FEATURE — Thanksgiving hosts spend an average of $392 on Thanksgiving dinner, including food, drinks, dessert and decor. For many, it is the largest meal they will prepare all year and, for the hosts, the most stressful one too. However, it does not have to be stressful this year.

Photo by Nattakorn Maneerat/iStock/Getty Images Plus, St. George News

So, how do hosts end up spending so much on Thanksgiving dinner? A traditional Thanksgiving spread consists of turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy, cranberry sauce, vegetables and bread and butter. With several high-calorie entrees and sides served in one sitting, the average American consumes more than 4,500 calories during Thanksgiving dinner.

But wait, there’s more.

Despite dinner’s delectable calorie count, many still look forward to Thanksgiving desserts after eating the main meal. Traditional Thanksgiving dessert menu items often include pies — pumpkin, sweet potato, apple and pecan  — as well as cookies, brownies, babka and sugared pecans or walnuts.

Dessert table impresses guests, relieves the host

Depending on the size of the dinner party, a dessert spread can take up quite a bit of space at the main table or in the kitchen.

Incorporating a separate Thanksgiving dessert table benefits hosts and guests. It opens up space for food and dining at the main table and relieves hosts from making multiple trips to the kitchen or passing individual desserts to guests.

A dessert table creates a smoother traffic flow for buffet-style dinners where guests serve themselves.

In addition to the functional benefits of having a Thanksgiving dessert table, there are also aesthetic benefits. A Thanksgiving dessert table can be an eye-catching and impressive part of the meal. It gives guests something to look forward to, especially when the presentation and decor are carefully planned.

Volunteers working behind the scenes in the kitchen to serve thousands during the community Thanksgiving Dinner at Red Rock Canyon School, St. George, Utah, Nov. 28, 2019 | Photo by Cody Blowers, St. George News

Details matter on a dessert table

Creating an Instagram-worthy Thanksgiving table is more than just throwing the desserts on a table and calling it a day. Instead, the host needs to consider the space, table design, desserts, display and the decor. The good news is hosts can find many Thanksgiving dessert table ideas for all room sizes, budgets and preferences.

Smaller spaces can use a kitchen bar or countertop, a rolling bar cart or a small collapsible table, near the main dinner table. A separate folding table is good for larger rooms. It can be placed against a wall near the main table.

A tablecloth or table runner immediately adds a fancy touch to the table. Aim for warm, earthy colors like orange, plum, sage green, bronze or cream. Hosts can also use other seasonal decorations like leaves, small pumpkins, flameless candles or even string lights to fill in the spaces between the desserts and put a finishing touch on the dessert table.

The display platters help draw the guests’ eyes to the table. White serving dishes are an easy choice since they match all types of decor. Additionally, the desserts will stand out much more than when placed on a colorful platter.

Select one dessert as the table centerpiece and arrange the other desserts around it. A cake is an excellent centerpiece when placed on a tall cake stand in the middle. Arranging the desserts at different heights creates an attractive display.

Preparing dessert in advance saves time

According to Nationwide Insurance, Americans spend an average of seven hours preparing Thanksgiving dinner — just one hour less than the standard American workday. For families unable to take additional time from work, preparing Thanksgiving dinner must either start the night before or early in the day for a timely dinner. Fortunately, several desserts can be prepared in advance.

Dessert is prepared at the Shivwits Band of Paiute’s Thanksgiving dinner, Shivwits, Utah, Nov. 7, 2016 | Photo by Austin Peck, St. George News

Thanksgiving cookies are easy to prepare and store well for a couple of days at room temperature until ready to serve. Cookie dough and already-baked cookies can be frozen for up to two weeks in advance and thawed on Thanksgiving Day. Likewise, most Thanksgiving pies, including pumpkin or pecan, can be prepared and frozen up to two weeks in advance and thawed when ready to serve.

Baked goods such as brownies, muffins, dessert bars and sponge cakes can be prepared quickly a day or two before and safely stored at room temperature or refrigerated until Thanksgiving Day. Chocolate lovers can make fudge and chocolate bites a week or two in advance and freeze them until ready to serve.

For some desserts, fresh is best

While several desserts can be made in advance, some must be prepared fresh for the best taste and texture. Some ingredients may wilt or lose consistency, making them unstable and unusable later.

For example, if a dessert requires frosting or whipped cream as a topping or decoration, it is always best to make it fresh on the same day to keep its fluffy texture and appearance. No-bake cheesecakes are best when served the day they’re made since they lose their creamy texture and consistency after being refrigerated or frozen.

Homemade pecan dessert rolls from Cinna-Roller are shown, location and date unspecified | Photo courtesy of Mahonri Fawson, St. George News

Dessert table need not be stressful

Preparing Thanksgiving dinner is already time-consuming, and adding a dessert table only adds to the list of things to do. However, doing this does not need to be an unpleasant or stressful experience. Spatula Desserts provides the following baking tips for a better Thanksgiving:

Prepare the pans. Prepare baking pans by applying a thin layer of butter and flour to the pan, or by using parchment paper. Parchment paper is better than a silicone mat for cookies, since the moisture from the silicone may cause the bottom of the cookies to get wet.
Use room-temperature eggs. When baking, use room-temperature eggs so they emulsify and do their job correctly.
Keep pie crust ingredients cold. When making a pie from scratch, the pie crust dough is kept cold to prevent it from becoming too soft and difficult to use. Place the dough in the refrigerator or freezer to firm it back up if necessary.
Always use egg wash. When blind baking pie crust, apply an egg white egg wash to prevent the bottom from becoming soggy.
Drain pumpkin pie puree. Whether making homemade pumpkin puree or using store-bought, use a strainer to remove the excess liquid before using it in the recipe.
Fold ingredients with a spatula. A rubber spatula is helpful for recipes that require folding the ingredients together. A spatula will combine the ingredients without overmixing.
Use a digital scale and thermometer. Baking is a science requiring precision and accuracy. For the best results, weigh the ingredients with a digital scale and use a digital oven thermometer to make sure the oven is at the correct temperature
Avoid overmixing and overbaking. Avoid overmixing the ingredients and overbaking to prevent a dry, crumbly texture. Likewise, when making frosting, stop whipping as soon as the mixture is fluffy to prevent a runny consistency.

Stock photo | Photo by Drazen Zigic/iStock Getty Images Plus, St. George News

Putting the icing on the ‘Thanks’

While many factors go into why Thanksgiving is one of the most important American holidays, it’s not hard to see why the food and dessert are what many look forward to the most. It’s the one day when kitchens nationwide heat up as hosts put their heart and energy into cooking and baking entrees and desserts.

As heart-warming as it is to gather around the table with family and friends, there’s nothing like finishing the meal and gathering around a beautifully decorated Thanksgiving dessert table. It puts the icing on the “thanks” for all we have and all that’s yet to come.

Written by KATALIN NAGY via Wealth of Geeks for The Associated Press.

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