Culinary Trends Make Their Way to the Dessert Menu

By Plate on behalf of MARS Foodservice May 6, 2019

Culinary trends continually evolve, becoming more ethnically diverse and authentic, combining old favorites with new twists, and always aiming to capture diners’ imaginations. Likewise, dessert menus take on similar characteristics, subtly in some cases and to the extreme in others. Here, we look at some of the ways that food trends are popping up on dessert menus.

Elevating familiar foods

From Wolfgang Puck’s early gourmet pizza creations to the persistence of innovative macaroni and cheese iterations, chefs have long crafted familiar dishes into unique offerings. Pastry chefs are no exception.

For example, at The Essential in Birmingham, Ala., guests enjoy a high-end version of the toaster pastry treat they may have had for breakfast when they were children. Fruit, brown sugar, cinnamon, and other ingredients fill rectangular pastries, which are frosted and topped with sprinkles. And giant Ho-Hos and Funfetti cake are on the menu at the retro Dinerbar on Clifton in Lakewood, Ohio, outside Cleveland.

While twists on nostalgic favorites like snack cakes, ice cream sandwiches, candy bars and other treats are plentiful on menus, the application doesn’t need to be obvious to bring on happy memories. The Guild House, a Cameron Mitchell restaurant in Columbus, Ohio, serves a torte reminiscent of a certain satisfying candy bar. It layers chocolate cake with chocolate ganache, peanut-butter mousse and vanilla tuille.

Tap the trend by inventing new iterations of eskimo pies, popsicles, or milk and cookies. Or add familiar-favorite candy pieces within or on top of desserts to make guests smile.

Ethnic inspirations

Sofia Bakery & Café, in Cambridge, Mass, which specializes in Turkish, Lebanese and Greek fare, adds chocolate chips to a traditional favorite: Its chocolate hazelnut baklava sits alongside traditional walnut and pistachio varieties.

Just as ever-more-authentic dishes have appeared on menus, along with plenty of items inspired by ethnic cuisines, ethnic desserts are also on the rise. For example, the Mexican churro has made its way into restaurants as a crisp addition to a plate or as the star supported by chile-spiked chocolate, and now chamoy, a Mexican fruit sauce often made with apricots, is appearing on menus. Asian inspiration is also evident. At Tiny Lou’s at Atlanta’s Hotel Clermont, the Ode to Blondie dessert tops a brown-butter blondie with curried banana flambe, buttermilk ice cream and hazelnut cremeux. And at Chicago’s Boka, Meg Galus offers a dessert of dark chocolate and matcha, with mint and cocoa nibs.

Dessert hummus may not be right for every menu, but tahini or harissa might be just the savory or spicy balance a sweet needs. French choux pastry or macarons can be filled with any number of ingredients to make them more French or less. Likewise, add interest to ethnic desserts with soft custard or pudding bases (think flan or panna cotta) by incorporating spiced seeds, candied nuts or chocolate chips.

Combining flavors and textures

Those nuts and chocolate chips can add both complementary flavors and textures—also an element that chefs of all stripes experiment with.

For instance, Pastry Chef Zachary Golper at Bien Cult in New York offers Sesame Chocolate Cheesecake: chocolate swirled cheesecake with sesame shortbread and toasted sesame chantilly. The sesame adds a savory element while the shortbread adds crunch. Similarly, in Austin, Texas, Launderette Pastry Chef Laura Sawicki has created a Mint White Chocolate Semifreddo topped with dark chocolate magic shell and fleur de sel.

Dark chocolate and orange is a classic pairing, but Ad Lib in Coral Gables, Fla., adds variety to its bittersweet chocolate tart with toasted sourdough gelato, blood orange marshmallows and salted caramel.

To complement desserts, an ethnic textural addition might include sweet bunelos or cinnamon-sugar tortilla chips. Nostalgic texture twists include cereal, candy pieces, pretzels or marshmallows. Smoky flavors are still on the rise, so consider smoked salt or bacon—candied or not.

Creating an experience

Complementary and contrasting flavors and textures are added in part to create an experience for diners, who are looking for something new—and often something Instagrammable.

Often that means finding something unexpected. Dark chocolate bark with orange zest would be a fun and unexpected topper to a food truck cupcake, while create-your-own ice cream sandwiches, complete with sauces, nuts and candy toppings, would be unique way to end a meal at an upscale eatery.

At Chicago’s Maple & Ash, the Sundae Service presents three flavors of ice cream, hot fudge, peanut butter sauce, toffee crunch, sprinkles, seasonal fruit and more. And at new treats concepts like Dipsticle in Cordova, Tenn., and Steel City Pops in San Antonio, gelato or ice cream bars are dipped in chocolate and the customers’ choice of toppings.

Color, arty touches, unique plating and sharable options all suit the trend. A rainbow of M&M'S leading to a pot de crème may not only be surprising alternative to a simple swipe of raspberry sauce, it might also make for some social media buzz.

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