When I wrote the book For Good Times, one of the first tips we shared were how to make a dessert table. Here are the details from the book and photos of the mini cake & punch and treats tables I did for Zara’s Panda Party:
Behind your dessert table is often the most overlooked element and yet it can totally make or break the table especially in the photos. Possibly you are lucky and the party area already has pretty wallpaper or perfectly placed pictures. If not, opt for a blank wall and decorate with:
A printed custom canvas/poster (I used framed black and white photos of Hong Kong that were old and had been hanging up in Liam’s Gym).
A wall of ribbon
Removable Wall Stickers (I bought these Chinese wall stickers years and years ago; and use them everyyear for Chinese New Year).
The most exciting part of a dessert table is often the decorations that “frame” the table from above. First and foremost, assess whether your venue allows for the fastening of items from above. If successful, consider options like Chinese paper lanterns, tissue paper poms, paper daisies. If you are not able to hang items, a similar look can be achieved using helium balloons. At the Panda Party the lanterns really set the tone and I loved the hanging ribbons. I even found a mini set from IKEA and tied ribbon tails to the bottoms too.
A weathered wooden or colourful trestle table can be left bare. Or opt for a floor length tablecloth and patterned runners. Here, I displayed everything on sideboards, so no table linen needed. Do measure your table beforehand so as to ensure a good fit; and importantly assist with spacing out the items that will sit on the table.
VARIATONS OF HEIGHT
Whilst an obvious tip, be sure that your tall items are placed at the back of your table and the smallest ones at the front. Height is created by covering polystyrene cubes in wrapping paper. For easy options look out for pre-covered gift boxes, nesting suitcases and overturned wooden crates. These bamboo boxes I found at IKEA and are my new favourite platform. They also work especially well with raising the glass dispenser of juice.
Even though the main focus of the table will be the sweets and treats, it is a good idea to incorporate other decorative elements to set off your sweet things and this is a good way to fill up the table without the often more costly option of food items. Think flowers, decorative ornaments – in fact an additional table centrepiece or two on either side of the table makes a good choice. Avoid candles, as their fragrance will interfere with the food. The giant glass vase my neighbout gifted me perfectly house some greenery and by placing the box filled with pandas in the centre of the treats table, it didn’t look “odd” that there were only a few jars of sweets (afterall there were only nine guests!). Empty gaps were filled with vases of tulips and bamboo and panda figurines.
More often than not, a cake on a cake stand is placed in the centre and sufficiently tiered to be the highlight of the table. If your cake is “too short” elevate your cake stand on top of a covered box. Also, asymmetrical placing of the cake to one side is also pleasing to the eye especially for an overall informal look.
Glass Jars, Metal Buckets, Over Turned Hats, Ceramic or Glass Footed, Compotes, and Bowls are needed to hold the sweet treats, particularly loose candy. Opt for items in clear glass or white; thereby forming a neutral base to show off the sweets and start a collection that can be used for future tables.
White ceramic platters or plates will display stand-alone treats like cupcakes and cookies. For a crafty idea use mirrors or glass frames and fasten small knobs at each corner for feet. These not only elevate the goodies off the table but allow for one to cut down on the surface area needed to be filled with treats.
BAKED GOODIES Favourites to include are iced cupcakes, cake pops, iced cookies, macaroons, whoppie pies.
NO BAKE GOODIES Jellies and mousses are best made and displayed in small glass jars or shooter glasses, complete with teaspoons tied on with twine. Pretzels dipped in chocolate, candy floss and flavoured popcorn are easy to add treats. For the panda party these “bamboo” treats were a hit!
Marshmallows, Lollipops, Liquorice, Dragee Almonds, Chocolate Bars, Mints, Gumballs. Sweets are probably the most costly element of the table, as even a small jar requires a lot of candy. Therefore, consider using small footed glass jars with pretty lids and decorate the tops with ribbon bows. As I wasn’t able to get real Chinese candy in Switzerland I opted for colour co-ordinating it: all red, white and black.
The little details make all the difference therefore be sure to add little labels or place cards naming the goods on offer. Decorate with the Printable Party Party Circle Tags and Food Flags fastened onto toothpicks or skewers. I used these Sips and Treats signs too.
Always have little plates, treat bags or boxes alongside so that your guests can fill up on the goodies and have the option to take some home. Naturally, I was over the mooon finding proper Chinese takeaway shaped boxes from Butlers.
FILL IT UP
Lastly, if your table is particularly large and you need to fill in some gaps, consider incorporating your drinks as part of the table, similarly one can add other party favours to the other end of the table.