Bakers Journal

On the horizon

February 3, 2012
By Marcy Goldman

Forecasting trends is like following an offshore storm system: their
true nature exists far from their final destination, but we can’t see
the full force until they hit the mainlaind, or in our case, mainstream.

Forecasting trends is like following an offshore storm system: their true nature exists far from their final destination, but we can’t see the full force until they hit the mainlaind, or in our case, mainstream. This can make predicting trends a bit tricky, but I am going to take a stab at it because us baker folks have an uncanny intuition for food.

Cupcakes dethroned? Less is more and little still rules
Cupcakes are reported to be on the wane but cupcakes show no sign of quitting, judging from the cupcake TV shows, cupcake shops, cookbooks, and plethora of cupcake accessories offered by bakeware companies. However, with pies cropping up in mini versions, also called “hand pies” (or tartelettes or simply turnovers), cupcakes might have to share the stage. The fruitiness of pies is seen as nutritious and wholesome and there is no end to the variety of pies you can bake and sell, which increase their marketability.

The operative theme, however, is still little. This is echoed in the macaron trend. The sweet little almond treat from France that is heavy on sweetness, almond flavour and (usually) decorative, intense colours. You can now find macarons in coffee shops where once they were only found in pastry stores. In my mind, macarons are part confection, part cookie and might have more success than madeleines (which had a brief shot) although both seem so European and specialized that they might be, albeit tasty bites, a bit ahead of their time.


There is also the timeless appeal to petite, which, again, convinces us we are treating ourselves rather than overindulging (so what if you had six little things versus one average-sized one, who’s counting?). Perhaps, we are also valuing quality over quantity in this lean economy.

A love for nostalgia
Rice and bread puddings were thought to be on the horizon in 2010 (most likely offshoots of sticky pudding popularity) but they didn’t seem to arrive at quite the same destination. However, it does reflect that hankering for nostalgia. Classics such as muffins, biscotti and cookies haven’t disappeared but they are not in a particular surge either. Don’t throw away your bake shop’s best formulae: there’s still a demand for great versions of these baking mainstays. Multigrain and artisanal breads are still consistently popular, gaining ground slightly, as healthy breads combined with interesting flavour combinations are drawing in even the pickiest eaters.

Paying homage to breakfast on the run
Despite the great amount of information devoted to how to relax in the Twitter Age, we are still a mobile society on the run. Thanks to the reality of modern commuting and smartphones, the home office can be home or in the foyer of your gym or, more often than not at a drive-thru. Realizing that people are now valuing breakfast and marrying this to their frantically paced lives, more fast-food places and mom-and-pop coffee shops are now offering breakfast sandwiches. These tasty farmhouse-style egg, bacon and cheese sandwiches continue to grow in popularity and availability.  Croissant sandwiches seem to be nearly gone, either because they had their day, because croissants are associated with high fat or, more simply, because we tired of microwave croissants. Hone your best biscuit formula, top it with some Canadian cheddar and a folded omelette and offer it up as one more great product from the baker.

On the heels of biscuit breakfasts, comes hot oatmeal, often with berries, brown sugar, yogurt. Like the biscuits, this is an offering on-the-go. What does this suggest to bakers? This gives credence to the perception of oatmeal as old-school, heart healthiness, something boomers embrace. Anything made with oats is a good thing, so consider offering oatmeal bread, biscuits or scones to partake in the oats’ popularity.

Grains, gluten and vegan
Still on the nutritious theme, anything with grains is perceived as super healthy and multigrains, whole grains and/or organic grains (along with wunderkind oatmeal) are the way to go. Mainstream baking companies have gone the route of making multigrain breads taste like white breads, ingeniously hiding the multigrain component, probably in an attempt to make multigrain items acceptable by the mainstream, especially for the school lunch set, who are big consumers of sliced bread. If you want to create a gluten-free bread, know that the criteria for great gluten-free baking has stepped up a big notch and the increase in gluten-free products you can get everywhere from specialty bakeries and restaurants to Loblaws is unprecedented. Then there is the vegan/vegetarian consumer – once a small niche, but now far larger and increasing all the while. People are choosing vegan or vegetarian as much for dietary needs as they are for political or philosophical sensibilities but the bottom line is the same: consumers want more choices. The challenge is to bake high-flavour, high-performance products that are commercially viable. The best-case scenario would be to produce something that both the niche and mainstream consumer will buy.

There are pre-blended multigrain flours and gluten-free all-purpose mixes that make things easier for the baker to adapt formulae for gluten-free or grainy loaves. However, if you can figure out how the mix is comprised and make your own, costs are far lower. In most cases, gluten-free mixes are largely brown rice flour, milled amaranth, quinoa, teff flours, bean flours, and potato or other starches. Sometimes gluten-free flours and recipes also use almond flours but with nut allergy another point of consumer sensitivity, I would not recommend that go into your mix.

Food as nutritional therapy
Vitamin cocktails, gourmet juice (mangosteen, pomegranate, blueberry, etc.) and combo pure spring water/vitamin tonics are found at the supermarket, in vending machines and at every gym snack bar. The trend hasn’t crossed into baking yet but it could. The rationale is to take extra vitamins in with your liquids, giving your body much-needed water as well as your missing daily requirements. What’s next? Antioxidant doughnuts perhaps? The truth is, though, that oftentimes consumers expect bread, more than any other component of their day’s eating to carry their full day’s nutritional requirements.

Fats, sugars and dairy
Diabetes is on the rise, and thus sugar substitutes or alternatives to traditional white sugar, both natural and laboratory derived, continue to be part of the mix. There’s Whey Low, Splenda, stevia, agave, sucanat and palm sugar among many others. On the other hand, the backlash against corn syrup as also meant a return to good old white sugar. In fats, butter is not as evil as it was a few years ago and oils are still in, especially (and still) canola, but also coconut butter and light olive oil in baking. In dairy products, low-fat milk is still a go-to ingredient but so is extra-calcium whole milk and lactose-free milk. Soy and rice milks are also great baking choices.

Adjust, adjust, adjust your recipes
Baking with less-traditional fats, sugar, dairy liquids and grains means formulae might need adjustments in bake times, flavouring and handling. You can adapt tried-and-true winning recipes or find an already gluten-free or vegan cupcake and use your baker’s know-how to tweak it.

Aside from nutrition awareness going mainstream and specialty diets being less niche than they were, the recession is also part of the overall popularity of old-fashioned baking (versus decadent chocolate cheesecakes), and if you need any proof of that just Google such sites as or check some popular blogs. They are the trend canaries. What comes up repeatedly in the most popular baking recipe searches? Apple pie and banana nut loaf! I guess you don’t need a trend pundit to tell you what’s always good and welcome. And if it comes to that, probably, (and I’d bet my last loonie on this), the best bet in who knows “what’s next” is good old Tim Hortons. They ignore the trends, do their own thing and come up with some of the most interesting, inventive (and best-selling) baking. What does Tim’s say to gluten-free, organic vegan cupcakes? They say: maple walnut, butter-slathered bagels. And no one’s complaining.

Skinny Oatmeal Raisin Cookies

These are great when you want a hearty cookie and a little less fat. This is a good recipe to play around with using alternative sweeteners and/or even a gluten-free flour mix as it is a rustic and very amenable recipe that takes well to fiddling. Here is a test batch size for you to scale up if you like.

1 1/4 cup brown sugar, firmly packed

1 tablespoon honey

1/2 cup unsweetened apple juice 

1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

1/2 cup canola oil

1 eggs

2/3 cup spelt flour

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

2 tablespoons cornstarch

2 tablespoons ground golden flax seed

3 cups rolled oatmeal

3/8 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup raisins

1/2 cup chopped almonds or sunflower seeds

1/2 cup bran flakes

Preheat oven to 180 C (350 F). Stack two baking sheets together and line the top one with parchment paper.

In a mixing bowl, blend the brown sugar, honey, juice, vanilla and oil. Fold in the spelt flour, baking powder, cinnamon, cornstarch, flax seed, oatmeal salt and raisins.

Deposit in large mounds on the baking sheet and press down slightly. 
Bake 22-25 minutes until just set. Makes 8 large, or 12 medium, cookies.

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