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Party At Martha's: Stewart's Tips For 'Entertaining'

Nearly 30 years ago — long before she had her own TV show or magazine or brand — Martha Stewart wrote her very first book, Entertaining.

"The first book really was kind of an entertaining textbook for the homemaker," Stewart tells NPR's Linda Wertheimer. "I couldn't find a good book about entertaining in 1982 and neither could my friend, so I decided to write it."

At the time, Stewart was working as a caterer, so her 1982 book is filled with photos of other people's fabulous parties. Three decades later, Stewart has written a new book filled with photos of her own gatherings. Martha's Entertaining: A Year of Celebrations shows off Stewart's superstar hospitality at her home in Bedford, N.Y., her weekend place in East Hampton, N.Y., and her summer house in Maine.

"What I did in this book was try to capture sort of the essence of what we all like to do when we entertain ... make wonderful food from really good recipes, set a pretty table or a beautiful buffet, make flower arrangements cut from our own gardens," Stewart explains.

As always, Stewart sets the bar high. The book is overflowing with artfully arranged food on exquisite china, set beside gorgeous glasses and beautiful flatware. But Stewart insists even the unprofessional homemaker can follow along.

"It's kind of a dreamscape, in a way," she admits, "but there are many, many practical and interesting and inspiring kinds of moments throughout the book that I think will enable people to have a pretty Easter, have a wonderful Fourth of July, have an inspiring Christmas."

In the early 1980s, Martha Stewart was working as a caterer and couldn't find a good book on entertaining — so she wrote her own. <em>Entertaining,</em> her first book, was published in 1982. Her 75th book, <em>Martha's Entertaining, </em>was released in October.
In the early 1980s, Martha Stewart was working as a caterer and couldn't find a good book on entertaining — so she wrote her own. Entertaining, her first book, was published in 1982. Her 75th book, Martha's Entertaining, was released in October.

Stewart keeps all of her Christmas decorations neatly tucked away in the basement of her Bedford home.

"We have a very organized basement," she says. "You would love it down there. ... It's all organized in those plastic tubs on big, floor-to-ceiling shelves, so we know where everything is. ... I'm always adding to my collections of stuff, and it's a lot of fun."

This year, in honor of her 10-month-old grandchild, Jude, Stewart is planning a "Brown Bear Christmas."

"We made a whole lot of ornaments in the shape of bears this year and they're very cute," she says.

But Martha's Entertaining isn't all cute Christmas and pretty place settings. The opening chapter features a ceramic nativity scene that looks like it's made of light-brown, coffee-colored Wedgwood Drabware — it was made during Stewart's time in prison in 2004 after she was convicted for obstruction of justice in relation to questionable stock sales.

Stewart made this nativity scene during her 2004 incarceration at Alderson Federal Prison Camp in West Virginia.
Frederic Lagrange / Clarkson Potter/Random House
Clarkson Potter/Random House
Stewart made this nativity scene during her 2004 incarceration at Alderson Federal Prison Camp in West Virginia.

"When I was incarcerated at Alderson in West Virginia for a five-month term, they had a ceramics class," she says. "And in the ceramics class was a storage warehouse room where I found all the molds for an entire large nativity scene."

It took her a long time to find molds for all 15 or so characters — Mary, Joseph, baby Jesus, the wise men, the camels — everybody. And then she saved up to buy enough clay to create each figurine.

"I was able to purchase enough clay with my monthly stipend," she says. "... I didn't get a lot of other things that I would have liked in that five-month period because I bought clay instead. And I molded the entire nativity scene."

The book gives plenty of examples of perfectly set tables before the guests arrive, but there are also some chapters that show the aftermath of a well-hosted party. When Stewart moved into her summer home in Maine, the previous owners left her the contents of their wine cellar — filled with aging burgundy. A wine expert friend told Stewart that the burgundy would soon be over the hill.

The aftermath of Stewart's burgundy dinner is documented in <em>Martha's Entertaining</em>. <a href="http://ow.ly/7MQhh">Click here to see a Q&A about entertaining on<em> The Martha Stewart Show.</em></a>
Frederic Lagrange / Clarkson Potter/Random House
Clarkson Potter/Random House
The aftermath of Stewart's burgundy dinner is documented in Martha's Entertaining. Click here to see a Q&A about entertaining on The Martha Stewart Show.

"So we designed a dinner, and we drank and drank and drank bottles of delicious '85s and '82s ... and we served them with short ribs and beautiful fig and apple tarts," Stewart says.

After so much food and wine, it's no surprise that no one really felt like cleaning up.

"The table actually, I thought, looked kind of interesting," Stewart says. "So we left it, and the next morning, we photographed it."

If you're going to leave the dishes on the table overnight, Stewart — of course — has a tip: "If you are a careful hostess ... pour a little bit of water into each of the glasses so that the wine doesn't etch the beautiful crystal."

More tips, recipes and how-tos from the quintessential careful hostess can be found in Martha Stewart's 75th book, Martha's Entertaining: A Year of Celebrations.

Anna Williams / Clarkson Potter/Random House
Clarkson Potter/Random House

Noah's Ark Cookie Cutouts

Makes about 2 dozen 4-inch cookies from Holiday Open House Brunch

4 cups sifted all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened

2 cups granulated sugar

2 large eggs

2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

Royal Icing (recipe follows)

Fine sanding sugar, for decorating (optional)

Whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt in a bowl. With an electric mixer, cream butter and granulated sugar until light and fluffy. Mix in eggs and vanilla. Reduce speed to low. Gradually mix in flour mixture. Divide dough in half; flatten each half into a disk, and wrap in plastic. Refrigerate until firm, at least 1 hour or up to 1 day.

Let one disk of dough stand at room temperature just until soft enough to roll, about 10 minutes. Roll out dough on a lightly floured work surface to just under 1/4 inch thick, adding more flour as needed to keep dough from sticking. Cut out shapes with 4- or 5-inch cookie cutters, transferring to parchment-lined baking sheets as you work, and spacing about 1 inch apart. Reroll scraps, and cut out more shapes. Repeat with remaining disk of dough. Chill cookies in freezer until very firm, about 15 minutes.

Preheat oven to 325 F, with racks in upper and lower thirds. Bake, rotating sheets from top to bottom and front to back halfway through, until edges just turn golden, 15 to 18 minutes. Let cool on sheets on wire racks.

To decorate, transfer icing to a pastry bag fitted with a coupler and a plain 1/8- to 1/4-inch tip (such as #2 or #3). Flood cookies with icing: Pipe to outline cookies, then pipe more icing inside outline; spread to fill in gaps with a skewer or small offset spatula. While icing is still wet, pipe polka dots on top, using icing in contrasting colors; stretch dots into flourishes with the tip of a toothpick or wooden skewer for a marbleized look. Flock, or sprinkle, wet icing with sanding sugar, if desired. Let set 1 day at room temperature. (Once set, decorated cookies can be stored between layers of parchment in an airtight container at room temperature up to 1 week.)

Royal Icing

Makes about 2 1/2 cups

You can tint the icing any color you wish. To make the colors shown on page 39, mix true red food coloring with black for silver, and mix ivory with egg yellow for gold. If using the icing for "flooding," or covering the tops of the cookies, you may need to thin it with a little water.

1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon meringue powder

1 pound confectioners' sugar, sifted

1/3 cup water

Gel-paste food coloring

With an electric mixer on low speed, mix meringue powder, confectioners' sugar, and the water until combined. If tinting, divide among bowls, and tint with food coloring as desired. If not using immediately, cover and refrigerate up to 1 week; stir until smooth before using.


Croquembouche molds come in a range of sizes; the one used here is about 20 inches high. The metal molds are available at baking supply stores or from online sources. Although there are several components to the recipe, each can be made in advance and then assembled just before serving. You may need to make several batches of caramel because it hardens quickly.

Serves 32 from Dinner Party Desserts

8 recipes Vanilla-Bean Pastry Cream (recipe follows)

4 recipes Pate a Choux Puffs (recipe follows)

1 cup sugar

Pinch of cream of tartar

1/4 cup water

Spun sugar

Working in batches, transfer pastry cream to a pastry bag fitted with a plain 1/4-inch tip (such as #3 or #4). Insert tip of bag into bottom of a puff, and squeeze gently, taking care not to overfill. Repeat with remaining puffs. Arrange filled puffs on a baking sheet, and refrigerate until ready to use. Prepare an ice-water bath. In a small saucepan, combine sugar, cream of tartar, and the water; bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring to dissolve sugar. Wash down sides of pan with a pastry brush dipped in water to prevent crystals from forming. Continue cooking, without stirring, until sugar has dissolved, 5 to 6 minutes. Raise heat to high, and cook until syrup is amber in color, about 5 minutes, swirling pan to color evenly. Remove from heat, and dip bottom of pan in the ice bath for 3 seconds. While caramel is cooking, oil the inside of croquembouche mold, coating evenly and thoroughly. Using tongs, carefully dip a filled puff into caramel to coat completely, letting excess drip back into pan. Place in mold, at the tip. Repeat dipping and placing more puffs, arranging them in concentric rings as you work. Make sure the puffs are touching and adhere to one another. Once all sides are covered with puffs, repeat with more rings of puffs to fill the middle of the mold. If at any point the caramel begins to harden in the pan, warm briefly over low heat. Let stand until caramel is set in mold, about 15 minutes. To unmold, invert mold onto serving platter or cake stand. Tap on sides several times with a wooden spoon, then gently press on sides of mold to release. Carefully lift mold to remove. Decorate with spun sugar. (Once assembled, croquembouche can be kept at room temperature until ready to serve, up to 5 hours.)

Vanilla-Bean Pastry Cream

Makes about 1 cup

1/4 cup sugar

2 tablespoons cornstarch

1 cup milk

1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise

2 large egg yolks

1 tablespoon unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

Pinch of salt

    In a saucepan, whisk together sugar and cornstarch until blended; stir in milk. Scrape vanilla seeds into milk mixture, then add the pod. Whisking constantly, bring to a simmer over medium heat.

    Whisk egg yolks until blended in a bowl. While whisking, slowly add about half the hot milk mixture to temper the egg yolks, then pour back into pan with remaining milk mixture. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat, whisking constantly. Reduce heat and simmer, stirring constantly, until thick enough to hold its shape when lifted with the spoon, about 3 minutes. Remove from heat.

    Strain through a fine sieve into a bowl, pressing with a flexible spatula to extract as much liquid as possible; discard solids. Stir butter and salt into warm pastry cream until incorporated. Let cool slightly, then cover with plastic wrap, pressing it directly onto the surface to prevent a skin from forming. Refrigerate until chilled, at least 2 hours or up to 2 days.

    Pate A Choux Puffs

    Makes about 3 dozen

    Do not use extra-large eggs or the dough will become too runny and will not puff when baked. If making the Croquembouche, do not sprinkle puffs with sanding sugar.

    1 cup water

    1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter

    1 teaspoon granulated sugar

    Pinch of salt

    1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour

    5 large eggs, plus 1 large egg beaten with

    1 tablespoon water, for egg wash

    1 tablespoon coarse sanding sugar, for sprinkling (optional)

      Preheat oven to 325 F, with racks in upper and lower thirds. In a heavy saucepan, bring the water, butter, granulated sugar, and salt to a boil over medium-high heat. Remove from heat, and add flour all at once, stirring vigorously until dough forms a ball and pulls away from the side of the pan.

      Transfer mixture to a mixing bowl, and beat with an electric mixer on low speed until it is slightly cooled, about 2 minutes. With mixer on medium speed, add 4 eggs, one at a time, beating until incorporated after each addition. Test the batter by touching it with your finger and lifting to form a string. If a string does not form, the batter needs more egg. Lightly beat another egg, and add a little at a time, just until batter forms a string.

      Transfer batter to a pastry bag fitted with a plain-inch tip (such as Ateco #806). Pipe 1-inch rounds, 1 inch apart, onto parchment-lined baking sheets. Brush egg wash over puffs, and sprinkle evenly with sanding sugar, if desired.

      Place in oven and immediately raise heat to 375 F. Bake until puffed and deep golden brown, rotating sheets from top to bottom and front to back halfway through, 20 to 25 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack, and let cool completely. (Puffs can be stored in airtight containers at room temperature up to 1 day, or frozen up to 1 month.)

      Reprinted from the book Martha's Entertaining: A Year of Celebrations by Martha Stewart. Copyright 2011 by Martha Stewart. Published by Clarkson Potter, a division of Random House Inc.

      Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.