How to throw a festive, floral (and pink!) holiday party

At the home of floral artist Ashley Woodson Bailey, holidays bloom with color
Holiday party

Photograph by Heidi Geldhauser

Holiday party
Ashley is known for her pink hair.

Photograph by Heidi Geldhauser

Ashley Woodson Bailey is a force of nature. Her first career was creating high-style floral designs in places from New York to her native Texas. But when a serious car accident left her in constant pain, she had to give up staging large-scale events. To amuse herself during recuperation, she began taking photos of flowers with her iPhone. The hobby turned into a business, and she started producing limited-edition prints; more recently, she has even branched into fashion and home furnishings.

Ashley and I discovered each other online while she was living in Austin. I admired her creative drive and featured her in a couple of blog posts. Overcoming mammoth physical obstacles, she’s continued to re-create herself year after year. I was thrilled when she moved to Atlanta and hoped we would be able to collaborate in person.

Last winter we ran into each other at the wholesale florist, and she began describing her unconventional way of decorating for the holidays. Ashley uses fresh flowers and nontraditional colors like black, gold, and hot pink. She decorates the tree with white silk roses, carnation balls, and camellia blossoms. I was so intrigued that I wrangled an invitation to her home.

Ashley lives in a cute, quirky house in Marietta with her husband, Brad, and their kids, Byrd, Woodson, and Lane. I joined the family and their friends for a sweet soirée of holiday desserts: a pavlova wreath drizzled with fresh berry coulis, salted caramels individually wrapped in white parchment, velvety handmade chocolate truffles, and their favorite whiskey pie. A coconut cake was decorated with a giant dahlia the size of my head. We toasted the old and the new year ahead.

The menu

Whiskey pie
Pavlova wreath with blackberry sauce
Coconut cake
Homemade truffles
Salted caramels


Holiday party
The Bowle cocktail is a family recipe.

Photograph by Heidi Geldhauser

Makes 10
1 bottle Champagne
1 bottle Chardonnay
1 cup brandy
1 cup sugar
1 bag frozen strawberries

Combine first four ingredients in a pitcher; top with frozen strawberries.

Holiday party

Photograph by Heidi Geldhauser

Pavlova Wreath with Blackberry Sauce
Serves 8
¼ cup cornstarch
1 tablespoon white vinegar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
2½ cups sugar
8 egg whites, room temperature

Preheat oven to 225°F.
In a bowl, mix cornstarch, vinegar, and vanilla. Put sugar and egg whites in the bowl of a standing mixer with a whisk attachment; blend on low speed until combined, then raise speed to high and beat until soft peaks form. Add the cornstarch mixture and beat until glossy.

Using a pastry bag fitted with a round tip, pipe meringue onto a cookie sheet in a 14-inch round wreath shape. This can also be done freehand with a large spoon. Bake for 45 minutes, then let cool.

Blackberry sauce
2 pints blackberries
1 cup sugar
¼ cup water

Add all ingredients to a saucepan set over high heat and bring mixture to a boil. Remove from heat, pour through a sieve into a bowl, and set aside to cool.

Whipped cream
1 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons sugar

In a bowl, beat together until stiff peaks form.

1 cup whipped cream
1 pint blackberries

With a spoon, crack the meringue and drizzle the wreath with blackberry sauce. Top with fresh blackberries and a dollop of whipped cream.

Holiday party

Photograph by Heidi Geldhauser

Easy Chocolate Truffles
Makes 2 dozen
½ cup heavy cream
3 tablespoons softened butter
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla
10 ounces bittersweet chocolate
½ teaspoon salt

Cocoa mixture for rolling
1/3 cup powdered sugar (plus a little extra for your hands to prevent sticking)
1/3 cup cocoa

In a two-quart microwavable glass bowl, microwave cream, butter, and sugar on high for 1½ minutes. Stir well, then microwave on high an additional 1 minute. Add chocolate, vanilla, and salt, and stir until creamy. Chill until firm, about 3 hours. Shape into one-inch balls by rolling bits of the mixture in your hands. In a bowl, stir together powdered sugar and cocoa, then roll the balls in the mixture. Store in a container in the refrigerator.

Holiday party

Photograph by Heidi Geldhauser

Coconut Cake
Serves 10–12
This cake has the consistency of a pound cake. Once frosted, it looks very much like a giant snowball.
2 sticks butter, softened (plus extra to grease pans)
2 cups sugar
5 eggs, room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon coconut extract
3 cups flour (plus extra to grease pans)
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
1½ cup milk and juice of 1 lemon, combined
5 ounces sweetened shredded coconut

1 8-ounce package cream cheese
2 sticks butter, softened
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon coconut extract
5 cups powdered sugar

¾ cup prepared lemon curd for filling
16 ounces sweetened shredded coconut

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Grease two round 9-inch cake pans with butter, dust with flour, and set aside. In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with a paddle, combine butter and sugar until creamy (2 to 3 minutes). Mix in eggs one at a time, then add vanilla and coconut extract. In a separate bowl, mix flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Add the dry ingredients to the butter mixture, mixing on low speed, then add milk mixture and coconut. Distribute batter equally between the prepared pans. Bake for 45 minutes, or until inserted knife comes out clean. Cool cakes in the pans for 30 minutes, then turn them onto a rack to finish cooling.

In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with a paddle, combine cream cheese and butter. Add salt, vanilla, and coconut extract. Slowly add powdered sugar until completely combined.

Place the flat side of the first layer on a plate. With a bread knife, slice off the rounded top so it becomes flat. Spread lemon curd on top and let stand for 5 minutes until the curd sets up a bit. Spread a half-inch layer of frosting on top of the curd. Sprinkle with about ¼ cup sweetened coconut. Place the other layer, flat side down, on top and frost the entire cake to seal the crumbs, then place in the refrigerator for 20 minutes. Remove the cake and frost the entire cake. Press the coconut all over until the cake is evenly coated.

Holiday party

Photograph by Heidi Geldhauser

Whiskey Pie*
Pie Crust
1½ cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
½ cup butter, cut into small pieces
¼ cup cold water
1 tablespoon milk (for brushing crust)

Combine the flour and salt on a flat work surface. Incorporate the butter using your fingers, rubbing it into the flour mixture until the pieces are smaller than a pea. Make a hole in the center of the flour and pour in the cold water. Using your hands, gently mix the water into the flour to form a dough. Shape it into a ball, wrap it in plastic, and chill for 45 minutes.

½ cup whiskey
1/3 cup cornstarch
4 large eggs, lightly beaten
¾ cup light corn syrup
¾ cup sugar
½ cup butter, melted
1 teaspoon vanilla
½ cup walnuts, chopped
1 cup walnuts, whole pieces
Generous pinch of sea salt

Preheat oven to 350°F.

On a floured surface, roll out the dough and carefully fit it into a pie pan. Trim the excess dough around the rim with a sharp knife. Refrigerate the pie pan with dough while you make the filling.

In a large bowl, whisk together the whiskey and cornstarch until the cornstarch has dissolved. Whisk in eggs, corn syrup, sugar, melted butter, vanilla, and chopped walnuts. Remove the crust from the refrigerator and pour in the filling. On top of the filling, arrange the whole walnut pieces in concentric circles. Brush the exposed edges of the pie crust with milk. (This will help the crust brown.) Sprinkle sea salt over the top of the pie. Bake for 45 minutes, until the pie has puffed up and browned. Let cool for at least an hour before serving.

Recipe courtesy of Jo Rodgers

This article originally appeared in our Winter 2016 issue of Atlanta Magazine’s HOME.