In many ways, fun has taken over the dessert business, and this applies to fall holidays like Halloween, which bakeries consider to be the third most important adult holiday of the year (trailing only New Year’s and the Super Bowl.).
Pastry chef Christina Tosi exemplifies the fun side of dessert that is capturing the hearts — and stomachs — of American consumers, especially the younger generations. Tosi runs Milk Bar, which Bon Appetit calls “one of the most exciting bakeries in the country.” She got her start helping Momofuku Ko earn two stars from the Michelin Guide and Momofuku Ssäm jump onto Restaurant magazine’s top 100 restaurants in the world list. Tosi won the 2015 James Beard Award for Outstanding Pastry Chef.
Milk Bar evolved as the bakery-inspired dessert branch of the Momofuku (which means lucky peach) restaurant group, founded by superstar chef David Chang. Since its opening in November 2008, Milk Bar has focused on putting a playfully American, approachable spin on familiar homestyle desserts and savory snacks using quality ingredients and locally-sourced dairy. Popular items include her acclaimed birthday cake, compost cookies (made with potato chips, pretzels and coffee), and crack pie. Milk Bar now has a total of 14 locations.
“I love laughing, hopping around, being creative, but also being savvy,” Tosi told bake. “I know how lucky I am. I get to do what I love every single day. Though I do it with hard work, determination, passion and humility, I have the supreme fortune to do it with great success. Inspirations come from all over, from old cookbooks, tattered index cards, a meal out, a trip across the country. Lightning could strike at any moment.”
According to Lucks, cute is the new creepy for Halloween sweets. Desserts are a big part of this treat-focused holiday and become popular icons alongside the expected ghosts and jack-o-lanterns. For a twist, the upcoming “Creep it Cute” trend turns pumpkins bright pink and unicorn horns overtake devil horns.
Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) is an increasingly popular holiday in the United States, and bakeries should tap into demand for the celebration. Occurring just after Halloween, the same bright colors from the Creep it Cute trend are still in play. Add a sugar skull decoration for an easy transition.
For Thanksgiving desserts, customers are increasingly seeking out desserts with natural food colors, including Boho warm magentas and cool turquoises that add a modern flair to traditional fall oranges and browns. Stylized rustic icons like flowers, leaves and hand-written fonts appear on cakes with a “home-made” feel.
Friends are increasingly included when it comes to Thanksgiving celebrations prompting the trend “friendsgiving,” which is a more casual, diverse and personalized gathering among friends. Shareable large desserts are accompanied with small treats personalized for each guest in a variety of flavors, decorations or even messaging. Visit lucks.com to see what’s new: check out our sugary Skate Park Dec-Ons® decorations, shimmery Party Pumpkins Edible Image® design and Boho Colorful Leaves Dec-Ons® decorations, to name a few. Mix up the trendiest new fall colors with Lucks’ scientifically formulated food color.
In Texas, where everything big matters, Three Brothers Bakery serves up the ultimate holiday cake with something for everyone. They call it the Pumpecapple Piecake, and it sells for $250. This special cake requires five days’ notice because of the complexity of its production. Each piecake is layered with a generous filling of scratch-made cream cheese icing. Finally, this large confection is iced all over with cream cheese icing and is garnished with pecan pieces and topped with a generous caramel drizzle.
“It’s a pumpkin pie in a pumpkin spice cake, a pecan pie in chocolate cake, and an apple pie in an apple spice cake,” said Bobby Jucker, chef and owner at Three Brothers Bakery.
The road to higher profits in the cake business starts with creating new levels of price points that depend more on perceived value than price. If a consumer considers a $3 cupcake to be a valued treat, then the threshold has been achieved. “Creating new price points in categories of products has been good for all of us,” says Page Busken of the iconic Busken Bakery in Cincinnati, now in its 90th year. “Now you can sell a cupcake for $2 or more. We like that.”
Brian Busken, vice president of Busken Bakery, points out that millennials are opening more doors for creative expression at cake shops. “If you make something on-trend and adorable,” he says, “there is not as much price sensitivity.”
Examples include headline-grabbing creations like the Atomic Cake, a popular cake that seems to have originated on the South Side of Chicago. Weber’s Bakery makes a version of this cake that they call a banana split torte. Tom Major, president of Orland Park Bakery, founded in 1969, explains their version of the Atomic Cake.
“The Atomic Cake is legendary,” he says. “It is made from yellow cake on the bottom, topped with Bavarian cream, bananas and whipped cream, and then a layer of banana cake with strawberries and whipped cream and topped with chocolate cake, fudge and whipped cream. The Atomic Cake is so special to people because they have been having it for 40 years in this area. It’s got something in it for everyone’s tastes.”
At , Su Casa Super Mercado in Hillsboro, Oregon, makes a high-quality statement to customers with its presentation of finely decorated cakes.
Cake decorator Karime Medina Morgan is a skilled decorator who takes great pride in her designs. She loves to decorate in bright, vibrant colors (purple, red, pink, blue) and creates sophisticated designs for her tres leches cakes and mil hojas.
“I love to design beautiful cakes,” she says. “We want to give our customers a nice presentation of cakes, which we display in the front of the store.”