Canadian consumers are no strangers to breads and baked goods – a donut chain is one of the country’s most famous exports, after all. Now the rest of the world is just beginning to catch on to the joys of Canadian favourites.
Earlier this year the New York Times claimed that, “Canadians have been keeping the best dessert for themselves,” in an article on butter tarts, which necessitated a follow-up article after the original attracted hundreds of comments. Tokyo, a city that has turned trend-seeking into an art, is home to Poko Bagel Café, which specializes in Montreal-style bagels made in a wood-burning oven. The BeaverTails chain has expanded to Japan, plus South Korea, the UAE, France, and this year it opened in Mexico.
While other countries play catch-up, Canadian operators are taking their breads and baked goods to the next level. They’re using on-trend flavors, dreaming up eye-catching creations, and mashing up classic dishes to transform them into something new.
At Against the Grain Urban Tavern, a casual spot from Fab Restaurant Concepts in Toronto’s Corus Quay, the name informs the menu – they aren’t afraid to go against the grain when it comes to their breads, baked goods, and pastries. The Smashed Brekkie is an updated version of on-trend avocado toast made with ancient grains toast and topped with pomegranate seeds and caramelized lemon. Their own version of the butter tart is transformed into a Butter Tart Donut, filled with a brown sugar and raisin filling and topped with dried cherries, sea salt, brown butter cream and candied pecans. They’ve even taken inspiration from pastries to create unique savoury dishes like the Mac n’ Cheese Donuts drizzled with Sriracha aioli and smoky ketchup.
Revival of Classics
Against the Grain isn’t the only one reinventing classic Canadian pastries and flavors. Last year Tim Hortons celebrated Canada’s 150th birthday by transforming a Nanaimo bar into the Nanaimo Bar Donut, which joined Dutchie Donuts and Maple Timbits on the menu. Maple also showed up in some baked goods at McDonald’s, which celebrated maple season with a Maple Apple Danish and Maple Mini Pastry.
Maple, of course, is a quintessentially Canadian flavour, yet it continues to grow on menus, up 28 per cent on Canadian menus in the past four years, according to Datassential’s MenuTrends tool, which tracks menus from over 500 Canadian restaurants. Expect even more maple and maple-flavoured products to become available in the next few years due to the flavour’s recent media attention as the industry seeks the next pumpkin spice.
While sweet, indulgent flavours like “s’mores” and Nutella are consumer favourites, sophisticated, sometimes even savoury flavours are showing up in cakes, pies, cookies, brownies and beyond. Floral flavours like lavender (up 178 per cent on Canadian menus in the past four years) and rose have been trending, along with tea-based flavours like matcha and earl grey. At Toque, the fine-dining restaurant in Montreal, the dessert menu has included options like the Matcha Tea Meringue with black sesame sponge cake, toasted rice crème anglaise, and miso cream, while a chocolate torte featured flavours like trending sea buckthorn, thyme chantilly and hay caramel. The pastry case or dessert menu can be a key area to showcase these unique flavours because customers are more willing to try something new if it’s in a dish or item they already know and love, like a cake, cookie, brownie or pie.
Sweet Meets Savoury
Even Tim Hortons is getting into the sweet-and-savoury trend, though you’ll have to travel south of the border to find the Poutine Donut, which the chain offered at select U.S. locations for Canada Day last year. The unique creation topped a Honey Dip Donut with potato wedges, gravy and cheese curds, attracting plenty of media attention.
In the age of social media, attracting attention is a key element for many baked goods. Unicorn toast, galaxy cakes, rainbow bagels and elaborate pie crust designs took over Instagram feeds at various points recently. It’s good business – Instagram added 100 million users in a single month last year and is on track to hit a billion monthly active users worldwide this year. Now look for baked goods to show off interactive elements that look great in videos, like the Exploding Cupcakes at Union Fare in New York, which feature a streamer-filled party popper hidden in the icing that explodes when customers pull the string on the bottom.
Like so many foods on menus these days, a number of these social media-worthy baked goods come from overseas. PappaRoti, with four locations and more on the way, has become one of Vancouver’s most Instagrammed concepts because of its massive coffee buns inspired by Malaysian roti. Toronto’s Bang Bang Ice Cream and Bakery has lines down the street in the summer because of its Hong Kong egg waffles, a treat that is trending around the world.
Of course, it’s not all rich, decadent foods on menus – numerous operators are offering up healthier options. The term “gluten-free” is not only the most prevalent healthy term on Canadian menus today, appearing at over 30 per cent of restaurants, but it’s still growing. Chefs are using breads to showcase a range of health trends, whether it’s ancient grains or next-level sprouted grains, which are said to be easier to digest. Though they appear on only one per cent of Canadian menus right now, sprouted grains have been gaining ground in recent years. Turtle Jack’s Muskoka Grill, with 18 locations, serves a California chicken sandwich on toasted sprouted wheat bread. Numerous bakeries across the country are also grinding their own grains for breads and baked goods, including True Grain Bread, in British Columbia, which uses Austrian granite mills to grind wheat and rye.
“The resulting flour that you get is often more difficult to work with on the downside, but on the upside we believe it’s more nutritious,” co-owner Bruce Stewart told CBC News, noting that the grain is fresher and isn’t subjected to high temperatures, preserving nutrients.
Upgrading classics, seeking out trending flavours, embracing social media-worthy creations, taking inspiration from around the world, and understanding the latest health trends are just a few of the ways that you can step up your bread and baked goods game. Cakes, cookies, breads – these items are ubiquitous on Canadian menus, but with some creative thinking you can stand out and get a bigger slice of the pie.