Dessert makes the perfect finishing touch to a special event. Hosts and hostesses frequently fret over which foods to serve at their parties, and that includes dessert.
But hosts won't need a professional pastry chef to serve some imaginative and impressive desserts. In fact, it's easy for even novice foodies to make their own delicious desserts.
* Invest in a star decorator's tip and pastry bag. There's no limit to what you can do with a simple pastry bag, icing and a decorative tip. Instead of slathering frosting on cupcakes, use the tip to pipe on individual stars or swirls so the cupcakes look dressed up. The same concept can be applied when baking a cake in a molded pan-and-pipe on the frosting to create the design. You can also use it to add a dab of homemade whipped cream to a serving plate aside a slice of pie. Get creative with your pastry tip and explore different possibilities.
* Make garnish sauces. Professional chefs understand that many people eat with their eyes. That means guests may be more inclined to "ooh and ahh" over desserts if they are presented in a special way. Take a cue from restaurants and garnish the plate prior to adding the dessert. Create simple sauces from cooked-down strawberries or raspberries with sugar and water. Or look to premade syrups. Grab that bottle of chocolate sauce and create a design on a dish and then place the dessert on top.
* Use leaves or flowers. In addition to sauces on the plate, you may want to add a few mint leaves or an edible flower to cleanse the palate. This adds a touch of class to the presentation and makes guests feel special.
* Create individual servings. A dessert served in an individual ramekin or tin can be a nice presentation in itself. Plus, guests may feel like you individually created each dessert with them in mind. Individual servings look and serve well, rather than having a larger dessert demolished by slices or scoops.
* Go for the wow factor. Certain desserts lend themselves to dramatic display. Creme brule or flambe desserts will catch attention. Simply lighting a meringue-topped pudding on fire for a few minutes also can create a memorable moment. Use a good-quality liqueur for fire-enhanced desserts, so the alcohol can burn off quickly and evenly.
* Embrace the use of fondant or gum paste. These pastry art materials are frequently used by professional pastry chefs. They're essentially a moldable dough made out of sugar. Fondant can be rolled to cover cakes, cut to turn into intricate shapes or hand-molded to be turned into figurines or other edible pieces. Just about any dessert can be enhanced with a fondant trinket. Make a flower or a heart out of fondant and lay it aside a slice of cake. Give in to a child's sense of whimsy by molding edible cartoon characters for them to enjoy at a birthday party. Fondant-covered petit fours may be delicious and eye-catching.
* Use cookie cutters to create different shapes. Instead of a standard layer cake, use cookie cutters to cut out cake pieces and then layer them with frosting in between. Think about baking a pie and cutting out a piece of the pre-baked top crust with a cookie cutter that gives a clue to the filling inside (i.e., an apple cutout for an apple pie). Place on top of the crust before baking.
Creating special desserts doesn't require much effort or any specialized skills.