Chunks of cookie dough, slices of strawberry shortcake, crushed Oreo cookies — these are a few of consumers’ favorite things in ice cream and frozen yogurt, on pies, donuts, cakes, waffles, and more.
Originally, inclusions and toppings — especially confections — became popular through the frozen yogurt market and shakes and ice cream at quick-service restaurants.
“It opened the floodgates for other companies to bring something new and exciting to the consumer by adding a new twist to their products,” says Tim Rode, president and chief executive officer of TR Toppers. “Now toppings and inclusions are being used in items and markets that you would never have dreamed of 10 years ago.”
Baked foods in smaller forms are a major part of this category growth. Often, they can provide a more pleasant eating experience through flavor, a less abrasive but textured bite and a healthier formulation.
“Baked inclusions and toppings provide the textural experience of confections but can be done with less sugar,” says Dave Richhart, director of national accounts for Ellison Bakery. “As consumers continue to focus on better-for-you products, we strive to offer products that create the same great sensory experience without adding additional sugar normally found in confectionery type toppings.”
The company’s donut crunch is an example of this reduction. Typically, Richhart says this add-on is two-thirds cookie-based and one-third sugar, a mix that’s placed on an iced donut. The company offers 100% cookie-based and eliminates the extra sugar for its donuts.
While better-for-you trends play a part in this category, consumers still enjoy indulgence and a new experience, both of which baked foods as inclusions and toppings provide.

Formulating for two-in-one

Baked foods themselves are a process. Therefore, baked foods going in or on other desserts have additional considerations. Andrew Lang, chief operating officer, TR Toppers, says there are a variety of challenges, and companies should keep questions such as these in mind about a product: Is it too hard in ice cream? Is the piece size too big to be injected or extruded? Does it clump together?

Temperature is a major factor during formulation.

“Inclusion products are baked to complement and work with wet product like ice cream, donut toppings, glazes, pudding, and yogurt,” Richhart says. “For example, a brownie inclusion for ice cream is going to be drier than a brownie you would consume by itself because the moisture in the ice cream will migrate to soften the brownie inclusion pieces.”
Moisture migration can happen by crushing an inclusion, he adds. On the flipside, it can be slowed by coating the inclusion with a fat-based coating.
Another consideration is piece proportion such as size, shape and texture. Air cell size is important for helping the baked food stay soft or firm to hold or not hold a shape, says Dale Conoscenti, certified research chef for Rhino Foods, Inc.
TR Toppers chops, blends, packages, co-packs and puts together kit products for its customers in the food industry. The possibilities are endless, from chopped candies to chopped baked goods like cookies.
Ellison Bakery bakes product in tunnel ovens then processes post-bake to ensure product will hold up in the application. Depending on a customer’s demand, the company can also bake extruded, wire-cut and rotary-shaped product, and it can slice and/or crush product after baking.
Whether it’s imperfect cheesecake chunks or extruded cookie dough, various sizes and shapes create a greater appeal and better taste for the overall dessert.
Flavor is also key when formulating baked inclusions and toppings. Rhino Foods’ products — brownies, cookie doughs, cakes and donuts — are cut into cubes, frozen, bulk-packed, and sent to manufacturing plants and quick-service restaurants.
“Depending on what the baked product is, the flavor, of course, must be quite pronounced because it will be frozen and it will be added to another system like ice cream, shakes, or other formats,” Conoscenti explains.

A whole new dimension

There are never too many inclusions mixed in a vanilla concrete or too many toppings falling off a donut. They might not be the main event of the dessert, but they’re crucial. In fact, if it weren’t for the literal cherry on some frozen treats, the diced, crushed, and extruded baked desserts would be considered the cherries on top, bringing dimension to elaborate flavors.
Conoscenti says baked inclusions bring complexity or the excitement of the unknown in three ways: “Eye appeal — we eat with our eyes first,” he notes. “The importance of contrasting textures — soft, crunchy, smooth, and crack have given products more dimension, depth, and innovation. It is another way to add more flavor and color or as a complementary flavor to an existing format.”
A Summer Berry Cheesecake Blizzard Treat from Dairy Queen wouldn’t live up to its name if it didn’t include cheesecake bites. A S'mores donut from Hurts Donut isn’t what the company says it offers without graham crackers crushed on top and a marshmallow smack dab in the center.
A baked inclusion or topping not only helps create a new dessert idea, but it renews interest in a traditional dessert.
“It takes a product that most of us are familiar with and creates an entirely new taste experience with that product,” Rode says. “It takes the ordinary and can potentially make it extraordinary.”