Holiday Q+A: Dessert for a Crowd

Hi Lindsey,
Please help! We’ve been invited to my sister-in-law’s for Christmas and there will be 21 adults plus many kids running around. I’m supposed to bring dessert. I am hoping you can give me some good ideas for easily transportable desserts….I love your peppermint bark brownies idea so that will probably be one of the desserts. But, I need more!

Many thanks,

Dear Karen,

I love you for asking me this question! Desserts for a crowd are my specialty. In fact, I’m insulted when we’re invited somewhere and the hostess doesn’t ask me to bring a dessert. (Just kidding.)

I happen to know that Karen is a busy mom to little kids, so she probably needs something easy to prepare, easy to transport, and can be made in advance.

One thing to keep in mind, readers, is that at this time of year there are so many treats wherever you go, people sometimes won’t eat as much of a particular dessert as they might another time of year.  You may not need as much dessert as you think.  Trust me on this.  I catered a wedding a few days after Christmas and the desserts (which were marvelous) were barely touched in favor of the savory appetizers.  Just a thought to keep in mind.

I gotcha covered, Karen.  All of these can be easily transported, I’ve included tips for transportation under each heading.  I hope you enjoy the Peppermint Bark Brownies and have a wonderful Christmas.

Pumpkin Spice Cake 

* Make a cake mix and add a cup of pumpkin and 1/2 cup sour cream along with the water, oil, and eggs; top with browned butter frosting (pictured above)
* A similar recipe from
* I had this for a church activity in November.  I usually hate cake mix cakes, but it was so delicious
* Pumpkin Spice Cake with Honey Frosting from Martha Stewart
*Transportation tips:  leave cake unfrosted, right before serving slip into the kitchen and frost.
Sour Cream or Cream Cheese Pound Cake
* Make in a bundt pan the day before
* Serve with berry sauce and whipped cream
* My very, very favorite recipe is from Everyday Food Dec. 2003 (one recipe makes enough for a 10-12 cup bundt pan)
* Transportation tips:  this is super easy to transport because all components should be kept separate until serving time.  You can also slice the cake ahead of time, place on a pretty platter, and cover tightly with plastic wrap.  The earlier you make the cake, the better.  Pound cake improves as it sits.  It won’t dry out too much, but even if it does, it will soak up the juices from the fruit.
* These feed a ton of people
* Make it in a 9 by 13″ pan if you don’t have a big bowl or trifle dish (you’ll need more than one if your trifle dish is on the small side)
* You can go the easy route and buy a cake from the store, or make your own
* Use a pudding mix if you are in a rush, or homemade pudding, whatever you like (homemade tastes so much better)
* Use pie filling or fresh fruit
* Whipped cream
*Transportation tips:  trifles should be made ahead of time so the flavors can meld together.  If you want the top to be pretty, leave off the last layer of whipped cream and garnish until you arrive at the party.  Also, a trifle dish is a hard thing to keep steady when you are on the road.  Instead of a footed trifle dish, use a glass baking dish (like I said above) or a bowl with straight sides.  Those are much more travel friendly.  And in the case of the 9 by 13″ pan, it makes for easy portions.
Variations of trifle:
* Black Forest–chocolate cake, vanilla custard/pudding, cherry pie filling
* Chocolate Cake, crushed toffee bars, chocolate or caramel sauce, whipped cream
* Tropical–yellow or white cake, pineapple, mango, kiwi, banana, custard, whipped cream
* Gingerbread, lemon curd, whipped cream (this is my very favorite)
* Berry Trifle, any kind of cake, fresh or frozen berries, pudding, whipped cream
* Make in a 9 by 13″ or bundt pan
* Serve with whipped cream and bananas or lemon curd
* Aunt Khalie’s Lemon Curd Recipe
* Transportation tips:  Make cake a day before (it improves the next day too), keep covered with foil or plastic wrap.  It makes for easy transport also because you keep everything separate until serving time.
* It’s totally easy to make, but make it only if it’s a dry day or they’ll be sticky
* Serve with whipped cream (can add a little yogurt or sour cream to whipped cream) and fresh fruit
* Make mini pavlovas and set them out with various toppings and let everyone make their own
* Triple Layer Brown Sugar Pavlova Cake with Berries from Gourmet magazine
* Transport tips:  Pavlovas can be made up to a day or two ahead of time.  They must be kept in an airtight container.  Any moisture will cause them to become sticky.  They travel well for the same reasons as the gingerbread and pound cake.

* Sponge cake filled with your favorite filling–frosting or a custard, frosted and sliced into rounds
* Takes a bit more effort and time, but will feed a bunch of people
* Ginger Pecan Roulade with Honey Glazed Pecans from Epicurious
* Transport tips:  Use a few toothpicks inserted along the top and sides of the roulade to keep the plastic wrap or foil from the surface.  Transports very well.
Buche de Noel
Ice Cream Sundaes
* Self explanatory
* Very easy to transport
Mini Cheesecakes
* Make them in a muffin tin
* Top with lemon curd, fruit, chocolate, caramel sauce, etc.
* Easy to make ahead, easy to make period
* Recipe form All Recipes–Mini Cheesecakes
* Easy to transport.  Place baked and chilled mini cheesecakes on a rimmed baking dish or platter covered with plastic wrap.  Wait until you get to the party to top with fruit or toppings.
Bread Pudding
* Use whatever kind of bread you can find–challah, brioche, French/baguette, croissants
* Add chunks of chocolate–milk, white, or dark
* Add sauteed apples or pears, or dried fruit
* Serve with whipped cream or a dessert sauce, or fruit
* I loved this recipe from Dorie Greenspan (
* Transportation tips:  If you live a long drive away, you could make this ahead of time and keep it warm by wrapping it in towels and reheat briefly in the hostess’ oven.  It tastes better warm out of the oven.  OR…you could pour the custard base over the bread cubes and let it soak while you drive and impose on the hostess when you get there and bake it fresh.  Either way, it travels well.
image via
Eggnog Mousse
* Martha’s recipe for Eggnog Mousse caught my eye back in 2002 (I think it was) in an issue of Living.  I keep thinking I’m going to have a holiday party sometime and do this for the dessert.  This would be really fun and easy to make the morning of the party.
* Because I’ve never made this myself…I can’t say for sure that it travels well.  But it seems to me that it would be just fine in a large serving bowl covered with plastic wrap.
*One last thing…this would be a great companion to the Peppermint Bark Brownies, by the way.
Eggnog Cheesecake Bars
* Another recipe that caught my eye is Elizabeth’s Eggnog Cheesecake Bars.  (I told you I have eggnog on the brain.)  These sound absolutely divine.  You could make them fancier by adding some kind of sauce or fruit.  Or leave them as is for a more informal dessert bar.
* Also, because Karen is already planning on making brownies, these would be a great companion because they are also a bar cookie and don’t have chocolate in them.
* Easy to transport.
Black Forest Torte
* Back before my Tuesdays With Dorie days, I made this Black Forest Torte.  When the TWD crowd made a few months ago, I was reminded just how incredibly delicious it is.  You can read my take on it here complete with a few slight revisions.
* Easy to transport, but to keep the top decoration fresh looking, use toothpicks inserted in the top to keep the foil or plastic wrap from marring the surface.  Or you could leave it in the spring form pan while you drive and then make the finishing touches once you get there.

Any other ideas readers?  I tend to stick with recipes I know for predictability sake.  Also, I’ve included recipes above that our family loves.  What about you?  Do you have any favorites that you take to your family parties?  Anything that is easy to make, transportable, and serves a crowd?

We’d love to hear your ideas.  Please share!

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  1. Ha! That quote about being angry if you aren’t asked to make dessert made me laugh. I think one of the first times I met you was at the Buchanan’s for your birthday party where you made your own birthday cake. I thought that was the funniest thing. Until I tasted it. (Chocolate and p.b. cake). Then I knew.

    You are a cooking genius. :0)

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