Top 10 dessert trends for 2011

Predictions can sometimes be iffy at best. But when it comes to forecasting what will be the next “in” dessert for 2011, the results are anything but chancy.

That’s because this year’s list of emerging dessert trends was culled by such notable sources as the Center for Culinary Development and the National Restaurant Association. The selections are both exciting and mouth-watering.

So, without further ado, here are the trendiest choices you can expect to enjoy this coming year when you order dessert at a forward-thinking restaurant, café, or bakery:

1. Whoopie Pies. Well, not pies, actually. More like cake-like sandwiches. Whoopie pies reportedly originated in Pennsylvania by Amish wives who would make them for their farmer husbands. This old-fashioned treat is now quickly making a comeback — in the form of many different shapes, sizes, flavors, and fillings — and finding its way into even the hautiest bakeries across the country. And, for some imaginative brides, whoopie pies are also starting to replace wedding cakes. Très retro!

2. Pies, Pies, and More Pies. Yes, this time we’re talking about “real” pies! Move over cupcakes, ’cause pies are taking over! That means be on the lookout for pie shops – and even pie happy hours! — to be opening soon on a corner near you. And they won’t just be carrying sweet pies, but savory and bite-sized ones as well.

3. Olive Oil Desserts. Fine restaurants and bakeries all across the country are just beginning to incorporate this healthier fat into their sweet offerings. In fact, soon it won’t be strange at all to see menus listing olive oil madeleines, olive oil macarons, olive oil muffins, and olive oil ice cream right alongside the more traditional delicacies.

4. Micro-Batch Chocolate. The major chocolate conglomerates will need to make room for the growing community of small-batch artisan chocolate makers who are turning heads with their extraordinarily artful confections. And as an added bonus, they’re actually being created via socially conscious, environmentally friendly means of production.

5. Japanese Sweets. It seems that the exotic and vibrant desserts from Japan are edging their way into the American mainstream. We’re fascinated, mesmerized actually, by their extraordinary flavors and innovative shapes. Look for matcha (a green tea powder) to become a staple in your pantry soon.

6. Salty Sweets. No, this is not an oxymoron. Salty and savory sweets are an emerging trend that is sneaking stuff like bacon, balsamic vinegar, and fresh herbs into our desserts. Examples? Salted caramel. Green tea tiramisù. Blue cheese panna cotta. And roasted beet Baked Alaska with basil meringue.

7. Deconstructed Classic Desserts. Think banana split, tiramisù, Black Forest cake, or apple pie — but presented to you as their separate ingredients. Together in your mouth, they form an explosive symphony of how the dessert would have tasted if constructed traditionally.

8. Artisan Ice Cream. Using local ingredients and old-fashioned techniques, artisan and house-made ice creams (and gelatos, too, for that matter) are increasingly becoming the rigueur du jour. For a perfect example, read this Examiner article about the popular, award-winning ice cream by Jeni.

9. Dessert Flights. Think of them as combos. Meaning that you get a sampling of several different desserts in small, amuse-bouche portions. Very zen minimalist — but oh-so-delectable!

10. Super Desserts. What makes them so “super” is the inclusion of ingredients that promise to improve your health, including nutmeg, pomegranates, açai berries, goji berries, mangosteens, and chai. Maybe it’s just what the doctor ordered.

AUTHOR: Maria Isabella is an award-winning writer with a serious sweet tooth. She has authored three cookbooks and is a member of the International Association of Culinary Professionals. She is also a focus panel member for both Bon Appetit magazine and America’s Test Kitchen. Maria and her husband, Joe, have five grown children and two grandchildren — all of whom thoroughly enjoy her lavish pastry desserts.

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