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Dessert menu makeover

At long last the days are getting longer, people are doffing their winter gear, and diners are turning to lighter dishes in restaurants. Their desire for lighter fare extends to desserts, too, as they seek out those signs of spring on the sweets plate.

 

By Jane Auster

The end-of-meal treat continues to be a favourite of Canadians. According to Technomic Inc.’s Canadian Dessert Consumer Trend Report, most consumers say they are more likely to eat dessert when they want to treat or reward themselves (72 per cent) or are feeling happy (52 per cent). Additionally, 36 percent are driven by a feeling of nostalgia for desserts. Dessert occasions are also influenced by the dining party, the report says: 42 percent of full-service restaurant desserts and 31 percent of limited-service restaurant desserts are shared.

Savvy pastry chefs are finding new ways to keep their sweet treats exciting and delicious.

Jackie Kai Ellis of the French-inspired Beaucoup Bakery in Vancouver, who features desserts for every season, starts moving to lighter fare as early as January with her citrus tart.

“People are craving fresher flavours,” she says. “Around Christmas it’s all about spices, a little bit heavier and richer flavours like caramel, chocolate and gingerbread. Then, as spring approaches, people want fruit flavours, citrus, raspberries, things that are pink and red, passionfruit. That’s the time I switch over to some of our lighter tastes. For instance, instead of a walnut coffee macaron, for spring we do strawberry pistachio. From ginger pumpkin tarts, we switch to fig tarts, and we use more seasonal fruits as the berries start coming out.”

Making seasonal changes brings new news, and in an increasingly competitive foodservice environment, operators need to keep things fresh to grab attention.

“The sweet spot when making seasonal changes is finding a balance between new and tried and true in a fashion that fits your capabilities and clientele,” says Kraft Foodservice’s corporate chef Kira Smith, herself a pastry chef.

Seasonality for Darlene Landino, co-owner of Winnipeg’s Double D’s Cheesecake, which features 50 flavours of cheesecake, is very important. “For our retail customers we have an e-marketing campaign where we remind them what’s new for the month,” she says. “It is a way to have your customers look forward to something different. It’s like anticipating a holiday.”

As spring approaches, some of the cheesecakes Double D’s customers are pining for are seasonal favourites like Saskatoon berry (a big local hit), white chocolate raspberry, lemon burst and key lime, and blueberry swirl. Of her 50 flavours (which grew from the first family recipe), Landino cycles in 10 new cheesecakes, which she features for one month to make them special occasions for her customers.

Attention to the dessert menu allows chefs and operators to capture customers’ desire to eat locally and seasonally. And that means listening to diners and also studying trends.

Jackie Kai Ellis of Beaucoup Bakery takes busman’s holidays throughout the year, leading pastry tours of Paris while researching the latest tastes. On her pastry palate for the spring? Passionfruit, and lots of it.

“It’s relatively underutilized, but very used in France,” she says. “Passionfruit is easy if you get the Boiron brand of passionfruit purée, which the best pastry chefs in Paris use. “I’ll be working with flavours like passionfruit citrus, and passionfruit and raspberry, with fromage frais.”

Tasty!

Top tips to add some spring to your dessert menu

  • Find the balance between new news and tried-and-true favourites.
  • Tweak existing desserts to freshen them for spring.
  • Consider crusts, toppings and garnishes to add seasonal touches.
  • Listen to your customers for new ideas and follow the latest flavour trends.