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The best way to keep party guests entertained and happy: a DIY dessert bar. A sophisticated plate of sweets will encourage guests to munch, mingle—and stay out of the kitchen. Renowned food writer Mark Bittman
reveals the perfect formula for making the crowd-pleaser in his new book Kitchen Matrix
. You’ll need: (1) a base, (2) fillings and (3) toppings. Sturdy bakery cookies including ladyfingers, biscotti, shortbread and mini pie crusts make the best vessels. Bittman suggests whipped cream, lemon pudding or ricotta whipped with honey as a filling. If you intend on leaving ingredients out for more than an hour or two
, try thinned raspberry jam (just warm it) for a more hands-off approach. "The animating spirit behind the dessert bar is endless variety," Bittman says. For toppings, try caramel popcorn, almond brittle, toasted coconut, macerated strawberries, and chocolate, butterscotch or caramel sauce—and anything else that would taste good on a sundae.