many rounds of dishes

After the glasses of Panna Cotta were tucked safely away in the fridge to set overnight, we tackled the Vanilla Cupcakes. A Crumbs Bake Shop recipe from Gourmet Shops of New York, this was one of the two recipes we were preparing for the first time that day. The batter was easy enough to put together, though because we had to use the extra-large muffin tin liners I had in the house, we ended up with only 10 cupcakes instead of the suggested number of 24.

Using an ice cream scoop to measure batter

Awaiting icing

While the cupcakes were in the oven, we moved on to Beatty's Chocolate Cake, something we had made last month.

Pouring cake batter

Before heading out for a much-needed dinner break, we finished the icing for the cupcakes. Mack still thinks I switched bowls on him when he turned his back, but in reality, the butter just needed a little more time with the electric mixer to attain the right consistency.

Perfect!

"Sprinkles make me sneeze"

What turned out to be the most difficult item to make were Donna Hay's Melting Moments - essentially shortbread sandwiches with a lemon filling. While the preparation of the cookie mixture involved nothing out of the ordinary, I had no idea how we would be able to pipe such stiff dough through a fluted nozzle.

Doing my best to make a cookie out of a trail of dough

Luckily, Mack came to the rescue - he was a piping machine! The warming of the dough after working with the piping bag for a while made the process slightly easier, but I wouldn't hesitate in saying that Mack earned his baking stripes with this trial.

Piping expert!

Out of the oven

The last item for the oven that day were the phyllo pastry cups that would be filled the next day to form White Chocolate Tartlets (I decided to forgo the hazelnut toasting).

Phyllo cooling

Our last concoction before we could rest was the chocolate icing for the two-tiered cake. I left Mack alone on this one, and with flash-chilled baking chocolate, he beat a smooth, nearly perfect icing. Spots be gone!

Mid-icing

Packing up for the night

Bright and early the next morning, infused with the goodness of an Egg McMuffin, we set out to finish and plate the desserts. I'm thankful that my parents were able to lend me a hand in tidying up the house, so I could focus on food just before the party started.

Prep table

Though we lost Mack's iPod Touch in the final moments, resulting in a CD rotation of too much Norah Jones for his taste, we were ready for our friends by 1pm.

Ready to serve

Flowers and cake

Cupcakes

Melting Moments (we axed the lemon filling and opted for jam from a jar instead)

White Chocolate Tartlets

Panna Cotta

The table is set!

Party

After all of our preparation, I was happy to finally be able to share the fruits of our labor. Our friends seemed to enjoy themselves, and though we had some leftover desserts, it was a manageable amount for my family to consume.

Waiting to start

Andrea pretending she didn't get her arm stuck

Annie finished her massive cake slice!

We ended off the afternoon with some wine and (More) Dirty Minds. I think this was the first time I played the game based on the prescribed set of rules, and boy, was it difficult! Or maybe we'll just blame the sugar high.

Strategizing

Janice, May and Mack

Double D-i-r-t-y

I had no idea a dessert party would end up being more work than a dinner party, but it was. Of course, though I won't be immediately hosting another gathering, it's just a matter of time before my next idea rears its head.

Thanks to everyone for coming! The rest of my pictures are here.

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3 Comments:

Blogger Shermie said...

I love reading Real Simple, your pictures of the desserts look like they belong in the magazine.

April 11, 2008 at 6:50 PM  
Blogger Andrea said...

Your chairs are death traps.

April 11, 2008 at 11:36 PM  
Blogger Sharon said...

Thanks, Shermie! Though to give credit where it's due - Mack took the pictures.

Andrea - I'm sure if we didn't point out the fact that you did get your arm stuck, it does look like you're just casually lounging.

April 12, 2008 at 2:29 PM  

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