What I enjoy most about hosting a dessert party is I am free to bake a variety of desserts. I don't experiment with a lot of new recipes since I need stuff that actually turns out well and, depending on who's coming, I also like to make things I know my guests will like and maybe even asked for specifically. New recipes are higher risk in case something goes awry and they're not fit to be served.
During my dessert party, one of my friends, Cheryl, asked if I made my favorite desserts for the party. Yes and no. Yes because I am naturally going to make the stuff I like. But also no because I don't really have a particular favorite. I like sugar in all forms almost equally. But there are a couple of guiding principles I use when it comes to baking for a crowd.
First is to offer a variety of flavors that your guests will like, likely have had before and would want again. When you have a bunch of different people with different tastes, there almost always isn't one universal crowd pleaser and that's okay. I like it better when some people favor one thing and others favor different things. Then every dessert gets a chance. When I baked for my party, I had chocolate (of course), pumpkin, cream cheese, pecans, dulce de leche, and red velvet flavors. A little something for everyone. The most notable thing I skipped this year though were lemon bars. I had planned on them but just ran out of steam.
Second guiding principle is whenever you offer a variety of desserts, make them bite-sized It's nice for people to be able to sample as many different things as they want and they can do this more comfortably if not every choice was super-sized. When I was in culinary school and we were always able to sample everything we made, Chris, one of my classmates, would refrain from items that came in larger portions because "it was too much of a commitment". So true. If you commit to a full-size cupcake, for instance, there's less room for the truffles, brownies, cookie, petit four, etc. I tend to follow the moderation rule in portion sizes when I do a dessert bar - my only exception this year was jumbo chocolate chip cookies (more on that later).
Third guiding principle that helps shape my menu is the right combination of what I can make up ahead of time and what needs to be done at the last minute. Some last-minute things are unavoidable but you don't want too many of those or you'll be exhausted and frazzled before the first guest arrives. My do aheads are mostly making up cookie doughs that just need to be baked the day of the party. This year, that list included:
Russian Tea Cakes (new recipe)
Chocolate Chip Cookies (new recipe)
Cocoa Kiss Cookies
The make-the-day-of list was:
Black Bottom Brownies (new recipe)
Red Velvet Cookies with Cream Cheese Frosting
Pumpkin Cookie Cakes
Peanut Butter & Chocolate Kiss Cookies
Butter Toffee Crunch Shortbread
I also did a chocolate fondue so I made rice krispie treats and sliced bananas for dipping. The dessert bar "after" picture
And to keep my guests from becoming completely sick on sugar, I did a few savories as well. Lumpia that my mom made for me ahead of time that I fried that night:
I also bought a few packs of savory appetizers from Trader Joe's and Target: mini quiches, puff pastry cheese puff thingies (forgot what they were called but they tasted good) and little pigs in a blanket (not pictured)
My weakest point was probably drinks. I don't drink alcohol and wouldn't know what to serve if anyone did drink. I had water, sodas and hot tea (sorry, coffee drinkers, no coffee either). But fortunately, my friends are pretty forgiving on that score and everyone seemed to have a good time. As I advertised beforehand, whatever they didn't eat during the party, they took home with them. I'm a believer in the doggie bag. In this case, I had Christmas-themed ziploc bags and paper plates ready to bag up the take-home treats. Have to end the evening on a high note.