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Keep the party going with luscious tarts (cranberry-almond, vanilla cream with port-poached quince, and chocolate pudding), sugar cookies, and chocolate gingerbread. Wedges of port-poached quince top a vanilla cream tart.
When we asked Meg Galus, the pastry chef at the Park Hyatt Chicago, to create some of her favorite holiday sweets, she had a lot of personal history to draw on. “Christmas is huge in my family,” she says. “Especially on my dad’s side—they’re Christmas freaks.” Spending time in the kitchen with a grandmother who loves to bake is excellent training for any pastry chef, and Galus has happy memories of doing just that. At NoMi, the hotel’s fine-dining restaurant, she is famous for her splendid tarts, and we were thrilled with the three she made for us, as well as with her cookies, her caramel corn, and everything else she brought to the table.
Finding just the right dishes, serving pieces, and linens fell to Tricia Hyland and Lisa Spagnolo, BFFs since childhood and the founders of Dinner Party (dinnerpartyshop.com), a business that rents and sells vintage dinnerware. Both women are keen on the holiday habit of hanging out with family and friends but averse to sweating the small stuff. “I’m all about creating a beautiful atmosphere with minimal effort,” Spagnolo says. “No fuss, no stress, just ‘Come on over and have a glass of wine’—that sort of thing.” Hyland couldn’t agree more. “I’m from a big family and we hosted most of the holidays, so I understand the work that goes into it,” she says. “But the sense of togetherness is what’s important.”
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Table Talk with Tricia and Lisa
Vary heights. Set a small pedestal cake stand atop a bigger one or put long-stemmed flowers in a tall vase to contrast with smaller pieces.
Mix materials. Pair glass (pressed, etched, colored, clear) with wood, metal, silver, and china—both “good” and everyday.
Play with opposites. Combine old and new, shiny and matte, bright and dark, ruffled and plain. Rough-textured fabric on a table makes filigreed silver spoons seem less formal.
Find new uses for old favorites. Delicate cups and saucers inherited from your aunt look great alongside campfire-ready enamelware coffeepots.
Bring on the nostalgia. That little wooden squirrel with his nut dish that you’ve had since childhood? This is his moment. Give him something delicious to hold.
Fill in with fruit and flowers. Natural elements don’t have to be fancy to be beautiful. Fresh figs, pomegranates, and mature blooms provide subtle splashes of color.
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Meg’s Tips for Holiday Baking
Buy the best ingredients. Spring for the good stuff, especially when it comes to butter (go Euro) and chocolate.
Make some things ahead of time. Cookie dough freezes well and can be kept, unbaked, for two months or more.
Use what tastes good. If something—chocolate, for example—isn’t wonderful as you’re adding it, it won’t taste any better after baking.
Think about sizes. When setting up a food display, combine large things like tarts with cookies and other treats that can be eaten in a bite or two, to give people choices.
Cover a spectrum of flavors. “I always include something super-chocolatey, then something light and refreshing—often fruity—at the other end, and something else in the middle, like custard.”
Photography: Tyllie Barbosa
Styling: Barri Leiner Grant