By Sean Moon
As a dessert staple, cakes have been a favourite on restaurant menus and family dining tables for generations. While the basic ingredients and traditional recipes have not changed much over the years, for those looking for exciting new flavours, health-conscious options and value-added dessert offerings, many diners and foodservice operators are finding that they can have their cake and eat (or profit from) it too.
Let’s face it, who doesn’t love a big, thick slice of decadent chocolate cake or the silky smooth sweetness of cheesecake? But for people tired of even those time-tested favourites, there are many new intense and unique flavours to be found on Canadian dessert menus. From tasty and tempting small bites to ethnically inspired variations, cakes remain one of the most popular dessert items among diners in this country. Several other trends that have taken shape when it comes to cakes include a back-to-basics return to simple ingredients as well as an emphasis on presentation and variety in portion size, according to dessert industry experts.
“What we’re really seeing is interest in unique or more intense flavors in dessert cakes, a trend that mirrors what’s going on in other food categories,” says David Grandell, assistant marketing manager of The Original Cakerie, based in B.C. and Ontario. “Fruit flavors go beyond tradition, too, as we’re noting demand for things like pear, mango and blood orange. And yes, bacon is in cakes, too, along with other savory ingredients.”
Keeping it simple
Clean, simple ingredient decks are also on the minds of both consumers and pastry chefs, says Michael Givens, president of La Rocca Creative Cakes of Richmond Hill, Ont. Givens believes the simplification of ingredient declarations has been a trend in the retail trade for some time that is crossing over to the foodservice business.
“Using real ingredients that consumers recognize is a core tenet of the La Rocca business model and our talented team of pastry chefs pursue dessert classics and new innovative items made with whole ingredients to deliver on the consumer need for real food,” says Givens. “The La Rocca team is responding to an ongoing demand for real ingredients and recipes that are baked without compromise. Consumers overwhelmingly say that when they chose to indulge, they want the experience to be satiating and rewarding.”
Presentation is key
Creative presentation ideas and offering a variety of portion sizes are also major considerations when designing dessert and cake menus, says Dufflet Rosenberg, CEO of Dufflet Pastries in Toronto.
“The most important trend is towards small desserts suitable for sharing and sampling,” says Rosenberg. “Plating simple combinations with rustic arrangements and an appeal to comfort are also popular. Presentation is a simple and cost-efficient way to stay on trend. Attention-grabbing china and cutlery and found objects like mason jars and flower pots are easy ways to express a restaurant’s personality. Finally, deconstructed dessert plating and adding broken or crumbled cookies to add texture is increasingly popular right now.”
Despite the continued popularity of simple ingredients and traditional flavours, there is a great deal of innovation to be found in the world of cakes. From ethnically influenced recipes to health considerations such as providing gluten-free options, pastry chefs and dessert suppliers are addressing both the preferences of customers and the latest global trends.
Creating cake recipes that cater to diners’ health and wellness desires is a major factor for businesses such as The Original Cakerie.
“More people are looking to balance their craving for indulgence and flavor with better-for-you desserts,” says Grandell. “It doesn’t have to be just one or the other, but depends on the occasion. So adding cakes that fall into the health, wellness or ‘free-from’ spectrum is another way to build interest and sales. Convenience and portability are other factors driving innovation, and we see that in miniature dessert portions and grab-and-go desserts.”
Rosenberg agrees, adding that not only are health concerns playing a role in the development of cake recipes, but so too are issues such as sustainability and local ingredient sourcing.
“Foods that come from obviously local sources are driving innovation with unusual pairings,” says Rosenberg. “Very attractive is produce from a nearby farmer’s market — be sure to mention the locale as part of the dessert’s name on your menu. There is also increasing demand for products suitable for specific dietary needs such as gluten-free or vegan, as well as culture and ethnicity (such alcohol-free for Muslim diets). There’s a growing need to source flour types other than wheat (like rice flour) and ancient grains (like amaranth and quinoa).”
Global flavour trends
Meanwhile, in an ethnically diverse country such as Canada, it is understandable that global flavours and internationally inspired recipes have come to the forefront. Whether it is using ingredients that appeal to a certain ethnic demographic, infusing desserts with ingredients such as teas or developing variations of traditional recipes from around the world, dessert lovers have more than ever to choose from.
“Dulce de leche is a rich, sweet profile of Latin American origin that has been on the scene for a couple years but is still growing,” says La Rocca’s Givens. “More recently, many players have launched items that are infused with teas, Matcha and Earl Grey being the most popular. Florals such as lavender continue to be in vogue with high-end pastry chefs but have yet to resonate with the mainstream guest.”
Not only are Latin flavours popular, says Grandell, but other regions are also having an impact on cake creativity.
“Tres leches and Italian cream cakes have been around for a while now, but are still a good fit for operators who want to offer internationally influenced cakes,” says Grandell. “Other varieties that have multicultural and ethnic appeal might be a limoncello cake from Italy, Mexican chocolate cake, Cuban coffee cake, chai tea cake, or cakes with Indian flavors like saffron and cardamom. While Latin and Hispanic flavors have been finding a place on menus for some time now, there is an ever-increasing demand for new mass marketed dessert menu items that have a Hispanic influence. To help meet these new operator needs, The Original Cakerie will be releasing at least one new item with an ethnic taste profile for our customers within the next year.”
Caters to demographics
Rosenberg says that ethnic influences also come into play when taking into consideration the cultural preferences of various demographic segments.
“For example, for our Japanese and South Asian customers, we’ve added recipes that contain passion fruit, mango, and coconut to appeal to a clientele looking for less chocolate and more fruit-based desserts,” says Rosenberg.
With customers focused on flavour, presentation and the chance to try something new and exciting, operators and suppliers also see cakes as a great way to boost business. By adding value to their menus, capitalizing on major trends and appealing to customer preferences, cakes can become a true profit centre and not just an end-of-meal afterthought.
“The dessert segment should be of highest importance to operators as they easily increase cheque averages and make room for high profit margins,” says Grandell. “At The Original Cakerie, for example, our line of premium products often have over 200 per cent profit per portion, making them a deliciously sweet and profitable menu item for operators.”
Sean Moon is the managing editor of Canadian Restaurant & Foodservice News.