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Chocolate takes the cake

chocolate mousse dessert restaurant

Chocolate does it all on dessert menus: It never stops being an indulgent, comforting favorite, yet today’s pastry chefs are finding ways to give it edginess and heat. For operators, finding innovative flavor combinations and presentations that highlight chocolate’s complex flavor profile can be a point of differentiation.

In fact, chocolate is the must-have of dessert menus. More than half of all dessert menus list an item with the term “chocolate,” according to Chicago-based food and beverage research company Food Genius; only half as many desserts mention vanilla. Cake leads the list of top chocolate desserts, with 58 percent of chocolate references associated with cake.

Double and triple threats

Menus from all segments prove that taking a more is better approach to chocolate never hurts, especially if these pairings feature dark chocolate, with its better-for-you health halo.

Chocolate desserts are often described with menu copy that veers into the danger zone, where phrases such as “death by chocolate” and “molten chocolate lava” are easy to find. Midscale Italian chain Buca di Beppo, for example, serves a “sinful” chocolate sauce with its double dark chocolate cake, a dark chocolate cake layered with rich chocolate frosting.

Even quick-serve desserts aren’t stopping with a single chocolate. Krispy Kreme’s triple-chocolate doughnut is filled with dark chocolate cream filling and topped with milk chocolate icing, mini chocolate chips and white chocolate ganache drizzle. And at Insomnia Cookies in Columbus, Ohio, menus a triple-chocolate cookie, which is chock-full of semi-sweet chocolate chunks, milk chocolate chunks and Hershey's kisses.

In the fine-dining segment, pastry chefs layer chocolate with ice cream, atop cake or surrounded by mousse, often using different varieties and percentages of cocoa content with each component. At Salt Kitchen & Bar, an upscale concept in New Castle, N.H., the restaurant’s chocolate cake is served with triple-espresso gelato, a milk chocolate nougatine twig and is finished with crushed cocoa beans.

Plays well with others

As much as chocolate plays well with more chocolate, its taste profile is a natural complement for other flavors. According to Food Genius, chocolate is most often paired with vanilla; other popular combinations include whipped cream, caramel, strawberry, fudge, raspberry, peanut and cinnamon.

However, a recent dessert report from Food Genius takes a closer look at “avant-garde and trending” menu examples, showing chocolate is an old favorite capable of new tricks. Some emerging trends include pairings with Mediterranean and Indian spices, spirits and less-utilized nuts, such as hazelnuts and cashews.

Tiqa, a pan-Mediterranean restaurant in Portland, Maine, serves a chocolate tart with coffee ganache in a hazelnut crust; halwa and tahini cookies are served on the side. For spicier tastes, Austin, Texas-based casual chain Z’Tejas Southwestern Grill balances a rich walnut-pecan-fudge pie with a touch of ancho chile.

Additionally, according to Chicago-based research firm, Datassential, recent popular flavor combinations such as salted caramel provide an opportunity for chocolate mashups.  “[Salt] still has room to grow when used with chocolate, and spicy-sweet has further to go beyond Mexican chocolate,” notes Brian Darr, who works in custom research at Datassential.

This post is sponsored by Sweet Street Desserts

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