Mini Desserts: a Big Trend in Sweetness
Mini cakes and other bite-size desserts are making a big splash in the food world. See why mini desserts like petits fours are perfect for parties.
How many times have you finished dinner at a restaurant and groaned when the server asked whether you had room for dessert? You may have been uncomfortably full—the abnormally large serving sizes at American restaurants can do that to you—and the thought of taking on a big slab of double-chocolate layer cake was just too agonizing to comprehend. Sure, you could have saved some room and set part of the entrée aside to enjoy at home later…or the restaurant could have made it easier for you by offering bite-sized desserts instead.
Smart restaurants have been doing that with great success lately…in fact, in its Top 10 Dessert Trends for 2014, The Food Channel® listed “Layers” and “Small Batch Desserts.” More on layers in a bit…but if you like to entertain others at your home, you can take the “less is more” approach as well. Mini desserts are likely to be a huge hit with guests, and for several reasons.
Petits Fours: Bite-Size Desserts that Love to Party
The Entertaining Age is back. For some, it never went away; the Greatest Generation loved to have friends over for a nip and a nibble. For millennials, it’s a return to partying like your parents (or grandparents) did, with classic cocktails and retro refreshments. Traditional desserts work well for sit-down dinners, but when you’re milling around with a craft Martini or Manhattan in one hand, it’s hard to navigate a slice of cheesecake and a fork with the other while trying to look smooth. Miniature desserts usually look more elegant, too.
The Swiss Colony has a history of making the classic French pastry, the Petit Four, that dates back to the Rat Pack era. In 1961, founder Ray Kubly was throwing a party, and asked Master Pastry Chef Horst Hart to come up with a special bite-size dessert guests could enjoy as they pleased.
Hart, a native of Austria trained in classic European confectionery, replied, “You want petits fours!” And he made hundreds of them…all by hand. Because they looked too good to eat, many people smuggled them home in napkins. Because they were such a hit, Kubly decided to offer them in The Swiss Colony catalog. Hart more than earned his salary that year, dipping over 60,000 petits fours by hand. Today, of course, the process is much more automated…but even though the Wisconsin bakery can supply enough petits fours for hundreds of parties in a day, each bite-sized layer cake is still decorated by hand.
Mini Desserts Are Convenient, Yet Elegant
Every celebration deserves a cake…especially a wedding. But aside from the top tier going home with the bride and groom, who shoved cake in each other’s face for the obligatory photograph, a big cake is not all that practical. It’s labor-intensive, requiring members of the family to be appointed as cutter and server. And then there are the extra forks and plates to clean up. Many couples today are opting to have a small traditional cake (or maybe just the part they take home with them) surrounded by mini cakes. And many are eliminating the traditional cake altogether.
Also, layers are the thing these days—desserts are going vertical. Petits fours are both bite-sized and layered, making them doubly trendy. These mini cakes can complement or replace a standard wedding cake when used as building blocks in a pretty pyramid or elegant stairsteps to greater decorating heights.
Bite-Size Desserts Don’t Weigh You Down
Finally, mini desserts simply don’t pack the calories of large portions. Ounce for ounce, of course, they do…but a couple of petits fours are far less fattening than that big slab of chocolate cake at the restaurant.
We mentioned the huge serving size typical of American eateries (and our diets in general). Many health experts are recommending that we eat five small meals a day instead of three large ones in an effort to boost our metabolism and not our waist size. Likewise, many people are moving away from huge meals in favor of “small dishes”.
The Spanish concept of tapas and the Greek/Middle Eastern version called meze are prime examples. And while they originated as sort of a happy-hour prelude to the dinner which is served later in the evening, many diners are choosing to make a meal out of them. They’re easy to share, and a couple or group dining together can enjoy more variety instead of filling up on one thing. Restaurants are following suit, too, with some establishments completely themed around small dishes. Desserts, naturally, are downsized as well.
Even restaurants that still serve the traditional large portions are having success with bite-size desserts, with the miniature versions typically outselling their full-sized counterparts. As an added bonus, some restaurants are finding that the mini desserts have an incremental effect on sales; a customer eating only a bite-sized dessert is more likely to purchase an after-dinner beverage to accompany it.
Home entertainers can take a cue from the professionals, too; rather than weighing your guests down with a big dessert that has them feeling ready for bed, keep the evening alive with more sensible nibbles. Petits fours are perfect with cocktails, and are one of the most practical party food ideas.