by Jolene Adams, coordinator, LLCC Culinary Institute
Wedding season is about to begin. There are so many items to plan, the dress, location, caterers, florist, music, photographer and the cake; the list goes on and on.
One option that has become a standard at many weddings is a dessert bar. Of course the cake is still the main focus of the wedding food; however, many brides are opting for a smaller cake or even cupcakes. This choice creates room in the budget for a dessert bar. It is a great way to incorporate a theme and pops of color to the cake table, not to mention offering guests a buffet of sweet treats.
When planning a dessert bar, think small bites. Almost any dessert can be made in a mini version: tiny brownies, mini scones, itty bitty cupcakes and tarts. There are a few things to consider when deciding what items to serve at the dessert bar. First, think seasonal. For a spring wedding, go light and fresh. Include fresh berries and citrus flavors such as lemon tarts. Summer is a great time to incorporate fruit. Strawberries, blueberries, melons and apples work well. Try a mini apple tart or pie. Pair it with salted caramel for a great summer flavor combination. The combinations are pretty much endless.
The second item to consider is décor. Incorporate the theme of the wedding into the dessert bar. Having an outdoor wedding? Utilize natural elements such as greenery or even hay bales. Many people are incorporating shabby chic décor not only as decoration, but as functional elements. To achieve that style, use mismatched dainty china placed atop short candle sticks or old mason jars to make cake stands, old drawers that have been chalk-painted make great shelves to add height. Speaking of height, it is a crucial element to add to a dessert bar to take it from boring buffet to beautiful centerpiece.
Adding pops of color can bring the look together. Random shapes and sizes of old apothecary jars can be filled with colorful candies. Fun signage written on chalkboards adds another cute element. Go for uniqueness by having a sundae bar complete with a variety of toppings, colorful glasses, straws and spoons.
Now to fill the table with sweet treats. Remember, mini is the key. Make desserts in small bite sizes. Not only will guests be able to enjoy trying several items, the mini size stretches the amount of desserts available on a budget. Here are a few of my favorite items to include on a dessert bar.
Cheesecake Stuffed Strawberries
Yield: 36 each
*2 large containers strawberries
*12 ounces cream cheese, softened
*4 Tablespoons powdered sugar
*1 teaspoon vanilla extract
*1/2 cup graham cracker crumbs
Rinse strawberries and cut around the top of the strawberry. Remove the top and clean out with a paring knife, if necessary (some may already be hollow inside). Prep all strawberries and set aside.
In a mixing bowl, beat cream cheese, powdered sugar and vanilla until creamy. Add cream cheese mix to a piping bag or Ziploc bag with the corner snipped off. Fill strawberries with cheesecake mixture.
Once strawberries are filled, dip the top in graham cracker crumbs. If not serving immediately, refrigerate until serving.
Yield: 30-40 chocolate truffles.
*8 ounces of semi-sweet or bittersweet chocolate, chopped into small pieces
*1/2 cup of heavy whipping cream
*1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
*Mint leaves (1 bunch, stems removed, chopped, about 1 cup)
*Cinnamon and cardamom (1 cinnamon stick, 2 cardamom pods)
*Raspberry, strawberry, any flavor extract (1 teaspoon)
*Finely chopped walnuts
*Finely chopped almonds
In a small, heavy saucepan bring the heavy whipping cream to a simmer (this may take a while, be sure to stir and scrape down the sides with a rubber spatula every few minutes.)
If you are using one of the other recommended flavorings, stir it in with the cream (and ignore vanilla in the next step). If adding mint or other solids, after the cream simmers, remove from heat and let seep for an hour. Then strain away solids, and return the cream to a simmer and proceed with recipe.
Place the chocolate in a separate bowl. Pour the cream over the chocolate, add the vanilla, and allow to stand for a few minutes then stir until smooth. (This chocolate base is called ganache.)
Allow to cool, then place in the refrigerator for two hours. Remove and with a teaspoon roll out balls of the ganache. Roll in your hands quickly (as it will melt from the heat of your hands) and place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Place in the refrigerator overnight.
Roll in cocoa powder or chopped nuts and serve, or place back in the refrigerator until needed.
Yield: 36 mini
*4 ounces milk
*4 ounces water
*Dash of salt
*4 ounces butter, cubed
*6 ounces bread flour
*8 ounces eggs
Bring milk, water, salt, and butter to a boil over medium heat, stirring constantly. Once butter has melted, add the flour all at once and stir vigorously to combine.
Continue to stir until mixture form a mass and pulls away from sides of pan, about 3 minutes. Transfer to a mixer and beat on medium with the paddle to cool slightly.
Add eggs one at a time, beating until smooth after each. Dough will slide off paddle when ready.
Place in piping bag and pipe small round drops about the size of a tablespoon onto a parchment lined sheet pan.
Bake at 350 for 45-60 minutes.
Cool, then fill with pastry cream (recipe below).
Yield: 3 pounds
*32 ounces Milk
*8 ounces Sugar
*3 ounces Butter (cubed)
* Pinch of Salt
*3 ounces Cornstarch
*12 ounces Eggs
* 1 Tablespoon Vanilla
In a large saucepan, combine milk, sugar, salt, and cornstarch. Over medium heat, whisk constantly and bring to a boil.
In a separate bowl, beat eggs.
Temper the egg mixture by slowly adding the hot milk mixture to the egg mixture whisking CONSTANTLY! Add the hot to the cold very slowly, or you will scramble the eggs!
Return mixture to saucepan. Continue to cook over low heat, whisking constantly until mixture comes to a boil.
Remove from heat, cool over an ice bath and stir in butter and vanilla.
Once cooled, pipe into baked shells (recipe above). Dip tops of éclairs into chocolate ganache, recipe follows.
Yield: 1 cup
*4 ounces dark chocolate
*4 ounces heavy cream
Heat cream in sauce pan over low/medium heat just until simmering. Pour over chopped chocolate, and let sit for a few minutes. As chocolate starts to melt, stir with a folding motion (gently) until all chocolate is melted and there is a smooth mirror shine to it.
If chocolate does not melt completely, microwave for 20 second intervals, stirring after each, until melted.
*2 cups graham cracker crumbs
*1 Tablespoon sugar
*1/3 cup melted butter
*32 ounce cream cheese (softened)
*1 2/3 cup sugar
*1/4 cup cornstarch
*1 Tablespoon vanilla extract
*2 extra-large eggs
*3/4 cup heaving whipping cream
Preheat oven to 350°. Line 18 muffin tins with papers.
Mix graham cracker crumbs, 1 tablespoon sugar and melted butter in small bowl by hand. Divide crust mixture among the baking cups, and press firmly into bottom of cup. Set aside.
Place one 8-ounce package of the cream cheese, 1/3 cup of the sugar, and the cornstarch in a large bowl. Beat with an electric mixer on low until creamy, about 3 minutes, then beat in the remaining 3 packages of the cream cheese. Increase the mixer speed to high and add the remaining 1 1/3 cups of the sugar, and the vanilla. Blend in the eggs, one at a time, mixing the batter well after each one. Mix in heavy cream.
At this point mix the filling only until completely blended. Be careful not to overmix the batter!
Gently spoon the cheese filling into the crust filled cups. Bake 12-15 minutes (they should be a little jiggly in the center.) Cool on a wire rack for 1 hour. Remove from tin and refrigerate until completely cold, at least 1 hour. Store in refrigerator.