Show & Tell Q & A: Jenny Keller on dessert tables

Jenny Keller is the creative baking mastermind behind Jenny Cookies where she crafts lovely and elegant dessert tables and also teaches treat decorating classes. She recently put together an amazing treats display for Bachelor alum Molly Mesnick inspired by Animals Born Free party decor by Minted designer 2birdstoneRead on for tips from Jenny on putting together your own dessert table.

What are the three things you should keep in mind when planning a dessert table?

How many guests: This will tell you how big of a table you need to create. With a small group (8-10), a simple display of 3 pretty cake plates filled with cupcakes, cookies, and a small cake can be quite stunning. When you have a larger group, you may need to add a couple more desserts. Be sure to keep in mind that you don’t need one of each dessert per guest. 1.5-2/desserts per person is what I suggest to all of my clients.

Time of day: Is your event in the morning? Most likely your guests are not going to want a major sugar rush at 10am. Opt for a beautiful display of mini breakfast/brunch items. Mini pancakes stacked with a pretty food pick, mini yogurt parfaits, mini scones, mini cinnamon rolls, etc.

If your event falls during lunch or dinnertime, be sure to take into consideration what other foods you are serving. If you are serving a large lunch or dinner, it’s always great to have a take-home box for your guests, so they can enjoy them later.

Display: For me, it’s all about presentation. A plainly decorated white cupcake can go from simple to stunning when placed on a gorgeous cake stand. Don’t stress about purchasing an entire line of cake plates, use what you already own or research a local rental company in your area. Plan your display ahead of time. If you have 5 cake plates/pedestals, plan for 5 desserts. If you have 9, you don’t need 9 different desserts, but plan on having two cake plates of each dessert displayed.

What are your top tips for turning out such insanely picture-perfect cookies?

It must be the thousands of sugar cookies I’ve decorated over the years that I’m able to handle them with such care. I teach cookie classes here in Seattle, and students always ask the same question. I reassure each of them that we all have to start somewhere and practice really does make perfect. No one has ever done it perfect the first time, and like anything, the more you do it, the better you get!

Another tip I give my students is less is more. When you are decorating a cookie, be simple. Don’t over decorate. Simple is actually much more appealing than a cookie with five different icing colors, trying to squeeze in every single detail. It ends up looking sloppy, and leaves you with more clean up!

Where do you go for inspiration as a starting point or theme? 

My ultimate inspiration for every party always starts with the invitation. I truly believe the invitation sets the stage for the party, so I am extremely picky when I am choosing/designing the invite. It’s the first piece of the party that the guest will see so it should make a statement. Whether it’s a pink envelope in the mail, a sparkly hand addressed label, or a message in a bottle sitting in their mailbox, it should have a wow factor. I want the guest to open it and gasp with how cute it is, and immediately look forward to attending the party.

Once the invitation has been chosen, I pull colors and theme from it. For example, we used Minted’s Animals Born Free invitation for the Mesnick shower, which had a green, yellow, white, and gray color scheme with baby animals. To incorporate the invitation into the dessert table, I pulled the colors and animals into the desserts, with animal shaped sugar cookies, and decorated the cakes and cupcakes with green and white icing. To include the gray, desserts were set on gray cake plates, and Minted’s striped straws were used in as the cake lollipop sticks. In addition to the gray cake plates, I used white and green cake plates as well. Adding yellow cake plates to the mix was a bit overboard, so instead, we did more of the yellow color in the actual desserts.

Lastly, any short-cuts for us busy, busy types?

Like most moms, I have my hands full. When I am running out of time, I opt for a cake mix over a from-scratch recipe. There are so many great recipes out there on how to doctor up your cake mixes. From adding pudding and extra eggs, to actual fruit mixed in to the recipe. If you have even the slightest knowledge of cookie/cake decorating, you can also order a plainly decorated cake from your local bakery, and add the finishing touches yourself. You can attach fondant shapes easily, even with no experience. If you’ve ever worked with play-doh, you’ll be fine 🙂

If you are unlike us busy moms and do have the prep time we all dream of, plan ahead! Bake your sugar cookies a week in advance and freeze them until they are ready to decorate. Make your icing ahead of time and store in the refrigerator until it’s time to use it. Getting as much done BEFORE the night before the party helps alleviate all the stress surrounding throwing a party. There is nothing worse than decorating the cake at 3am the night before the party.

Photographs by Lisi Mezistrano Wolf and Jenny Keller.

Find more of Natasha on her blog.

  1. Minted has by far the best wedding blog. I would eat everything on that dessert table and share nothing 🙂

  2. janette

    The real depths of Molly, some of us know very well, and maybe all will know eventually.
    Well wishes!