How to Design a Pastry Buffet

By | February 21st, 2018

Knowing which desserts will be most popular with members on the pastry buffet is a key part of the process.

Dessert tables and pastry buffets are true works of art, and club pastry chefs are applying their sweet eye for design to the layout of these delicious displays.

Brittani Brooker, Executive Pastry Chef of Ballantyne Country Club (Charlotte, N.C.), begins her design process by evaluating and researching the theme of an event. She then brainstorms clever ways to tie in her menu and display. Step one is making sure the pastries she selects for the sweet side marry well with whatever is being served on the savory side.

Ballantyne CC’s Executive Pastry Chef Brittani Brooker tries to incorporate multiple textures into her displays.

“We try to offer a lot of variety but still keep it cohesive,” she says. “If a member takes one of everything, all of those items need to make sense on the same plate.”

Brooker serves mostly mini-sized desserts, so members can try a few different items without feeling excessive. This also helps to keep the buffet looking plentiful, without as much waste.

Katie McAllister, Executive Pastry Chef of Winged Foot Golf Club (Mamaroneck, N.Y.), follows a similar strategy.

“I try to make all the mini-desserts a uniform size across the whole buffet,” she says. “Everything is either two, three or four bites.”

For both chefs, “minis” do more than allow members to indulge—they also make the buffet self-serving, which helps to keep labor costs in line.

“I like to incorporate a lot of different textures,” says Brooker, who has been with Ballantyne for nearly a year and offers up to 15 different desserts on the same buffet. “We’ll do tartes, verrines, panna cottas, macarons, petit fours, and truffles all at once. The best part is that they’re all self-contained, so it’s easy to replenish [the display] without needing a ton of plates.”

McAllister tends to keep it a bit smaller at Winged Foot. “Our membership is drawn less to huge buffets and gravitates more toward family-style platters,” she explains. “When we do buffets, the landscape and props are really important. We use a lot of cake stands [see photo, above] and large plates to give the display height and dimension, but still keep the perception of family-style service.”

Brooker loves to use cake stands in her displays, too, and both chefs rely on coming up with clever ways to showcase ingredients as part of the décor.

“A jar or a vase filled with an ingredient like chocolate chips or marshmallows is a beautiful way to tie a display together,” Brooker notes.

Winged Foot GC’s
Executive Pastry Chef,
Katie McAllister (below), likes to create varying levels in her pastry displays, like the one she made to celebrate National Chocolate Chip Cookie Day, to add visual interest.

The trick to a successful pastry buffet, the pastry chefs agree, is being able to predict which desserts will be especially appealing to members at any given event.

“My first year here, I was really into pavlova, so I made a ton of it for our Mother’s Day pastry display,” says McAllister, who prepares two and three desserts per person for each event. “The members barely touched them. Instead, they gravitated toward the chocolate chip cookies, which we ran out of pretty fast.”

Since then, McAllister has been steadfast in making sure chocolate chip cookies are on all of her pastry buffets. “Winged Foot members love cookies to the extreme,” she says. (So much so that the club recently did a pastry buffet to celebrate National Chocolate Chip Cookie day. It featured eight different versions of the classic cookie—from mini- to gluten-free—along with milk, of course.)

“Getting to know your membership is so important when you’re coming up with dessert buffets,” says Brooker, who learned early on that Ballantyne members love her scratch-made peanut butter cups. “We find ways to incorporate favorites, like the peanut butter cups. We also use buffets to introduce new items, to see how well they will be received.”

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