The next baked sensation
We’ve weathered Cronut dominance, seen the cake-pop bubble burst and dallied with the kouign-amann, but what, asks Larissa Dubecki, is the next big thing?
In the wake of Cronuts, cake-pops and the kouign-amann, we predict the next big thing in baking.
as so many things do, in New York
City, home of the Statue of Liberty, the Empire State Building, and a humble bakery in West Village that was to change the course of culinary history. It was here, on the corner of Bleecker and West 11th, in the year 2000, when that high-water mark of early noughties culture, Sex and the City, parked its fictional character Carrie Bradshaw outside Magnolia Bakery for an epoch-defining scene of cupcake consumption. (And what kind of cupcake was it? History relates it was a vanilla cupcake – naturally – that sparked scenes reminiscent of The Beatles visiting the same city 36 years earlier.)
It’s tempting to suspect that, like then serving President Bill Clinton, actress Sarah Jessica Parker didn’t inhale, and that it was her stunt double consuming all those calories, but the result was the same. In the watershed year of the new millennium, the world hailed the first celebrity baked good.
The ensuing 17 years can be charted by the rise and fall of presidents and prime ministers, and equally by the ebb and flow of cult pastries. The must-have edible tchotchke has shape-shifted many times, but has always held onto the basic recipe of flour, butter, sugar and novelty. Instagram-worthiness has become an ineluctable part of the mix – for, as the philosophers have asked down the ages, if a baked item was eaten without first being photographed, was it ever really eaten at all? And let’s not forget the queuing. The people lining up in Melbourne’s before dawn for a Lune croissant know it’s not just pastry perfection they seek, but the thrill of the chase.
Baking can tell you a great deal about a culture. Our love-’em-and-leave-’em relationship with a conga line of confectionery is symptomatic of an uncertain age driven by the guiding principle known as fear of missing out.
The endless quest for the Next Big Baked Thing has produced some ideas a few profiteroles short of a
croquembouche – the freakshake phenomenon was destined to reach an early use-by date – but for every flimsy mash-up like the cake pop there has been something deserving of our love. To wit: the Cronut, that compellingly delicious love child of the croissant and the doughnut that upon its début in 2013 seized the public imagination with the fervour of a red cordial-fired toddler at a petting zoo.
The significance of the Cronut extends beyond its perfect ratio of crunch to squelch. Trademarked by Manhattan baker Dominique Ansel within days of his realisation that he had a huge hit on his hands, it represents the corporatisation of the baking world. What Ansel didn’t realise was that by putting the legal feelers on his Insta-cult item he became the Branch Davidians of baking, leading to screeds of negative publicity when stories of cease and desist letters hit the media. But, in fairness to Ansel, what pâtissier doesn’t want to lay claim to the pastry equivalent of splitting the atom?
The baking trends that have subsequently captivated us have all been in cahoots with social media. Many have flared like a supernova before spluttering out, but the real stayers have beauty as well as brains. The macaron revival of 2014, still going strong thanks to the crisp little French meringue sandwich being easily accessorised with any outfit (some have dubbed it the haute couture of baking).
Of a similar ilk, the doughnut, which began with a fling with Krispy Kremes that developed into a serious relationship with the artisanal likes of Shortstop and Doughnut Time.
Yes, doughnuts are forever, and so too might be Black Star Pastry’s strawberry and watermelon cake, which came close to breaking the internet with its pink prettiness, earning it the moniker of the world’s most Instagrammed cake.
Right now the compass point of public affection is swinging back in favour of the authentic and true. The kouign-amann, the Breton workingman’s answer to the posh Parisian’s croissant; the canelé, like a cupcake with intellectual pretensions; the classic, oh-so-chic éclair. Vive la France, only they’re now all bite-sized and accessorised with outlandish edible baubles. Their value is just as much in the viewing. Gaze into any bakery cabinet and it looks like all the prettified, miniaturised inhabitants are about to head off for a knees-up at the Spring Racing Carnival.
So where to next? Another mash-up? Bah, that’s so 2015. The bakers of the land peering into the tea leaves are reading a future of reprised Australian classics. The monkeyface biscuit might be ready for its close-up. The vanilla slice could be due for a reinvention. But the standout candidate is the neenish tart, that half-and-half iced staple of any self-respecting bakery. It’s able to be accessorised in pretty colours, with a killer combination of shortcrust pastry, jam and enough sugar to knock your teeth into next week. You read it here first. Mock cream is poised for a comeback.
ÉCLAIR FUTURE Above from left: sour cherry, raspberry cheesecake and basil, and tiramisù éclairs by Nicolas Poelaert of Choux Pâtisserie in Newcastle, NSW.