Secrets from a pastry chef for pulling off a simply magical holiday spread

Edwards pies and pie slices
Edwards Pumpkin Pie Budino

Whether you’re hosting a small holiday gathering with friends or a formal dinner party with family, entertaining can be stressful. But with a few simple food-focused tips, you’ll be on your way to throwing the perfect holiday get-together — headache-free.

For ease of planning, Executive Pastry Chef Christina Kaelberer of acclaimed Edwards Dessert Kitchen in Minneapolis suggests focusing your gathering around the table.

“Food is what brings people together, so it can easily serve as the focal point of a gathering,” says Kaelberer. “You don’t need to go out and purchase a bunch of expensive décor and spend hours transforming your entire home.”

“Holiday prep can be overwhelming, so I’m all for saving time,” she says. “My advice is to focus your efforts on a few star desserts and cocktails, which can easily elevate any party.”

Following are Kaelberer’s three favorite tips for simple holiday entertaining.

Tip one: Create cocktails in batches for easy serving.

One thing you’ll find on the menu at Kaelberer’s dessert bar is an array of fabulous adult beverages. To save time, her team prepares batch cocktails daily to serve to patrons. Apply this practice to your party planning and you can keep glasses filled, guests happy and have plenty of time to mingle and enjoy.

For inspiration, look to classics such as the Old-Fashioned, which features holiday flavors and warm spices. Add a splash of color to the presentation by topping your punch bowl with orange slices or cherries. To accommodate all your guests, accompany your bar offerings with something simple, festive and non-alcoholic, such as sparkling cranberry water.

Tip two: Make the dessert spread your grand centerpiece.

Your beautiful desserts deserve to be the center of attention. Holiday florals and ornaments can be expensive for how infrequently they’re used, so save time and money by letting the seasonal sweet treats serve as the holiday décor. Keep things visually interesting by serving a variety of flavor options with different textures and colors, such as layered trifles, fluffy pies and stacks of cookies and bars. Play around with platters, serving bowls and flatware that have varying shapes and heights.

Tip three: Rely on premium, thaw-and-serve desserts to bring the sweet.

If you’re planning to make desserts the focal point of your next gathering, why not opt for eye-catching items that will leave your guests thinking you spent hours in the kitchen? Thankfully, you don’t have to be a talented pastry chef to make a high-impact spread. A decadent, thaw-and-serve pie from your grocer's freezer can elevate the occasion in minutes, whether it's served straight out of the box or deconstructed into a new holiday creation.

To inspire your upcoming holiday bash, Kaelberer is sharing two recipes she crafted using crème pies that you can find in the frozen dessert aisle. You and your guests will be thrilled with the indulgent results.

Pumpkin Pie Budino

Ingredients

1 Edwards Pumpkin Crème Pie

32-ounce container whipped cream

1 cup caramel sauce

1 cup crushed graham crackers

Directions

Thaw pie slightly for 20 minutes.

Scoop out filling and set aside.

Pipe whipped cream layer into a glass.

Add caramel sauce layer, spoon or pipe pie filling layer, add crushed graham cracker layer.

Add a second layer of whipped cream, caramel sauce and pie filling.

Garnish with graham cracker and serve.

Turtle Pie Ice Box Cake

Ingredients

2 packages chocolate wafer cookies

2 16-ounce containers whipped cream

2 Edwards Turtle Pies

Directions

In a 9-inch cake ring or springform pan, arrange a layer of wafer cookies.

Spread a cup of whipped cream on top of the cookies, spreading out to the edges of the pan.

Gently press one frozen pie into the whipped cream.

Layer another round of wafer cookies on top of the pie, pressing in to avoid air gaps.

Place another cup of whipped cream on top and spread to the edges of the pan.

Repeat with another pie and gently press in.

Add a layer of wafer cookies and top with remaining whipped cream.

Add crushed wafer cookies on top for garnish.

Freeze overnight.

Remove the springform pan and fill in sides and edges of cake with remaining whipped cream.

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