Which Desserts Are Taking The Lead – Where, What, And How

By Suzy Badaracco, Foodable Industry Expert

Desserts return to the spotlight, as we move into recovery and desserts lend an insight to consumer mood and comfort level. Desserts are back, but riding the line between historical/ regional to global classics and more experimental.  

Dessert Preparation

Before we can delve into the fabulous flavors and inspirations of desserts–we must look at their design. Preparation affects what foods can be offered and what will accompany them on the plate. An interesting thing about cooking techniques right now is not what the list includes, but what it leaves out - which is equally important.  Specific cooking techniques now included speed scratch, table-side prep, and deconstruction.  In fact, the preparations are becoming more diverse and complex, indicating further movement towards recovery.  The underlying theme is “bold on the palate.” Foods and flavors come down to which have staying power and which had so many voices screaming their names that they will get some attention this year.

Dessert Ingredient Trends

The most noteworthy fruits entering desserts were the berries and global fruits indicating health, adventure and playfulness.  Blood orange, finger limes, and grapefruit are also noteworthy. Kefir limes are also on a high right now, also known as “Makrut” limes.  

For dairy, look globally. Dairy is dominated by Greek yogurt, plant based milks, savory yogurt, and grain mix ins.  Other artisan cheeses, house made ricotta, and other international yogurts are expected to join the spotlight so don’t shy away from incorporating them in desserts.

Interestingly, seasonings have a very large presence and can easily partner with desserts. The flavor trend sweeping many categories includes smoke, floral, tea, and fire. Exotic flavors include ginger, flavored salts, Szechuan pepper, cardamom, citrus, and tamarind.

Wine and beer have also infiltrates the dessert category as syrups, sauces or as a direct ingredient in milkshakes, ginger beer floats, and dry floats, which showcase dark beers and ciders. Spirits have a long history in the dessert segment. The trend of alcohol-infused desserts is not a new concept. However, chefs are finding creative ways to incorporate booze flavors into everything from cakes and cookies to ice cream and popsicles.  Banana bread pudding with whiskey sauce, bourbon-infused frozen custard, or try filling a warm donut with chocolate Baileys. Warm donuts are being infused with Chocolate Baileys, Strawberry Daiquiri, or salted caramel sauces. Milkshakes are being spiced up with liqueurs like Frangelico or Kahlua.

Bold Flavors 

Desserts are predicted to be more traditional and historic but with bolder flavors. Artisan is now joined by frozen bars, local ice cream, seasonal shakes, cheesecake, French pastry, gourmet donuts, hybrid desserts, bundt cakes, and retro puddings. These are being tempered by savory fillings and toppings, and bolder flavors.  Again, for desserts to assert themselves they must appeal to many different consumers.  And don’t overlook regional pie, white chocolate, and Scandinavian pastries, including the classic Kringle or you will miss an opportunity.

Global Trends

Regional cuisines translate to how and where a food fits on a plate – it gives food a home, history, and voice. Dishes are dominated by global comfort foods - exotic to us but mainstream to their native country. Factions (families) captured nostalgia but also adventure and risk.  Faction items include street food, foraged items, and hybrids to name a few. Look to regional cuisines including North Africa, Eastern Europe, Cuba, Low Country, Native American, regional Mexican, Norwegian, Native American, and Appalachia. Fruit also focused on crossovers, along with regional favorites that tie into travel, such as dates from the Middle East and Durian from SE Asia. France lends us crepe cakes layered with things like lemon curd, Nutella or a pastry cream. Puff pastries are the blank canvas for desserts. Try a puff pastry with ripe fruit and sugar, like a plum tart with honey and black pepper. From the UK, we are seeing scones that are creamy, buttery and spicing things up, with coconut chocolate and orange cranberry. From the United States– bananas foster, shoo fly pie from the south, and other regional favorites.

Desserts are also dairy focused with ice cream and ice cream sandwiches leading. Ice cream is acting as a blank canvas to introduce innovative flavors. Try flavor favorites like carrot habanero, banana pudding, pistachio honey ricotta, cardamom, salted caramel, and sweet cream biscuits or berry jam.

Have fun, layer these trends, and combine elements in a way that makes sense and is inviting.