Miniature versions of favorite foods have been popular for years: personal-size pizza, sliders, taco bites. But until recently, the trend had yet to trickle down to mainstream desserts. Some major retailers are now banking on this taste for tiny tidbits. In fact, Starbucks has already found success with its line of Petites, miniature desserts that include cherry pie and apple tarts.
“The trend of ‘going mini’ with desserts began in Paris and cities across Europe,” claims Jean-Luc Daul, executive pastry chef for the Four Seasons Hotel, Las Vegas. “But it isn’t just a way to save calories. Going small allows chefs to incorporate a greater variety of textures and flavors into pastries. From the consumer’s perspective, it also allows them to sample a greater variety of desserts without feeling guilty.”
Miniature lemon meringue tarts, injectable donut holes, cheesecake bites, tiny chocolate chip cookies, and even individual-sized wedding cakes are some of the bite-size items, both new and revived, that currently are making a sizable impact.
It’s not just the sweet side of the bakery that’s enjoying this trend toward tiny products. Bagel bites can now be found everywhere, from Starbucks to the freezer aisle in the grocery store. Sous vide egg bites are another huge trend. Mini muffins and tiny quiches are also seeing significant gains.
A burst of popularity a few years ago for a few select miniature desserts — cake pops and macarons — was thought to be fading but suddenly started getting a new lease on life last summer. Cake pops are topping milkshakes these days, along with miniature peanut butter cups and tiny Oreos. Meanwhile, colorful macarons are adding a bit of whimsy to wedding cakes, decorating the sides and even being used as cake toppers.
A window on the trend comes in the form of Jennifer Ziemons, pastry chef and star of “Jenny’s Cake & Miniature World” videos. Ziemons creates rainbow and raspberry cakes as small as a few millimeters in diameter. She’s won four baking and pastry gold medals and her You Tube channel, with everything made in miniature, boasts millions of viewers. Ziemons’ perspective is that miniature desserts offer a bit of nostalgia. “They somehow remind people of their childhood,” she says. “When people see sweets in miniature, everything just feels fun.”
“While consumers continue to treat themselves to sweet and savory indulgences, the renewed emphasis on healthy eating throughout the industry has propelled a surge of evolution and innovation within the mini and bite-sized snack market,” says Greg Sarley, a senior vice president for Harry & David Food Co. “Products of the miniature variety become appealing as a solution to portion control, providing sensible, pre-distributed treats that fill the occasional sweet-tooth fix without the overindulgence.”
— CAROLE BLOOM, AUTHOR
The portable and “poppable” nature of mini baked goods only adds to their popularity. Of course, there are many manufacturing challenges when baking in miniature. Given their intricate size, creating bite-sized baked goods can often mean doing so by hand, without the use of standard bakery tools and equipment. As a result, small items generally end up taking considerably more time to make than their larger, high-volume counterparts.
Although tiny treats might evoke a sense of whimsy, bite-size baking isn’t always carefree. When baking recipes in miniature, especially in batch production, certain adjustments must be made. Baking times will need to be reworked to prevent burning.
Liquid-to-pan ratios need to be decreased to prevent cakes from overflowing. Often, extra consideration must be given to the starches, leavening agents, emulsifiers, sweeteners, colorants, fats, and oils that are used.
This is where ingredient technologists can be excellent assets. For example, oil and shortening experts, having developed the latest multifunctional fat solutions, have fine-tuned non-hydrogenated and low saturated fat systems that can suit the altered baking times and temperatures necessary for smaller versions of popular baked items.
While stability issues vary depending on the type of miniature baked good, the most common shelf life issues encountered are staling (loss of freshness) and microbial spoilage. There also are textural changes to consider in a smaller version of a well-known bakery product. These can include moisture migration, crumbliness, and more rapid rancidity secondary to oxidization of fats.
Shelf life is a huge concern for smaller products, as they are naturally going to have a higher ratio of surface area to volume. Certain shortenings made with palm oil for reduced saturated fat applications can be customized to deliver clean mouthfeel and excellent creamability.
This can help items such as miniature cupcakes and their frostings maintain creamy texture, hold their shape and structure, and enjoy improved shelf life, all while allowing such delicate flavors as natural vanilla to shine through.
Among other considerations, bakers must focus on oxidation. Fortunately, there is a variety of ingredient solutions available to the baking and snack industry. Mixed tocopherols offer a more label-friendly alternative to synthetic antioxidants such as tert-Butylhydroquinone (TBHQ). A form of vitamin E, tocopherols constitute a strong and well-accepted antioxidant that has good solubility in fats and oils used in baking applications. This is because the ingredient is heat stable, has no sensory impact, and is easy to work with.
Tocopherols might not always meet the claim goals a manufacturer is targeting. For example, some sources involve extraction methods that might not meet clean-label requirements. Rosemary extract, however, is a viable option for bakery and snack manufacturers. This plant extract helps prevent color and flavor degradation in products, and in some formulations, it can protect against microbial growth.
Ingredient specialists are able to offer extracts of rosemary that comply with sustainability, traceability, and even organic goals. Another antioxidant ingredient option is oil-soluble green tea extract. This solution was recently FDA GRAS-approved, and it allows manufacturers to protect their bakery and snack products while also staying within desired labeling parameters. Such plant extracts also can help manufacturers meet label claim goals such as “no artificial preservatives.”
Ingredient solutions such as emulsifiers, enzymes, and gums also can be used to protect against loss of freshness by reducing staling and moisture loss.
When it comes to emulsifiers and gum blend solutions, lecithin and mono- or diglycerides are widely used in bakery and snack items. These ingredients act as “release agents” and help maintain physical stability by preventing phase separation. They start working during processing, giving viscosity to a product and helping in starch complexing. This provides a softer texture to baked goods, especially flatbreads.
In sweet baked goods, monoesters such as propylene glycol are generally preferred, as they improve whip-ability and foam stability in batter systems and dry mixes. They also provide aeration to create better volume and crumb structure. These compounds continue working after processing, helping to extend shelf life and to maintain the softness of finished bakery products.
Of course, it’s not just the sweet side of baking that is being influenced by this bite-sized trend. When it comes to savory baked goods, the obstacles and solutions vary greatly.
For example, the sous vide egg bite was created in response to the continuing consumer push for flavorful, healthier breakfast options that are protein-centric as well as a convenient “on-the-go” size.
Sous vide egg bites fit this breakfast movement push perfectly, according to research group Datassential. Among foodservice operators, 28% plan to offer more such “on-the-go” options in the next year, and 30% seek to add more unique and similarly on-trend menu items.
In preparing sous vide eggs, first the eggs are sealed in a high-barrier plastic bag. The technique involves a sous vide water bath maintained at the proper temperature to achieve the right texture and consistency. The egg’s final texture should be velvety and creamy.
“Most consumers find the texture, as well as the format, quite appealing,” says Elisa Maloberti, a director at the American Egg Board. “For better shelf life and storage, this technique also lends itself well to freezing. Sous vide eggs can be cooked, frozen, and later thawed and reheated without compromising the quality or texture, making it an ideal method for both large and small manufacturers.”
With Datassential also reporting that eggs remain the number one breakfast item on restaurant menus, it’s reasonable to expect to see eggs included in more such portable and portion-controlled creations in the coming year.
“This type of breakfast food — the sous vide egg bite — doesn’t rely on a bread or carbohydrate as so many breakfast options do,” notes Maloberti. “This makes it appealing to those following dietary patterns that reduce or exclude carbs.”
Maloberti also notes that lending appeal to this format is the fact that eggs provide a perfect canvas to mix in almost any type of savory flavor, spices, and ingredients. “The potential combinations or pairings are close to endless, when you consider the cheese blends, spices, herbs, and even vegetables that could be used to create a sous vide egg bite,” she explains.
Some combinations currently proving popular include sundried tomato and kale, as well as the classic bacon and cheese. However, rapidly trending egg bite concepts have been those that use analog versions of bacon, sausage, and other meats.
Another benefit of applying the sous vide method to egg applications is the level of control it allows. Eggs are highly sensitive to temperature. In order to achieve the perfect final texture of an egg, maintaining a precise temperature is vital during the cooking process. Even a degree or two can change an egg’s final texture from a smooth soft-boiled consistency to a thickened more gelatinous result. Sous vide preparation provides the needed level of accuracy and control when cooking eggs.
Another popular portable snack item is the miniature quiche. “Essentially, there isn’t much difference in formulations for baking mini versions of quiche, frittata, sous vide egg bites, or other baked egg items,” says Maloberti. The primary difference between preparing these in smaller sizes, she notes, is that manufacturers will need to adjust baking times and temperatures and monitor browning carefully.
“When baking a miniature quiche, as with a regular sized one, an important consideration is to carefully determine and measure the eggs-to-milk ratio to obtain the right consistency for the custard center,” adds Maloberti. “This is the essential nature of a quiche.” She notes that bakers will need to allow adjustments for the smaller sizes though, again, as surface ratios and volume will drastically alter the timing and temperature for these smaller versions.
Maloberti includes another caution for manufacturers baking in miniature. “If a specific protein claim is desired, in a mini version there may need to be extensive formulation changes to reach targets with a smaller serving size.”
Wolferman’s Food Co. has developed a line of mini English muffins that represent not only small bakery bites but bread baking in miniature at its best. Flavors include the 1910 Original, Mini Cinnamon Raisin, Mini Cranberry Citrus, Mini Multi-Grain Honey Wheat, Mini San Francisco-Style Sourdough, and Mini Wild Maine Blueberry.
Wolferman’s has successfully brought not only these miniature English muffins to the wholesale market, but its version of miniature doughnuts as well. The latter — around for decades — have been enjoying a revival with the current interest in all things miniature.
Wolferman’s bakery team puts a great deal of thought and care into every new product they create, considering current equipment available and overall production capabilities to ensure the proposed creations are scalable to the mass quantities they need to produce. If the necessary equipment is not available and hand-creation is required, development and production timelines also become a factor.
This might not be as much of an issue for smaller bakeries whose customer base and production needs are less significant, affording them the opportunity to test and create new innovations on a smaller scale. However, given the size of Wolferman’s market, when the baking team developed the mini English muffin, they started out with the same tried-and-true process they used for their super-thick English muffins. To ensure that each mini English muffin is the proper size and weight, the dough is transferred into specially made netted cup holders through a multi-port stainless steel divider. The precisely portioned dough then travels through a large proofing tunnel to allow sufficient time to relax and rise to the perfect petite size.
Lynne Galia, head of corporate affairs for The Kraft-Heinz Co., offers her perspective on bite-size baked goods and how they’ve specifically influenced one popular dessert: cheesecake. “Cheesecakes are a much-loved, uniquely rich and creamy treat. Cheesecake bakers are always looking for new, on-trend cheesecake recipes. Mini cheesecakes are great because they can be made in muffin tins and they allow bakers to experiment with new flavor profiles.”
Galia notes that the nature of cheesecake making means that miniature versions can actually be easier and faster to make when compared to the process of miniaturizing other bakery products. She stresses that no special pans are needed, just muffin tins, adding that they’re the perfect way to create a pilot cheesecake, or, for seasoned bakers, to experiment with new flavors.
Today’s bold experimentation with styles and flavors is what has set apart this generation’s miniature baked items from some of the more basic ones of the past. “Consumers love multiple desserts in one. Bite-sized cheesecakes offer a great base for making mixed creations. For example, we’ve incorporated flavors like honey lavender, pomegranate, and carrot cake swirl in recent cheesecake recipes.”
Of course, the above aren’t the only miniature trends manufacturers should be on the lookout for. According to Marcia Mogelonsky, director of insight, Mintel Food & Drink, several companies launched innovative new confectionary and snack products this past year. Though confections fall outside the umbrella of baked goods, they share the overall snacking space in the market and can be indicative of trends that will trickle into other areas.
A recent Mintel report says that launches of chocolate products described as “bites” have grown by 50% over the past five years. The complete Mintel report can be viewed at their website, but highlights shared by Mogelonsky include “unusual ingredients in a novel bite from EcoFinia GmbH that contain dark chocolate with tiger nuts and cocoa nibs, and are sweetened with coconut blossom sugar.”
A recent consumer survey commissioned by the National Peanut Board showed that more than half of consumers of all ages are intentionally trying to eat smaller meals throughout the day. “I think a lot of it has to do with the overall snacking trend,” says Keegan Treadway of the National Peanut Board. Weighing in on the bite-size trend and how it has affected America’s most popular nut, he adds that peanut butter cups and miniature peanut butter cookies have peanuts “riding high on the mini desserts wave.”
“People aren’t really eating three square meals a day anymore,” continues Treadway. “Instead, they’re opting to eat a couple of meals with snacks throughout the day. With that comes smaller bites that satisfy without overfilling. Peanut butter is an American staple that consumers are familiar with and that they actively seek out in a dessert. In fact, our consumer survey results showed that peanuts are the preferred nut among millennial consumers, and more than a third of millennials said that they were more likely to purchase a grocery or menu item because it contained peanuts or peanut butter.”
This always has been especially true of desserts pairing peanut butter with chocolate. “If you look at the top 10 most popular candy bars and confections, peanuts and peanut butter candies make up half of them,” says Treadway.
Adding peanuts or peanut butter to dessert is easy for foodservice providers because desserts typically are made in advance, which means they can control for cross-contamination on the line. As for modern mini desserts participating in this peanut love affair, Treadway points to a recent consultation request that came to the Board. “We recently received a recipe concept from an Italian chef who wanted to create a PB&J zeppole (Italian donut holes) using peanut flour in the dough, a mix of peanut butter and jelly in the filling, and fried in peanut oil. For added measure, it called for dusting with a peanut flour and powdered sugar mixture on top.”
Originally appeared in the January 2020 issue of Prepared Foods as Bite Size Bakery.