From the celebratory and indulgent to healthier alternatives, you can make headlines with your chocolate and pâtisserie this season. Jennie Milsom discovers the latest sweet trends to see in the New Year and beyond.
A s this rollercoaster of a year draws to its inevitable close, there has never been a better time to indulge customers with chocolate and sweet bakes. Prove It: A Viennoiserie Focus, a report published this month by Délifrance, found that "indulgence was key" to driving the viennoiserie category as consumers sought treats in "uncertain times". This offers opportunities for operators to innovate with soothing sweet indulgences as consumers prioritise self-care as part of the wider health and wellness trend.
New working routines have reshaped how and when consumers are likely to enjoy sweet treats, too, and these shifts offer businesses additional scope, says Stéphanie Brillouet, marketing director at Délifrance. "Interest in indulgence and snacking presents operators with a host of opportunities throughout the day – not just at breakfast time. Outlets should consider which formats suit their customers' changing needs, as well as which types of pastries answer the indulgence trend."
Pursuit of indulgence
Matthew Grenter, foodservice sales manager at Brioche Pasquier, also anticipates a renewed focus on indulgence across menus, such as "strong, rich and decadent flavours" from dark chocolate to crème pâtissière. Combining textures and flavours in desserts is popular, too, he says, citing Brioche Pasquier's Tartelette Au Citron Meringuée Italienne paired with vanilla ice-cream as an example.
Simon Brayn-Smith, vice-president of Dezaan Cocoa, believes cocoa powder offers caterers creative freedom with flavours and colours in desserts. Dezaan recently launched a cocoa range in six flavours, all vegan, including Carbon Black (intense), True Gold (light and fruity) and Terra Rosa (warm and smooth). Each lends itself to an array of Christmas cocktails and desserts – from cocoa gingerbread loaf and cocoa Bûche de Noël to petits fours.
Samantha Rain, development chef at independent chocolate distributor Henley Bridge, agrees that chocolate provides the "ultimate in decadence". She explains: "Christmas offers the ideal opportunity for caterers to let their imaginations run wild and go all-out on their festive creations." Caramel is still a "huge flavour trend" says Rain, highlighting Belcolade Amber, a Belgian white chocolate flavoured with salted butter caramel. Available in 4kg packs in button format, it melts easily for ganache, mousses and ice-creams.
Rain also suggests serving after-dinner chocolates that provide a "memorable USP" for customers. "You could even sell boxes and bars of your handmade wares for customers to take home or give as gifts."
Freeze-dried powders and pastes can instantly boost flavour, too. Consider combining Sosa freeze-dried berry mix powder with white chocolate or Sosa freeze-dried apple powder with Belcolade Amber for notes of toffee apple. Or up the wow factor by finishing desserts with Dezaan's Crimson Red cocoa powder. Rain adds: "We use it to dust our Persian Bites – small ganache cubes infused with Essential Cuisine Persian spice rub."
Meanwhile, Fabien Levet, commercial manager at Pidy UK, has noticed "a real surge" in pairing classic dessert flavours with savoury ingredients such as avocado, tahini, bacon and beetroot. He says: "It all started with salted caramel, but now savoury ingredients are increasingly turning up in our sweet treats." He suggests pairing Pidy's Spicy Macaron Shells and Spicy Cup range with sweet fillings.
David Colcombe, chef-ambassador of Maple from Canada UK, agrees that chefs are experimenting with unusual flavour combinations in mini desserts and bite-sized "tasters": avocado in silky chocolate mousses, and thyme or lime with dark chocolate. Smaller treats are popular among consumers because they offer a taste of decadence without overwhelming, says Levet. "At Pidy, we offer various bite-sized tart cases, macarons and mini éclairs, which are ideal for creating petits fours that will leave customers perfectly satisfied."
Christina Veal, director at New Forest Ice Cream, says it's a case of "the more chocolate, the better" this season. "It's a time of indulging with loved ones and, in some ways, this Christmas requires these moments of joy more than ever before," she says.
One long-lasting trend that's a sure-fire hit is the combination of chocolate and orange, she says. "This year, there has been a huge buzz around the launch of Terry's white chocolate orange, and so the trend is set to have even more of a resurgence."
New Forest Ice Cream produces a dairy-free chocolate sorbet that appeals to chocolate lovers seeking indulgence in a more refreshing, lower-fat format. Veal adds: "Why not try serving in an elegant martini glass for a truly impressive presentation, or as a perfect quenelle paired with a contrasting white chocolate parfait or soufflé?"
Alternatively, turn up the heat and offer guests a quality hot chocolate experience. Speciality coffee roaster Modern Standard's founder Lynsey Harley has partnered with a family-run chocolate business in Manizales, western Colombia, to create a dairy-free hot chocolate powder that's rich, indulgent and ethically produced. She says: "I was immediately taken with the quality and the sweet, nutty flavour of the product, as well as the working practices there." Every pack sold includes a donation to social projects in Colombia, improving the lives of cocoa farmers as well as safeguarding the land.
Sweetness and light
William Curley, pâtissier-chocolatier and ambassador for Maple from Canada UK, says operators should look at healthier options, too. "In these unprecedented times, many people are looking at ways to improve their health and boost their immune system. Maple is not only very tasty but is also rich in antioxidants, vitamins and minerals, which supports health and immunity and is ideal as a flavour in fine desserts." He has created individual Chocolate Maple Petit Gateaux, which combine caramelised clementines and crème brûlée made from maple sugar.
Also catering for guests seeking healthier alternatives without compromising on flavour or performance is Ross Sneddon, executive pastry chef at the Balmoral hotel in Edinburgh, who has been working with Zùsto. Used as a sugar substitute in baking, it behaves and tastes like traditional sugar but has a quarter of the calories.
"Zùsto has been a real problem-solver for us. I can now have one offering across several individual dietary requirements – it's perfect for diabetics and is allergy-free," Sneddon says. "I have used it for cakes, tarts, scones, pastry, croissants, ganache, bread, anglaise, butter cream, jams and syrups… it performs brilliantly. Zùsto browns and caramelises properly and it doesn't leave a strange taste or sensation in your mouth."
Finding time to focus on the "all-important exciting fillings" of your chocolate creations is crucial, says Levet, who adds that having innovative, reliable base products will help caterers manage their time more effectively, while turning out "inspiring pâtisserie creations".
For Levet, a roulade always impresses as a stunning centrepiece, particularly over the festive season, and can be simple to make with ready-made sponge sheets. He says: "With Pidy's Technipat sponge sheets, chefs and caterers are already halfway there and the different flavours in the range can help inspire what fillings to choose."
As well as rolling into roulades, the sheets are flexible enough for génoise layered cakes and can be filled to produce mini desserts. The range includes plain and cocoa traditional sponge sheets, as well as raspberry and pistachio flavours, and are stored frozen with a shelf life of 18 months.
Grenter also champions freshly frozen pâtisserie that can be thawed as needed – a bonus for minimising wastage. It's a time-saver, too. "If chefs can delegate plating of stunning desserts to others in the kitchen, then it frees up their time yet still ensures that guests receive a beautiful dessert or café gourmand that tastes delicious."
He also anticipates a return to traditional desserts that trigger childhood memories of Sunday lunch with family around the table as consumers seek classics with a twist. Brioche Pasquier's Tartelettes Aux Pommes consist of finely sliced apples, fresh apple purée and buttery shortcrust pastry and are an ode to the classic apple pie.
For those favouring smaller after-dinner treats, or café gourmands, Grenter recommends Brioche Pasquier's bite-sized Envies Sucrées petits fours collection. Meanwhile Valrhona is offering chocolate bonbons, available in 2kg boxes of four flavours (160 bonbons) and include salted caramel milk chocolate and Praliné Intense Ivoire.
Award-winning online cake shop Jack & Beyond found that festive favourites are hugely popular on social media, with fruit cake the most-tagged British dessert on Instagram, followed by mince pies.
Fabien Levet, commercial manager at Pidy UK, agrees: "Year-on-year, the mince pie is reincarnated and transformed into anything but traditional. This year is no different and it's a fantastic opportunity for caterers and chefs to showcase innovation."
For a fresh and speedy take on a classic mince pie, he suggests filling a Pidy Mini Square Trendy Shell with mincemeat and dusting with icing sugar. Or add on-trend flavours such as salted caramel, sloe gin, clementine or frangipane to mincemeat and top with meringue.
Jack & Beyondwww.jackandbeyond.com
Maple from Canada UKwww.maplefromcanada.co.uk
New Forest Ice Creamwww.newforesticecream.com