At my house, the holidays are all about the food—especially, the dessert. Hosting a dessert-themed gathering is a creative way for me to celebrate the season: Guests gather at the table and sample an assortment of tasty treats, while Ella Fitzgerald’s holiday music plays in the background and the yellow Lab makes the rounds in her new plaid collar. The best part? Prepping for this party takes no more than a single afternoon, so when guests arrive, I’m out of the kitchen and into the fun! If you’d like to host a dessert party of your own, here are three recipes guaranteed to impress your crowd.
Peppermint Fudge Brownies
Yield: 24, 3-inch squares
Recipe adapted from: Labensky, Martel, and Damme, “On Baking”
Nothing says holidays like the delicious combo of peppermint and chocolate. Even better, this recipe does not take a lot of time.
Plan ahead: Brownies can be fully baked and frozen for up to a month. Wrap securely in plastic wrap and store in a Tupperware container. Allow 4 hours for thawing at room temperature.
1 pound + 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 pound (16 ounces) bittersweet chocolate (such as Guittard’s bittersweet baking bar)
6 ½ cups sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon peppermint extract
6 cups all purpose flour
5 tablespoons crushed peppermint stick
4 cups milk or dark chocolate chips
2 cups crushed peppermint stick
Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees and grease a half sheet pan (roughly 19-inch x 13-inch.)
Sift together flour and salt in a medium bowl. Set aside.
In a medium saucepan, melt butter and chocolate together, stirring regularly. Set aside.
Using a hand mixer or a 6 quart stand mixture fitted with the whisk attachment, whisk eggs and sugar on low speed until fully incorporated, stopping your mixer occasionally to scrape the bottom of the bowl. Increase speed to medium high for 1 to 2 minutes or until it lightens in color and begins to thicken.
Reduce speed to low and slowly add the melted chocolate mixture.
With mixer still on low, add vanilla and peppermint extract.
Add salt and flour in 3 or 4 additions, mixing on low just until the flour disappears, stopping occasionally to scrape the bowl.
Remove the bowl from your mixer and, with a rubber spatula or wooden spoon, stir in the crushed peppermint. The batter will be thick and appear slightly grainy.
Pour the batter in the prepared sheet pan, spreading evenly. Bake for 45 to 50 minutes or until an inserted toothpick comes out with just a few specks of batter.
Let the pan cool completely before topping—about 1 hour.
To top the brownies
Melt chocolate chips in a small saucepan on the stove over low heat, or in a heat proof bowl in the microwave, stirring every 20 seconds. Pour the chocolate over the brownies, spreading to the corners with a butter knife or icing spatula. While the chocolate is still wet, sprinkle crushed peppermint over the top.
Rosemary and Orange Pound Cake
Yield: 1, 9 x 5 loaf pan
Every year, I meet someone who says, “I don’t really like dessert.” (My best friend and husband are among this group.) But they like this pound cake! It’s not too sweet, more like bread than cake, but still filled with festive flavor.
16 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
1 ¾ cups sugar
2 ½ cups all purpose flour
½ cup whole milk
½ teaspoon baking powder
2 tablespoons orange zest
1 tablespoon + 2 teaspoons finely chopped rosemary
¼ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon orange extract
zest of 1 orange
4 cups confectioners sugar
¼ cup whole milk
Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.
Grease loaf pan with melted butter or nonstick pan spray.
Sift together flour and baking powder. Set aside.
Using a stand mixer with paddle attachment, beat the butter and sugar together on low speed, increasing the speed as the two mix together. Beat the mixture for 2 to 3 minutes or until it lightens in color and begins to look and feel fluffy, making sure to stop the mixer occasionally to scrape the sides of the bowl.
Reduce mixer speed to low and add eggs one at a time. When each egg is added, your batter may appear broken or curdled, but keep mixing and it will all come together.
Alternate adding the flour mixture with the milk (do this in about three stages), mixing just until the flour disappears.
Remove the bowl from the mixer and, with a rubber spatula or wooden spoon, stir in the orange zest, rosemary, vanilla and orange extract. Pour the batter into the prepared loaf pan and bake at 350 degrees for 40 minutes or until the top has risen and is slightly brown. Then, lower the oven temperature to 325 degrees and continue baking for an additional 20 minutes or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean.
Let the cake cool in the pan until you can handle it with bare hands—45 minutes to 1 hour.
For the glaze
Place the pound cake on a wire rack. In a large bowl (The bowl should look enormous compared to what’s in it but, trust me, this glaze likes space!) vigorously whisk together milk with confectioners sugar until it is a pourable consistency. If it is too thick, simply add more milk. If too thin, add more sugar. Once you have reached the correct consistency, switch to a spoon and add the orange zest.
Pour the glaze on top of the cake, letting some of it drip down the sides.
French Butter Cookies
Yield: roughly 24 cookies using a 1 ½-inch circle cutter
Recipe from: Dorie Greenspan, “Paris Sweets”
This one dough has endless possibilities. It is delicious on its own, but can be easily transformed by adding fresh herbs, dipping them in chocolate, or sandwiching with your favorite jam or buttercream. From this one dough, you can create a full cookie platter. At the end of the recipe, I’ve included some of my favorite variations.
Plan ahead: The cookie dough can be made up to 3 days in advance and stored in the fridge. See step 7 for instructions.
16 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
½ cup confectioners sugar
1 egg yolk
pinch of sea salt
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups + 1 tablespoon all purpose flour
Using a stand mixer with bowl and paddle attachment, beat butter on high for 1 minute or until it appears pale, smooth, and creamy.
Lower the mixer speed and gradually add confectioners sugar. Increase the speed to medium and beat until sugar is fully incorporated.
Add the egg yolk and continue to mix, scraping down the sides of the bowl as you continue.
Add the pinch of salt followed by vanilla extract.
Lastly, working in two additions, add flour and mix just until it blends in. The finished batter will appear grainy and crumbly—almost sand-like.
Tear off a large square of plastic wrap and place the dough in the middle. Using the wrap, shape the dough into a square of ¼-inch thickness. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.
(At this point, the dough can be covered and stored for up to three days if you are planning ahead.)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.
Once the dough is chilled, remove from the fridge and unwrap the plastic. Lightly dust the dough with flour and, using a cutter of your choice, cut out your cookie and place it on the cookie sheet.
Bake the cookies for 11 to 14 minutes. The tops of the cookies will remain pale while the edges will turn a light brown. To check the doneness, look at the bottom of the cookie—like the edges, it will be light brown.
Eat the cookies as-is, or follow the optional finishes below
- Dip in chocolate.
- Make sandwiches with a high-quality raspberry or strawberry jam.
- Flavor the batter with culinary lavender or fresh thyme by adding 1 tablespoon of herbs to the batter.