Winter Holiday Dessert Bar

By Sharon Naylor

September 17, 2010 5 min read

The perfect end to your perfect holiday party is a great dessert. But when you have such a diverse guest list of extended family, kids, friends and guests' significant others coming to meet the family for the first time, it can be difficult to predict which desserts will please everyone. Your perfect solution: Allow guests to customize their own desserts at your dessert bar. They choose their favorite flavors and add their choices of toppers, and everyone's in dessert heaven, especially kids who are picky eaters and guests who cannot have nuts or dairy products.

A great dessert bar offers multiple options in both the base (such as a brownie) and the toppings, and the best rule of thumb is to have three to four base options and six to eight topping options. Even with so many edible choices, the dessert bar is still a smart budget entertaining choice because the elements can be purchased in bulk from a warehouse store, such as Costco, and on sale at the grocery, with extra savings thanks to, or can be homemade (also with extra savings per box of mix or toppings at So if your party budget is limited, the dessert bar may be the perfect option for your celebration.

Before you choose your dessert bar theme, keep in mind that you can have more than one. Set two long tables up on opposite sides of your party room; you now have stations for your cupcake bar, your brownie bar, your sundae bar or other dessert building options. Cover each table with a tablecloth, and bring out your silver platters, crystal serving bowls and square dessert plates from the party supply store; you've assembled the same exciting, engaging dessert buffet that five-star resorts arrange for their own dessert bars. You even can decorate your bar with holiday-chic white floral arrangements and scattered Christmas ornaments on the table between the serving platters for an extra-festive look.

Here are the most popular dessert bar themes, according to caterers from the National Association of Catering Executives and the top-ranking results at and

*Cupcake Bar

Base: Buy or make regular-sized cupcakes in the following flavors: vanilla, chocolate, lemon and especially red velvet for that holiday flair.

Toppings: vanilla frosting, chocolate frosting, cream cheese frosting, lemon frosting, chocolate chips, coconut, crushed clear rock candy, M&M's and holiday sprinkles. Set each topper in its own bowl with a serving spoon.

*Sundae Bar

Base: ice cream, frozen yogurt or gelato in your choice of flavors: standard vanilla and chocolate, as well as more gourmet blends, such as butter pecan, black cherry and your favorite Ben & Jerry's flavors.

Toppings: holiday-colored sprinkles, chocolate chips, peanut butter chips, cherries, caramel sauce, raspberry sauce, chocolate sauce and fresh whipped cream.

*Pudding Bar

Base: Similar to the sundae bar, but you're serving a range of puddings instead of ice cream for a unique twist and the comfort taste of childhood. Popular flavors include vanilla and chocolate, pistachio, lemon and rice pudding.

Toppings: chocolate chips, peanut butter chips, sprinkles and whipped cream.

*Brownie Bar

Base: Bought or homemade brownie squares, such as chocolate, double chocolate chunk, blondies and macadamia nut.

Toppings: ice cream, frozen yogurt and gelato in a range of flavors, whipped cream, caramel sauce, wet walnuts, dry walnuts, sprinkles, chocolate chips, cherries, candied fruits and chocolate chunks.

*Trifle Bar

Base: Your guests fill their bowls with squares of cake, perhaps chocolate cake or poundcake, and then add in the toppings, layering as they go.

Toppings: pudding, chocolate chips, peanut butter chips, M&M's, coconut shavings, nuts, caramel sauce, chocolate sauce, strawberry sauce and whipped cream.

*S'mores Bar

Base: graham crackers, plain or cinnamon.

Toppings: marshmallows, chocolate bar squares in dark, milk or white chocolate, hazelnut spread, marshmallow fluff, nuts and berry preserves.

*Dippers Bar

Rather than bases and toppings, this one is fruit chunks and poundcake squares for dipping into chocolate sauce, caramel sauce, puddings and whipped cream -- a twist on the fondue pot or the chocolate fountain, as each sauce is presented in a bowl or on a votive Sterno and your guests use party-themed toothpicks to dip their favorite treats into their favorite sauces.

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