According to Skye McAlpine, food tastes best when shared with others. The cookbook author’s love of Venetian craft, la dolce vita, and British chintz inform her brand, OTM favorite, Skye McAlpine Tavola. Naturally, she’s hosted quite a few parties with excellent menus and covetable dinnerware. Her regular recipe column in The Sunday Times has helped countless readers become hosts with the most, so ahead of the busy holiday season, we’ve asked her for words of advice (and encouragement) to anyone navigating an at-home soirée.
Here are Skye McAlpine’s top five hosting tips, in her own words.
1. Begin Planning Now
The secret to effortless hosting is to do as much of the prep as you can ahead of time so you don’t feel rushed or stressed on the day. Think about your menu and plan it out, then do as much prep beforehand as you can. I even like to lay the table the night before!
2. Use Seasonal Decor
Use fruit and vegetables to decorate the table. At this time of year, I love different shaped squashes in various shades and colours; but also pears, apples, plums, grapes, pomegranates, whole walnuts… they look really beautiful piled high on cake stands, in small bowls or on little serving dishes and even just scattered down the middle of the table. I love the colors, and it feels less wasteful than flowers because you can eat the decorations once you’re done with them.
3. Keep Small Details in Mind
Make each guest feel extra special by personalising their place setting with a small gift, something like a Christmas ornament with their name tied to it or a snow globe with their name scribbled on the glass with indelible gold marker; or a small bag of sweets or a little bundles of candy canes tied together with some velvet ribbon.
4. Wintry Drinks
Have a festive cocktail ready to go for when guests arrive. I like to do jugs of Negroni, which I mix in large batches and store in bottles in the freezer, then pour into large jugs over ice as needed.
5. Enjoy Yourself!
The holiday season can be so busy and frazzled that it’s so easy to get stressed when hosting but the very best hosts are always the ones who have the most fun!
Pumpkin and Amaretto Cheesecake
This is one of those ‘effortless’ desserts that you can prep well in advance, which is one of the things that I love most about the recipe. The pumpkin is delicate in flavour, not overly sweet, but the amaretto, crumbled into the base and layered through the silky smooth cheese filling, adds a sophisticated touch which makes this a real holiday treat.
-110g shortbread cookies
-50g crisp amaretto cookies, plus a handful extra for the topping
-90g salted butter
-500g pumpkin purée
-500g cream cheese
-160g caster sugar (in the United States, look for “superfine sugar”)
-2-3 tbsp amaretto liquor (optional)
-1.5 tsp ground cinnamon
Grease a 10” springform tin and line with greaseproof baking paper. Heat the oven to 180C/356F. Blitz the shortbread and amaretto cookies together in a food processor until you have something that resembles the consistency of sand. Gently melt the butter in a small saucepan over a medium heat (or in a microwave). Combine the powdered cookies and the melted butter together in a mixing bowl and mix well together, then press down into the lined tin, covering the base completely and evenly with a layer of cookies. Set the tin in the freezer for 10-15 minutes to harden.
Meanwhile, make the cheesecake filling. Combine the pumpkin, cream cheese and sugar together in a medium mixing bowl and beat until smooth and well combined. Whisk in the eggs, one by one. Lastly add the amaretto liquor (if using) and cinnamon, and beat until smooth.
Spoon the cream cheese filling over the chilled biscuit base and smooth out evenly with the back of a spoon. Set in the oven to bake (on top of a baking tray to catch any excess melted butter) for 60 minutes, until the cheesecake becomes puffed up, firm to the touch and lightly golden on top. Let the cheesecake cool completely in the tin, then chill in the fridge before removing from the tin and setting on to a serving dish. Crumble over the last of the amaretto cookies before serving.