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Speciality Ingredients: That Something Special

Speciality Ingredients: That Something Special

Today’s baker has access to an ever-expanding range of products, equipment and knowledge to make innovative and unique creations. So, it should come as no surprise those truly in-the-know are looking to unconventional specialty ingredients to stand out from the crowd. From natural flavour enhancers to textures that literally burst in your mouth, it seems nothing is off-limits. Australian Baking Businessexamines those products that are currently making a splash.

AN ASIAN TWIST

Boasting an appearance suspiciously similar to giant caviar, popping pearls are a burgeoning craze in Australia.

Also referred to as ‘bubbles’ or ‘bobas’ and similar to tapioca pearls, this fun-filled product has been popular in Asia for the better part of the last decade as a way to add a kick to frozen yoghurt, teas and fruit drinks. Innovative bakers and chefs in Australia however are taking these juice-filled balls to a new level by utilizing them in a range of desserts.

Nick Pan from Narkena, a company that has been distributing popping pearls in Australia for the past four years, says there has been a marked rise in their popularity in the past two years.

“It is starting to become a mainstream product, as it is starting to appear in more restaurant desserts, pastries and cocktails,” Nick says.

“Their appeal is growing because of both their taste and appearance; there are no other products like it in the market. And the caviar-type look and texture to it draws a lot of attention, people find it very interesting and unique.”

The buzz around popping pearls began to grow two years ago and has continued to significantly increase, with more people in the industry questioning the product and wanting to experiment with it.

“People are sometimes a bit unwilling to try them at first, because they are so different. I’ve even heard someone say they look like salmon caviar on steroids!” Nick says.

“But once they taste it, they say ‘how cool’, and the popping sensation becomes addictive.”

Despite their similarities in appearance, the main difference between tapioca pearls and popping pearls is the former require cooking before they can be consumed, cannot be served cold and are generally tasteless unless they are left in fructose or honey.

Popping pearls on the other hand can be refrigerated and served cold and will still maintain their texture.

“This is one of the reasons why chefs love it because it’s easily usable with dessert, drinks and pastries and even as a garnish for their plates or glasses. You simply take them them out of the container and place them on the dish,” Nick says.

THE ICING ON THE CAKE

Rolled Fondant may have once been shunned in European food circles, however its pliable, ready-to-use and tasty profile is rapidly gaining popularity around the world. In fact, fondant-decorated cakes are even popping up in France, Belgium, Germany and even Asia, where cake decorators and bakers are using them as a blank canvas for spectacular creations.

The product was originally created as a highly niche dairy-free icing that could withstand heat and humidity. In recent years however, the product’s audience has broadened significantly.

Satin Fine Foods general manager and founder Kevin O’Reilly says the patented formula and mixing process allows cake decorators of different levels to produce a smooth, creamy product.

“It allows users to make intricate creations that could never be achieved with plain spreadable icing,” he says, acknowledging rolled fondant is no longer limited to wedding and special occasion cakes.

“We are seeing many new retail products that focus on the consumer and fondant at home – cupcake kits are a good example. These are all backed up with a growing number of fondant decorating books that are now available at bookstores.”

“It’s also perfect for modeling character figures, bows, drapes and swags. And in terms of the cake itself, it seals the cake, keeps it moist and allows for an extended shelf life.”

Attributing the boom in rolled fondant’s recognition in part to television baking shows and the subsequent education viewers receive about the product, Kevin says many people who had previously been aware of rolled fondant may have had the misconception it was purely for decoration.

“That was one of the reasons for the creation of our product Satin Ice; to make a product that was high quality, looked great but also tasted great. It can add beauty to any baked product,” he says.

“There is no mixing needed with rolled fondant, just knead it until it is soft and workable and then decorate it as desired.”

And the evolution of this product doesn’t stop at design, with new flavours and colours regularly hitting the shelves.

“Professionals are also always looking for something more unique; with wedding cakes, for example we’re seeing fondant paired with other textures and finishes – metallic and couture cakes are a trend right now,” Kevin says.

“Our fondant has maintained and even surpassed that decorative quality artists needed in the past, but now also has a great taste to it.

“That is really what has helped to set us apart.”

SOMETHING FRUITY

Dried fruits have been a staple in sweet bakery products for centuries, but are now starting to make an appearance in traditionally savoury items as well; including breads.

With new combinations like plum and walnut bread, and pecan and raisin bread gaining popularity, it’s certainly time to take a long look at dried fruit in a new light.

Sandy Tsoutsas – general manager of dried fruit supplier Frutex Australia – says the utilisation of fruits and seeds in the baking industry has been hard to ignore in recent years. And while sultanas and raisins continue to be the mainstays in the industry, prunes, figs and dates are also rapidly gaining popularity in modern bake houses across the country.

“These types of breads generally are made in artisanal style and with a ‘clean’ label because they contain no preservatives or additives and use dried fruits as a natural sweetener and moistener,” Sandy says.

“Artisan bakeries are also setting trends which are closely monitored in the industry as customers are always looking for new ideas and flavour combinations.”

Traditionally used in baked goods like fruit breads and puddings as well as seasonal baked products for festive holidays, dried fruits are a continuing popular choice because they have a long shelf life and can also add nutritional value to products.

More recently, Sandy says dried fruits are also garnering a healthy label for themselves due to their ability to replace sucrose (sugar) and sweeten baked goods as well as adding special flavours, textures and tastes.

“Dried fruit is easy to add to existing recipes because they are nutritious, have a low glycemic index (GI), are full of vitamins and minerals and are high in fibre and antioxidants,” Sandy said.

“Fresh fruits can actually be difficult to blend into dough or batter as they don’t generally keep their shape.”

Another bonus is dried fruit’s ability to be season-adaptable. Whether it’s summer mangoes or winter figs being used, this constant change helps to ensure a mainstay product can still be constantly evolved across the seasons into something new and exciting.

With autumn now here Sandy says the go-to choices for the season are plums and figs, while sultanas, raisins and currants will continue to be favourites.

“But understanding customer needs and market trends is of the utmost importance to us, so we therefore keep in touch with our suppliers and create recipes which can be used by bakers and pastry cooks in their own kitchens,” she said.

GET A LITTLE SPICY

Wherever you grew up in the world, chances are ginger played an important part. However, while a slice of spicy Christmas pudding, or gingerbread cookies still hold a key place in the hearts of baking professionals, it’s hard to look past the way this age-old ground spice has exploded into 21st century baking.

Whether it’s in snaps, shortbreads, chocolate, cake or decadent café cookies; ginger is increasingly being used to ramp-up flavour profiles. And according to Buderim Ginger Limited marketing manager Jacqui Price, Australia has a bit to learn from international markets.

“Fresh purees, sweet stem ginger and even ginger juices are being used to add flavor to a range of baking products overseas, and are proving particularly successful in the US,” Jacqui says.

“In fact, after the traditional plain shortbread, ginger shortbread is the most popular product in Walkers Shortbread; one of America’s most popular biscuit brands. And amazingly, the top selling cookie in massive US chain Trader Joes is a ‘Triple Ginger Snap’ – a product that uses three kinds of ginger to create depth of flavours to appeal to those ginger freaks out there!”

Buderim Ginger recently completed a detailed study on ginger use in Australia, including its use a range of recipes from stir-fries to chocolates. Of the 81 per cent of Australians who consume ginger annually, baking was found to be the third highest source.

While the study suggests ginger is utilised in a wide range of baking products – including cookies, muffins, cakes, toppings and pastries – Jacqui says the interesting point is how many Australian consumers actively seek out the ingredient.

“Up to 20 per cent of Australians are real ginger lovers. These people look out for ginger in a variety of forms and have very strong associations of its health, nature and flavor properties,” Jacqui says.

“From this research, I’d go as far as to say just having ginger in a product will not only strongly appeal to one-fifth of the population, it will make half the shoppers think, ‘this product is healthier’, and justify its purchase.”


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