Friday, May 7, 2010

Dessert is for Eating

I care about aesthetics. I admit to myself that (some of) the details matter. But that doesn't mean that the important details matter aesthetically.  In fact, it only matters that they're right, whatever that means to you.

Case in point: dessert.

We all know that wedding cake is held up as the epitome of wedding dessert. And this makes sense. It's an impressive architectural achievement.  It can be stunningly pretty and even artistic. And, when not made with fondant, it can be darn tasty. Mmm buttercream.

Wedding Cake-as-Art by Fantasy Frostings

Wedding cake with fresh blueberries that I want to EAT RIGHT NOW via Fantasy Frostings

However, for those of us without a yen (or budget) for architectural cake-art who still want to serve dessert, the wedding world isn't always helpful. We know that cake alternatives exist, put they're still generally treated as second class citizens by our parents, friends and communities. For some reason, cupcakes generally get a stamp of approval (though the wedding blogosphere continues on with its absolutely silly debate about whether these particular dessert trends are overdone), but we're less likely to see the humble brownie or cookie extolled.

And I think I know why: It's because brownies and cookies aren't "pretty enough." It's because a platter of brownies aren't nearly as stylistically stunning as a table of cake (in either its tiered or cake buffet forms). That ooey gooey chocolate may taste delicious, but it looks like a lump of brown on a plate. Cookies may be scrumptious, but a pile of chocolate chip cookies versus a pile of oatmeal raisin cookies doesn't send planners and blog editors (and therefore engaged folks) into spasms of oh-my-freaking-goodness-that's-so-cuuuuuute-I-must-have-it-at-my-weeeeeeeeeding. Cute desserts, even if made cute by the simple-but-stylish buffet, get a pass. Compare:

Cupcakes by Sweet Emilia Jane, photos by Corbin Gurkin

Stylish dessert buffet by Sweet Emilia Jane

Bundt cake buffet via Stephanie Williams Photography

Cookie buffet via New York Times

For comparison's sake, go to Google Images and type in "brownie." You'll end up with pages of images of ooey gooey deliciousness but, despite the opportunity to get rich fudgy chocolate all over your fingers and bellies, as "wedding inspiration", they don't seem to be as aspirational (the fools).


Instead, if you Google "wedding brownie," this is the first thing you get:

Brownie-covered favors from beau-coup

No? You wanted something to actually eat? TOO BAD. Brownies aren't cute enough for weddings. Unless they're shaped like wedding cakes

This picture's floating all over the internet

This is ridiculous. Dessert is for eating, not display. Yes, you can have both, but there's no shame in meh-looking-but-overwhelmingly-tasty brownie and cookie mishmashes on meh-looking platters. None. The point is that they should taste delicious. End of story. Eff fondant, eff needing succulent sprigs in your bundt cakes, and eff the necessary cuteness in dessert.

Perhaps I'm a bit sensitive about this right now, but it's only because we just discovered the mostfreakingamazingdessertofalltime. Yes, really, the mostfreakingamazingdessertofalltime (or at least until I get one of those gooey brownies.) And, luckily for us, these incredible desserts are the singular creation of our front-runner mobile truck caterer option, the Border Grill Truck (gourmet, sustainable, modern Mexican food from the absolutely incredible chefs and restaurateurs Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger). They are melt-in-your-mouth-amazing. And we could easily have them at our wedding for very little additional cost.

I bet you're wondering what they are, right? Well, before I reveal anything, I have to warn you that these are possibly the ugliest freaking desserts of all time. No, really, they are balls ugly. Yes, balls ugly. Because they are little literally balls of dulce de leche infused churros, fried and coated in cinnamon and sugar.  And they are hideous looking. Behold:

 Border Grill Truck churro tots, courtesy of Gourmet Pigs

Balls ugly. And yet, I've never had a more heavenly bite of fried sweet deliciousness. Ever. They were doughy and warm on the inside, and the dulce de leche flavor literally melted in my mouth. But of course, there was prefect fried crisp coated in cinnamon and sugar on the outside to wrap this contained bit of churro perfection.

And yes, as much as Jason and I loved the Border Grill Truck food as a wedding catering option, it took a moment to wrap our head around the possibility of the churro tots as our wedding dessert option too. Why? You only need to see the picture above to figure out why: Balls. Ugly brown balls. Ugly brown balls best served warm and not on a buffet. But you know what? I don't care anymore. If we hire Border Grill Truck, we're getting churro balls, pretty buffet be damned. And I can tell you right now, my guests would definitely loooooove them. They would be a detail that matters: because they would be right, and they would be delicious. And that's all that really matters.


(Obviously this does not mean that pretty desserts aren't tasty or worthwhile. I'm having a tough time deciding between a buffet-of-amazingness baked or styled by Emilia Jane or the churro balls. Both are incredible options, obviously. And I know which one my mother would vote for. But she hasn't tried the churros. And I just like good dessert. Decisions decisions.)

48 comments:

  1. Amen to this post, Becca! If I were a guest at your wedding, I would devour those balls (and then lick my fingers). I find that most guests just go with the flow at weddings. For example, if you have a big, beautiful wedding cake, they expect it. But if you serve something else, they gobble that right up (and probably appreciate the uniqueness).

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  2. I say go for the deliciousness!!! Or if the churro balls aren't a crazy expensive add on you could still have a (smaller) dessert buffet?! AND I would love to see some excessive and unnecessary signage just so it could say "churro balls" b/c that's awesome! Personally I'm not into "weddingy" wedding cakes, and actually prefer the more homemade dessert buffet- cookies, brownies, small (not mini) cakes etc...AND now I wanna go bake a deliciously not beautiful yellow cake with gooey chocolate frosting, but I'm gonna refrain seeing as it's not even 8 in the morning yet! :)

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  3. powdered sugar, girl.

    powder-sugar the hell out of those puppies.

    and then throw them in some vintage jadeite or some ish, and you're blog-worthy-golden (which, i know, is your highest aspiration in life)

    our plates of brownies and choc chip cookies looked just lovely, thankyouverymuch.

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  4. and also.

    is a nice big "both" out of the option...? just sayin. i never get enough dessert (obv).

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  5. AH! Thank you so much for posting this right now! The wedding is being a jerk and I needed this to jerk me back in the right direction. I was just about to say eff it and throw money at my dessert problem, but NO! I'm totally going back to asking people to make stuff for me. Whatever it is they are good at. Pies? Sweet - make em. Cheesecake? Hells yeah! Gimme some of that! Ugly brown balls of fried stuff? Do it up!
    And parents can just pooh on their formal ideas and enjoy what delicious goodness will be in store.
    Amen.

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  6. what made me the most p-o'd was when I read this RIDICULOUS article on earthfriendlyweddings about how OF COURSE our wedding cakes reflected the relationship-personality of the couple. WTF??? Seriously?? The article went ON about how the cake was THE visual message sent to guests telling them about our personality and essential to "get right".
    Give me a break. A piece of cake and fondant is NOT going to make or break my wedding. And I highly doubt that people give two sh*ts about the cake- they are there for our MARRIAGE.

    -breathe-

    we are having Pies made by my mom. we're getting married in October, perfect for local organic apples, she makes kick bum pies, she offered to make ten and freeze them- easy.

    Andrew requested a cupcake each for ourselves, cuz he likes them and that is as "traditional" as we get. we will cut the cupcakes for us, and everyone can eat yummy apple pies. :)

    awesome post.

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  7. You had me at churro balls, Becca. I can't wait! Eff the dessert buffet. Arrange the delectable balls on some beautifully tiered platters, drown them in powdered sugar, and Voila!

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  8. omg, churro balls sound so amazing!!! if you love them and they're affordable, go for it. confectionary sugar those bad boys, and put some fruit around them or something. that'll add some color to the table. or you could try to do both if that's even an option.
    i'm with you on desserts besides wedding cake. the wedding cake is included in the price of our venue, so we just pick out flavors and a simple design, but i'm just not a big wedding cake person. i prefer brownies and chocolate caramels (or sweet plaintains) any day.

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  9. i'm gonna add a third comment, so you can go ahead and block me from taking over your site.

    but can i say i'm NOT a cake person. but my mom wanted a cake. and i'm all about the compromise. so we just found an AHmazing tasting cake. like. "if i could only eat one thing for the rest of my life, i'd eat this" cake.

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  10. i want those churro balls RIGHT NOW. I don't know if you can really go wrong with desert - it's hard to make sugary treats look bad. And I DO think cookies and brownies are pretty...

    i dunno. maybe i just don't see the big deal in a stunning dessert bars. i'm probably alone in that. all of our sugary foods are going to be homemade...no pro looking...no professionally/artistically arranged...and i don't even give it a 2nd thought.

    it could be that i'm terribly un-chic.

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  11. ... give me those. Now. My mouth is watering. Those sound absolutely amazing, and I'm sure your guests would rather have a finger-lickin but ugly ball of deliciousness than an utterly forgettable but pretty piece of cake.

    And I'm not sure why I hadn't thought of this before, but suddenly it occurs to me to check with the tapas restaurant we're having cater about non-traditional desserts. Mmmmmmmm.

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  12. Both is not out of the question at all. I've always wanted a red velvet cake for my wedding - nothing wedding cake-y, just cake - and we have incredible baker friends, so a homemade buffet plus churro balls could well happen. And, um, Emilia's flavor list of baked good is to-die-for (http://sweetemiliajane.blogspot.com/2008/11/desserts.html), so I might want a set of cupcakes too. Just because.

    Have I mentioned I love dessert?

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  13. Oh my god, please, please serve those!! My mouth is watering right now... I would pay the bride and groom to serve me churro balls at a wedding. Fried sugary dough beats every other dessert, hands down.

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  14. Dammit, Bec! I'm reading this at work, and it's making me hungry...

    I echo the sentiments of the other post-ers: It's your wedding, you guys should serve what you like without regard to whether or not it will make for a good photo op. You know your guests are going to have a blast regardless of the meal's presentation.

    P.S. - the pics of the Bundt cakes with the plants in the middle kind of frightened me. I'd be afraid that bugs would crawl out of the plants and into my slice of cake. The last thing anyone wants in their food it something moving...

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  15. I actually don't like wedding cake, even though it's pretty. I don't like cake at all, and I never have. Every birthday, I request ice cream cakes, because I like ice cream, not cake. ;)

    Ugly dessert sounds great and tasty and way better than pretty cake!

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  16. i so wish I was eating those right now instead oc arrot sticks for lunch! do it up, they look delicious and i totally agree with liz about powdered sugar if you are concerned about their look. but kep in mind, french fries aren't pretty and who isn't super psyched to see and eat those? fried is always good in my book

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  17. Those are the most beautiful balls I have ever seen. And you know how much I love BALLS.... I would eat the SHIT out of those and wouldn't care at ALL that they weren't considered "wedding pretty". fuck that shit. i like tasty. flavor ALWAYS wins in the end for me. And PS... I had one bite of the cake from a wedding I just attended, and it wasn't anything special. I'd take ugly balls over pretty cake any damn day.

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  18. Dude, jump on my CREPE CAKE bandwagon! Tell me this doesn't get the saliva flowing:

    http://www.charlestoncrepecompany.com/crepecake_zoom.html

    Due to catering rules and regulations at our venue we can't have this for all of our guests, but you can bet your pretty behind I'm getting one for the rehearsal dinner.

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  19. @Bowie Bride - I thought you'd appreciate the balls.

    @Kerry - that looks amazing! I would eat those crepes all up in a hot second.

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  20. Churro balls of awesome! Those things are amazing, and so many options (powdered sugar, cinamon and sugar, honey, glaze). Mmmm. Sweet fried doughy goodness.

    Besides I have never eaten a wedding cake that tasted like something I actually wanted to finish chewing and swallow. Who wants to eat week-old pre-frozen cake smothered in wax? Blech.

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  21. I am all about this. We're doing a brownie "cake" at our wedding. I'm dressing it up by putting Duncan Hines brownies on a cupcake stand and probably putting powdered sugar on them and a "cake topper" on top. I will not care if anyone thinks my "cake" is ugly - They are BROWNIES and delicious. My favorite dessert = happiness. That's all that matters.

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  22. Ha ha! When we started talking about a wedding, I sat down with my various sets of parents and asked them to start thinking about it as well, because I'd like to know in advance if there are specific traditions that matter to each of them.

    My dad, with absolutely no hesitation, blurted out - "No sheet cake! I like round, layered cakes only". Um, okay. That's his main concern with the wedding. I can take that. But strange. Apparently, having the traditional cake cutting photo means A LOT to him, a fairly nontraditional cowboy type. Who knew?

    BUT, those fried dough balls would win my heart. And seriously, anything looks wedding blog worthy if you hire a good enough photographer. They'll do that shoot where someone is delicately holding said fried dough balls in front of their face or something and the balls are in focus and the face is grinning. I can see it in my head. I think that's why I get disillusioned with wedding blog photos. You look at them long enough and you realize a huge part of it is just the photographer, not the actual wedding.

    Um, not bashing that at all, either. I love great photography. Just noting that IF great photographs are what someone wants (I openly admit that I probably will), then they should spend the money on a fabulous photographer, rather than going all out on details and then hiring a semi good photog.

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  23. . . . "dulce de leche infused churros, fried and coated in cinnamon and sugar . . . "

    *drool*

    No, really. I just wiped my mouth with a napkin.

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  24. mmmm churro balls. we're going to have a small cake made by my grandmother who has made cakes for every occasion ever. She made my parent's wedding cake and my mom was like "just don't have expectations. stubbornness runs in the family so even if you tell her what you want, she'll do whatever she wants. it'll be beautiful though." hah. We're not really cake people so grandma can do her thing, and then we're thinking chocolate fountain/fondue, cheesecake (fiance's fave) and i'm currently seeking out the impossible task of cheap creme brulee (my fave)

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  25. The only thing that matters at a wedding is the pretty factor. Silly girl, don't you know that by now?

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  26. @cupcake - I am now bursting into a stressball of uncontrollable tears because you reminded me of what I have always known in my heart of hearts.

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  27. becca, i think you just solved my dessert worries. F cakes. brownies all the way. and even if it's too hot outside, they'll be all gooey and delish. thanks!

    p.s. those churro balls are outta sight!!!!

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  28. I'll say this - I really loved cutting our wedding cake. For us the no-cake option was never an option, since we knew we were going to be cutting it with my grandfather's saber. Not only was it one of the nicest moments of the day, that was the only wedding picture my dad wanted FRAMED, damn it. And it was the picture his sister wanted. So it was important. And I really loved that moment. It was worth all the trouble to find an affordable baker.

    We took the both option and also had blackberry cobbler (yummmm....) And our cake was in the flourless chocolate vein (yummmm...)

    So. That's my totally non indie two cents. Everyone has important moments of wedding ritual that tie us to the generations before us in a totally un-cool un-hip way. That was one of mine.

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  29. @Rachel
    "Um, not bashing that at all, either. I love great photography. Just noting that IF great photographs are what someone wants (I openly admit that I probably will), then they should spend the money on a fabulous photographer, rather than going all out on details and then hiring a semi good photog."

    True. In that if you have a great photographer, your wedding will look great. And with a good photographer you can basically skip the detail stuff.

    BUT.

    I disagree on the disillusionment bit. I see a lot of wedding photos, and obviously am someone who edits them before they hit the web. And I can tell you that A) The most important pictures don't hit the web, because regular bloggers find them boring, and because I (and my ilk, probably, but I'm only speaking for myself) try to protect the personal to some extent, even if people don't tell me to. Because it's what I wanted for my wedding and so I try to do it for them.

    But more to the point B) It's not just the photographers. You can tell an amazing joyful authentic bad-ass wedding through snap-shots. And you can tell when a wedding is stressed and full of details but maybe not... the most joyful and right thing in the world... even through some trendy-ass bullsh*t photos. So basically, the trick is to get someone who captures emotion, and you-as-you-are, without depending too much on hip tricks. Which is, of course, an art.

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  30. @Aw Meg, that's certainly a detail that mattered, and the saber-cake-cutting was something that made me shiver when you shared it on APW. So the cake was definitely a detail that mattered because it was right for you. But we both know there's a difference between choosing a tradition because it's meaningful to you and choosing it because it's what's done. And, for many people, a cake is "what's done." For us, since I don't really care about "what's done," cake is just a dessert option from among many.

    And I promise I have a ton of uncool, un-hip-ly genuine family-historical moments and details planned too. They just don't involve cake. :)

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  31. @Meg (re: your response to Rachel): I think if we're talking about "details" as decor or as discrete items, then Rachel's point is entirely valid. A mason jar with flowers is nothing special when Aunt Kathy takes the photo but, in the hands of a talented pro, it's transformed into rustic-chic decor. The item-related details celebrated on blogs are celebrated as much because of who they're photographed and who they're photographed by than because the intrinsic mason jar (or whatever) was anything special.

    But what Rachel's hinting at in her comment is a different sort of "detail": "They'll do that shoot where someone is delicately holding said fried dough balls in front of their face or something and the balls are in focus and the face is grinning. I can see it in my head." Yes, it involves a physical detail over which we might obsess, but it better reflects the heart of the day - the way in which the details are used and therefore transformed into meaningful moments. *Those* are the details celebrated by APW and (I'd like to think) here, but that - yes - are somehow to personal to share. Boring to item-detail blogs and too raw for many photographers or emotion-oriented bloggers to expose. And those moment-details are where it matters less who your photographer was, so long as there's someone running around snapping all the smiles.

    Granted, I'm going for moments-as-honest-art in my photographer search, so I know just how hard it is to find someone who does artistic justice to those emotional details. It's much harder than taking artistic photos of flowers, for sure.

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  32. I'm a round brown person, and I know that for many people, I am balls ugly because I'm not slick and white and someone else's idea of pretty, especially when it comes to the sanctified white wedding way...

    ...the eye of the beholder, I say. Viva la churro ball-tots!!

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  33. @socybride - Those people are assholes. And many of the wedding blogs don't really understand how their cultural assumptions, vendor relationships and yes, popularized notions of beauty, play into their lack-of-diversity. But that's a whole other can of worms for (multiple) other posts! Dessert discrimination, however, is just silly. Viva la churro-ball tots, indeed.

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  34. I don't know why, but whenever I attend weddings, I don't expect the cake to be served. I'm just contented in appreciating the beauty of it from afar. And yeah, I appreciate a different dessert.

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  35. food truck weddings are always going to end up awesome, cake-less or not.

    p.s. we're doing cheesecake, because Boy and I have decided that wedding cakes generally taste like ass.

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  36. CHURRO. BALLS. I know that's probably not good for business but, c'mon, churro balls sound AMAZING!. Plus no one is going to give a hoot about how pretty your dessert table no matter what you put on it! Just as long as it's tasty. You should just have a whole BALLS themed table. Mexican wedding cookies are ball shaped. Perfect partner for the churro ball plus easy to make!

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  37. Another point: I am always fairly tipsy or balls down drunk when the cake is served, so I never eat it. So, um, who cares about dessert? As long as a course involves cheese, I am good. And we all know that is purtttttttty so there you go. Triple score. (1. yummy 2. cheese 3. pretty)

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  38. border grill is the best. How about having the churro balls shaped like that french wedding cake thing:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Croquembouche

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  39. Wow, I had to go make myself a bowl of cereal because your churro ball description made me so hungry. Obviously the cereal did not fulfill my craving. Your guests are going to love your churro balls. I love your churro balls! Who cares what they look like.

    I'm doing an ice cream sundae bar, and while a nicely constructed sundae can look pretty, honestly the ice cream cartons in ice are not going to be very pretty. But they'll get the job down and serve up tasty. That's all I care about.

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  40. Croquembouche, croquembouche, croquembouche!!! I am with you on the nontraditional dinner and desserts (we are having pizza from a local restaurant who gets all their ingredients with in a 30 mile radius, and my mom is making my grandmother's cheesecake recipe) but that doesn't mean it can be pretty. I think the churro balls would put an awesome spin on a the classic French tradition. Makes the balls seem almost classy, no? And before you say you say they have to be eaten right away, so it won't work blah blah blah, you can just do a few for show, leaving the rest for eats. And I freaking LOOOOOOVE the fancy brownie cake.

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  41. Oh and @Eco yogini, it seems like that Eco Weddig article is at least a little right because we are all concerned with our desserts in our own way. You organic mom made dessert is certainly a reflection of you and your partner just like my Grandma's cheesecake is a reflection of me and my mine. Becca's concern with the practicalty of NOT having your classic pretty-but-expensive-and-nasty cake is a reflection of her. Not that it is going to actually MEAN ANYTHING to ANYBODY except maybe how much those extra calories are worth, but we each want/don't want these things for our own unique reasons.

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  42. the amount of times the word balls was used in this post and ensuing comments has sent me into a fit of 13 year old giggles. Good times. But seriously, my life will not be complete until I taste one of those yummy, dulce de leche infused fried dough balls.

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  43. I had a dessert buffet at my wedding, and it was all homemade stuff by various relatives. Cookies and mini cheesecakes and pies and some insanely green pistachio pudding squares and lumpy squares and other stuff. It was not photogenic. Our very good photographer tried, and it just looked. Well. NEON GREEN. However? It tasted delicious, and every one was very, very happy. So. Yeah. Go for the balls! :)

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  44. as with most delicious fried deserts, THEY ARE ONLY DELICIOUS SERVED HOT OR WARM. That may be problematic. Please check them out say 30 minutes after frying, which is probably the minimum time after which they will be available to your guests.

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  45. @Anonymous re: serving fried desserts warm. Sigh, yes, that would be why I wrote that they are "ugly brown balls best served warm and not on a buffet." But the ideas for a Croquembouche=like presentation and powdered sugar were certainly creative and pretty. Sigh.

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  46. Wait...so wedding cake is for eating?! I never woulda guessed it.

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  47. I love these desserts...although some of them look too good to eat. I particularly like the cake topped with fresh blueberries...a beautiful way to add a touch of color and extra flavor.

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