Sweet Trends

What are Austin's next big desserts? Local experts weigh in

What are Austin's next big desserts? Local experts weigh in

Ice Cream Sandwich Arro Austin
Arro's ice cream sandwich. Courtesy of Elm Restaurant Group
Pudding from TRACE The W Austin
Butterscotch pudding from TRACE. Courtesy of TRACE
Hand Pies Perla's
Hand pies at Perla's.  Courtesy of Perla's
Ice Cream Sandwich Arro Austin
Pudding from TRACE The W Austin
Hand Pies Perla's

The culinary world is defined by trends. In 2013, it was all about going gluten-free, mile-long cronut lines, retro desserts, inspired ice cream, an emergency Sriracha shortage, pickling anything and everything, and vegetable forward entrees. 2014, too, has presented its share of delicious trends, including ramen, house-cured meats, fermented dishes and more. But just what is 2014's signature dessert? 

CultureMap asked a handful of Austin pastry chefs to weigh in on the next big dessert trend. Some of their selections may surprise you. 

Ice cream sandwiches  Mary Catherine Curren, executive pastry chef of the ELM Restaurant Group 
Ice cream sandwiches aren't what they used to be — just ask Mary Catherine Curren, pastry chef of the ELM Restaurant Group. "I've noticed a lot of interest in the ice cream sandwich, perhaps riding the coattails of last year's ice cream craze," Curren says. "It seems as though pastry chefs are being very thoughtful about their baked goods these days and are going back to comfort foods and classic dishes and really focusing on executing simple things well ... Chefs have become really creative and will sandwich ice cream between almost any baked good that will contain it. The possibility of flavor and texture combinations is endless."

Capitalizing on the trend, Curren and her team at Arro have crafted two sandwich-inspired desserts: salted chocolate chip cookies with Cognac ice cream and profiteroles with chamomile ice cream, toasted meringue and lemon cream. "If you think about it, profiteroles are really just perfect little ice cream sandwiches," she says.

Classic cakes and custards Zach Hunter, chef de cuisine of Fixe 
Fixe hasn't opened yet, but the restaurant's pastry team already knows what trends they're walking into later this year. "2014 has seen a resurgence of modern renditions on classic desserts. With a steady wave of new technique, chefs are reinventing some old favorites," Hunter says. "A great example of this are frozen aerations of classic cakes and custards. At Fixe, we aerate a chèvre cheesecake batter and serve it frozen so it dissolves on your tongue." In addition to classic desserts, Hunter also believes this year is defined by its hybrid desserts and, yes, ice creams.

"2014 has also seen a closing of the gap between the sweet and savory worlds. Chefs are spinning traditionally savory ingredients into clever new desserts. At Fixe, we're using things like potatoes and red beans and rice to create desserts. Along with these trends, chefs are playing off of their vivid imaginations to create interesting and new flavors of ice creams, sorbets and sherbet."

Retro favorites Natalie Gazaui, pastry chef for McGuire Moorman Hospitality
Natalie Gazaui, pastry chef of Perla's and Jeffrey's, believes ice cream, like last year, has bestowed its magic in 2014. "All of my menus are ice cream-heavy. I love working with ice cream and sorbets because you can be so versatile with them," she says. "I serve anything from malted banana ice cream to Sour Patch Kids sorbet and anything you can think of in between. Anything goes!"

One of the main reasons Gazaui embraces the creamy treat so often is due to its memory-evoking appeal. "Retro desserts that evoke familiarity and whimsy — such as sundaes, hand pies, Pop-Tarts and gourmet doughnuts — are a trend that continues to grow quickly. These classic American treats get makeovers by elevating childhood favorites into beautifully plated desserts. Nostalgia plays a big part in how I conceptualize a dish, and I’m really into the malt shop theme right now."

Two of Gazaui's desserts, the baked Alaska at Jeffrey's (made with cherry almond upside down cake, pastis ice cream and cherry hibiscus sorbet) and the cherry pie at Perla's (paired with pistachio ice cream, pickled cherries and hibiscus gel) feature strong ice cream components. 

Pie Michael Fojtasek and Grae Nonas, co-executive chefs of Olamaie
Olamaie only opened its doors a few weeks ago, but the restaurant already knows what makes a popular dessert. "We are full on into pie this year. What's better than a great slice of pie with 2013's signature dessert, ice cream? Nothing!," says Fojtasek. "At Olamaie, we believe that often the best things are about season and simplicity. Executing a great pie may seem easy, but it's time consuming and all about technique. That's why families have always had a chief pie maker. Not everyone can do it."

The team at Olamaie has already featured a number of pie interpretations on the Southern-inspired menu. "We opened with peach pie and two weeks later we switched to apple pie. When you source all local, everything is subject to rapid change. We love it that way. It makes our lives interesting," Nonas says.

Gluten-free options Jill Schweder, pastry chef of Vince Young Steakhouse
Like Gazaui, Schweder also believes a 2013 trend has remained solid in 2014. "The trend for 2014 for me is gluten-free. More than ever, there is scrutiny over the use of refined flour and we strive to be sensitive to those with allergy concerns," she says. With that delicate restriction in mind, Schweder tailors Vince Young Steakhouse's menu to feature a host of gluten-free desserts.

"The flour-less chocolate torte is a great option. All the components fit the bill, from the cocoa and caramel sauces to the candied pecans and sugar swirl garnish. Our sorbet and ice creams are gluten-free, as well as the cheesecake sans the streusel, the sundae without the brownie and the classic creme brûlée."

Butterscotch Angel Begaye, executive pastry chef of TRACE 
Angel Begaye, executive pastry chef of TRACE, doesn't believe this year is about a specific dessert so much as a signature flavor. "This year's trend is butterscotch," Begaye says. "Butterscotch is an oldie but a goody. Its flavor is derived by cooking brown sugar and butter, and many people relate this back to their childhood. The flavor is so distinct and bold, and the key is that it hits both sweet and savory [notes]."

Embracing the equally sweet and savory ingredient, Begaye has crafted a signature butterscotch pudding with a boozy twist. "We offer a very playful rendition of butterscotch: a butterscotch bourbon pudding with bourbon whipped cream, bacon brittle and caramel pound cake croutons."

Pie — Olivia O'Neal, owner of Sugar Mama's Bakeshop 
As the baker behind Kanye West's birthday cake, Olivia O'Neal definitely has an idea of what's in vogue this year. "This year's signature dessert would have to be the pie. We are having so much fun with pies and transforming some of our favorite cake and bar recipes into pie," she says. "From classic key lime, to peanut butter s'mores pie and our fall favorite sweet potato meringue, there's a pie for everyone."

In fact, O'Neal believes it is the pie's diversity that's made it a favorite of 2014. "Pie is so popular right now because it's made in so many incarnations. From hand pies to a classic double-crust apple pie, you can have pie in fine dining or right from your neighborhood bakeshop."

Pudding Callie Speer, pastry chef of Swift's Attic
Texas has bestowed a great deal of culinary influence beyond our borders, and as a result, traditionally Southern desserts like pudding are taking hold in culinary meccas like New York and San Francisco. “I think as Southern food has become more and more prevalent [and] so have Southern-style desserts. People really love sweets that take them back to their childhood, and I think that is why we still see a lot of cereal milk and other nostalgic desserts on menus,” Speer says. “We've seen a lot of puddings this year. From bread puddings to regular old-fashioned puddings, throwback desserts are still thriving. Momofuku Milk Bar in New York is doing frozen pudding pops right now during the last hot days of summer, and when Erica Waksmunski was still at Congress earlier this year, she did a fried butterscotch pudding with tangerines and cocoa nibs that was pretty stellar.”

Speer has even created her own risqué rendition of pudding. “The Bitch Puddin' at Swift's Attic got a lot of attention this year mostly for its name, which is after a character on Cartoon Network's Robot Chicken. The dessert is my take on banana cream pudding made with malted chocolate stout, hazelnut beer brittle and banana bubbles.”

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