Forget the four food groups for once, and serve up sweets from start to finish Just Desserts


There was probably a time, back when you were a little kid, maybe while staring down at a plate of liver and spinach, that you swore someday you'd grow up and eat only desserts.

Well, here you are all grown-up and even though you've made your peace with spinach (if not liver) and the rest of the four food groups, maybe it's time to resurrect that dream with a party devoted entirely to desserts.

It's not just indulgence that should lead you to consider it. There are some very down-to-earth advantages to serving nothing but sweets.

"It's a very convenient way to entertain a large number of people, really easier than a cocktail party," says Deirdre Pirie, author of the new "Entertaining Desserts" (Houghton Mifflin, hardcover, $30).

Mrs. Pirie, who lives on a farm in New England and competes internationally driving a carriage and four horses, has for more than 20 years given an annual dessert party for more than 100 people. "We have desserts set out on the dining room table in the middle of the room, and people come in and help themselves," she says.

When you serve only desserts, says Emily Luchetti, pastry chef at Stars restaurant in San Francisco and author of "Stars Desserts" (HarperCollins, hardcover, $27.50), the desserts themselves become a focus of attention and conversation in a way that hors d'oeuvres and canapes wouldn't.

"Desserts become the party," she says. "I think if you serve desserts with other main course food or hors d'oeuvres or the traditional canapes, they're more a kind of side thing. If you do them by themselves, they become much more central-focus.

"People eat desserts because they want to eat desserts. It's totally emotional," Ms. Luchetti continues. "You eat chicken and salad and sandwiches because you need to stay alive. Desserts you eat totally because you want to eat them. So we shouldn't deny ourselves the pleasure of it. It's just a question of moderation."

When you do eat desserts, she says, make sure that they're the best-tasting ones possible. "Don't waste your calories on anything that's just mediocre."

A dessert party, Mrs. Pirie says, enables her to do a lot of the work in advance. She starts a week to 10 days ahead of time, making frozen desserts and things like cake bases

that can be easily frozen for a few days and decorated or assembled at the last minute.

By making things this way, she continues, you can actually prepare food for a larger crowd than you could if you were doing an entire dinner. She makes 30 different desserts and doubles most of the recipes, an amount which she admits is much more than she needs.

"In effect it's closer to 50 or 60 recipes, but we like leftovers. Normally I would suggest one recipe for every four people," Mrs. Pirie says.

Since her annual dessert party is in winter, she is able to utilize a screened porch as extra refrigerator space.

"On the last couple of days I put everything out there to get cold. And hopefully the weather stays cold enough and doesn't get too cold."

The day of the party Mrs. Pirie devotes her time to decorating the desserts and arranging flowers.

In her book, Mrs. Pirie encourages people to forget the conventional wisdom that says you should never try out a new recipe for guests. Each year she makes five or six new desserts. Few failures are so bad that someone doesn't like them, and she always has enough extra to cover for them.

When Ms. Luchetti and the staff at Stars serve dessert parties, they cut the cakes and pies into small pieces or do miniature versions of larger desserts. "If we have a caramel custard, we'll do it in smaller ramekins. We'll do little bite-sized cookies rather than bigger ones. That way people can try a lot of different things without having seven desserts. They can eat a lot of different things and have the calories equal to a total of one or two desserts."

During the parties, she continues, some desserts are arranged on tables while other things are passed on trays. "Some things, if they're warm or if they require a fork or a spoon or something, I think it's fun to have them passed as well, because that way people can explain what they are."

Both authors emphasize variety. "If you have a wide spectrum of desserts, a crisp tart or pie, a rich silk cake, something creamy and light, it's more interesting," says Ms. Luchetti. "You want something that's rich and chocolatey and at the same time you want something that's light and delicate."

For those people who don't want to eat just rich desserts, Mrs. Pirie always serves large platters of fruit and fruit desserts that have no fat or sugar. "All kinds of fruit go very, very quickly. People really do like to have fruit interspersed with the sweet desserts or instead of them. Some people are dieting, and you have to take them into consideration."

At her parties Mrs. Pirie sets up an electric deep-fat fryer in a separate room off the dining room and cooks a dessert called balloons, made with choux pastry and topped with butterscotch sauce, to order. "People come out and get them hot and fresh," she says.

Because Mrs. Pirie has a bad back, this arrangement enables her to sit on a high stool for the duration of the party.

"Everyone knows where to find me. They come by for their balloon and a few minutes of chitchat so I see everybody," she says.

Both also serve only champagne, ginger ale and coffee to drink. "That makes it amazingly easy," Mrs. Pirie says. "Otherwise you have to have bartenders or somebody designated to make drinks all the time."

Champagne goes well with desserts, she continues. "And people don't drink so much that it gets to be a problem. We live in the country and we don't want to worry about people driving home. And we have a large table with coffee set up. We've never had a problem with anybody that we were concerned about driving home."

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