The term house-made is peppered throughout menus across the country, and the handcrafted, artisanal dishes should continue after the main entrée. Guests love ending the meal on a sweet note; according to Technomic’s 2015 Consumer Trend Report Spotlight on Desserts, 63 percent eat dessert at least once a week. Dessert should be approached as an extension of the meal that it follows, reflecting the food the guests have just enjoyed as well as the chef who prepared it. House-made options show off the restaurant’s uniqueness and style. A well-made, from-scratch dessert should serve as a fitting conclusion to the meal, a final opportunity to leave a lasting impression on the diner. By keeping food menus small in general, restaurants and foodservice operators can help boost dessert and maximize profits, making it a must and not an option. Give them a dessert that they can’t refuse and they will want to come back for a one-of-kind dining experience that only your restaurant offers. Showcase your restaurant’s uniqueness and strengths through the innovative sweets coming out of your kitchen. Here’s how to set your dessert program apart:
Classic Meets Creative
Today’s most exciting desserts that are gaining attention in the foodservice space are elevated forms of familiar favorites as well as innovative mash-ups (look no further than the cronut). If diners are going to order dessert (about 58 percent of desserts are purchased on impulse according to Technomic), they want something that is one part comfort and one part bold, mixing the familiar with on-trend, fearless flavors. By offering an enticing treat, restaurants can cater to those guests who are on the fence about ordering dessert.
The classics will act as a bridge to the unfamiliar, getting customers to try new things and step away from their comfort zone. According to Technomic, the most preferred desserts are brownies (67 percent), apple pie (65 percent) and chocolate cake (59 percent). Using these favorites as a vehicle to pair with the unexpected, such as warm spices like chai and cardamom with fudgy brownies or even Cheddar cheese or fresh herbs like thyme on apple pie, will tempt guests to order dessert even when they think they don’t have any room left.
Combining contrasting flavors, whether it’s salty and sweet or sour and sweet, makes for an overall distinctive dessert experience. The seemingly clashing flavors play off each other, complementing the nuances of each and contributing to a well-balanced dish. By using unexpected flavors together (it wasn’t too long ago that salted caramel was an unusual pairing), chefs can put a new twist on classics and upgrade them to reflect current trends and tastes. For example, a crème brulée can take on Asian flavors by using coconut, lime, and palm sugar. Elevate bread pudding by experimenting with different ingredients such as the popular Nutella hazelnut spread and by making components for the dish in house, such as bruleed bananas and a whiskey or bourbon sauce to capitalize on the popularity of brown liquors.
From almonds to macadamia to pistachios, nuts are everywhere. According to Datassential MenuTrends, 44 percent of dessert menus feature nuts, up from 23 percent a decade ago. Pecans, peanuts and almonds are the most popular, while roasted peanuts, candied pecans, hazelnuts and pistachios are among the fastest-growing over the past few years. Nuts offer texture, crunch and flavor as well as healthy unsaturated fat.
Nuts offer many possibilities for chefs to put their creative stamp on a dessert with different treatments. Candied nuts add another dimension as a topping for creamy desserts such as panna cotta, ice cream, cakes and pies. Or nuts can be liquefied to serve as the base for custards and pastry creams — a bonus being that they’re plant-based friendly for guests who eschew animal products. For guests who would prefer to drink their desserts, nuts can be transformed into milkshakes of the kid-friendly and adult beverage varieties.
Another way to take the house-made trend a step further is to grind nuts such as hazelnuts and almonds in house. Using a nut flour — which is essentially ground-up nuts — in cakes to replace all purpose is another way to capture those who are avoiding gluten. Nuts can be ground in house using a food processor or blender with a sharp blade (make sure to grind with some of the flour or sugar that will be used in the recipe to avoid oiliness) or invest in a nut mill. Grains can also be ground in house and more restaurant chefs are choosing to grind their own flours in a commitment to premium ingredients (refined flours are processed to be shelf stable and are not as fresh).
What evokes beloved childhood memories more than milk and cookies? Customers gravitate to the familiar and these little treats have big impact. On their own, cookies can be arranged in platters that tap into the sharing trend. Snacks are also trending, and cookies fit the bill; customers who want to nosh between meals or grab a treat on the go or during happy hour will be tempted by restaurants that offer cookies all day. They’re also the building blocks to more elaborate dessert presentations such as cookie skillets and cobblers. Cookies also add another dimension to a dessert dish by offering crunch and texture. Take the childhood favorites theme a step further by pairing cookies with house-made milkshakes. Continue the riff on nostalgia by making ice cream sandwiches, using cookies and ice cream made in house.
Cream of the Crop
House-made/artisan ice creams were among chefs’ top trends in the NRA’s most recent “What’s Hot” forecast for this year, and this is one way chefs can differentiate themselves with unexpected flavor combinations, pairing sweet and savory. Vanilla still reigns supreme in foodservice sales, but that doesn’t mean chefs can’t make it their own. Versatile vanilla can serve as a vehicle to showcase house-made components, such as brownies and cookies, fruity or herbal syrups, and alcohol infusions. While chocolate and strawberry are perennial favorites, ice cream flavors are limited only by the imagination. Showcase the season’s freshest vegetables and fruits with innovative ice creams, from sweet corn to fresh herbs like basil to even tomato. Gelato is another way to embrace the frozen treat trend; this Italian version of ice cream is denser and has less butterfat, offering a different texture and creaminess to your dessert applications.
According to Technomic’s dessert spotlight, 34 percent of guests were more likely to order dessert if a mini-portioned option was available. There are many reasons for this, including consumers who are looking for lighter options or trying to control portions. The smaller size affords even health-conscious guests a little indulgence, making them open to saying yes to dessert, while it can also help spur sales for restaurants (not only the desserts but also the complementary beverages such as coffee or port). And smaller desserts offered at a lower price point could encourage diners to go ahead and treat themselves.
Much like the small-plates trend that offers diners the opportunity to try different items that they can share with their companions, offering large or regular-size desserts whether it’s a decadent sundae with multiple spoons or a big brownie with fun toppings designed to inspire sharing and socializing will help restaurants increase sales. Customers want something sweet at the end of a meal but either want to try more than one or don’t want an entire dessert to themselves. Dessert flights are another on-trend presentation. These flights offer another way to leverage the mini-portion trend, packaging a few options into one dish. Try duos or trios that showcase one dessert in different ways, such as mousse, tarts or pies. Pair the dessert with house-made libations.
Vegetables for Dessert
It may sound like a strange idea, but look no further than the classic carrot cake, one of the fastest growing baked good flavors according to Technomic. Roasted carrots offer a unique sweetness to dessert, but the produce options don’t have to stop there. While many diners will always be satisfied with something familiar like chocolate, vegetables offer a chance to experiment. Vegetables can bring earthiness and even bitterness to a dessert — something that sugar can’t provide. Try puréed, cooked beets in cake such as red velvet — the tubers bring a beautiful color and super moistness to the dish, not to mention a natural dye. Beets can breathe new life into the clichéd combination of goat cheese and beets by combining these two ingredients in cheesecake.