By Kathleen Furore
Chef Eduardo Ruiz and the staff at Corazón y Miel in Bell, Calif., love the traditional Mexican popsicle, the paleta. They love liquor, too. When they decided to combine the two, a new dessert was born: Paletas En Su Jugo, a drink of rum, apple juice, the aperitif wine Cocchi Americano, and lime syrup with a paleta dipped inside.
“We are inspired by something in our childhoods, our upbringing, or just something we like,” the chef says of how new and unique offerings make it on to Corazón y Miel’s menu.
In the case of the paletas, the combination craft cocktail/dessert helped turn paletas into top-sellers. “When kids started seeing the paletas in the adults’ drinks, they wanted one too,” reports Ruiz, who had to up his paleta inventory to meet the young diners’ demands. “Since we started offering them without the alcohol, the volume has gone up tremendously!”
Paletas—which have graduated from street snack to restaurant dining status at places like Corazón y Miel, Epcot Center’s La Cantina de San Angel and even the Four Seasons Resort Scottsdale (where guests can savor made-on-site “Summer Paletas” in piña con chile, straw- berry, coconut and cinnamon fudge flavors)—are among items trending on dessert menus.
And they illustrate how restaurants can transform the simple into the simply divine with creative renditions of dessert offerings.
EXPANDING DEFINITION EXPANDS SALES
With all the talk about eating healthy and shunning sugar, you might suspect dessert sales to be on the decline. The opposite, new data shows, is true. Seventy percent of consumers say they eat dessert at least once a week, while forty percent report they are eating desserts after a meal at least twice weekly—up from 36 percent in 2010, research from Technomic’s 2013 Dessert Consumer Trend Report reveals.
The way customers define desserts is changing, too, and boosting dessert sales in the process. Dessert, it seems, now means more than dinners’ sweet endings. Compared to two years ago, more people are eating desserts in mid- morning and mid-afternoon, too.
“Consumers aren’t holding off on dessert until after dinner; instead, they’re reaching for easily accessible, handheld and portable treats at just about any time of day,” says Darren Tristano, executive vice president of Technomic. “Desserts are also functioning as snacks and even meal replacements. Operators will need to look at flavors, portion sizes and evolving needs to satisfy a broad range of consumers’ dessert expectations and preferences.”
ADAPTING TO PATRONS’ PREFERENCES
The reasons diners turn to desserts are as varied as the clientele sitting at restaurant tables. According to Technomic, dessert sales are being driven by two key factors: emotions and the make-up of the group customers are eating with.
“Most consumers say they are more likely to eat dessert when they want to treat or reward themselves (78 percent) or are feeling happy (60 percent), suggesting the strong effect of mood on dessert consumption,” Technomic data says. “Dessert occasions are also influenced by the dining party: 44 percent of full-service desserts and 29 percent of limited-service des- serts are shared.”
The kinds of desserts those customers prefer are also varied. Chocolate and berries were heating up menus through 2013 (berries were mentioned with chocolate desserts on 21 percent more menus in 2013 than in 2012, menu research firm Datassential reports). Cupcakes are out, donuts are in, and ice cream sandwiches are on their way to being the next big thing, according to “Blurred Lines: Top Trends & Predictions for 2014” from Andrew Freeman & Co.
The Food Channel says spoon desserts like puddings and custards are trending. And many consumers want healthier desserts and smaller portions. “Consumer responses reveal demands for healthier desserts—especially low-calorie and sugar- free options—and 36 percent of consumers agree that they are more likely to order dessert if a mini portion is available,” the Technomic report says.
Preferences also vary by restaurant type: More guests ordered baked goods and puddings/gelatins at full- service restaurants than at limited-service restaurants, while more chose ice cream at limited-service establishments, Technomic research shows.
With all the variables, what’s a chef to do?
Offer desserts that fit several categories, which Ruiz does at Corazón y Miel.
The Niños y Buñuelos, for example, is what Ruiz calls “the crowd pleaser.” This “overall best-seller” is a palette-pleasing confection of pastry-wrapped fried bananas, ice cream, cinnamon sugar and caramel. “This is a straight-forward dessert that is light and fruity—it is good for the large population [of customers] who don’t like chocolate,” he says.
But chocolate aficionados aren’t overlooked: Corazón y Miel’s Boca Negra is a delectable serving of chocolate cake, chipotle custard and ancho whip accented with blackberries. “Chocolate lovers want rich desserts and people who love chocolate go crazy for the Boca Negra,” Ruiz says.
The Mexican bread pudding Capirotada, served with preserved figs, walnuts and fig whip is another non-chocolate option Ruiz says is especially popular with the restaurant’s Latino customers.
And then there’s the Avocado Frito, which Los Angeles Times restaurant critic Jonathan Gold describes as “flash-fried avocado wedges crusted with bread crumbs and coconut, swamped with a sweet habanero-laced mango chutney”—a dish that appears on both the appetizer and dessert sections of Corazón y Miel’s menu.
Top Dessert Trends of 2014
The Food Channel, in conjunction with CultureWaves insights and trends analysis, compiled a list of this year’s top dessert trends. Discover some of this year’s hot categories below, along with a few suggestions on Mexican- and Latin-inspired confections that fit into each category.
Spoon Desserts. pudding, custard, tapioca, rice pudding and non-fancy soft desserts, are big this year. Try Capirotada (Mexican bread pudding, like that at Corazon y Miel); flan (such as Flan de Camote, the sweet potato flan with local apple sorbet and tamarind at Washington D.C.’s Oyamel), or ice cream (like the chocolate-kahlua, Mexican cinnamon and passion fruit gelato at Dos Caminos in New York City).
Hand Pies. The mini dessert has finally extended itself to the pie. Hand pies are sealed on all sides and usually hold a fruit mixture, but expect to find them filled with just about anything this year. Try fruit-filled dessert empanadas or sopaipillas.
Midwestern Influence. When it comes to desserts, that means cobblers, pies, crisps, tarts, upside down cakes, and bar cookies. Consider Margarita Key Lime pie like the one infused with a hint of Jose Cuervo tequila featured on the menu at La Margarita Restaurant & Oyster Bar in San Antonio.
Crepes. What’s old is new again with additional flavors and combinations coming into play. La Margarita also offers pecan praline Crepes, chocolate flavored crepes filled with pecan pra- lines and kahlua-infused chantilly cream, topped with homemade cajeta sauce and garnished with fresh strawberries.
Pepper, Flavored Salts, and International Spices. new desserts on the menu are heavy on the stronger spices. Try anything with chile-spiced chocolate!
Nuts. Nuts are big in desserts right now, particularly considering possible health benefits. Lola in Denver, for example, offers pecan pie with spiced pecans, sea salt caramel ice cream and pomegranate purée.
Layers—The more layers the better. One example: The Levante at El Pinto Restaurant and Cantina in Albuquerque. The dessert is a serving of homemade biscochitos soaked in Patron XO Cafe, Kahlua, brandy and coffee, layered with mascaprone cheese, light whipped cream and topped with shaved chocolate.
Small Batch Desserts—also called “Desserts for Two” because they are made for sharing. El Pinto’s Levante fits this category, too—it is big enough for two to four diners.
For the full report about dessert trends for 2014, click here.