Trending treats for winter dessert menus

By Mark Plumlee

‘Tis the season get guests excited for new, craveable, seasonal treats on your menu. Desserts remain a popular item for diners, and although 21 per cent of diners say they’ve eaten dessert in the last 24 hours, studies show that number is actually closer to 63 per cent. Now’s the perfect time to add holiday LTOs that can help you stand out and maximize those margins.

RELATED: Desserts are your menu’s sweet spot

With so many delicious flavours to choose from, which fan favourites will have your customers coming back again and again?

Whether it’s for grab-and-go items you’re after or a full-on dine-in menu, it’s the most wonderful time of year to focus on festive flavours and delicious desserts. Need some inspiration? Keep reading for some creative takes on holiday classics and some unexpected treats that are bound to get your guests in a very merry state of mind.

Cookies, cookies, cookies!

Cookies are so versatile, satisfying that craving for something sweet at the end of the meal, but there are so many cookie options, it can be hard to decide which flavours are the best fit for your menu. Here are a few popular options that might hit your customers’ fancy:

You can’t have a holiday menu without gingerbread – it’s one of the most iconic holiday cookies. But you don’t have to just stick to the basics, think about creations that work with your brand and will offer fun and delicious options for your guests. Want to keep things simple or add a rustic touch? Consider offering soft, ginger molasses cookies. These treats taste like pure holiday bliss but don’t require cookie cutters or time-consuming decorating.

Snowballs are another classic choice. These buttery round cookies rolled in confectioners’ sugar go by many names, including Mexican Wedding Cakes, Russian Tea Cakes, and even Mouldy Mice! Not only are they a great stand-alone item, but they’re also a fantastic cookie to bag by the dozen and sell as a gift item or add to cookie tin assortments. The basic recipe can be adapted in any number of ways — you can add nuts, citrus, chocolate, or any number of ingredients to create a signature sweet for your restaurant.

Decorated sugar cookies are a crowd-pleaser, and while they do require a little extra time, they are an extremely versatile offering. They can be rolled out, shaped with themed cookie cutters, and decorated in any number of festive ways, can be stacked and made into holiday sandwich cookies, or you can really impress your guests with stained-glass window cookies. Customers love the classics, and these cookies are always a crowd-pleaser.

Another way to mix up your holiday cookie offerings? Offer customers something they’ve never tried before by creating a cookie that’s all your own. You could offer your twist on a traditional treat by adding in something special or come up with a signature cookie that will get your guests coming back for more.

Gingerbread baked goods

Look beyond the cookie! Gingerbread is a favourite festive flavour, but it doesn’t just have to mean cookies – think of ways to incorporate it on your menu in a new way this season.

Looking to attract families to your restaurant? Gingerbread houses might just do the trick! They can be offered as fully constructed homes for sale, or you can sell gingerbread house kits that can perform double-duty as a family-friendly activity or host and hostess gift.

But don’t stop there! The inimitable flavour of gingerbread can also be incorporated into so many non-cookie treats, ranging from gingerbread cake with spiced buttercream to quick breads, scones, or even a gingerbread cream pie. And don’t forget beverages! Gingerbread is commonly featured in lattes, alcoholic beverages, milkshakes, and more, so the sky’s the limit with this spicy seasonal favourite.

Eggnog-flavoured everything

Eggnog isn’t just for drinking, its signature creamy-spicy flavour can give a little oomph to just about anything on your dessert menu. Traditionally made with eggs, cream, milk, and sugar, there are a variety of ways to use it to add holiday cheer to your menu. And these days, there are many variations, including dairy-free options, so not only is it delicious, but it can also be a festive addition to your plant-based menu.

Opportunity nogs! Whether it’s homemade eggnog cream-filled pop-tarts, eggnog donuts, or an eggnog ice cream cake, consider adding some eggnog-flavoured treats to this year’s holiday menu.

Holiday pies

Pie is practically a requirement for Thanksgiving, but the demand doesn’t go down as the holiday season progresses. In fact, National Pumpkin Pie Day is actually on December 25 — now there’s a case for Christmas dessert pie!

While apple, pumpkin, and pecan pies are all classic, it can also be fun to mix things up a bit. Here’s a chance for you to use local, seasonal ingredients for a sweet celebration, creating pies that are only available at this time of year.

Mini desserts are topping trend lists this year and pies are the perfect mini treat! Add them to your to-go menu, kids’ menu, or feature a sampler platter with sweet and savoury options for guests to share at the table. Whether you’re focused on selling slices, full pies, or mini versions, your guests will feel comfort and joy with this nostalgic menu addition.

Peppermint sweets

Give customers the royal treat-mint with a minty dessert! As peppermint lattes abound on QSR menus, its flavour complements everything from hot chocolate to ice cream. It’s a versatile flavour that’s becoming synonymous with the holidays.

While mint can easily be incorporated into simple cookies or cakes, it can also be added to more extravagant and decadent baked goods. Think shortbread, cheesecake, yule logs, meringue, and more.

Too complicated? Keep it simple for kids and kids-at-heart with peppermint brownies on your dessert menu.

Sweet winter wishes…

Forget sugar plums — the real visions dancing in most peoples’ heads at this time of year involve cookies, cakes, and pies. Is your restaurant ready to satisfy your customers’ dessert cravings and keep them coming back for more? Consider adding some of these delicious baked goods to your winter menu this year!

Mark Plumlee is the Sr. Editor for MustHaveMenus, a DIY design and digital marketing service for restaurants, and has written for CRFN and many foodservice publications on food industry trends and technology.