ATLANTIC CITY, NJ — Savvy retail bakers know that serving up a menu featuring on-trend baked goods is one sure-fire strategy for keeping their bakery relevant.
Gale Gand, pastry chef, co-founder of a Michelin two-star restaurant, and a two-time James Beard Award recipient, shared the retail baking trends she’s seeing for the remainder of the year and into 2024 in the Current Baking Trends educational session at Artisan Bakery Expo East, held Oct. 1-2.
“Usually, innovation starts with restaurants, moves through our industry and ends up on the grocery store shelf,” Chef Gale said. “It’s a three- to four-year pathway. Because of COVID, we lost our pipeline to innovation, so things stagnated some, and we’re still catching up. Some of the trends are the same as last year, but we’re getting better.”
Trend No. 1: Stylized desserts.
Desserts are always in demand, but the category is starting to look a little different.
“Vegan desserts are huge,” Chef Gale said. “So are dairy-free and gluten-free desserts. You can hit all those things in one dessert.”
Consumers are also gravitating toward more stylized, elevated desserts. Wedding cakes, specifically, are changing, with couples opting for what Chef Gale calls presentation cakes. These smaller cakes cost less than traditional tiered wedding cakes and allow bakers to get more creative.
“Wedding cakes aren’t all white anymore, and many are very simple, very understated, but with patterns being pushed into the fondant,” she said.
For cakes in general, upscale embellishments are an alternative to patterned fondant. They run the gamut from rustic toppings such as edible flowers, herbs, seasonal berries, and chocolate made to look like wood, to frilly, multicolored piping.
Desserts are also shifting shape, with the cube gaining in popularity, and the ever-popular pie popping up as a square.
“Desserts in general are very clean, geometric, shiny and perfect,” Chef Gale noted. “They are little palettes of artwork.”
As consumers make room for portion-controlled indulgence in their everyday lives, mini sweet treats such as cheesecakes and cupcakes will remain in high demand.
Trend No. 2: Classic comfort foods.
“Down-home comfort foods are very approachable,” Chef Gale said. “Think about what your grandma fed you. Grandma’s recipes are so trendy right now, but they are slightly elevated. I’ve seen Rice Krispy Treats dressed up with a layer of chocolate, hazelnut chocolate, jam or even sprinkles in between.”
Childhood favorites such as chicken pot pie, buttery pound cake and gingersnap cookies are also trending. In fact, pound cake is Southern Living magazine’s most requested recipe.
The newstalgia trend — putting a unique flair on familiar favorites — is one that is expected to continue.
Trend No. 3: Flavors and flavor mashups.
Chef Gale identified several flavor profiles that are currently trending or just about to tip.
“Cream cheese as a flavor, not an ingredient, is huge,” she said. “Fig, pomegranate, dulce de leche and watermelon are hot right now. Birthday cake flavor is still popular, and cocktail and alcohol flavors are showing up in baked goods. I’ve seen Moscow Mule coffee cake and IPA beer bread.”
Trending sweet flavors include blackberry, passion fruit, cotton candy and apple crisp, while on the savory side, flavors such as dill pickle, hot and spicy, and everything bagel are finding favor with customers looking for something new.
The new flavor profile on the block is “swicy,” a sweet and spicy combo. Spicy mango chili, spicy maple, bourbon jalapeño, and chili powder chocolate chip cookies are just a few flavor pairings that could serve as sources of inspiration for retail bakers looking to differentiate their menus.
“Brands are becoming flavors, too,” Chef Gale added. “Cinnamon Toast Crunch cereal is now a cake mix and a dusting sugar. I’ve seen Funfetti as a flavor, and I recently created a wedding cheesecake using Biscoff cookies for the crust instead of graham crackers.”
“We’re also seeing savory and sweet come together in different ways, such as basil key lime pie and miso paste chocolate chip cookies,” she said.
Trend No. 4: Ancient grains and “bougie” breads.
Baked goods made with ancient grains and seeds from around the world are trending, with ingredient suppliers taking note and creating blends to make life in the kitchen a little easier for retail bakers.
“Puratos has a soft ancient grain presoaked blend of red quinoa, amaranth, chia, buckwheat, spelt, millet and teff that is enrobed with a fruity rye sourdough and a touch of brown sugar,” Chef Gale said. “It brings moisture, texture and a sourdough flavor to your dough.”
Speaking of sourdough, when it comes to bread, multicolored viennoiserie breads — or “bougie” breads — are also trending.
“Fancy different-colored doughs that can be laminated and layered are super in right now,” Chef Gale said, noting she’s seen multicolored breads striped with chocolate, and red croissants filled with strawberry preserves. “There’s some beautiful viennoiserie out there. You can bring colors that don’t appear in nature into your baking.”
Restaurant innovation is making a solid comeback, which bodes well for retail bakers who look to that sector for menu inspiration, whether through shape, size, flavor or format.