Latin-inspired flavors are sweeping the American cake decorating world, as cake decorators look to add new twists to traditional cakes and desserts. No longer are Hispanic bakeries being shopped by Hispanic customers almost exclusively. In increasing numbers, Hispanic cakes and Hispanic flavors are being embraced by the mainstream public.
Of note, egg-rich custards and thick caramels, including flan, tres leches and dulce de leche have never been too far outside the culinary world, but regional delicacies and new interpretations of old favorites are trending upward, according to the latest decorating trends in America.
For many years, milhojas cakes have been regarded as a pastry delicacy only to be enjoyed on special occasions. Like its French counterpart, the Napoleon, milhojas is produced with flaky layers of pastry, filled with pastry cream and topped with fresh fruit slices.
But what is happening now, as customers become more familiar with unique pastries, milhojas is moving into the mainstream and approaching tres leches cakes as one of the most popular Hispanic desserts.
“We make milhojas cakes all year-round, sometimes every day,” says Alma Ignacio, owner of Maravilla’s Bakery in Salem, Oregon. “We top them with five kinds of fruit: kiwifruit, strawberry, pineapple, peach and grapes. We bake it from scratch. They call it milhojas because of the flaky layers.”
At Miranda’s Bakery in Woodburn, Oregon, full sheets and half sheets are very popular. The bakery makes the giant full sheet milhojas for customers who buy them for special occasions. Owner Gustavo Miranda, who started the bakery in 2008, previously lived in Los Angeles and brought the milhojas recipe with him from Los Angeles. The fruit and the flaky layers of dough make a unique flavor. The bakery uses strawberries, peaches, kiwifruit, pineapples and grapes, “and we do a jelly glaze on the top to make it special.”
Other bakeries across the country offer individual slices of milhojas, showing that it is becoming popular as an everyday item.
Ignacio travels a lot for business and, when she goes to other cities she always makes sure to take photos of what others in the bakery business are doing. This routine helps her keep pace with trends in the bakery she runs with her husband, Juan Maravilla, who is the head baker. “Cakes are very good business for us, and we are always looking for innovations,” she says. “It’s important to know what is going on in the rest of the world.”
Owners Eduardo Colón and Denisse Torres started central Florida retailer Melao Bakery in Kissimmee, Florida, in 2008, after having run a bakery in their former home of Puerto Rico. They grew up in Vega Baja, in northern Puerto Rico where beautiful beaches are surrounded by sugar cane fields. In Puerto Rico, melao means sugar cane.
Once they arrived in Florida, they started the bakery with seven employees. Today, there are more than 50 on staff. The city of Kissimmee honored Melao Bakery as the first Hispanic business to win its annual “Small Business of the Year” award. In January 2014, Florida Governor Rick Scott recognized Melao Bakery as one of six statewide recipients of the Governor’s Business Ambassador Award.
Exceptional customer service is paramount in every aspect of the daily operation of the bakery and cafe. Servers adorned with pins that say “my name is” greet each customer with a smile, and on the back of their work shirts are various messages of comfort and joy.
Melao Bakery in Kissimmee creates a magnificent look with a butterfly cake that features whipped cream on the edges of two “wings” made of gelatin. Pastries are available in a variety of flavors: guava pastry topped with sugar, cheese pastry topped with honey glaze or almonds, or guava and cheese pastry topped with glaze. The bakery features turnovers in apple, cherry, strawberry and pineapple. Another sweet snack that is a signature item of Melao Bakery is called tembleque, which is coconut custard topped with cinnamon. It is often sold as a snack item with bread.
At Venezia Patisserie in Kissimmee, passion fruit is a popular ingredient for their cakes, which are available as both a 9-inch passion fruit cake and single slices of passion fruit mousse cake. The bakery also does its own version of a traditional Black Forest cake (a classic Swiss dessert made with whipped cream layers, chocolate shavings and cherries). Its version is lighter on chocolate. Venezia also does a version of strawberry shortcake that is sold as individual slices: two layers of cake with whipped cream filling and a dollop of whipped cream with a chocolate decorative piece on top.
As Hispanics make up a growing share of the younger generations, this population shift will have a major impact on the country’s eating behaviors over the next five years, according to a study by The NPD Group. The tastes and choices of US Hispanics, which make up a large percentage of the Generation Z and Millennial groups, will continue to grow in importance over the next five years.
NPD’s research suggests Hispanics, including those born in the US, will continue to prepare and cook traditional Hispanic foods. The consumption of Hispanic foods is forecast to increase by 7 percent over the next five years among Hispanic Millennials. This group’s preference is also for foods that are fresh and natural.
Hispanic flavors, in particular, moving more into mainstream food channels, positioning Hispanic bakery products for major growth. More than ever, consumers crave diversity and dimension. Widespread acceptance of nontraditional flavor pairings is growing, with such complex combinations as Sriracha and salted caramel surging in popularity over the past year. A rise in international cuisines combined with the prevalence of social media is stoking a hunger for flavor synergy that has trickled into mainstream applications.
Rambutan is a new addition as a topping on the popular mango mousse cake at Porto’s Bakery in Southern California. Native to Southeast Asia, the tropical fruit offers a distinctive flavor that is slightly tart and delicately sweet. More than that, the presentation of exotic fresh fruit on Porto’s mango mousse cakes serves as a boost to both profits and eye appeal. Customers see something they’ve never encountered before and are more willing to pay a little extra.
Mango mousse cake layers are produced at Porto’s new central bakery and are shipped to the bakery’s three Southern California locations (Glendale, Burbank and Downey). At each store, bakers efficiently assemble the cakes and decorate them with several types of fresh fruit. Porto’s sells a variety of sizes for any customer need: 8-in round for $23, quarter sheet for $35, half sheet for $70, full sheet for $140, individual cake for $2.95, and the Mini Mango Mousse for $1.25.
Fruit tarts are another huge seller nowadays for Porto’s. “Fruit tarts are a big component of our sales,” says owner Raul Porto. “We started them maybe 15 years ago. Today, we actually not only do the fruit tarts, but we have a lot of cakes that have fruit in them. A fruit tart might have the same calories as a chocolate cake, but it’s perceived as a healthier, more natural product.”
The trick is first to gauge demand for which flavors, toppings and icings your customers will respond to. Pay close attention to what the majority of your customers are willing and not willing to spend. Consumers continually show a willingness to spend more on products that fall into one of two categories: totally unique or super premium.
When properly executed, flavor combinations simultaneously activate multiple taste receptors, delivering a more intense experience for the tongue and brain. While there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to flavor pairing, a well-made match may be achieved with a few simple guidelines.
Bold flavors, such as balsamic and fig, pair nicely, while soft and subtle ginger and plum match well. Same goes for sensations. Together, cooling menthol and fiery capsaicin create a discordant duo. Sweet pairs well with a variety of distinct flavors, including savory, sour, smoky and spicy.
By September and October, the time arrives to offer autumnal items, from pumpkin spice lattes and pumpkin pie donuts to caramel apple cupcakes.
“Society has started the holiday preparation early,” says Mary Chapman, special projects editor at Winsight LLC in Chicago. “More brands are promoting pumpkin and other seasonal flavors, and those who do are finding new ways to use it.”
Pumpkin as an ingredient has soared on menus across the quick-service and casual dining landscape, popping up predominantly in desserts and beverages, such as coffee drinks and baked foods.
A growing appreciation for fresh and in-season ingredients supports the trend, as well as the sentimentality associated with fall’s warm and spicy flavors. Apples, butternut squash, bourbon and sweet potatoes also are popular ingredients for the fall.
One key to capitalizing on new opportunities in the bakery lies in understanding the flavor preferences of your customers. Of note, flavors like strawberry and mango are widely popular with US Hispanics of Mexican origin because those two fruit crops are prevalent in Mexico. Guava is very popular for the same reason among Cubans.
Popular flavors can vary by Hispanic country of origin, so it can prove beneficial to know where the customers who shop your bakeries originate.
POPULAR FLAVORS BY COUNTRY
Mexico: strawberry, mango, pineapple, garlic, onion, chili powder, oregano, cinnamon, anise
Puerto Rico: papaya, guava, plantains, lime, oregano
El Salvador: mango, pineapple, banana, plantains, yucca, guava
Cuba: guava, citrus, plantains, raisins, cinnamon