Flavor Trends, Strategies and Solutions for Menu Development

Making Cheesecake Competitive Cheesecake offers a rich canvas for fun, modern flavor innovation

With something as inherently popular as cheesecake, it’s easy to augment the appeal. Anything from a decorative sauce to an unexpected crust generates added interest.
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There’s no question that cheesecake is one of this country’s most popular desserts. At its height, in 2008, at least one type of cheesecake was offered at approximately 44 percent of all restaurants, according to Datassential’s MenuTrends. That is an impressive penetration rate. Only ice cream and cake rival the broad availability of cheesecake on American menus.

Over the past few years, however, cheesecake’s penetration has slipped from 44 percent in 2008 to 37 percent in 2013, remaining steady at that level. This adjusted percentage of a highly popular menu item points to a challenge many operators deal with across the menu: How do you serve a popular item while still creating a strong competitive differentiation and preventing patrons from getting bored with it?

Of course, not all cheesecakes are the same; quality and technique can allow one cheesecake to outshine others.

Happily, the humble cheesecake is a delicious canvas upon which to build intriguing, stand-apart dessert options that can be customized based on the adventurous nature of an operation’s patrons and the skill of its back-of-house staff or purveyor. As The Cheesecake Factory well knows, the possibilities for experimentation using cheesecake as the base are endless.

INCLUSIONS

Sauces (chocolate, caramel, butterscotch)  ♦  Fruit blends, syrups, coulis ♦  Fresh fruits ♦  Nuts (roasted, smoked, candied) ♦  Candies  ♦  Cookie, brownie, cake, doughnut crumbles

REFORMATTING

Square  ♦  Deconstructed ♦  Mousse ♦  Trifle ♦  Baked in jar ♦  Cake pop ♦  Mini/individual cake ♦  Layered

TOPPINGS

Syrups  ♦  Sauces  ♦  Coulis  ♦  Fresh fruits ♦  Prepared fruits (roasted, candied, sugared, puréed) ♦  Nuts (roasted, candied, smoked)  ♦  Honey (varietal call-outs) ♦  Candies  ♦  Crumbles, crumbs, crunches ♦  Whipped creams (flavored)  ♦  Frostings  ♦  Glazes  ♦  Gelées

STYLE OF TOPPINGS

Decorative design  ♦  Random scatter  ♦  Crust replacement  ♦  Strategic placement (center, outer rim)

Featuring cheesecake with creative inclusions can change the character, visual appeal and texture of the overall experience. Unique sauces perform the same task, from the ever-trendy salted caramel to Mexican-style chocolate sauces, as well as syrups that leverage seasonal fruit to swirl into the cheesecake.

Candies, brittles and pralines lend either a whimsical or luxurious element to the cheesecake. The inclusion of caramel corn, for instance, can place cheesecake in summer while roasted nuts can signal cooler seasons. Even something as elegantly simple as real vanilla bean can lend a new level of appeal and create a greater value proposition.

For the more adventurous, cheesecake can leverage trends from other categories. Rainbow bagels, for example, can be reinterpreted for a visually stunning presentation, and rainbow cheesecakes have already caught on in Asia.

Make It Stand Out

Beyond inclusions blended into the cheesecake, layering ingredients create a completely different visual impact. Cookies, brownies, cakes, doughnuts, pie fillings and other layers can be used to build a cheesecake into a signature dessert. Even a prepared cheesecake may be cut to layer, carefully, to create a distinctively layered dessert.

Inclusions and layers are not the only way to dress up a basic cheesecake. Whether the cheesecake was made in house or purchased prepared, sauces, drizzles and other toppings can create a unique offering.

At its most basic, adding fresh, seasonal fruit lends a local, natural, and potentially healthier spin. What if the fruit were sugared or roasted and the peel or zest candied? Suddenly, both flavor and visual appeal change dramatically, imparting different taste and textural experiences.

From there, seasonal produce may be used to create sauces, syrups and coulis. As example: The Palisades Restaurant in Eggleston, Va., serves a sweet carrot cheesecake with a cornmeal crust, sugared walnuts, caramel and cinnamon carrot chips.

Outside of seasonal cues, cheesecakes can express a brand’s personality. At Guy Fieri’s Vegas Kitchen & Bar, cheesecake is taken to the extreme, plated as a half moon and studded with salty snacks, including pretzels and potato chips.

Other toppings may make cheesecake reminiscent of other baked goods, such as the torta di ricotta at Marino Ristorante in Los Angeles, studded with dried fruit and covered in crumbs, looking very much like a coffee cake.

Look to other categories for inspiration. Offering cheesecake in a glass or a different shape makes the presentation fresh and inviting.

Look to other categories for inspiration. Offering cheesecake in a glass or a different shape makes the presentation fresh and inviting.

Singular Presentation

Even the manner in which the topping is applied will impact the perception of the offering. Whether the sauce is drizzled on top or used as a glaze to completely cover the cheesecake will create singular experiences. Or if an operator mounds the hard topping in the middle, randomly sprinkles it over top, or artfully lays it out—all make for unique items.

Whipped cream, frosting, ganache, crème fraîche or other topping options are easy accents and primary decorations. Meringue may also be used to top a cheesecake, either soft or baked, each creating unique presentations and flavors.

At Gabriel Kreuther in New York, a recent seasonal offering saw two half moons of cheesecake topped with halved fresh raspberries, quenelles of raspberry sorbet, frozen fromage blanc and raspberry meringue. Kate Zuckerman, formerly of Chanterelle in New York, has covered cheesecakes with a wine gelée, making for a lighter, more sophisticated experience.

For a more comfort-oriented option, Junior’s Restaurant in New York offers a strawberry cheesecake topped with fresh strawberries encased in gelée with crumbs around the edge.

Outside Influences

Inspiration can come from other categories both within and without the dessert section of the menu. Use popular beverages to suggest new syrups either of the alcoholic (White Russian, Baileys, Irish coffee) or nonalcoholic (sweet tea, latte, green tea, matcha) variety.

For example, Kin Kin Urban Thai in Dallas serves a green tea cheesecake, infused with matcha and served with a strawberry coulis.

And at La Grange in Houston, the Margarita Cheesecake is served in a mini glass jar, sporting whipped cheesecake with marinated limes and cookie crumble.

Consider how other popular desserts—such as tiramisu, red velvet, cannoli or tres leches—might suggest new ways to approach the cheesecake category. One example: At Rodini Park in Los Angeles, the baklava cheesecake is topped with a full slab of baklava.

Cheesecake does not always need to be offered in a traditional slice format. Baking cheesecakes in new forms, from bars and slabs to logs, changes up the traditional cheesecake experience.

Even a prepared cheesecake can be sliced into different shapes. Cheesecakes can also be made into lollipops or deconstructed into trifles and mousses.

With such a beloved dessert, the opportunity for innovation is boundless.

 

About The Author

Maeve Webster

Maeve Webster, President of Menu Matters, is a lead consultant for foodservice manufacturers and operators. She has spearheaded hundreds of major industry studies during her 16 years as a foodservice specialist, and today runs her private consultancy focused on helping manufacturers and operators analyze, understand, and leverage foodservice trends. Maeve’s expertise is in the areas of trend analysis, market assessment, consumer behavior, product testing, and brand optimization. During the past decade, Maeve was Senior Director at Datassential. During that time, she helped develop several of Datassential’s new products and programs including the company’s publications group and TrendSpotting package, headed the company’s health & wellness group, and participated in several industry initiatives including the Culinary Institute of America’s Healthy Menu R&D Collaborative. She is a regular speaker at top industry events and has contributed to major media outlets including The Wall Street Journal, NPR, CNBC, MSNBC and CBS. She regularly contributes to several industry publications including Flavor & the Menu. Maeve earned her MBA at the University of Illinois, and holds a culinary degree from Le Cordon Bleu in Chicago.