Operators, chefs upscaling nostalgic favorites this year.

Oct_HomePage_FeaturedTrend_768x300_r0It wouldn’t be the holidays without mouthwatering desserts to tempt the palate and celebrate the season. It’s the time to indulge and enjoy creative concoctions from talented bakery chefs. Each year, they surprise us with something new. According to culinary gurus and the latest research, the trend for the upcoming holidays is toward unusual flavors which can be paired with traditional favorites.

Chocolate still the No. 1 flavor

Chocolate is still the top holiday flavor according to trendologist Mike Kostyo at Datassential. Chocolate, the “rich, perennial, decadent holiday favorite,” is followed by mint or peppermint in popularity, he says.

“Consumer familiarity means we’re seeing more chains and restaurant operators combine mint with a more traditional trend-forward flavor or concept. We expect to see more LTOs combine mint with trendy flavors in the months ahead.”

Kostyo advises operators to upscale chocolate this year. Premium options include:

  • chocolate truffle
  • chocolate ganache
  • chocolate hazelnut

Other flavors appearing on winter and holiday menus also include:

  • marshmallow
  • chestnut
  • cranberry-ginger
  • cajeta
  • horchata

And, don’t forget the spirits. “Bourbon indexes higher across the menu during the holiday season,” Kostyo notes. “We see it in desserts like bourbon chocolate cake and, of course, in cocktails.”

Global flavors elevate desserts

Andrew Freeman, founder of af&co., a restaurant and hospitality consulting company in San Francisco, is enthusiastic about global flavors being used to elevate holiday treats. “As Israeli cuisine becomes more popular, we’re anticipating more holiday desserts inspired by Israeli flavors. Tahini, halva and sumac are showing up in unexpectedly sweet places, from salted tahini chocolate chip cookies to chocolate halva rugelach,” he says.

Freeman suggests keeping a sharp eye on sumac. “The lemony, tart spice lends itself to a bounty of desserts, including sumac donuts, sumac ganache and sumac sugar cookies.”

Nordic cuisine is also on the rise, he reports. “Expect to see more Nordic-inspired desserts, including kringle and lefse with cinnamon sugar.”

Donuts and fried treats are also being reinvented, he reports, often with savory notes. He cites the chicken-liver donut with a thick black honey glaze at Grand Cafe.

“We’re also seeing a rise in the popularity of sufganiyot, the customary Hanukkah dessert featuring a plump donut filled with jelly,” he adds.

Pie will be bigger than ever this season, he says. “Slab pie is making its mark this holiday season. Humble, yet impressive, slab pie is perfect for a crowd.”

Even plants are having their moment in the dessert spotlight.

Karen Malody, owner and principal of Culinary Options, sees plant-based ingredients making their way into the dessert arena. She cites David Lee, executive chef at the vegan restaurant Planta, who has a creative dessert menu.

Thai Coconut features a basil/chia-seed pudding with fresh coconut chips and passion fruit sorbet. The pudding is served in an actual coconut.

Andrew Freeman also reports that holiday desserts made with botanicals, florals and herbs are trending. For example:

  • cardamom- and orange-spiced cake
  • emongrass-lavender flavored desserts

The use of familiar brands for holiday treats is a tradition that can be tapped every year. Nostalgic favorites include Ghirardelli peppermint bark and the holiday-colored green and red M&M’S® Brand Chocolate Candies. The mention of branded ingredients on the menu elicits warm feelings of holidays past with diners.

Malody agrees with Kostyo that the classics are still on the top of chefs’ minds but are being updated. She notes that such “nostalgic classics such as S’Mores and Banana Cream Pie will be served elegantly reconstructed. I would imagine we will see creative interpretations of Pumpkin Pie and Fruitcake.”

Comfort foods popular during the holidays

The demands of the holidays can be stressful. Mike Kostyo says people especially need comfort foods then. “Winter and holiday menus have always been dominated by comforting, rich foods, but that’s particularly true during the holiday season. There is a demand for options which make consumers think ‘cozy’ and ‘stress relieving.’” Indulgent desserts are just the remedy.

And, of course, there are the ever-growing allergy issues and the anti-sugar campaign. Malody sees more and more pastry chefs around the country developing delicious dairy-free desserts using coconut cream rather than cream and oat milk rather than milk.

“As for sugar,” she adds, “dessert’s indulgent factor will never ever be a no-no. But that is not to say that pastry chefs will not find other ‘natural’ ways to offer sweetness, such as using fruits.”

Freeman says, “As more people steer away from refined sugar, we’re seeing a rise in holiday desserts made with natural sweeteners, such as maple and spiced honey.”

Some customers may give treats a pass, but most will indulge their sweet tooth during the season. Malody concludes, “I don’t see sugar leaving the dessert realm any time soon.”

With all of the new, surprising flavors paired with traditional favorites like chocolate by talented pastry chefs, the upcoming holiday season dessert menu is looking delicious.

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