The bakery at Oracle, managed by Bon Appetit, made
these macarons.Desserts on a stick may be the cupcakes of 2012. There’s no doubt that people still love their cupcakes, but recently many pastry chefs are popping out edible sweet pops that also delight diners. Cakes on a stick, skewered doughnut holes and pie pops are typically round and bite sized so they are inexpensive to produce.
Many of these treats are based on fun retro classics but the real genius behind these baked items is portability. For example, Justin Huleatt, pastry chef for Restaurant Associates at one of the company’s accounts in New York, prepares a pomegranate pie on a stick. He bakes the sticks right into mini pies that are about 2½ inches in diameter. The pies are filled with fresh-squeezed pomegranate juice and thickened with xanthan gum. The gum thickens as it cools, so the filling isn’t cooked twice.
“I’m seeing cake pops popping up a lot,” Huleatt says. He uses a classic pie for his pops since his clients enjoy “retro desserts with a twist.”
Recently, Huleatt started a more extensive housemade bakery program that is increasing interest in desserts. Throughout the foodservice industry, many directors are reporting increased sales of from-scratch baked goods. Advantages can include increased freshness, a larger variety of options and cost savings.
“While the trend has been to outsource these items, we reversed course,” says Ed Brown, senior vice president of food and beverage at Restaurant Associates. At Huleatt’s account, Brown notes, “We have begun baking artisanal bread, tremendous hand-crafted pies and desserts.” Brown says that made-from-scratch baked goods can deliver “quality and ultimately profit as well.”
At Redwood Shores, Calif.-based Oracle, Ian Farrell, executive pastry chef for Bon Appétit, operates a bakery open to the company’s 7,000 employees. In the bakery, Farrell makes macarons in several flavors—green tea and mint, chocolate, hazelnut, raspberry, pistachio, white chocolate and lemon curd. Other popular choices are cupcakes and cake pops. He prepares the mini versions in any cake flavor that’s currently available. Cakes change every two weeks, so there are hundreds of versions. The pops are presented on a vertical stand.
“The cupcake is still going,” Farrell adds, “but it has now progressed a little. Cake pops fit the budget of cash-strapped people and they don’t really affect the waistline. People want something small, but something that’s really good.”
Speaking of small, Farrell’s cookies also sell well. “In the afternoon, people just grab a cup of coffee and a cookie,” he says. “I stagger the baking of the cookies [throughout the day], so people can get warm cookies.”
Customers also can smell the just-baked cookies, since Oracle’s bakery is in an open kitchen next to the retail area.
“It gets people’s taste buds flowing,” he says. “People see what you’re doing and get excited about it.”
Baking beyond dessert: It’s not just sweets that are getting the new twist treatment. Artisanal breads are having their moment as well. One of Huleatt’s house-baked breads that turns heads is a cottage cheese dill roll with horseradish. It’s made with European-style butter-enriched brioche dough. Huleatt’s trick is to allow the flavors to develop and the gluten to relax overnight in the refrigerator. The cottage cheese dill bread goes well with the dishes on a comfort food station, Huleatt adds.
Augmenting savory comforts, Huleatt cooks up retro desserts, such as apple cobblers and warm pudding for snacks that sell between 3 p.m. and 5 p.m. on Thursdays. At snack time on select Tuesdays, he offers “warm doughnut days,” with cakelike doughnut holes that he keeps at temperature in a warming box. They come in a variety of flavors such as plain powdered sugar and pumpkin spice for the fall, teamed with chocolate, caramel and berry dipping sauces, so “everyone can mix and match.”
Those “go over like gangbusters,” says Chuck Banicki, general manager at the RA account. “They are made from scratch like your grandma would make.”
Doughnuts were also a huge hit when pastry chef interns, who Banicki brings in annually from a local culinary school, featured a creative assortment as a project. One of the top sellers was the maple-glazed Granny Smith apple doughnut with candied bacon sprinkled on top.
“The customers loved it,” Banicki says. “We sold over 200 doughnuts in 1½ hours.”
The move to scratch cooking has allowed Michael Rosenberger, director of food and nutrition services at the Irving Independent School District in Texas, to improve baked options.
“If you can’t make the food look good and you can’t sell it, you’re stuck with it,” Rosenberger says. “It’s a package that includes presentation, great recipes and freshly prepared foods.”
Rosenberger just rolled out a new Italian bread made on site and is developing, with staff input, a sweet potato baked breakfast dish that he plans to deliver districtwide. “It’s hard to be proud of opening a box of premade things,” he says. “The most rewarding part for me is [scratch cooking] gives our employees something to be proud of.”