If you hear it from the Food Channel, then it must be true. This crew's latest list -- of top-ten dessert trends -- includes mass wedding cake genocide, tableside theatrics, Cinnamon Twists from Taco Bell, beer paired with doughnuts, two-fisting nuts (and yes, "two-fisting" is being used as a verb here), cupcakes as nosferatu, an epitaph on how people are maybe greedy bastards or maybe not -- with exactly two accurate, useful trends out of ten.
I suppose that's better than none. Here's what the Food Channel is serving up now, and my response:
9. A Hint of Floral.
Food Channel says: "We're seeing lavender, especially, with little touches of it in baked goods such as cupcakes and macarons. You can find lavender syrups, and lavender-infused sugars in teas and yogurts served in some restaurants. Even a chain as mainstream as Ruby Tuesday has introduced a new lavender lemon-drop cocktail. Edible flowers, always popular as a garnish, are coming back in vogue as part of the aromatic and flavor experience."
I'm saying: This trend prediction is accurate. But it would take a helluva lot more than a lavender-infused cocktail and a mediocre salad bar to entice me to set foot in a Ruby Tuesday. A team of oxen couldn't drag my ass in there.
8. A Touch of Sweetness All Day Long.
Food Channel says: "This trend is about frequency, not quantity. In tough economic times, we seek to soothe ourselves with small rewards and little luxuries. So it is with desserts. Maybe it's a slice of pastry at breakfast, or fresh organic strawberries added to the oatmeal. At lunch time, we might order the Cinnamon Twists at Taco Bell to cap off our cheesy double-decker taco meal.
"Perhaps we swing by Starbucks for a cake pop afternoon snack. After dinner at home, it might be just a piece of good quality chocolate from Dove or Ghiradelli. Dessert is no longer about death-by-chocolate over-indulgence, it's now about sweet little rewards that help get us through the day."
I'm saying: Bullshit. People getting butt-rodgered by the still puny economy are white-knuckling it and cramming Hostess cakes into their gobs half a box at a time; organic strawberries are too freaking expensive in these "tough economic times" to put in your mouth, let alone a bowl of Quaker oats, and the Cinnamon Twists from Taco Bell have never been and never will be trendy for any reason. And if Dove and Ghiradelli are examples of good-quality chocolate, then the current Denver mayor's race is a good example of two gentlemen engaging in polite, scholarly debate.
7. Desserts in the Raw. Food Channel says: "Yes, the raw-foods movement has entered the dessert realm. Don't know if the act of biting into a fresh crisp apple could be considered trendy, but how about if it was a raw (uncooked) cupcake? Today you can find raw and vegan versions of cupcakes, cheesecake, ice cream cakes, moon pies, tiramisu and many more. Sure, it's a bit on the fringe side, but it's getting bigger all the time." I'm saying: Cupcakes are turning into the undead dessert to the point where they should all be decorated with little capes and fangs. Raw cupcakes, huh? This brings to mind images of customers lined up at a dessert counter and a server with a hairy mole and a hairnet coming by with a Tupperware bowl and a spatula and scraping batter across each of their outstretched tongues. Sure, it's a bit on the fringe side, but these Food Channel lists get weirder and weirder all the time.
6. Whole Grains and No Grains. Food Channel says: "This is a food trend that's all about health. Whole grains are huge. If you can treat yourself to a satisfying dessert and also get a few g's of fiber, well, that's a win-win. We're seeing brown rice puddings, oatmeal crisp dessert toppings, and pies made with whole-grain crust. On the flip side, there are those who -- due to restricted diets -- need to avoid grains all together. More and more restaurants are accommodating those needs, including on the dessert menu. Gluten-free is found on nearly every menu now -- or will be soon. It's become trendy, even for those with no need to go gluten-free." I'm saying: This is another accurate trend prediction. Colon-cleansing whole grains are absolutely in vogue, and gluten-free is the new Atkins diet. And for those without actual medical reasons to shun wheat, there will always be the next thing to either load up on or avoid that will pop up somewhere around the moment that T.G.I. Friday's decides it's time to jump on board -- at least a decade from now.
5. Desserts for Grownups. Food Channel says: "Call this trend the maturing of America's sweet tooth. We're seeing milkshakes with a splash of rum, wine paired up with gelato, and beer partnered with doughnuts (okay that one's maybe more adolescent than grown-up). Restaurants are also using liquor add-ons to chocolate desserts as a way to boost check averages and offer the guest a little something extra. Want a shot of Baileys in that hot fudge sundae? It's just an extra $2.50."
I'm saying: Are they envisioning doughnuts made with beer, soaked in beer, floating in beer, served alongside beer, or maybe just a doughnut slid onto the neck of a bottle of Bud Light? Any/all of these options could be coming to a trailer park near you, so get dressed. Food Channel would be better off sticking to publicly fellating Eleven Madison Park in New York.
4. Behold the Power of Protein.
Food Channel says: "People are looking for more than a sugar buzz from desserts today. They're craving a protein boost, whether it's from a fortified smoothie or a sweet cheese nibble from Laughing Cow. We've read about the protein punch we can get from nuts -- two handfuls are better for us than one! -- so let's top that dessert with some walnuts or pecans.
"Responding to European influences, even some midscale restaurants are starting to offer up cheese trays as part of the dessert course. Sometimes paired with fresh fruit or a bite of chocolate, there's nothing quite like ending your meal with an assertive cheese. It requires a sophisticated palate, or at least an open mind."
I'm saying: Horfing wedges of Laughing Cow requires neither a sophisticated palate nor an open mind, but two-fisting nuts is not a bad trend to get behind. Perhaps the nuts could be toasted tableside, as long as diners are properly warned not to try and lick, chew or bite the nuts while they are hot.
3. Wedding Cake Off the Guest List.
Food Channel says: "The three-tiered cake is starting to get eighty-sixed. It may seem like a sacrilege, but for a growing number of brides and grooms, creativity now trumps tradition. It's becoming another way for the young couple to show their personality by replacing the old-fashioned cake with a cheesecake bar, strawberry shortcakes, or a table full of pies or gourmet doughnuts. Among the most popular new choices today are macaroons, cake pops, and ice cream floats. It's part of an overall trend toward a more casual -- and less stuffy -- lifestyle."
I'm saying: Even this bi-polar list, shooting back and forth between affected egg creams and shelf-stable processed cheese, occasionally gets one almost right. The old-fashioned, three-tiered wedding cake is not as popular as it once was because Cake Boss, et. al., has prompted couples to explore new bakery terrain for their nuptials.
But an overall trend toward a more casual -- and less stuffy -- lifestyle by doing murder to the old-fashioned wedding cake design? I hate to shove a fork in this theory, but the white plastic tiers aren't what make the older models expensive, and creatively designed wedding cakes are far from over, far from cheap -- and cake pops are the dumbest thing I've seen come crawling out of the food scene since bacon-wrapped tofu.
2. Sweet, Heat, Salty and Tart. Food Channel says: "America's taste for dessert is evolving. It doesn't always have to be sugary sweet. High-end chocolate candies have led the way here with ingredients like bacon, soy, and jalapenos. Now we're seeing lots of sweets packing heat from peppers and fiery spices. Salty-sweet continues to be a popular flavor combination with candy playing a role here, too, most conspicuously with the launch of M&M'S pretzel.
"We suspect people who are trying to cut back on sodium may be satisfying their craving for that salty taste by getting just a little touch of it with salty-sweet candies and desserts--whether consciously or unconsciously. Lots of us are also trying to curb our sugar intake, and opting for fruit-based desserts that are as tart as they are sweet."
I'm saying: "Pretzel M&M's" and "high-end" appearing in the same paragraph lead me to believe that the Food Channel is consciously or unconsciously getting a touch of culinary dementia. My grandpappy was salting his apples and watermelon slices back when the Food Channel was still a gleam in somebody's eyes, and if everyone was actually trying to curb their sugar intake, then most of this list would just be a gleam in somebody's eyes right now.
1. Ta-da!! The Next Cupcake Is... Food Channel says: "Everyone wants to identify the "next cupcake" (NC) and to dethrone the mighty cupcake as the trend du jour -- it's become a love/hate relationship seasoned with a dash of backlash. Whoopie pies, macarons, small pies have all been contenders to become the NC, to the point where the cupcake has become almost a running joke.
"What's relevant here is that people are looking for what's fresh, exciting and...next. Well, it's time to accept that the cupcake has gone from fad to trend to icon... and the movement now is more around its evolution than its dissolution. Today we're seeing cupcake fondue, un-iced versions, savory varieties, flaming cupcakes, and shapes that are fat, skinny and mini -- even cupcakes on a stick. It seems a new cupcake boutique bakery opens up every time you turn around. They've become almost as ubiquitous as ice cream parlors. On the home front, there are fancy new cupcake pans and cute little cupcake pedestals. In short, the next cupcake...is still a cupcake."
I'm saying: We all need to grab torches and pitchforks, call Van Helsing on his cell, and hunt down every trendy cupcake and kill it until it is dead. Double-tap them if we have to. Then and only then will the food community get whatever is next.
Bonus round! The End of Shareable.
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SHOW ME HOW
Food Channel says: "Have you noticed people aren't sharing desserts as much? Maybe it's our germophobic tendency, but going in with the same spoon for bite after bite has gotten old. Keep your germs, and your desire for bread pudding, to yourself. Not only that, sharing a dessert is often a compromise. You want this, he wants that, so one of you doesn't get what you want. When you're sharing with a bigger group it gets worse. You may only get one bite. When the dessert gets passed around, what goes around may not come back around. Today, more diners are saying, I want apple pie, with a big scoop of ice cream. Get your own!"
I'm saying: So in number eight you guys said that the current dessert trend is "about frequency, not quantity." Now in the bonus round you lament the idea that getting only a bite of a dessert is a deprivation, and diners want their own slab of pie. Are we greedy bastards or not? Take a position and own it.
And please, please with a cherry on top can you make your next list look less like a bunch of monkeys throwing gluten-free feces, and more like a list of viable and realistic trend predictions?