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Top Ten Dessert Trends 2011

A Food Trends Report from The Food Channel

The Food Channel® presents its Top Ten Dessert Trends for 2011. The list is based on research conducted by The Food Channel in conjunction with CultureWaves®, the International Food Futurists® and Mintel International.  

In our Dessert Trends survey, Food Channel readers let us know they do enjoy their sweets. More than 80% have dessert at least once a week, while more than a quarter enjoy it every day. We were somewhat surprised that more than 50% of respondents said they usually make desserts from scratch, with more than 60% saying they make desserts the same way their grandmother did, agreeing it’s all about taste, no compromising. Only 26% said they use “light,” low-fat or fat-free ingredients when preparing desserts. Looks like when it comes to making desserts in their own kitchens, our readers are a bit “old school.” But we’re sure they all want to know what’s next in dessert trends. So here goes…


1. Ta-da!! The Next Cupcake Is... Everyone wants to identify the “next cupcake” (NC) and to dethrone the mighty cupcake as the trend du jour – it’s become a love/hate relationship seasoned with a dash of backlash. Whoopie pies, macarons, small pies have all been contenders to become the NC, to the point where the cupcake has become almost a running joke. What’s relevant here is that people are looking for what’s fresh, exciting and…next. Well, it’s time to accept that the cupcake has gone from fad to trend to icon… and the movement now is more around its evolution than its dissolution. Today we’re seeing cupcake fondue, un-iced versions, savory varieties, flaming cupcakes, and shapes that are fat, skinny and mini—even cupcakes on a stick. It seems a new cupcake boutique bakery opens up every time you turn around. They’ve become almost as ubiquitous as ice cream parlors. On the home front, there are fancy new cupcake pans and cute little cupcake pedestals. In short, the next cupcake…is still a cupcake.

For evidence, read:

Cupcake Fondue

Flaming Strawberry Cupcakes

Old Pros Bring New Cupcakes

Munching Along Philadelphia's Crowded Cupcake Trail

Cupcakes Savory Style

Recipe evidence:

Mini Coconut Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting

Caramel Corn Cupcakes

 

2. Sweet, Heat, Salty and Tart. America’s taste for dessert is evolving. It doesn’t always have to be sugary sweet. High-end chocolate candies have led the way here with ingredients like bacon, soy, and jalapenos. Now we’re seeing lots of sweets packing heat from peppers and fiery spices. Salty-sweet continues to be a popular flavor combination with candy playing a role here, too, most conspicuously with the launch of M&M'S pretzel. We suspect people who are trying to cut back on sodium may be satisfying their craving for that salty taste by getting just a little touch of it with salty-sweet candies and desserts—whether consciously or unconsciously. Lots of us are also trying to curb our sugar intake, and opting for fruit-based desserts that are as tart as they are sweet.

For evidence, read:

Sweet Heat Comes of Age

Not So Sweet Desserts: If You Like It Salty, Spicy or Sour

Sweet On Olive Oil

Recipe evidence:

Bringing the Salty-Sweet Trend to Life in Your Kitchen

 

3. Wedding Cake Off the Guest List. The three-tiered cake is starting to get eighty-sixed. It may seem like a sacrilege, but for a growing number of brides and grooms, creativity now trumps tradition. It's becoming another way for the young couple to show their personality by replacing the old-fashioned cake with a cheesecake bar, strawberry shortcakes, or a table full of pies or gourmet doughnuts. Among the most popular new choices today are macaroons, cake pops, and ice cream floats. It’s part of an overall trend toward a more casual—and less stuffy—lifestyle.

For evidence, read:

Top 5 Wedding Dessert Trends

"Move Over Cupcakes" and Other Wedding Food Trends

Recipe evidence:

Wedding Cake Pops

 

4. Behold the Power of Protein. People are looking for more than a sugar buzz from desserts today. They’re craving a protein boost, whether it’s from a fortified smoothie or a sweet cheese nibble from Laughing Cow. We’ve read about the protein punch we can get from nuts—two handfuls are better for us than one!—so let’s top that dessert with some walnuts or pecans. Responding to European influences, even some midscale restaurants are starting to offer up cheese trays as part of the dessert course. Sometimes paired with fresh fruit or a bite of chocolate, there’s nothing quite like ending your meal with an assertive cheese. It requires a sophisticated palate, or at least an open mind. We see protein-rich Greek yogurt used as a topping with fresh fruit, and now that eggs have been upgraded on the health scale by the USDA, look for things like egg custard to get more play. 

For evidence, read:

Greek Yogurt Becoming Popular in the States

Sweet Egg Dishes

Protein a Prescription for Weight Loss

An Egg a Day Is A-OK

Recipe evidence:

Blueberry-Acai Super Smoothie

 

5. Desserts for Grownups. Call this trend the maturing of America’s sweet tooth. We’re seeing milkshakes with a splash of rum, wine paired up with gelato, and beer partnered with donuts (okay that one’s maybe more adolescent than grown up). Restaurants are also using liquor add-ons to chocolate desserts as a way to boost check averages and offer the guest a little something extra. Want a shot of Bailey’s in that hot fudge sundae—it’s just an extra $2.50. 

For evidence, read:

Whipohol Whipped Lightning

Drunken Dunkin' Donuts

Welcome Back the Cheese Course

Recipe evidence:

Margarita Mousse (photo above)

 

6. Whole Grains and No Grains. This is a food trend that’s all about health. Whole grains are huge. If you can treat yourself to a satisfying dessert and also get a few g’s of fiber, well, that’s a win-win. We’re seeing brown rice puddings, oatmeal crisp dessert toppings, and pies made with whole grain crust. On the flip side, there are those who—due to restricted diets—need to avoid grains all together. More and more restaurants are accommodating those needs, including on the dessert menu. Gluten free is found on nearly every menu now--or will be soon. It’s become trendy, even for those with no need to go gluten-free. For years, we couldn’t in good conscious put gluten free on any top ten list because the quality just wasn’t there, unless you count flourless chocolate cake (and if you do, then you could say we’ve been eating gluten free for years!). Now it’s a trendy call-out, and the dessert selection goes way beyond one cake. 

For evidence, read:

Classic Gluten-Free Cupcakes

Ancient Grains for Modern Meals

Recipe evidence:

Flourless Chocolate Cake

 

7. Desserts in the Raw. Yes, the Raw Foods Movement has entered the dessert realm. Don’t know if the act of biting into a fresh crisp apple could be considered trendy, but how about if it was a raw (uncooked) cupcake? Today you can find raw and vegan versions of cupcakes, cheesecake, ice cream cakes, moon pies, tiramisu and many more. Sure, it’s a bit on the fringe side, but it’s getting bigger all the time. Today you can find appliances like Yonanas (pictured) that can turn raw fruit into an ice cream- or sorbet-like dessert. Perhaps the bigger picture here is a demand for foods—desserts included—that are far less processed. Fewer ingredients, cleaner labels, and please, no high fructose corn syrup. 

For evidence, read: 

 Vegan Cupcakes Offered at Disney World

My Raw Cupcake eBook

Starting a Raw Food Diet

Top 5 Raw Desserts in NYC

 

8. A Touch of Sweetness All Day Long. This trend is about frequency, not quantity. In tough economic times, we seek to soothe ourselves with small rewards and little luxuries. So it is with desserts. Maybe it’s a slice of pastry at breakfast, or fresh organic strawberries added to the oatmeal. At lunch time, we might order the Cinnamon Twists at Taco Bell to cap off our cheesy double decker taco meal. Perhaps we swing by Starbucks for a cake pop afternoon snack. After dinner at home, it might be just a piece of good quality chocolate from Dove or Ghiradelli. Dessert is no longer about death-by-chocolate over indulgence, it’s now about sweet little rewards that help get us through the day. 

For evidence, read: 

Chains Are Sweet on Mini Desserts

Dude, Where's My Melatonin-Laced Brownie? 


9. A Hint of Floral. Subtle hints of floral have begun to sprout up in the dessert category. We’re seeing lavender, especially, with little touches of it in baked goods such as cupcakes and macarons. You can find lavender syrups, and lavender-infused sugars in teas and yogurts served in some restaurants. Even a chain as mainstream as Ruby Tuesday has introduced a new lavender lemon drop cocktail. Edible flowers, always popular as a garnish, are coming back in vogue as part of the aromatic and flavor experience. 

For evidence, read:

Lavender in the Limelight as the Hot Color in Food

Ruby Tuesday's Skinny Lavender Lemon Drop Cocktail 

Heaven Scent: Cooking with Flowers

Recipe evidence:

Lavender Panna Cotta

Brulee Cheesecake with Lavender Honey

 

10. Dessert Theatrics. We all enjoy a little tableside theater when we’re enjoying a nice restaurant dinner. We’ve had the tableside prep of the Caesar salad and the fresh guacamole. It’s only natural that this has started to creep across the menu. It began with tableside s’mores, and Brennan's in New Orleans is renowned for its tableside Bananas Foster. Now we’re seeing egg creams prepared tableside at Eleven Madison Park in New York. Alinea in Chicago does some amazing things, not just tableside, but table top, arranging an array of dessert ingredients on the table in front of the guests, who then can complete  and customize the assembly of the dish. It’s dessert theater at its best.

For evidence, read:

Is It Dessert or Is It Art?

Now Serving Egg Cream at Eleven Madison Park

Video: Tableside Dessert at Chicago's Alinea

 

11. (Bonus) The End of Shareable. Have you noticed people aren’t sharing desserts as much? Maybe it’s our germophobic tendency, but going in with the same spoon for bite after bite has gotten old. Keep your germs, and your desire for bread pudding, to yourself. Not only that, sharing a dessert is often a compromise. You want this, he wants that, so one of you doesn't get what you want. When you're sharing with a bigger group it gets worse. You may only get one bite. When the dessert gets passed around, what goes around may not come back around. Today, more diners are saying, I want apple pie, with a big scoop of ice cream. Get your own! 

I Hate Sharing Dessert

Check out our Top Ten Trends in action.

 

Presentation of The Food Channel's Top Ten Dessert Trends sponsored by