Looking to the future of 2015 I wonder what trends we’ll see in the cake world. It’s no secret that thanks to the Great British Bake Off the UK’s love for baking has increased enormously. Every department store, cook store and even stationery store has their cake-related tins, cutters and notecards displayed prominently in the power aisle, ready to entice you into the wonderful world of sugar, butter and dairy. Yum!
Brits have had a strong relationship with cakes and bakes for many years but I think it’s true to say that the past year has seen a trend starting to emerge that is taking UK bakers a little out of their comfort zone and away from the temptations of tried-and-tested rustic and homely recipes such as Victoria Sponge, Coffee and Walnut cake and scones. Recently, many bakers are being drawn towards more challenging and refined bakes heralding largely from France, a country which nobody can deny has its desserts pretty nailed. In fact, the word “bakes” does not do this sugary art form any justice whatsoever. So let us adopt the French word for this mouth-watering eye-candy and call it pâtisserie. Just the word is enough to make me salivate and dream of Parisian boulevards dotted with beautiful shops displaying a gorgeous array of sugary delights that gleam and shimmer through the window, seductively calling out “Eat me. EAT ME!”.
The main export from France that has rapidly gained in popularity over the last year or two is undoubtedly the macaron. Macarons are not to be confused with the coconut dollops called macaroons that predate the French macaron in the UK. No, macarons are elegant and delicate morsels of two almond meringue shells, slightly crisp on the outside, moist on the inside, which sandwich a filling of ganache, jam, curd or crème pâtissiere. Their flavours are as endless as their colour palette, and they are notoriously tricky to make and consistently get right.
Many a pâtissière (myself included) has likely shortened their lifespan considerably through the hair-ripping, foot-stomping stress of making these little divas (you can read my frustrations and failures here). And yet, we persist. Why? Well, because if you get it right they are delicious. The operative phrase here being: “get it right” – many pâtisseries, even well-established ones (not naming any names) get it wrong: stale macarons are not nice; under-matured macarons are typically chewy, still edible, yes, but not something for which you should be dishing out your hard-earned cash.
Either way, the macaron is well and truly here and, I think for the moment, here to stay. Sure, our capital city will perhaps move on but for the moment, outside of London, macarons are still new and exciting. Everyone wants a piece of the almondy action!
But what of other pâtisserie trends; might we be able to extract another French gem and bring it home to win over the British hearts? Oh, I’m sure we can! There’s such a wonderful array of sweet French treats to choose from but at the moment the éclair is a seemingly likely candidate. We’ve all heard of éclairs (the pastry variety, not the stick-in-your-teeth, pull-out-a-filling chocolate-centred toffee sweet) but I think I can say with some certainty that we sure ain’t seen anything like this:
Wow, restrain yourself! Stop licking the screen and put your tongue away! Though I do understand – just look at them; absolutely irresistible! France – and Paris in particular – is seeing a revival of the éclair, a revival which paints this unassuming bun in a host of neon colours and fills them with tantalising creams, fruits and nuts. Some are even decorated with images of Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, and Michelangelo’s ‘The Creation of Adam’.
Impressive, non? And you thought fine art in Paris merely involved fighting the crowds at the Louvre. Well, think again! I’m sure I’d find getting in line at one of the pioneering éclair boutiques, L’Éclair de Genie or L’Atelier de l’Éclair, ending with much more satisfaction.
But with any luck we won’t have to hop on the Eurostar to get a taste of the action. For my prediction for 2015 is the arrival of this little beauty here in the UK. Big Ben on a bun anyone? Well, let’s just see what we can do…