Sometimes it's okay to finish a meal without a dessert, but not during the holidays. Holiday dinners are big, festive affairs, and they should end on as impressive a note as possible. But that doesn't mean dessert has to be complicated. To help you get the most oohs and ahs out of your desserts, here are three ways to decorate your sweet courses, no sweat or pastry skills required.
1. Dust a cake with tinted powdered sugar
My friend Adrianna Adarme showed me how to naturally color and flavor powdered sugar with freeze-dried fruit, and now I am totally obsessed with the technique. The sugar looks especially gorgeous on top of a simple Bundt cake baked in a geometric pan. All you have to do is blitz freeze-dried fruit (like strawberries or raspberries) with powdered sugar in a food processor, and then sift it over your favorite cake for a dramatic and tasty presentation.
2. Frost a cake with a spoon (and cover it with candied cranberries)
If you are short on kitchen gear, you can still decorate a beautifully rustic cake. Start by covering the cake with a thin layer of frosting and refrigerate it for about 30 minutes — you can totally use a butter knife for this. (It doesn't have to be perfect, but you're going to want to contain those crumbs.) Then grab a spoon and dollop billowy frosting swoops all over the surface. Top the frosted cake with a sprinkle of sparkly, candied cranberries too, if you like.
Candied cranberries are my very favorite holiday dessert decor, and they're pretty simple to make. Firs, make a batch of simple syrup by combining one cup of water and one cup of sugar in a saucepan, then cook the mixture (stirring occasionally) until the sugar is dissolved and let it cool it to room temperature. Soak a couple of cups of cranberries in the syrup and place them in the refrigerator overnight, then drain off the syrup, toss the cranberries in sugar, and lay them out in a single layer to dry completely. The final result is cranberries that taste like Sour Patch Kids and are totally beautiful on top of just about any dessert. They also look great on a cheese plate or as a cocktail garnish, so make extra if you're having a party! This look especially fancy served on a beautiful cake stand, like this one — extra points for dishing up slices with a matching cake server.
3. Decorate a simple tart with fruit
Fruit tarts are always super beautiful, but the classic concentric circles of kiwi slices, strawberries, orange segments, and blueberries are kind of boring — and so '90s. Instead of the usual suspects, choose fruit with interesting shapes and textures and make it messy, artfully. Try using figs, persimmon and plum slices, and grapes. It's extra dramatic when you choose fruit from one color family — think purple figs, purple grapes, and blackberries; or strawberries, raspberries, and red currants; or kumquats, persimmons, and apricots. When I place the fruit on the surface of the tart I like to start with the bigger pieces to anchor my "design." Then I start filling in with the smaller fruit. This is one of those no-wrong-way-to-do-it desserts though, so keep adding and adjusting until it feels right. Served on a pretty plate like this one, this artful dessert will steal the show — or bake your tart in a beautiful tart plate like this one, no further presentation required!
This story was originally published on Food52.com: The prettiest ways to decorate sweet treats (no pastry skills needed).