Planning A Dessert Table, Part 2: The Planning, The Layout & The Recipes

by Lori on March 24, 2010

About a week ago, I hosted a party to celebrate my husband’s recent promotion to Fire Captain.  The process for him was a big deal with many, many months spent taking certificated courses not to mention the constant studying that goes along with it all.  Those were some long months as the whole house weathered the storm with the hope of a good outcome.  And it was!  As I was putting the party together, I decided to free myself from the task of preparing the food and focused on doing the desserts.  A red and white color scheme was what I had in mind for a dessert table.  Firemen like red, and I like firemen, so it was a go.

Now what would a red and white dessert table be without Red Velvet Cake or cupcakes?  The problem I have had is that I haven’t been all that impressed with the Red Velvet Cakes I’ve previously made or tried.  I felt they lacked flavor and just tasted bitter from the red food coloring and vinegar that goes into the batter.  So, I had a short period of time to try and find a recipe that would work.  I turned to my trusted sources on the internet and also thumbed through some cookbooks.  I quickly realized I needed a recipe with more cocoa in it; that should help with the flavor issues.

I was delighted to find a recipe that renewed my hope that one day I would eventually like Red Velvet Cake!  But even more, I came across a cream cheese frosting that knocks my socks off!  I also have a dirty little secret…I made the cupcakes for the first time the day before the party!  Man oh man, was I putting all of my hope in the fact that the recipe would be a winner.  I was not disappointed!

I also made Mini Raspberry Cheesecake Tarts from the simplest recipe ever!  I am not exactly sure where the recipe came from.  But when the recipe tells you to put a vanilla wafer cookie in the bottom of each cupcake liner, I’m guessing Nabisco may have printed the recipe up somewhere along the way and it has been rewritten to say Vanilla Wafer instead of Nilla Wafter.  I got the recipe from my mom’s friend Betty at least 15 years ago.  (Note: missing cheesecake in photo = quality control…very important part of the process!)

I used the Mini Nilla Wafer cookies for these.  I put a raspberry seedless jam swirl through one batch, but that caused a few problems for such small cheesecakes.  I think the full size cheesecakes could have handled it though.  After I came to my senses, I just made them plain and topped each cheesecake with a dollop of melted jam (use the microwave for this) and a fresh raspberry.  By the way, this recipe makes very festive holiday-looking cheesecake tarts when topped with cherry pie filling.

Then I had a dessert failure which prompted me to go to one of my old stand-bys: Iced Lemon Cookies that I found on Stephanie’s Kitchen.  I love these cookies and while they’re not totally white, the icing is and the red sprinkles worked with the color scheme.  I have made countless dozens of Stephanie’s cookie recipe since I found it last summer.  I make them exactly as the recipe states because there is no need to change anything.  They are delicious.

White chocolate dipped strawberries were a given for the dessert table.  I was lucky to find big, juicy strawberries that were sweet.

In the weeks leading up to the party, I began to amass the other table necessities.  Serving dishes, jars for candy, plates, napkins, and candy.  I bought the jars, Swedish Fish candies, plates and napkins at Target.  All of the white platters and the little popcorn boxes were purchased at Cost Plus.  I grabbed the Hot Tamales and Red Vines from Smart and Final.  One of the large jars contained assorted chocolates (Ghirardelli and Lindor Truffles) in red wrappers; you can get those anywhere.  The red and white popcorn boxes contained kettle corn that I bought at Costco.

The candy jars were decorated with red and white gingham ribbon. I typed and printed the name of each dessert and candy onto white card stock and cut them out with a Marvy 2-1/2 inch paper punch (from Michael’s).  I used a glue gun to adhere the ribbon and card stock to the jars, and I used an adhesive tape (Tomboy Mono Adhesive – used a lot in scrapbooking and available at Michael’s) for the dessert place cards.

While I was getting everything together, I grabbed up these red carnations from my local Trader Joe’s.

I think carnations are one of the most economical and under-utilized flowers.  The flowers look a little Christmasy, but the color went with my scheme, so why not?  Besides at $3.99 per bunch, how can you go wrong?  Also, these flowers graced my table until today…more than a week after the party.  No too shabby!

The next time you put a party together, try doing a dessert table.  In the meantime, take a look at Amy Atlas’ blog and become inspired.  That’s what I did, and her work is incredible!


Red Velvet Cupcakes with Cinnamon Cream Cheese Frosting
(adapted from Joy The Baker who adapted it from Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook)
Makes one dozen cupcakes.  Double the recipe to make two 9-inch layer cakes.

4 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 cup sugar
1 egg
2-1/2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
3 tablespoons red food coloring (approx 1 bottle of Schilling)
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup buttermilk (at room temperature)
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1-1/2 teaspoons distilled white vingear
1/3 cup mini chocolate chips (my addition, because I need flavor, man!)

In the bowl of a stand mixer fit with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes.  Turn mixer to high and add the egg.  Scrape down the bowl and beat until well incorporated.
In a separate bowl, mix together cocoa, vanilla and red food coloring to make a thick paste.  Add to the batter, mixing thoroughly until completely combined.  You may need to stop the mixer to scrape the bottom of the bowl, making sure that all the batter gets color.
Turn mixer to low and slowly add half the buttermilk.  Add half the flour and mix until combined.  Scrape the bowl and repeat the process with the remaining buttermilk and flour.  Beat on high until smooth.
Turn mixer to low and add baking soda and white vinegar.  Turn to high and beat a few more minutes.
Spoon batter into a paper-lined cupcake baking pan and bake for 20-25 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the center comes out clean. (Note: I recall that my cupcakes were done before 20 minutes was up, so you may want to check them at around 15-18 minutes.  Every oven is different!)
Let rest in the pan for 10 minutes, then place them on a cooling rack to cool completely before frosting (oooh, the frosting!).

Cinnamon Cream Cheese Frosting
(adapted from Joy The Baker who adapted it from Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook)
Double recipe to frost a two-layer 9 inch cake

2-1/3 cups powdered sugar sifted
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
4 ounces cream cheese, COLD (I cut it into little squares so it would blend easier.)
scant 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Beat the powdered sugar, cinnamon and butter together in the bowl of a stand mixer fit with a paddle attachment.  Mix on medium-slow speed until it comes together and is well-mixed.
Add the cream cheese all at once and beat on medium to medium-high until incorporated.
Turn the mixer to medium-high and beat for 5 minutes (set a timer), or until frosting becomes light and fluffy.  (When you try this you will want to run into another room and hide-out with the bowl of frosting.  It is so yummy.  My head went back, my hands flapped and my feet did a little dance.  Laugh…go ahead.  You’ll see!)

Do not over-beat as the frosting can quickly become runny.

I refrigerated my cupcakes to insure they would not run and put them on the dessert table before everyone arrived.  They were fine by dessert time…no running.

Cheesecake Tarts

2 8 ounce packages of cream cheese, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon lemon juice
3/4 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 box vanilla wafers
1 can Comstock Cherry Pie Filling or garnish of your choice

Beat first five ingredients together in high speed for 5 minutes.  Place a vanilla wafer into each paper-lined muffin tin.  Pour equal amount into each cup.  Bake for 20 minutes at 350.  Do not let cakes get browned.  Cool.  The cakes will sink and create a little “bowl” for the topping.  Top with cherry pie filling, or your choice of topping.  Chill.  Makes 6 dozen mini or 16 standard cupcake size cheesecakes.

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{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Stacey March 24, 2010 at 5:51 am

Congratulations to Jack on his promotion!

And I am in awe over your red dessert table. You never cease to amaze me!


Michelle {Brown Eyed Baker} March 24, 2010 at 8:26 pm

Gorgeous, gorgeous dessert table! Fabulous job!


Barbara March 25, 2010 at 2:24 am

Great dessert table. Thanks for the recipes.


Lemons and Lavender March 27, 2010 at 2:36 am

Thank you Stacey, and I will pass your comment along to Jack!


Lemons and Lavender March 27, 2010 at 2:41 am

Thank you Michelle {Brown Eyed Baker}! I really appreciate your comments!


Lemons and Lavender March 27, 2010 at 2:43 am

Thanks Barb!


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