Salted caramel grew from a trendy pairing to one of the most popular flavors in coffee and sweets. Now that this combination is the new normal, pastry chefs are finding more ways to strike the balance between sweet and savory flavors. An August, 2016 Dessert Keynote report from Datassential finds that 40%of consumers are interested in less familiar desserts, and that herb usage in desserts is up 49%since 2012, while “spice” in dessert descriptions is up by 38%since 2012.
“Consumers tend to gravitate toward their comfort zone when it comes desserts, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t room to innovate conventional desserts with savory flavors,” says Joe Garber, marketing coordinator, Datassential. “While savory flavors are not nearly as tempting to consumers as traditional sweet treats, our 2016 Keynote Report on Desserts shows savory flavors like olive oil, bacon, pretzel, cardamom and bourbon are showing double-digit growth on dessert menus.”
Spice is Nice
Salt and pumpkin pie spices are just the beginning of the possibilities available in the spice cabinet. Many pastry chefs use black or hot pepper to accentuate the deep flavors of fruit—especially berries.
“I don’t use a lot of savories in my pastry because I’m fairly traditional baker and pastry chef, but I do like how a combination of nutmeg and black pepper deepens fruit flavors, especially berries,” notes Pamela Fitzpatrick Plunkett. She co-owns Little Bigs Bakery in South Portland, Maine, with her husband, James Murray Plunkett, a chef who helps her experiment with bolder flavors in her traditional hand pies and Danishes.
At nearby Union Restaurant at the Press Hotel in Portland, Maine, a pistachio blancmange with macerated strawberries is paired with an olive oil financier with Szechuan pepper and toasted marshmallow. In New York City, The Egg Shop serves dark chocolate mousse with smoked sugar, pulverized chili peppers and biscuit crumble.
Herbs and floral elements are often featured in classic sweets, like the strawberry-basil, lavender and rose macarons served at the patisserie La Maison Navarre in Portsmouth, N.H. Pastry chef Diane Lang adds subtle thyme notes to a lime curd mandarin sorbet at Spoon and Stable in Minneapolis. For bolder use of aromatics, tea and even vegetables in desserts, consider the Ricotta Pound Cake: Meyer lemon curd, beet-cardamom ice cream and hazelnut tuile served at The Fork & Wench in Baltimore, Md.
At vegetarian restaurant Vedge, in Philadelphia, a sour cherry cheesecake is dressed up with Moroccan mint pesto, halva ice cream and za’atar candied pistachios. As part of the “progressive agrarian cuisine,” served at The Perennial in San Francisco, yogurt semifreddo is served with pineapple sage, fennel and rhubarb.
Whether adding some salt and pepper or experimenting with more unconventional flavors, both Garber and Plunkett see reason to be subtle.
“I don’t like to taste the chili powder in a dessert, but rather I like to use things like cardamom, herbs de Provence and vinegar in ways that bring a roundness to sweet flavors.”
Similarly, Garber recommends starting slow when introducing new flavors to desserts and sees limited time offers as a way to gauge consumer interest in new varieties and flavors. “Chocolate iterations provide a safe experimentation within all dessert categories,” notes Garber.
This post is sponsored by Sweet Street Desserts