Holiday Entertaining Dessert Ideas

Jeni Britton Bauer has a better use for your cheese platter

Forget the cheese board: This year, swap Brie and Gouda for a different kind of dairy as you plan your holiday entertaining. Ice cream master Jeni Britton Bauer of eponymous Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams is here to guide you through her genius sundae board concept. Or, as we think of it, just one more reason to keep eating ice cream after Labor Day. 

The Rationale

"People never serve just one pint of ice cream at a party—it's always several," Britton Bauer explains. Guests like to feel involved, especially when there's a treat in the mix. "There's an element of individualism; each person can show off a little of their own taste and style." Besides, you've been eating Christmas cookies all season long—so why not switch up your usual holiday dessert layout?

The Setup

For ice cream flavors, you'll want one lighter option, a heavier contrast and a seasonally appropriate surprise. "Think of it just like you would a cheese board," she says, pointing out how this approach is the same as if you were laying out hunks of sharp cheddar next to creamy goat cheese. Her holiday collection is a good North Star for pint selection, with flavors like dark chocolate peppermint, boozy eggnog and, our personal favorite, The Matterhorn: honey ice cream with smoked almonds and white chocolate. 

As for numbers, Britton Bauer suggests three pints for a crowd of 12—though there's nothing wrong with a freezer full of leftovers. Then, set up the board with various toppings, taking texture, color and flavor into consideration. You'll want options for crunchy, sweet and fruity add-ons, plus a sauce to finish. And don't forget the aesthetics: "The more colorful you can make the board, the better," Britton Bauer says. For a final touch, she suggests herbs like juniper and rosemary, which also help give the board a fitting seasonal flair.

The Execution

"Skip scoopers and use cheese knives," Britton Bauer suggests, to "get the ice cream into character." Instead of spreading Brie onto a cracker, you're spreading dark chocolate peppermint onto a chocolate crinkle cookie. 

Start by digging out a slab of ice cream, then scatter it with toasted nuts and, because dessert isn't complete without more dessert, throw on something sweet. Gingerbread (Britton Bauer is a fan of this one from Lynne Rossetto Kasper), angel food cake and chopped-up doughnuts are all good options. Then, top it all off with hot fudge, caramel or a white chocolate shell, which acts like an edible glue for all the pieces of your ice cream masterpiece.

Now, sit back and enjoy the picture of guests all snug in their chairs, while visions of ice cream pints dance in their heads.