With the holiday season on the horizon, it's the perfect time to think of good ideas for party-time entertaining.
When it comes to sweets, one of the biggest trends right now is to think small. Bite-size or mini desserts are popular as party treats or as the finishing touch to a holiday meal.
"I've seen more interest in small desserts," says Adam Wiltfang, owner of Designer Desserts in Valparaiso. Wiltfang is also the owner of the new Sweetville featuring Designer Desserts in Chesterton.
When one serves miniature desserts, Wiltfang says, it offers guests or diners more of an option. "They can enjoy tasting a wider variety of sweets," he says.
Wiltfang suggests that hosts make miniature cupcakes, brownie bites or various other pastries for a soiree table. "You can customize many recipes," he says.
Cheryl Molenda, a chef member of ACF Chefs of Northwest Indiana, is a fan of bite-size sweets. "For holiday bite-size desserts, I try to go with things that people can eat easily without a huge mess," Molenda says. She adds that some ingredients such as powdered sugar are tasty additions to a sweet, but they can "wreak havoc on a guest's garment" because they're so messy.
Miniature desserts, Molenda says, are often a good option for guests needing or requesting a "lighter" version of a treat.
"An example of that would be a mini cream puff, but instead of all pudding, use sugar free pudding and mix with light Cool Whip for the filling," she says.
"Bite size is always good, because usually by the time everyone has eaten the meal, they are looking for something not quite as heavy but something they can go back to multiple times without feeling guilty," Molenda says.
Wiltfang says mini treats are excellent for guests watching their waistlines or for those who simply want to eat healthier but don't want to miss dessert.
At Designer Desserts, Wiltfang creates a variety of custom items in miniature form, including cupcakes, macarons, cannoli and more.
Chef Molenda enjoys making an assortment of goodies also, including taffy apple grape bites, mini caramel apple trifles, pecan tarts, mini pumpkin pie tarts, ganache-filled chocolate-covered strawberries, Oreo truffle bars, mini fruit tarts and other sweets.
Butterfingers Bakery in Munster also offers conventional smaller treats for customers looking for a sweet finish to their holiday meal. Popular offerings include their delectable cupcakes and their delicious brownies.
Try the following recipes for your sweet table:
Confetti Popcorn Balls
Yield: 12 Cups
12 cups popped popcorn
1/4 cup light corn syrup
2 tablespoons butter or margarine, melted
1 cup confectioners' sugar
1 cup mini marshmallows
1 tablespoon water
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
Place popcorn in a large bowl. In large saucepan, combine corn syrup, butter, confectioners' sugar, marshmallows and water. Heat over low heat, stirring until mixture is blended; add vanilla. Pour mixture over popcorn. Let cool 2 minutes. Place nonpareils on plate. Shape popcorn into small balls and roll in nonpareils.
From The Popcorn Board and popcorn.org
Decorated Brownie Bites
Makes 96 one-inch bites
These are great treats. You can decorate them with colored sugars, sprinkles, nonpareils, crushed candies, or nuts.
10 ounces bittersweet chocolate
1/2 cup canola oil, plus 2 teaspoons for greasing pan
1-1/2 cups sugar
1/3 cup soy milk
3 large eggs
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa
1-1/4 cups all-purpose flour
At least 3 different colored sugars, sprinkles, nonpareils, crushed candies, or ground nuts
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Use 1 teaspoon oil to grease a 9 x 13-inch baking pan. Line with parchment paper, allowing some to extend up and over the sides. Grease top and sides with the other teaspoon of oil.
Break or chop the chocolate into small pieces and melt it, either over a double boiler or in the microwave oven for 45 seconds, stir, heat for 30 seconds, stir, and heat another 15 seconds if needed, until completely melted.
When the chocolate is melted, add the oil and sugar and whisk well. Add the soy milk, eggs and vanilla, and whisk again. Add the salt, baking powder and cocoa and mix. Finally, add the flour in four parts and whisk well each time. Scoop the mixture into the pan and spread it evenly.
Bake for 30 minutes, or until the top looks dry and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out looking a little gooey. Cool for 30 minutes and then freeze for a minimum of one hour.
Place the decorations into small shallow bowls. Pull up the parchment paper to lift the brownie out of the pan. Trim 1/2 inch from the sides and cut the short side of the brownie into long 3/4- to 1-inch-wide strips. Cut each strip into small squares.
To decorate, press the top or bottom of each brownie into the desired decoration. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to three days or freeze them for up to three months.
From "The Holiday Kosher Baker" by Paula Shoyer