After dinner is served and guests have cleaned their plates, reached for that second glass of wine, and carefully slid their forks and knifes to one side, the presentation of the dessert is the most common next step. This sounds great in cookie cutter parties but truthfully most people are pretty full at the end of a meal and gearing up for a second plate of food seems like too much. After hosting a few dinner parties where I’ve found myself running around the entire day gathering appetizers, bread, pre-heating the oven, preparing the salad, etc…etc…I finally decided to make it easy on myself and forget dessert. By forget, I mean forgo the cakes and tarts and replace them with a more interesting spread of fruits, cheeses, and chocolate. A dinner party should transition through the home and once guests have lingered around the table long enough it’s time to move into a cozier setting for coffees and cocktails. Scattered bowls work for finger food, but a platter of assorted bites looks much more appealing. Using store bought items and no-cook options a dessert platter can be created early in the day, left in the fridge, and removed after the dinner plates are collected. The trick is to make the food look enticing and abundant so piles that spread into one another and little mounds of sweets and savories huddled near each other makes guests feel like they are being treated to something special.
Start with a large platter and about six different option to eat. For a recent cocktail party I selected seasonal clementines, cookies, dark chocolate, a stilton cheese with fruit, dried apricots, and sweet oranges. The trick is to let guests create their own concoctions so don’t make the food look pristine, but rather peel a few clementines then leave the rest unpeeled, break chocolate into squares and shards, slice the stilton into irregular pieces, and scatter the remaining options throughout the plate. Don’t mix them too much, but rather arrange them in loose piles. The platter looks enticingly gourmet with its bright colors and unique mix of sweets, cheeses, and fruit, while appearing completely relaxed and undone. The result is a natural transition from dinner to drinks with food to accompany each step, keeping the focus on the friends and conversations rather than what’s going to appear on their plate next.