Fun and creative baked goods, from bread and croissants to tarts and cookies, are exploding – a trend that shows no signs of quitting in the new year.
Various reasons are driving interest: the never-ending quest to level up classics, global ingredients fusing excitement into traditional renditions, head-turning visual appeal and FOMO. Post a luscious, stunning dessert on social media featuring on-trend flavors and then limit availability – and lines will likely form.
The riffing typically begins with a plain foundation such as dough for bread, cookies and croissants. It might be shaped differently or prepped in an unexpected way – all of which achieves a wow factor. Jessica Oloroso of Chicago’s Black Dog Gelato sells a dark cookie studded with white and bittersweet chocolate chips and stuffed with peanut butter, then finishes it with milk chocolate ganache. Even macarons are getting special treatment. Online pop-up Offbeat Macaron, also in Chicago, recently dropped tie-dyed macarons filled with raspberry jam and cream cheese frosting, as well as a red and white swirled cinnamon-spiced macaron with cinnamon cream cheese frosting and apple pie filling.
Laminated Dough With a Twist
Dominique Ansel rocked the pastry world when he developed the cronut. A decade later, laminated dough is taking on different shapes again – even teeny croissants that fit on a spoon. But it’s the cube and spiral croissants – both filled with pastry cream, that are poised to repeat the craze. Andrew Carmellini’s Lafayette in New York City introduced the Supreme in spring of 2022, but it didn’t create an internet sensation until social media caught wind of it in the fall. Today, the cream-filled round pastries, finished with a complementary garnish, have spawned copycats across the country. “The spiral is a more enticing shape, which creates a crispier exterior,” Pastry Chef Scott Cioe says. “The crispier crust helps the Supreme hold up more to the filling than a traditional croissant would.” New and seasonal flavors, such as blackberry matcha and blood orange meringue, drop each month, creating lines that wrap around the corner.
Popular Pastries Featuring Laminated Dough
Cube croissant filled with pastry cream in flavors such as chocolate topped with chocolate crispies and yuzu pistachio finished with meringue
From Chef/Owner Julien Khlaf of Julien Boulangerie at several locations in New York City
Squiggle croissant dusted with rosemary sugar
From Pastry Chef Lauren Madson of Librae in New York City
Laminated baguette – croissant dough wrapped around a baguette and then baked
From Chef/Owner Amadou Ly of ALF Bakery in New York City
Croissant cereal, glazed with cinnamon sugar syrup
From Chef/Co-Owner Gautier Coiffard of L’Appartment 4F in Brooklyn, New York
In major cities, such as Boston, New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco, patisseries and dessert menus are working the Asian diaspora. But imports such as Hong Kong-based Mango Mango are also familiarizing palates, with more than 30 locations in U.S. cities, including Plano, Texas, and Lafayette, Indiana, by serving green tea mille crepe cake, king durian cream puffs and whipped cream pancake parcels with center-filled pieces of ripe mango.
As a rule, these desserts are striking in appearance, making them Instagram- and TikTok-worthy.
“Asian-French pastries are able to showcase freshness and richness at the same time,” says Chef Nic Yang, who describes his Ando Patisserie in New York City as a classic French patisserie twisted with Asian flavors and ingredients. “The biggest difference between Asian and Western pastries is that Asian pastries use much less sugar, which is healthier and lighter than traditional Western ones.”
For example, he controls the sweetness of black sesame lava cream crêpes rolls, a bestseller, by making a fresh paste from roasted black sesame seeds in lieu of a pre-made product.
Asian-Inspired Bakery Favorites
Toasted brown rice – mousse cake with pecan sable
From Pastry Chef Eunji Lee at Lysée in New York City
Black sesame yuzu – kouign-amann
From Dan the Baker in Chicago
Bakeries and sit-down restaurants are especially embracing the artistic and photogenic potential of tarts. Baker Ismael de Sousa of Reunion Bread in Denver often posts Instagram stories of his creations, asking followers to guess the new flavor. “When people see the whole process, it catches their attention and they want to try it,” he says.
Pastry Chefs Monique and Paul Feybesse also look to nature for their floral-inspired tarts at Tarts de Feybesse, such as the way the white petals of the coconut whipped ganache and calamansi citrus curd center of their calamansi coconut tart resembles a daisy.
“Aesthetics play so much into our identity,” Monique Feybesse says. “Floral patterns and textures mimic natural beauty, and we are inspired by how that can unfold through the final touches of pastries. In our tarts, maybe you’ll see a flower, but the symmetry of an artichoke or the grooves of a rambutan might be playing a part as well.”
Where else can you find photogenic tarts?
Cha Cha Cha Chia Tart – raspberry mousse, coconut chia pudding, raspberry glaze and dark chocolate shards
From Craftsman and Wolves in Denver
Ube cheese, Chocolate Boba and classic Durian Portuguese Egg Tarts
From Na Tart in Flushing, New York
Upping the Ante With Next-Level Bread Service
Expect more restaurants to up the ante on bread service by offering a spin on bread along with its accompaniments. Case in point: the beautifully braided fermented potato bread with caraway and beef drippings, served with slow-poached jidori egg yolk, pickled allium and smoked mushroom broth at San Francisco's Kiln. Remember, it must be fresh; extra points if it’s served warm.
In Chicago, Executive Chef Steven Chiappetti recently added pull-apart housemade focaccia to the menu at The Albert, presented in a piping-hot cast iron skillet with a side of romesco. “Romesco is a robust sauce that lends a textured richness you won’t find in olive oil and butter,” he says.
Chiappetti recommends pre-heating the pans before filling with dough for a light, crispy exterior.
Exciting Takes on Bread Service
Pull-apart milk bread rolls laced with cheese, served with pimento cheese and black lava salt whipped butter
From Pastry Chef Lizbeth Ramirez of Crown Block in Dallas
Bread & Spread, bread made in the pizza oven with an accompaniment to slather, such as artichoke fonduta, honey chamomile goat cheese, poblano chile con queso and cilantro basil pesto
From Chef Devon Sanner at Zio Peppe in Tucson
Why are customers ordering less desserts?
Dek: Maybe it’s you, and not them
It’s a paradox, a vicious cycle. Baked goods and desserts of all kinds are having a moment, yet pastry chefs and pastry cooks are on the decline. Restaurants say they can’t afford them, and desserts aren’t big-selling moneymakers anyway. But are diners not ordering them because they don’t like sweets, or is the dessert menu a snoozer? Nearly three quarters of respondents in a recent survey by One Poll described themselves as “dessert people.” What gives? Without pastry staff, chefs rely on the tried and true and not inventive renditions, making it difficult for servers to sell and easy for diners to pass.