Regionality and seasonality of ingredients are an accepted orthodoxy among chefs and diners at all levels of catering. But this concern has not been applied so much to desserts, where traditional British favourites tend to have nationwide appeal, as Diane Lane reports
Such is the interest in local sourcing of ingredients and regional dishes that many menus now reflect the location of the particular eating establishment, although this trend seems to be more pronounced in starters and main courses than in desserts.
However, we are now seeing something of a revival of traditional British puddings, as Mark Rigby, business development chef at Premier Foods, whose brands include Bird's, McDougalls and Angel Delight, explains.
"Historically, the majority of desserts used ingredients specific to an area and a season, because that is what was available and affordable at the time. Although this strong link between regionality of produce and desserts has dwindled, the need for consumers to understand the provenance of what they are ordering on a menu is firmly reviving this trend," he says.
"In 2012, more so than ever before, the trend for authentic British desserts has gained tremendous ground. British pride, created by the events we have seen this year, has spurred consumers to indulge in traditional favourites."
Even so, while desserts can be given a regional slant in terms of ingredients and some recipes may have originated in a particular geographical area, traditional favourites tend to have nationwide appeal.
Martin Ward, brand manager for Country Range, which recently launched a trio of individual handmade desserts, says that while there may be some regional preferences in desserts, many of the UK's most popular sweets have no regional alliance at all.
"While tourists will be eager to try regional favourites when visiting a particular area of the UK - such as cream scones in Devon or Bakewell tart in Derbyshire - residents in these counties will be hoping to enjoy a range of desserts popular among the whole UK population when eating out. Recent research points to desserts such as chocolate fudge cake, lemon meringue pie, sticky toffee pudding and treacle tart among our country's favourite puddings."
It's a similar story at Brakes. "While British classic desserts, such as queen of puddings and Bramley apple pies remain hugely popular, we're yet to see a particular demand for regional desserts," says marketing director James Armitage. "That said, our Bakewell range and our Manchester tart are popular, having gained wider notoriety beyond their regions of origin. There is also a particular demand for white vanilla ice-cream among customers in Scotland, which is not replicated anywhere else."
Although Norman Brockwell, business development chef for Macphie, whose dessert line-up includes ready-to-use crème brûlée, panna cotta and crème caramels, acknowledges the popularity of traditional British desserts, he's not averse to jazzing them up a bit. He says: "The nation's love affair with traditional British desserts such as sticky toffee pudding, lemon meringue pie and bread and butter pudding is as strong as ever and always will be. However, we do see a gap in the market for something a little more exotic. We've identified this trend as being ‘traditional with a twist', and this could include sticky toffee pudding with a salted caramel sauce, or luxury rice pudding made with crème brûlée."
The idea of lending a twist to traditional desserts has been the driver behind a new brand from Nestlé Professional. Emma Walker, category business lead for Nestlé Docello, which is due to launch imminently, says: "We undertook considerable research which showed that the most popular desserts on UK menus are the old classics - brownies, crème brûlée, cheesecake, lemon tart and ice-cream. Chocolate is still king, and seasonal berries will always have their place, but people are also craving the combination of a new experience in a way that evokes a sense of nostalgia.
"As a result, a key trend that has come into play in 2012 is the revisiting of classic desserts, but with a twist. We've seen a resurgence of childhood desserts, but with an adult appeal, such as chocolate dishes flavoured with a herb or aromatic oil."
Ice-cream always has a place on the dessert menu and, with a little effort and imagination, can cater for the nostalgia trend. Anthony Wilkinson, food service marketing manager for Kerry Foodservice, which supplies Kerrymaid Ice Cream Mix and Margetts dessert sauces, says: "Besides making an excellent accompaniment to sweet treats such as a chocolate brownie or apple pie, since the introduction of soft-serve ice-cream on the menus of global chains there has been significant growth in consumer demand for ice-cream that is a dessert offering in itself, rather than an accompaniment. By using a combination of dessert sauces and ice-cream, caterers can create on-trend retro desserts such as a sundae or knickerbocker glory."
Kent-based Simply Ice Cream takes inspiration from the county's abundance of fruit and has married this with both tradition and innovation.
"Kent is known as the Garden of England because of its fruit orchards," says owner Sally Newall. "Apples are plentiful and so we developed an apple crumble- and an apple and blackberry crumble-flavoured ice-cream."
Similarly, Wigan company Poole's Pies is hoping to buck a trend in imported treats by launching a range of lattice-topped fruit pies, baked using British flour and filled with UK-grown fruit in cherry, apple, rhubarb, apricot and blackcurrant varieties. Owner Neil Court-Johnston says: "It seems ludicrous that, as a nation that is renowned for great puddings, we're importing desserts from around the world. I know many customers would love to see some of the flavours of their youth appear on the menus of cafés and restaurants."
The company is also planning a range of traditional North-west puddings, such as the Manchester tart, a crumbly pastry base with a jam and custard filling topped with desiccated coconut and a maraschino cherry; and the wimberry pie, a pudding filled with the purple berries - a smaller relative of the blueberry - found growing wild on heath and moorland across Lancashire and the North-west.
Mark Lyddy, head of food service for rice supplier Tilda, is keen to encourage chefs to make more use of rice in desserts, beyond the traditional rice pudding - a coconut and cardamom version of which was prepared by the winner of this year's Tilda Chef of the Year, Lexington's Danny Leung. Lyddy says: "The versatility of rice means it is becoming established as a year-round dessert of choice for some chefs who are developing new dishes that build on the traditional popularity of rice pudding."
And, like Brockwell, Lyddy foresees more innovation in the desserts market. "Traditional styles of desserts will permanently have their place because of their established popularity," he says, "but there is always a place for innovation on the menu, and desserts offer great potential for chefs to show their creativity."
Case study: the Talbot hotel
When the Talbot hotel in the market town of Malton reopened in May, it announced a partnership with celebrity chef James Martin (pictured) to launch a 60-seat restaurant featuring the best of North Yorkshire cuisine. The menu has been built around Martin's favourite Yorkshire produce and makes the most of the area's butchers, fishmongers, game dealers, farmers and cheesemakers to produce menus of classic food of the highest quality.
In the case of desserts, Martin puts a Yorkshire slant on classics by using local ingredients. "Invariably, a classic dessert has a regional focus based on the ingredients we use," he says. "For example, where we use clotted cream, we use the incredible organic clotted cream from Stamfrey Farm in Northallerton, North Yorkshire."
Martin adds: "Nearly everything we do has a Yorkshire stamp on it - particularly popular is our buttermilk panna cotta, which features roasted rhubarb. As anyone will tell you, West Yorkshire is the home of rhubarb. It's an iconic food that has received Protected Designation of Origin and just oozes with flavour."
While he hasn't noticed a regional difference in terms of consumer preference for particular desserts, Martin says: "I'm delighted that traditional puddings such as spicy plum crumble, sticky toffee pudding and gooseberry crème fraîche tart have made a comeback. I make sure the ingredients are local where possible."
As far as dessert trends for the future go, Martin predicts a continuation of the provenance theme. "I see the drive for local and seasonal continuing to be high on the agenda for the next year or so. When the economy is tough people turn to foods that cheer them up while not costing a fortune. Present them prettily and add a twist that spices up a traditional recipe and it's what will keep people coming back for more.
"Obviously, there is a massive influence in cooking brought about by foreign travel, both by consumers and chefs, but when it comes to desserts there's only one country that truly excels and that's Britain."
Case study: Budock Vean hotel
At the family-run four-star Budock Vean hotel, near Falmouth in Cornwall, local sourcing and seasonality is at the heart of a menu that aims to celebrate the diversity of Cornish food.
Pastry chef Colin Root (pictured) says: "Buying local is extremely important across the whole menu. The Budock Vean has a strong environmental ethos and it is important to us to support our local suppliers. We're just so lucky to have such quality products grown locally.
"In my opinion, Cornish strawberries are among the best-tasting in the world and I'm delighted to have them on my doorstep. It just makes sense to me to use seasonal fruit and buy it locally, and it also means preserving the quality, as it reduces the distance travelled from field to kitchen."
Desserts change daily and usually include two cold and one hot in addition to fruit salad, local Cornish ice-cream and strawberries when they're in season. "Our guests usually prefer our light, fruity desserts, having already enjoyed three courses. However, sticky toffee pudding always goes down a treat," says Root.
The fruit used at the Budock Vean comes from a variety of local sources, including Tamar Valley and Trevaskis Farm, and appears in various creations including a vanilla and Tamar Valley raspberry crème brûlée.
Drawing on the idea of a traditional Cornish cream tea, Root has also created a Cornish cream tea cheesecake. It's made with a scone base instead of biscuit, with a clotted cream and cream cheese filling and local strawberries on top. Meanwhile, his Camel Valley sparkling fruit jelly features the award-winning Camel Valley sparkling wines from the vineyard near the village of Nanstallon.
Root says the feedback from guests is excellent. "They love our food and the fact that it is local. In fact, we have a number of guests requesting copies of our recipes."
Case study: Fosters Event Catering
Independently owned Fosters Event Catering provides a range of catering and events services at historic venues, stately homes and sporting stadia throughout the UK, as well as outdoor catering.
For Paul Biggs (pictured), executive head chef, using the finest and freshest locally sourced seasonal ingredients is a priority. "Every region should try to use local produce where possible," he says. "Here in Bristol, being so close to Somerset, we are very lucky to have Cheddar strawberries on our doorstep in the summer. This is a produce grown in abundance but for a short time only, so we highlight this on our menus to boost awareness of our use of local produce."
Fosters caters for a wide variety of occasions, from private parties to weddings, corporate entertaining and large-scale events, so its desserts are inevitably varied and encompass both the traditional and the more exotic.
"In many cases you will find traditional British desserts have been transformed with contemporary twists in order to make them visually appealing while not losing their characteristics," says Biggs.
For instance, Biggs embraced the trend for deconstructed desserts with a sherry trifle and a lemon meringue pie, where individual flavours are separated and created as individual contemporary components while still maintaining the basis of the dessert.
The sherry trifle consists of a small sherry-soaked sponge with a filling of raspberry jam, an English vanilla custard sauce, compote of raspberries, toasted almond cream and a few small squares of cream sherry jelly.
Meanwhile, the components of the lemon meringue pie are presented as sablé biscuits, lemon curd and lemon curd cream, tiny pavlovas, crushed pistachios and freeze-dried strawberries.
Other trends Biggs has picked up on include jellies, dried fruit and salted caramel. He says: "We used the last for the end-of-season dinner for Bath Rugby Football Club. The dish was a chocolate pot with pistachio ice-cream and salted caramel and it went down a treat."
Brakes 0845 606 9090
0845 519 6181
Kerry Foodservice 01784 430777
Macphie 0800 085 9800
Nestlé Professional 0800 742842
Poole's Pies 01942 214133
Premier Foods 0800 328 4246
Simply Ice Cream 01233 720922
Tilda 01708 717777