Top trends in desserts

Hisham Wyne explores what is popular in the dessert sector
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FOOD & BEVERAGE, Desserts

Hisham Wyne explores what is popular in the dessert sector...

1 Compact confectionary
A refined glaze has settled on consumer attitudes to pastry. Where more was historically merrier, consumers are now favouring collections of petite pastries. Bakeries and hotels have caught on, and are puffing up offerings with mini-bites.

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Choix Par Pierre Gagnaire pastry chef Rodolphe Tronc agrees that assorted tiny treats are in fashion. “It has started to be very trendy because the guests would like to try different flavours and not only a big portion of something. Guests also have less time to enjoy one pastry and prefer to take different small ones to go.”

Mini pastries can also be indulged in with less waistline guilt. According to Emirates Palace executive pastry chef Alexander Haebe, “as the population becomes more health-conscious, mini pastries become more appealing. You get the full flavour and satisfaction of enjoying your favourite desserts without the guilt of consuming all the calories. As opposed to grabbing that one croissant, a lot of our guests grab a selection of mini pastries.”

But for some, such as New York’s Clinton Street Baking Company, it’s about utility. As chef-husband and wife Neil Kleinberg and DeDe Lahman plan an opening in Dubai’s Burj Views, they say they’re not concerned with fashion, preferring to create classics that are long lasting in flavour and appeal. But they still find uses for smaller sizes.

“Mini pastries are something we do for catering in New York for ease, where quick bites are needed, not for trend.”

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2 Gunning for gluten-free
Alternative diets, be they gluten-free, vegan or raw, have finally permeated the regional zeitgeist. The gluten intolerant are asking for indulgences that don’t cause a sore tummy the day after. There is growing recognition that confectionary should not be the sole purvey of those immune to gluten or dairy.

Atlantis, The Palm Dubai executive pastry chef Patrice Cabannes believes the market for healthy pastry is growing. “There is a big market for these pastries as a lot more people are allergic to some ingredients, or just believe desserts are healthier without them.”

And for Tronc, consumer demand is going to drive a few menu changes around town. “I think there are more and more guests who are becoming conscious of dietary requirements, and prefer healthy pastries. You will see some places starting to incorporate this on their menu, which is a sign that there is definitely demand.”

Over at The Chedi Muscat, executive pastry chef Abel Vieilleville believes this recent growth in special dietary requirements can be catered to by exploring alternate ingredients. “We try to cater as much as possible to these requirements by using substitutes such as gluten-free flour for our bread, or making almond-based desserts,” he says.

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3 Seasonal fruity indulgence
An explosion of fruit offers a fresh seasonality to pastry. But it’s not always just local seasons being reflected in confectionary assortments. Choix, for instance, relies on produce from France. So while Tronc believes in using seasonal fruit, the patisserie’s pastry counter reflects the freshest of what can be found in France at any specific time.

Atlantis’ Cabannes says Dubai’s import market makes seasonality a secondary issue, largely determined by country of origin. “Being seasonal was always very important to me. But in Dubai, there are no real seasonal fruits as everything is coming in from the outside, and it all depends on which country the fruit comes from.”

On the other hand, The Chedi Muscat’s Vieilleville is a fan of the local and seasonal. But he too combines local offerings with internationally sourced succulents. “As a pastry chef for over 20 years, I always try to use the most traditional method of including local and seasonal fruits in our desserts.”

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4 Putting the savoury in sweet
Think pastry, think sweet. But that is no longer guaranteed. Savoury pastries, particularly of the quiche variety, are becoming an intrinsic part of post-prandial dessert boards while being versatile enough to go in as starters.

Clinton Street Baking Company’s Kleinberg and Lahman also believe in the power of savouries. “Savoury pastry always seems to delight and surprise our guests. We have two very popular savoury offerings: goat cheese and chive scone and our spinach cheddar muffin.”

While a spinach cheddar muffin might be an epicurean adventure, it is Haebe at the Emirates Palace who has stolen the mantle of experimentation with his line of savoury cupcakes.

“They are a unique twist on a popular sweet treat. Cupcakes are the most iconic mini-pastry — they’re the perfect alternative to big slices of cake. They are colourful and fun and remind people of their youth. So we played on the traditional cupcake and created something savoury for people who have grown out of their sweets phase, but still like the nostalgia of a cupcake.”

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5 Egg-white efficiency
With the rising demand for well-stocked dessert boards, chefs are casting round for ways to work smarter, cheaper and more effectively while maintaining the sanctity of their creations.

Tronc extols the virtue an internalised supply chain with no pre-processed ingredients.

“At Choix, we build our pastry from scratch. We do not use any pre-baked or pre-cooked ingredients. This helps us to look after our cost and prices.”

Vieilleville argues that efficiency and cost savings start with versatile equipment. “When an ingredient or piece of equipment has several functions, it is always beneficial in cost control.” For instance, he will soon be receiving a new specialised multi-purpose oven for pastry.

“With this new piece of equipment we will be able to control temperature more accurately and bake evenly. The key to reducing waste and being more efficient in the kitchen is to always plan portions and maintain the accuracy of recipes,” he notes.

When confronted with volume baking, The Clinton Street Baking Company kitchen crew relies on the purchase of pre-separated egg whites and yolks.

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6 Marooned Macarons?
It’s a bold assertion, but whisper it: macarons might be falling out of fashion as fickle purveyors of pastry turn their attention to choux and éclair allegiances.

Chefs, though, are adamant that isn’t the case. “I do not believe that macarons are out; people still love them and it is one of our best sellers in Choix. Of course, the choux and éclairs are also popular and are making their space in the market,” says Tronc.

Choux and éclairs might be new challengers then, but macarons seem to have their championship crown undisturbed for the moment. Vieilleville agrees, saying, “We definitely see an increased interest in choux-based desserts at the Chedi Muscat; however with macarons there is always ever-lasting demand. And these new trends are actually traditional desserts that are being recreated with new designs and flavour infusions.”

Cabannes says there’s really no competition because the desserts are so different. “I think éclairs and choux are coming back strongly, but will not substitute for macarons.”

Éclairs and choux pastries are certainly roaring back to trendiness. Puff pastries too seem to be in vogue — at Choix, the “Tarte fine aux pommes” is making quite the delicious impact. But Cabannes remains convinced — the macaron isn’t going anywhere.

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7 Provincial puffs
Epicures are going further afield in search of gourmet experiences. Experiences, tastes and cultures blend, with pastries from various geographies giving up their secrets. Traditional sweets with Middle Eastern roots are being reinvented, while influences are being distilled in from French concoctions.

At Choix, for instance, the traditional French pastry remains a core focus, but with Middle Eastern flavours and tastes nibbling at the edges. For example, the patisserie has created the “Hommage a Dubai” — a confection that contains dates and camel milk.

The Chedi Muscat is staying true to its French heritage, albeit mixing in strong Omani influences. Vieilleville says: “We incorporate local ingredients such as halwa; for instance in our Omani Halwa Macarons. We also use beautiful local honey, dates and rose water.”

Halwa macarons are the essence of a new world order, where geographical delineations recede in favour of classic and ethnic blends.

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8 High-flying hybrids
The modern pastry world has found space for some audacious hybrids. This trend is backed by pastry heavyweights like Dominique Ansel, who created the cronut, a pastry combining the delicately flaky layers of a croissant with the general geometry of a muffin. Or consider the “duffin,” a crash between a doughnut and muffin. Perhaps even a “crookie”, achieved by breeding a croissant with a cookie.

Portmanteau baking is everywhere. But not every pastry chef wants to shackle themselves to the hybrid wagon. Choix’s Tronc says he has no plans to tackle such crossovers. “We like to keep the traditional pastries and recipes with a small twist of creativity. The essentials are the base.”

Even in New York’s Clinton Street, cronuts look fun, but from a distance. Kleinberg and Lahman say it isn’t a market they are planning to hole in on any time soon.

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9 Chocolate reigns supreme
Chocolate — that harbinger of serotonin — remains a universal crowd pleasing favourite. An essential in the pastry chef’s quiver, chocolate still delivers, time after time, age no bar.

Choix’s Tronc is a fan of chocolate’s broad appeal and versatility. “Chocolate is appreciated by the majority of our guests. It can be mixed with different products like peanuts, pistachio, passion fruit and so on.”

The Chedi Muscat’s Vieilleville agrees that chocolate will always be a favourite due to its taste, texture and versatility. He is looking at ways of combining it with fruit and reducing the refined sugar content. He says Manjari chocolate, with its slightly acidic taste and 64% cocoa content, is perfect for fruit combinations.

Atlantis’ Cabannes says he uses the ingredient in a multitude of ways, “from custards to mousses to cake to candies and new pralines.” Whatever the season, chocolate remains a perennial favourite.

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10 Statement treats
Signature luxury treats have always left a mark in the pastry world. Exotic confections have been composed from gold leaf, platinum, truffles, pears soaked for two years in aged rum, and elaborate chocolate figurines.

Closer to home, Atlantis, The Palm Dubai has taken chocolate indulgence to a new level with its new chocolate river, five metres long and two metres wide. Functional yet statement making, it comes with a rich assortments of dippable desserts.

Then there is one of Choix’s more decadent creations — Salam Dubai — a cake relying upon twelve layers of chocolate and marzipan to pay tribute to the city. It reflects the city’s skyline, with the top etching out the words “Salam Dubai” in gold.

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