The key to any dinner party? Expert prepping. If you want to be able to socialize with your guests, then your menu should include some dishes that can be made ahead of time. This doesn’t work for every dish, but there are plenty that will still taste delicious (and look beautiful) after making them a day or two in advance.
One of my favorite recipes to serve at parties is this olive oil cake, not just because it's extremely versatile, but also because I can make it days before guests arrive. Just before serving, I slice the cake into small rectangles and toast them under the broiler until they’re warm and golden brown. It retains its moist and delicate texture, and the crispy, browned edges are so good that I actually prefer a toasted piece to a freshly baked slice.
Toasted olive oil cake is the perfect vehicle for any number of toppings, including ice cream, whipped cream, toasted nuts, or even thinly sliced fresh basil. It can also be cut into bite-size “croutons” to garnish creamy desserts like chocolate pudding or lemon posset. I like it best in the summertime, when I can serve it with whatever fruit is in season. Here in New York, the farmers markets are brimming with fresh blueberries, so I decided to make a quick and easy compote to spoon on top.
Unlike other compotes, this one features whole fresh blueberries folded into a puree of cooked blueberries. When I am simmering the blueberries, I sometimes add a few sprigs of fresh thyme into the pot. The floral and grassy flavor it adds is faint, but it complements the blueberries nicely. You could replace the thyme with a couple of bay leaves and it would add a peppery, herbal flavor. I like the idea of fresh herbs mingled with my dessert. I don’t crave pure sweetness, and I find the gentle herbal flavor complex and compelling. Like the cake, this recipe can be made a day or two ahead of time. But also like the cake, don't expect there to be any left over.
- 2 pints fresh blueberries
- 1/2 cup water
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 4 sprigs fresh thyme (optional)
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
If you have a favorite recipe that you like to make in advance of dinner parties, leave me know in the comments!