Gavan Knox, Baker, Mr.Mom’s Kitchen reports
“On your marks, get set, BAKE”. Words that inspired a nation to don aprons and lift up their rolling pins. The rise of The Great British Bake Off not only ignited the publics passion for all things oven-baked but also opened the flood gates to a wave of baking trends, some lingering- some not so.
The humble cupcake has stood the test of time, despite the nay-sayers, from that first scene outside Magnolia Bakery (Sex and The City) to become the stalwart “Thank You” gift. Compare, if you will, to the scandal-ridden Duffin/Muffnut. A Frankenstein fancy typical of what happens when bakers try to play God in the world of portmanteau patisserie. The only thing that has lingered about this baking trend is the scandal surrounding its creation ownership. For me its filed under “Just No” along with the likes of The Biskie and Churro Cheesecake.
That’s not to say the all hybrid bakes are to be written off. A case in point with the likes of Dominique Ansel. With four worldwide branches under his belt and his fifth just opened in London, the creator of The Cronut® can certainly sit back and smile. Will it stand completion from the new kid on the block in the form of Bijou Choux with it’s hybrid “Le Chouxnut”? Time and taste will only tell. Personally I find myself cringing a little when I say the choux/ donut hybrid’s name- trying too hard to be on trend?
I can’t talk about choux without a mention for Joakim Pratt’s Maître Choux in South Kensington, London. This glass-fronted jewel case of shop is proving a mecca for the sweet-toothed. Vibrant, luscious eclairs and choux buns combining traditional pastry technique with bold, modern flavours. Bang on trend with using new flavours to elevate a classic to a higher plane.
Flavours too have come and gone in the baking world. There was once a point when salted caramel was drizzled, poured and drenched every bake and cake insight. Just reading their descriptions would induce a diabetic coma! Thankfully this seems to have waned with the world waking up to this sugar-filled seduction. I personally am a big fan of using more savoury elements in my baking. Both my Sriracha (yes hot sauce!) caramel cupcakes and Guinness, Chocolate & Black Garlic Bundt cakes have proved extremely popular with people. An unexpected kick of umami is an instant conversation starter.
If all of the above sounds just too whacky and weird for you then fear not. The humble celebration cake is still riding high on the trend list. But with a twist of course! “Junkyard” cakes where the classic sponge cake gets a candy supersizing and is covered in a plethora of confectionary from biscuits to candy to chocolates. It’s fairly fuss-free where the effect of the finished cake is nonetheless awe-inspiring. There are no rules, templates or constraints. It literally is just doing whatever takes your fancy.
“Drip cakes” are lighting up Twitter and Instagram feeds en masse at the moment. A more refined effect than it’s “Junkyard” cousin. The artistic streams of “liquid” topping serve to neutralise the chaotic arrangement of the toppings. It takes a little practice to get the drips just right- too little and there’s no stem, too much and you’ll just flood the base. But once you master it, there will definitely be a cake worthy of any foodie retweet!
The above two are examples of some of my favourite trends I’ve seen appear. However, there’s something worrying on the radar- “Unicorn bakes”. I’m stating this as a personal preference and as such I find myself gagging at the sight of the pastel colored mish-mash often presented at birthday parties of tweenage girls. To me it just smacks of an 80’s childhood gone wrong- think My Little Pony on steroids. Frenetic swirls of colors such as Blush Rose, Aqua Jade, and Primrose Dawn strewn with rainbow sugar strands and brightly colored meringue “kisses” that simply set my teeth on edge. Speaking of rainbow can we talk about “Rainbow Bagels”? Actually let’s not. I’m just going to file these Play-doh comparable freaks in the “Just No” pile.
Love them or loath them I’m betting the above baking trends have you loosening your belts nonetheless? But this is an age when people really do want to have their cake and eat it and why shouldn’t it be so? If you want cake, go ahead have some. There is, however, difference between “Some” and “All”. As my mother used to say, “A little bit of what you fancy does you good”. If, for other reasons, having cakes and sweet bakes has been ruled out for you today is a wonderful age to be living in! “Free from” has become the buzzword on everyone’s lips. Thanks to the internet and a braver, more experimental approach to baking a whole new world of alternative ingredients has opened up. Pressure on lowering the amount of sugar in foods has led to investigation in alternatives.
Two sugar substitutes of which I’ve had experience of are Stevia and Xylitol. Of the two Xylitol is the easier to bake with, allowing like for like substitution with sugar. Using it in my Chocolate & Orange Polenta Cake proved such a success for a diabetic friend that he was awoken from mouthfuls of guilty silence into exuberant scoffing! Stevia requires more practice as it’s sweeter than sugar so a reduced amount is needed in order to produce similar sweetness.
And so what lies on the horizon? I think we’ll see further merging of the savoury and sweet- Umami and spices playing a part in decorations and finishes. Choux pastry seems to be the thing people are experimenting with at the moment- eclairs, chouquettes and gougeres all under experimentation. Whatever it is it’s sure to be tasty!