Desserts to Bring to Dinner

By Ann Mazzaferro

Bringing dessert to a dinner party takes a load off of the shoulders of your host. Before planning your contribution to the party, ask your host what will be served at dinner so that your dessert can complement the rest of the menu. Ask how many guests will be attending as well as the occasion for the dinner and if it will be a casual or formal affair.

Cookies are a simple and delicious dessert for a casual dinner party.

Casual Dinners

An informal event with family or close friends calls for a light-hearted, fun dessert. A build-your-own ice cream sundae bar would be a welcome addition to a barbecue or festive summer dinner. Bring two flavors of ice cream (chocolate and vanilla are crowd-pleasers) as well as a variety of toppings. Make cleanup easy by offering to bring paper bowls and plastic utensils. Cookies of any flavor are another good casual option, but check with your host to see if any of the guests have nut allergies, as many cookie recipes call for nuts and nut products. Cookbook author Dede Wilson recommends combining cookies and ice cream by making your own ice cream sandwiches. Bring freshly baked cookies and different flavors of ice cream, allowing guests to create their own sandwich sensation.

Formal Dinners

An elegant buffet or dinner party requires a more impressive dessert than a backyard picnic. Cakes are an excellent option, especially when prepared from recipes by famous chefs. Martha Stewart serves a pear pavlova for an elegant dinner. The crisp meringue cake is topped with sweetened whipped cream and poached pears, but any seasonal fruit would be appropriate. Thomas Keller, chef of the award-winning French Laundry and Per Se restaurants, serves a pineapple upside-down cake that features rum and fresh pineapple, not canned.

Healthy Desserts

A selection of fresh, seasonal fruits is a light and elegant finish to a meal. Pair them with a low-fat yogurt dipping sauce. Dipping strawberries and other fruits in melted dark chocolate and allowing them to set in the fridge until firm makes a healthy yet decadent dessert. Dark chocolate, in moderation, delivers a dose of antioxidants and plant phenols that were proven to lower blood pressure in a 2003 study conducted by the University of Cologne in Germany.

Desserts for a Crowd

If you've been invited to a neighborhood block party or a large potluck dinner, recipes that can be easily doubled or tripled ensure that everyone gets their just desserts. Carrie Vasios of Serious Eats recommends carrot sheet cake, which yields 15 servings per batch, or a pan of pecan pie bars, which makes 36 servings and can be prepared the day before your event. Fresh fruit salad, cookies and brownies are also great dessert options for large groups of people, and you can use prepared rolls of cookie dough to save on preparation time.