The Mather, a senior living community in Evanston, Ill., used to offer mostly regular-sized tarts, brownies and other goodies. But Pastry Chef Mary Teresi came to a realization as residents began stopping her in the hall, teasing that her desserts caused their weight gains. “They want to eat dessert, but they don’t want to overindulge,” she says.
Miniature desserts offer a perfect fix, while also building on diners’ desire for variety. Donut bites, mini muffins, “thimble cake” and cream puffs all popped up on noncommercial menus in the past year, according to Technomic’s MenuMonitor.
Smaller portions as samples
While The Mather still serves full slices of cake (which are hard to shrink) and an occasional shared item like skillet crisps or big cream puffs, minis now reign supreme. The menu includes mini fruit tarts, brownies and cookies; 4-ounce cups of mousse; and three flavors of ice cream served with a small scoop.
Health motivations aren’t the only reason for going mini. Teresi says residents use the smaller portions as an excuse to sample all three ice cream flavors or a couple of different cookies. “I don’t think they like to share their desserts as much as they love variety,” she says.
Christina Rollins, director of food and nutrition services for Memorial Medical Center in Springfield, Ill., agrees. Her operation used to be known for its jumbo cupcakes and cookies, the latter of which contained the equivalent of four portions of premade cookie dough per serving. But when the hospital launched a healthy eating program, desserts had to be scaled back. Cookie portions were cut in half, and cupcakes are now a traditional size.
But Rollins didn’t want to just take things away from diners; she wanted to offer something new. A rotating menu of miniature cream desserts served in shot glasses with tiny spoons—including flavors like cheesecake, pina colada, peanut butter and chocolate, and Key lime pie—are now so popular that they’re one of the few desserts on Memorial’s daily menu.
Even in the land of miniatures, some rules are the same. Both operators agree that chocolate remains the most popular flavor. Teresi says tarts are the easiest to miniaturize since they are outsourced; followed by brownies and cookies, which can simply be sliced smaller.
While mini desserts require more labor, the extra time is often negligible. Teresi estimates a large buffet project might take her team of three an extra half day of labor. She recommends baking ahead—and planning even further ahead—whenever possible, especially for operators unfamiliar with scaling down. “You really have to prioritize what you need to do [and] when—you need organization,” Teresi says.