“Indulgent” and “comforting” are two descriptors that can be applied to Big Boy Restaurants’ (Warren, Mich.) Fudge Brownie pie, a “take home” pie from its signature collection.
Moon pie, cherry cola marble cake, decadent chocolate pudding. “S'mores” that are not made over a campfire. Do these desserts evoke images of a time since past? They are evidence of one of the new trends in indulgent foods, retro redone. These are the old classics with an updated twist.

Some of the other hot dessert trends are really cold, as in ice cream. Strawberry and Black Pepper ice cream blends traditional savory flavors into sweet desserts, and these unusual combinations are making waves. So are individually sized desserts, as these bite-sized wonders allow diners to sample a wide range of indulgences in one sitting—and without the guilt. They also are convenient for eating on the go.

Low-carb, low-sugar, and low-fat items are re-surfacing in the form of new desserts found in supermarkets all over the U.S. On the other hand, decadence and indulgence also are reigning as great new trends in the dessert arena. As our society becomes more diverse, new ethnic flavor profiles slowly are making their way into the mainstream. Now that Dulce de Leche is well known, what will be the next hot ethnic flavor? Stay tuned to find out…

What was old is new again. Retro desserts are the ultimate comfort food. They remind us of happy childhood days, when a Creamsicle could fix all that was wrong with the world. Strawberry chiffon cakes, fudge sundaes, rice puddings and cream pies all are heading back toward being trendy. This time around, they have been updated: Gingered Lemon Meringue Pie, Cardamom-Lemon Rice Pudding and a Creamsicle made with white chocolate ice cream swirled with passion fruit sorbet all are good examples. In other words, the new desserts are familiar favorites with a new twist.

The presentation can be used to change the perception of retro desserts. Serving a milkshake float in a shot glass, or offering s'mores that can be assembled tableside (after grilling your own marshmallows!) are great examples of how something familiar can be made unique again. Even Kraft's (Glenview, Ill.) Oreos® change constantly. Now a consumer has to decide between the original product or Chocolate Cream, Peanut Butter and Chocolate, Mint n' Cream, Coffee n' Cream, Reduced Fat, reversed Uh-Oh! Oreos and holiday Oreos with bright, neon-colored filling. What will be next? Lemon rosemary Oreos? Maybe!

Consumer interest in health creates interest in low-fat, gluten-free, trans-fat free and organic desserts, such as this line of biscotti from Zazi Baking Co. (Petaluma, Calif.).

Unlikely Combinations

The combination of traditionally savory items with sweet flavors is hitting all areas of desserts. Using herbs subtly is complementary to the traditional sweet flavors found in desserts. Consider the following combinations in an ice cream or sorbet, some of which most would find surprising: Blackberry and Oolong Tea; Wasabi, Peach & Thyme; Lavender, Rosemary, Sweet Roasted Corn with Moroccan Spice; and Rose Petal and Cabernet. The infusion of savory into sweet items is not limited to just ice creams. Bavarian cream infused with rosemary, “sushi” made with sweet rice and fruit, and Balsamic vinegar paired with sweet cherries are a few of the combinations popping up.

Of course, one musn't forget the chocolate! Americans eat 11.5 pounds of chocolate per year. Chocolate is a natural pairing with chiles. It is interesting to feature sweet, spicy, smooth, creamy, and peppery flavors all in one dessert. Rich Chipotle chocolate cookie bars, tangerine-red chili truffles, Ancho chocolate sauce and chocolate Serrano biscotti are a few examples of interesting combinations pairing two favorites, chocolate and chilies.

Convenience also is an important consideration for prepared desserts for people on the go. Products like Sara Lee (Chicago) Cheesecake Bites, Kellogg's (Battle Creek, Mich.) Pop-Tarts® Snak-Stiks, and Hunt's (Fullerton, Calif.) Squeeze 'n Go™ chocolate pudding let consumers eat dessert on the run. With less time spent in the kitchen, consumers are looking for fast and easy dessert ideas. There are a growing number of people living alone and more couples without children that make single-serve portions a sensible marketing idea. Nestlé's (Glendale, Calif.) Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough that is ready to pop in the oven, individual Bundt cakes that only need to be thawed, Edwards® (Atlanta) Mocha Mudslide Pie single slices and Sara Lee Cheesecake Singles are great examples. They can be prepared in just minutes and can be made just as easily for one as for 10. Kids also influence dessert purchase choices. Disney has paired with Blue Bunny (Wells' Dairy—Le Mars, Iowa) brand to develop a line of retail freezer products that include the popular Disney characters. The Crazy Cones™ have vanilla ice cream with mini Tigger cookies, while Mickey & Friends has colored vanilla ice cream in red, purple and blue, with fudge Mickey Mouse-shaped candies, caramel pieces in the shape of Goofy, and marshmallow Donald-shaped pieces. Also presenting brightly colored products aimed at kids is Hershey's (Hershey, Pa.), with a new chocolate syrup, green in color. Haagen-Dazs (Minneapolis) To Go also is serving up individual-size ice cream containers complete with a wooden spoon, for those who just cannot wait to get home to eat the Haagen-Dazs.

As high-protein diets affect the products consumers demand, new low-sugar and low-carbohydrate products are beginning to arrive on the grocery shelves. Examples such as low-carb cheesecakes made with Splenda, Murrays® (Augusta, Ga.) low-sugar fudge dipped shortbread and even low-carb snow cone syrups are appearing. In the frozen category, low-sugar desserts also are making an appearance. No-sugar-added Breyer's (Green Bay, Wis.) ice cream line, Slim-a-Bear No Sugar Added Vanilla Sandwiches from Klondike, and Dreyers (Oakland) Vanilla and Caramel no-sugar-added and fat-free ice cream are several major brands that are responding to customers' needs and demands for low-carb and -sugar products. Dairy-free, low-fat, gluten-free, trans-fat free and organic desserts also are being pushed forward as consumers learn more about foods and nutrition, and increasingly demand these products.

As mentioned before, this concern over health is balanced by the recent increase in indulgent and decadent desserts. Haagen Dazs Desserts Extraordinaire™ premium ice cream line includes Bananas Foster, Chocolate Raspberry Torte, and Tres Leches varieties. The idea of indulgent desserts is to go over the top. High-quality ingredients, co-branding (Godiva chocolate ice cream), and a great combination of textures can make any ordinary dessert indulgent. A chocolate pudding can be made into a gourmet dessert by using flavorings such as Ghirardelli cocoa powder, dark chocolate chunks and hazelnuts. This “new” dessert is now an indulgent dessert, with a premium price to match.

Ethnic trends also are seeping into desserts. Now that Dulce de Leche is familiar to most consumers, what are the next exciting ethnic dessert trends? Ethnic ingredients are being used in new ways, as evidenced by black sesame seed cookies, tamales with sweet corn masa and fruit fillings, banana tempura, sweet coconut and black rice puddings, and deep fried fruit empanadas, which all combine ethnic flavors and flair with flavor profiles that are familiar. Instead of the usual citrus flavors, look for Kaffir lime and Yuzu (a Japanese citrus fruit). Tropical fruits also are becoming more popular as their availability increases. Passion fruit, guava, mango and papaya are good examples. Cactus pear also pairs nicely with sweet flavors for a unique dessert. A cactus pear flan is a great-tasting combination with contrasting textures, complementary flavors, and beautiful color.

Desserts are the ultimate comfort food; the new twists that desserts are taking offer consumers more flavor options and added convenience. As technology improves and innovative chefs and food scientists team up to develop new offerings, the result can only be improved consumer products that not only look great, but also offer plenty of flavor.

Website Resources

www.dianaskitchen.com/page/cakeidx.htm — An extensive list of dessert recipes
www.angelfire.com/co3/coffeerecipes/ — Recipes that feature coffee
www.fatfree.com/recipes/desserts — Low-fat and vegetarian desserts
http://baking.about.com/library/weekly/topicmenu.htm — An extensive recipe archive