What make-ahead dessert should I make to bring to a weeknight holiday party? My criteria are:

It can't take more than 4 hours total (preferably not all active) on the evening before. Some advance prep could be done a day or two before that evening-before-the-party, if necessary.

I'll have about 30 minutes on the evening of the party to assemble, add finishing touches, etc.

Transporting is no issue - just walking up the street.

I wish to bring something unexpected, so no Buche de Noel.

No Paris-Brest, as I'm serving that a few days later, on Christmas Day.

No out of season fruit, though I might consider frozen raspberries for a filling.

No steamed pudding. That's already accounted for.

Your thoughts? Thank you, everyone. ;o)



creamtea December 22, 2015
AJ, let us know what you decide! These are such interesting choices!
AntoniaJames December 22, 2015
Thank you so much, everyone, for so many excellent suggestions! We've compiled quite an impressive library of make-ahead holiday dessert possibilities.

So here's what I ended up doing:

I checked in with the hostess to get more details - 30 people with others bringing dessert. She didn't know at the time what all of the contributions would be.

I went back and forth and back and forth over what I thought I'd make, based on the suggestions here.

I knew that one person there would appreciate a dairy-free dessert, and chocolate had not been accounted for; even if someone else brought chocolate, nobody would complain. I decided that it would be most courteous to all involved not to bring an elaborate show-stopper (much as I would have loved to do so).

I ended up adapting the Alice Medrich cocoa brownies (posted here on Food52) to make them with olive oil - a great idea, as it makes them so fudge-y and they taste so good. I simmered dried sour cherries in brandy, and pressed the liquid out, reserving it. I added the cherries with the nuts at the end. When the brownies were out of the oven, I cut off one for the non-dairy person and brushed it liberally with the reserved cherry brandy (lucky her).

About 30 minutes before going to the party, I made a standard ganache frosting - 6 ounces of dark chocolate, 1/2 cup of heavy cream. Meanwhile, I reduced to 1 tablespoon another 1/4 cup of brandy; I stirred that, with the leftover cherry-soaking brandy, into the ganache and cooled it down in a small metal bowl sitting in ice water, and then popped that in the freezer.

I took the brownies - still uncut, except for the one mentioned above -- out of the fridge and iced them with the ganache. I put them back in the freezer for a few minutes, finished dressing for the party, and at the last minute, cut and arranged the brownies on a plate.

Everyone loved them.

Thanks again, for all your help. ;o)
702551 December 22, 2015
AJ, thank you again for sharing your post-event notes.

It's a shame that many people who post in Q&A forums do not care to share the outcome of their various dilemmas. It would be educational and helpful to know what worked (or what did not).

This is not a dig specifically at Food52 posters, it happens in all types of Q&A forums on the Internet.

Anyhow, glad to here it worked out and you have plenty of other suggestions for future events!
Kay December 22, 2015
Tiramis├╣? Or a Mousse au chocolat?
stacy December 21, 2015
I've been making candied pecans lately, over 4 pounds over the past month or so. They keep well and are very tasty. Maybe that with some fruit dip?
LeBec F. December 20, 2015
One of my fav things to do for dessert buffets was mini creme brulees- assorted- in egg cups. Each has about 3 Tablespoons of filling, and it's easy to make a vanilla base and add espresso powder to part of the batch, or grand marnier, or dark chocolate..... If you choose to torch them on-site, people get very excited by the drama of it!
ChefJune December 22, 2015
That's such a great idea! My favorite restaurant in New York (Triomphe) serves a trio of mini creme brulees as a dessert choice, and if you guess the flavors, the dessert it gratis. :)
Bunnee B. December 19, 2015
There's a great Nutella cheesecake recipe which is made in a muffin pan. It's easy, freezes well and is easily transported. http://www.foodandwine.com/recipes/mini-chocolate-hazelnut-cheesecakes
Windischgirl December 18, 2015
I love Ottolenghi's clementine almond cake, as featured in his book "Jerusalem". It's very moist but not too sweet, and I have made it ahead a few days...as well as frozen it when we were inundated with tangerines. He tops it with an optional chocolate glaze. David Leibovitz posted his spin on the cake,
hardlikearmour December 18, 2015
If you've not decided and are interested I've got the recipe for a fantastically fancy but reasonably easy dessert called from Pix Patisserie called the Concord. It's a combo of chocolate meringue, chocolate mousse, and chocolate ganache. It does well if made ahead as it needs freezing before the meringue sticks are added to the perimeter and top. Send me an email or PM if you would like it.
E E. December 18, 2015
Poached pears might be very nice. You could poach them with some ginger and take a dark chocolate sauce to add last minute. Another version would be to mosey over to the Brit's Great British Baking Show site and do the pears wrapped in pastry. If you have an ice cream maker perhaps consider a spumoni style pistachio or gelato. Fold in the very best Morello or Luxardo cherries you can find and some chopped bittersweet chocolate. You could fill up a beautiful bowl with scoops of the frozen dessert, or put it in a mold and serve slices.
EmilyC December 18, 2015
I think this Valencian Orange Tart would be unexpected and lovely, especially with blood oranges -- http://leitesculinaria.com/4292/recipes-orange-tart.html
I've not made it (yet), but I've never been let down by an Anya von Bremzen recipe.
nashama December 18, 2015
I love a pound cake with macerated berries. This one (https://food52.com/recipes/9322-clementine-pound-cake) is delicious the next day- and I've used every citrus under the sun to make it over the past few years. I make a simple glaze with additional juice mixed with powdered sugar and it's always a hit.
My other go-to is Palmiers (store bought puff pastry saves you here), whipped cream, and macerated berries. Never fails to delight people, (like, licking their bowls) and all of the components can be made in advance, kept separate, and then served out of bowls and passed around the table. I've successfully made the whipped cream the day before, and had it hold fine overnight in the refrigerator. But it doesn't take too long to make day of if that's possible. A healthy dose of vanilla in the whipped cream always goes far
I also often make a kahlua reduction to serve in lieu of or alongside the berries. !
amysarah December 18, 2015
Nigella Lawson has a really nice pavlova made with lemon curd, that she suggests for Christmas - scroll to last recipe. (Directions for both store bought or homemade lemon curd.) Snowy pillows of white cream and meringue - perfect for Christmas! http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2015/dec/13/nigella-lawson-chilled-out-christmas-recipes
ktr December 18, 2015
I just clicked thru the link and wow, there are some good looking recipes on there! I'm thinking my 4 year old might like trying the sweet potato mac and cheese. Thanks!
Ted December 17, 2015
what about pavlova? You could do the meringue shell and prep the fruit -- though finding in-season fruit might be a challenge -- the night before. Then it's just an assembly job the day of the party.
702551 December 17, 2015
If I recall correctly, AntoniaJames lives in the SF Bay Area. None of those fruits are currently in season locally. Sure, she can buy them at Whole Foods Market, Berkeley Bowl, wherever, but they aren't going to be that good.

If she wants to go for a fruit based dessert, she should focus on locally available produce that is in season, not something that is in season on the other side of the planet.

Around NorCal, that would mean: citrus (oranges, mandarins, etc.), apples, late season pomegranates, persimmons.

It's crazy to suggest something based on strawberries, something that is available but six months removed from its June peak.
luvcookbooks December 18, 2015
Ben Mim's "Sweet and Southern" has a beautiful Pavlova recipe that uses citrus.
702551 December 17, 2015
You're already making Paris-Brest for Christmas. Why not prepare a larger batch of choux dough and make profiteroles?
AntoniaJames December 22, 2015
cv, I was leaning toward religieuses, until I decided to bring a dairy-free dessert. ;o)
luvcookbooks December 17, 2015
Last Christmas our star dessert was from the Indian subcontinent. Strained yogurt (or Greek yogurt), sugar, cardamom , almonds and sugar. That's it. Sumptuous and my daughter's all time favorite dessert.
inpatskitchen December 17, 2015
Maybe Gran's Gifted Cheesecake?..make ahead (like a day or two before) and add the whipped cream just before you walk down the street..
Nancy W. December 17, 2015
Homemade ice cream! It would be a nice contrast to the steamed pudding and won't melt on the short walk.
Ted December 17, 2015
Trifle. Purchased cake; make custard. Assemble the night before so it goes all fabulous in the fridge. Decorate with whipped cream the night off.

Tiramisu would also work. Likely more unexpected than trifle.
sexyLAMBCHOPx December 17, 2015
Cheesecake with fun flavors such as mocha, gingerbread, hazelnut or lemon.
Dona December 17, 2015
Thanks SLC, I don't know how I came up blank when I checked!
sexyLAMBCHOPx December 18, 2015
Call me Chops Dona - Happy Holidays!
Niknud December 17, 2015
I'm a huge huge fan of icebox cakes. They're retro, easy and you make them the day before. Every time a make one and bring it to a function it is always greeted with happy squeees. Throw some booze in the whipped cream and some fancy chocolate shavings on top and it looks like you put way more effort into it than you really did. Let me know what you decide!
Dona December 17, 2015
I'd love to see your recipe for icebox cake. I don't see any icebox cakes on this site. Thanks
sexyLAMBCHOPx December 17, 2015
Here you go Dona: https://food52.com/recipes/search?q=icebox+
Nancy December 17, 2015
3 chocolate ideas and one non, all indulgent and festive.
The chocolates, from densest to lightest:
Chocolate mousse cake (mousse between cake layers, finish with a chocolate glaze over all)
Black Forest Cake...I know, I know, it's not so much in fashion. And commercial versions are often dreadful. But made at home, with a light chocolate sponge cake, quality cherries and kirsch, it's a winner.
Hazelnut dacquoise torte with chocolate garnishes
The not-Chocolate: use this occasion to make the Alice Waters Olive oil with Sauternes cake. :) Holiday worthy and yet a surprise. If you want to use only seasonal fruit, substitute pears or candied citrus for the peaches in the original.
ChefJune December 17, 2015
AJ: I would make my (OMG!)coconut pound cake. You can and should bake it ahead - in a bundt pan for festiveness. and leave it in the pan to transport. (I would take it out first and put it back in the clean pan.) Then all you'd have to do is sprinkle powdered sugar over the cake and fill the hole in the center with either strawberries, raspberries or mini red Christmas tree ornaments. Guaranteed there won't be any left!
amysarah December 17, 2015
I made this last year (I often do some kind of semifreddo, because it's made ahead, Christmas dessert = chocolate in our house, and it's my daughter's favorite.) It was excellent! https://food52.com/recipes/22302-brooklyn-blackout-semifreddo-cake I didn't, but you could Christmas-it-up by decorating the top with crystallized cranberries/mint leaf "holly" or something.

Another dessert I've been dreaming of lately is a classic Creme Caramel. You don't see them so much these days! I like to make one big one, served in thin wedges. Pretty simple, and must be made ahead. It doesn't scream "Christmas" - but it would be unexpected and looks really elegant sitting on a lovely platter, surrounded by caramel sauce. (I'd bring a platter, then unmold in situ, before dessert.)
Susan W. December 17, 2015
Pumpkin mousse? I can't get enough of it every year.
Recommended by Food52