As I mentioned last week, I have been cooking up a storm. Thanksgiving weekend brought a surprise birthday party for my mom (it was a big one!) that had been in the works since the summer. Thankfully, the person who was co-hosting the party with me agreed that making appetizers and dessert would be plenty of work; the dinner food was to be catered. And we all know how much fun just making apps and dessert can be!!

After months of debating what to make I finally decided on making a few apps and the birthday cake (for 50 people) since I took Wilton Course 1 and 2 classes over the summer – making the cake on my own would also save us a boat-load of money compared to what a bakery would charge.


After testing out a new recipe for some delicious tartletts a few weeks ago, I automatically knew that they would make the final cut for the party. For a dip, I considered Ina’s smoked salmon dip but was worried that it wouldn’t appeal to the masses at the party so I opted for Knorr’s vegetable dip in a pumpernickel bread bowl surrounded by fresh broccoli florets and baby carrots. Lastly for my part of the appetizers, I wanted something a little fun, a little different, and not incredibly labor-intensive. I went for Ina’s Cheese Straws that I’ve been eying since I received Barefoot in Paris last winter.


Since I had to make most of the food at home in Connecticut and transport it to Long Island for the party, I decided to leave the cheese straws to make on Saturday after I got to LI.  My chef-in-training teenage cousin is always more than willing to jump in and get her hands dirty so I left the cheese straws up to her while I finished decorating the cake.  My cousin is currently undergoing chemo treatments for Hodgkin’s Lymphoma (notice how she’s sporting her new doo!?  This pic is of her and my brother while he makes his app – chili and cheese cups – which were awesome) and this is just the kind of activity she loves to get involved with when she’s feeling well enough. It was the first time she’s worked with puff pastry so making the straws took a few extra minutes but her mom also jumped into help twist them up. She wasn’t aware that the pastry dough needed to be kept chilled so there was a bit of back and forth between the fridge and the countertop. Regardless of the preparation issues, the cheese straws turned out beautiful and were just outstanding – I heard lots of “yums” at the party for the straws.


Next up on my party menu was dessert. My original plan was to make a 14″ round cake in none other than a slight variation of my most favorite homemade cake: Peanut Butter Cup. But I got nervous about serving a peanut butter cake to 50 people and I knew of at least one guest with a peanut butter allergy. So I thought an assortment of mini desserts would be perfect. I downsized the cake to 12″ round [to serve about 40 people] and added [2 dozen each] mini brown sugar apple cheesecakes, mini plain cheesecakes, and mini orange chocolate chunk Bundt cakes. Admittedly, I used 2 boxed cake mixes (Duncan Hines Chocolate Fudge) for the cake (1 box for each 12″ cake round) because I was just so exhausted from cooking (plus Thanksgiving day cooking!) by the time I needed to make the cake. I put a thick layer of Wilton chocolate buttercream (see recipe below) between the layers and loaded up chopped up peanut butter cups on top of the buttercream. On the bottom of the top cake layer (where the layer meets the pb cups), I smeared a good amount of peanut butter frosting (see this recipe in the pb cup cake link above) to help the pb cups adhere to the top cake layer. The entire cake was frosted in the pb frosting and decorated with the chocolate buttercream.


Believe you me, these desserts were time-consuming but SO worth the time!! I made the cheesecakes up to a week in advance and froze them in zipper bags; they took about 15-20 minutes to thaw the night of the party. In order to get them to LI for the party, I packed them in a little cooler with ice packs so they would stay frozen until right before they were to be put out. The effect of the mini desserts and the oversized peanut butter dream cake was one that I will not soon forget. Guests went absolutely nuts over all of the desserts. In fact, there were no mini desserts and only about 3 slices of cake left at the end of the night – keep in mind there were only 5o people at this party!!! From what I understand, there were questions about which bakery the cake was purchased from. The ultimate compliment. Seriously.



I had a wonderful time prepping for this party and got to spend some much-needed time with some family in the process. Like I mentioned, cooking for this party tested my endurance in the kitchen but the results of how everything turned out was evident by the lack of leftovers. No matter the fatigue, it was all well-worth the effort because it was all for my mom, who has never hosted a party that she hasn’t gone all-out for.


Wilton Chocolate Buttercream

source: Wilton

  • 1 cup solid vegetable shortening
  • 2 -4 tbsp water
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 1 lb ( ~ 4 cups) confectioners sugar
  • 1 tbsp Wilton Meringue Powder
  • pinch salt
  • 3/4 cup cocoa (I used Hershey’s)

Cream shortening, water and vanilla. Gradually add in dry ingredients and mix on medium speed until all ingredients have been thoroughly together. Blend an additional minute, until creamy.

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Leave a Comment

  • Melissa
    December 8, 2008 at 2:04 PM

    Wow Tara! Everything looks AMAZING! What a great thing to do for your mom!

  • December 8, 2008 at 2:33 PM

    What a successful looking party!

  • December 8, 2008 at 10:46 PM

    Everything looks so great! I really want one of those mini bundts…

  • joelen
    December 9, 2008 at 12:27 PM

    What a fabulous spread! Looks great and delicious 🙂

  • December 9, 2008 at 4:49 PM

    Wow – nice job! Everything looks great and your cake is beautiful!

  • Linda Smith
    April 27, 2009 at 1:16 PM

    New to this wonderful site… what kind of pans did you use to bake the mini cheesecakes? Thanks!

    • smellslikehome
      May 4, 2009 at 12:44 PM

      Linda, I used these pans by Norpro.

  • Cheryl
    January 25, 2010 at 8:51 PM

    I would like to make the mini cheesecakes in my Norpro pans. How many would the batter yield? They look absolutely delicious.

  • February 2, 2010 at 9:31 AM

    […] PS – the chocolate buttercream recipe (also vegan) can be found here. […]