Dessert, the final course, can stay in diners’ minds longest, so why not make sure they remember it with fondness?
Modern diners want to have their cake and eat it – both to enjoy a healthier lifestyle and as an occasional, indulgent treat. And that, says Rachel Cook, category manager at Bidfood, means there are “pudding profits” up for grabs. She adds that the balancing act needed to deliver healthy indulgence is driving innovation in desserts and “opening up significant opportunities for restaurants looking to bridge the gap between health and indulgence”.
Recent research by Mintel bears her out. It reveals that 43% of adults want more low-sugar desserts on menus, while 70% view desserts as treats regardless of sugar content.
Tarts, chocolate cake, speciality cheesecakes, crumbles and brownies were the dishes most added to dessert menus during 2016, with salted caramel one of the fastest-growing flavours, says Charlotte Howkins, category manager at Brakes. The trends – reflected in Brakes’ Salted Caramel Chocolate Tart and Muscovado & Speculoos cheesecake – underline Brits’ love for indulgent comfort foods.
But the canny caterer will seek to satisfy all demands and Bidfood offers ranges for both camps – its Better 4 Me treats such as Lemon & Raspberry Ginger Crunch and Chocolate & Berry Truffle Torte have fewer than 300 calories per portion, while its Sweet Street desserts (including Peachberry Crumble and Bourbon Street Pecan Pie) cater for the 51% of diners who enjoy American-style desserts – a byword for rich indulgence.
“Stateside, they take their desserts seriously and their recipes are not for the faint-hearted,” says Tom Styman-Heighton, development chef at Funnybones Foodservice. Its modern twists on US classics range from banoffee cheesecakes to a chocolate-topped stack of four giant cookies sandwiching layers of marshmallow, cream and raspberry sauce.
Where the UK differs from the US is in portion size. According to Mintel, 67% of diners would like to see different dessert-size options, and 48% would choose a small portion of an indulgent treat over a larger helping of a lighter, diet version.
Café gourmand – a small dessert or slice of cake with coffee – is one guilt-free option for the health-conscious diner that Howkins says has become a popular after-dinner choice.
“If you are going to choose a mini-dessert rather than a plateful of a rich pudding, you want that mini-mouthful to be superbly crafted – beautiful to look at and intensely flavoured,” says Jon Turonnet, foodservice sales manager at Brioche Pasquier, whose Sweet Desires collection includes chocolate and lemon tartelettes, coffee and chocolate éclairs, and raspberry financiers. Turonnet predicts a revival for light choux pastries, such as Brioche’s mirror-glazed mini-Choux aux Fruits stuffed with fruit and cream mousse.
“French pâtisserie is all about exquisite desserts that look beautiful on the plate,” says Marie-Emmanuelle Chessé, international development project manager at Tipiak, whose miniaturised line-up encompasses dual-flavoured Pop Eclairs and Pop Macarons (including a blackcurrant and violet flavour).
Sweet little things
Premium Swiss pâtisserie La Rose Noire (exclusive to Town & Country Fine Foods in the UK) is also targeting the dessert and afternoon tea markets with its double-flavour mini-macarons, éclairs and choux buns, and its new collections of Petits Cheesecakes and Les Bijoux sponges with flavoured fillings topped with chocolate-coated crumble and macaron half-shell, and encased in decorated chocolate.
Danish pastries and viennoiserie are also shrinking to meet this trend. Lantmännen Unibake UK offers mini varieties, such as pains au chocolat, pains aux raisins, Lemon Cheesecake Coronets and Strawberry Shortcake Crowns under its Schulstad brand.
“Many operators now offer signature desserts, such as chocolate brownies, banoffee pie and spiced-sugar doughnuts in three formats: as full-size or mini-size individual portions, or as a selection of three,” says Paulo Veneroni, director of sales Scotland at Continental Quattro Stagioni (CQS).
Giant cookies, traybakes, doughnuts, Spanish churros and on-trend Portuguese custard tarts also lend themselves to the miniaturised single or trio approach, as well as to popular mixed sweet sharing platters that allow diners to choose what and how much to eat.
Dominique Ansel’s cronut sparked a trend for hybrids that has spawned the brookie ice-cream sandwich, townie, duffin, macaronut, chocro-donut, scioche and croll. “Combining flavours and textures attracts and wins over gourmets looking for something new and unexpected,” says Stéphanie Perrot, UK and Ireland sales manager at chocolate maker Valrhona.
“Hybrids are a brilliant way of making a dessert that’s a bit different,” agrees Barbara Lunnon at CSM Bakery Solutions. “We’ve identified trends such as cheesecake brownies, cookie cupcakes, tiramisu pancakes, red velvet meringues and profiterole towers.” At Finsbury Foods, a new trifle cake offers a twist on the interest in retro foods.
While vegetable and savoury ingredients are being added to desserts, we are also seeing sweet versions of savouries. Gordon Lauder, managing director at Central Foods, points to sweet burgers (ice-cream or brownies in a brioche bun), cookie fries and sweet pizzas topped with chocolate and marshmallows, while La Tua Pasta offers chocolate ravioli and sweet-filled gnocchi mini-doughnuts.
Globalisation has extended the cupboard of flavours available to update classic recipes. On-trend Middle Eastern flavours inspired Bidfood’s Persian rose petal and pistachio sponge and Turkish truffle torte (cream cheese and feta cheesecake with chopped figs and pistachios), while the McCormick Flavour Forecast suggests pairing peppercorns with date syrup or exotic fruits such as dragonfruit, mangosteen or jackfruit, to accent their cedar and citrus notes respectively.
It can be as simple, suggests Lunnon, as adding salted caramel to an apple crumble, chilli to a chocolate cake, biscoff to a sponge pudding or gingerbread to a Christmassy Eton Mess. New concoctions, says Lauder, are also bringing vibrant colours to the table, such as blue algae lattes, matcha green tea buns and purple ube (a type of yam) cheesecakes.
Plate-envy is one way to encourage customers to save room for a sweet treat. According to research by chocolate maker Callebaut, 87% of diners are more likely to order an attractively decorated dessert after seeing it served at another table, and its range of chocolate cup, star, pencil and curl decorations will add the wow factor.
Many caterers miss a trick by restricting prominent specials boards to mains and starters, warns Veneroni at CQS: “Creating a range of dessert specials that are visible at the time of ordering may help persuade a customer to leave room for a pudding.”
The promotional value of desserts cannot be emphasised enough. As Paul Whitely, head of marketing at Aryzta Food Solutions, points out: “Dessert is your calling card; the final memory of a meal. If operators can make the experience truly memorable, people will keep coming back for more.”
“Whatever the weather, ice-cream commands a large share of the dessert market,” says Rachel Cook at Bidfood. It’s a potentially high-margin sector where indulgence is the order of the day, and Bidfood’s Yarde Farm ice-creams, made from fresh double cream or clotted cream and butter, come in 36 flavours, including Lime & Basil and Red Velvet & Mascarpone (with sorbets offering a lighter option).
Minioti’s premium ice-creams are made from 100% Jersey milk and cream, come in natural flavours, and have gut-friendly live cultures with no added sugar or palm oil.
Making your own allows caterers to accommodate different diets and innovative and seasonal flavours, such as smoked salmon and mulled wine, says Scott Duncan, sales director at Carpigiani UK. Its popular Maestro gelato and sorbet maker has an internal infuser kit that spreads the most delicate sweet or savoury flavours evenly through the mix during a special heat cycle, saving hours of pre-infusing flavours outside the machine.
High-margin sundaes are now mutating into the dessert theatre of freakshakes, described by Barbara Lunnon at CSM as “mega milkshake creations, featuring extreme toppings including cream, chocolate and entire slices of cakes, brownies, cookies or doughnuts”.
Mintel also forecasts big things for Japanese Little Moons – bite-sized balls of flavoured ice-cream wrapped in a soft, chewy mochi (sticky rice) dough.
“Who says desserts can’t be indulgent and healthy? I just won’t believe it!” declares Steven Connell, executive chef at the Brewery in London, who credits the healthy eating trend for stimulating experimentation with flavours and ingredients.
With a focus on seasonal, savoury and fusion flavours, his creations include pumpkin and fig tarts; coconut, mango and cream sponge sandwiches; parsnip and walnut cakes; sweet potato and sour cherry brownies; avocado and beetroot sorbet; and plum tart with roasted marzipan custard.
He has also developed healthier sauces using fruit reductions and tonka bean or yogurt custards. “We want diners to be intrigued to try something new,” he says. “Have you ever considered frozen sweetcorn in a parfait, or sweet miso popcorn?”
Alan White, executive chef at the Grand Brighton hotel, has replaced carbs with polenta, ground nuts and coconut, and incorporated ingredients clients want, such as goji berries, flax seeds, poppy seeds and blueberries.
“Matcha, turmeric, avocado oil, lavender, beetroot and coconut nectar could all feature in some of our recipes to create dishes such as orange and polenta cakes, matcha pana cotta and beetroot cake,” he says.
Lantmännen Unibake UK
La Tua Pasta
Town & Country Fine Foods