Between consumers now approaching health and weight management with an “all things in moderation” outlook and their wildly expanding curiosity regarding new and international flavors, dessert cakes may just be having a heyday. At the very least, they’re having a party — we know that much.

According to the 2016 edition of the IDDBA’s What’s In Store, cake is still the most popular item purchased at in-store bakeries. And with the average shopper only spending about 30 seconds in their grocer’s  bakery, it’s all about the impulse buy. And what better way is there to grab attention than with outlandish flavor and extravagent colors and decorations?

“The biggest trend I am seeing right now in dessert cakes is decadent indulgence,” says Stephanie Dillon, a cake artist at Hy-Vee in Lee’s Summit, MO, whose daily interaction with the public has her on the ground floor of what’s trending. “It’s double dessert — it’s dessert on top of your cake. You can take desserts already offered in your bakery, such as mini eclairs, cream puffs, or cannolis, and feature them on top or around the sides of your cake. This adds an over-the-top scrumptiousness look, and really makes for a showpiece.”

Tina Steichen, cake design supervisor at DecoPac, enthusiastically agrees, adding that flavor variation is also a sure-fire hit.

“It’s all about flavor and decadence!” she says. “It’s not just traditional chocolate and strawberry now, but pistachio and bacon. We’re seeing fun combinations like chocolate covered cheese puffs, pretzels and cannolis topping dessert cakes in the case. Being creative with flavor combinations will catch consumer interest and keep them coming back for more. Flavor and decadence go hand-in-hand for the dessert case.”

Decadence, indeed — but on a small scale. “Small, personal, decadent desserts are becoming more prominent in the cake case,” Steichen continues. “Loaded jumbo cupcakes, loaded donuts, and 4-inch desserts are some of the product forms we’re seeing more often.”

Nicole Frattura, senior sales and marketing planner at Hoff’s Bakery, which also operates as a wholesale distributer, concurs, saying that their individual dessert lines are among their most popular items, especially 3-inch cakes, 4-inch tarts, and mini-bombs.

“Our three major new items in 2016 are all individual desserts,” she says. “Our 4-inch apple caramel tart, 3-inch ultimate chocolate, and 3-inch carrot cake are experiencing strong sales in the retail space. For decorating, the trend seems to be following the idea that less is more, as this gives items more of a homemade feel. Our cakes are elegant and simple with handmade touches. For instance, many of our cakes feature open sides, exposing the cake layers and filling to emphasize the quality ingredients in a sleek way. For the décor on top, we do most of the decorating by hand, and add rosettes, a continuous border, or sprinkled ganache to compliment the cake.”

But Dillon has found that lately her customers want something a little more — mainly, texture and variation.  

“The biggest trend in decorated cakes at the moment is creating texture in the icing,” she says. “More interesting than the traditional smooth iced cakes, texture adds appeal and dimension to an everyday cake. Drag a spatula horizontally to create beautiful waves around the side of your cake, or strips of layered icing to create an illusion of a cake wrapped in ribbon. Tap and swipe your spatula on the cake to make a spackled, rough texture appropriate for a rustic look.”

And from a supply provider like DecoPac’s point of view, those assessments seem pretty spot-on for where cakes and their decorations are at right now.

“Decorator skill levels vary,” Steichen says, “so supermarkets are focusing on easy to execute, edible decorations. A few examples are DecoPac’s SugarSoft decorations and the use of Russians tips. SugarSoft decorations allow the decorator to create a beautiful cake by simply placing the decoration. Russian tips are becoming popular for decorators new to the industry to create flowers with ease.”

Dillon also mentioned Russian tips, noting the larger pastry-bag nozzles can create unique flowers with just a squeeze. “Anyone can quickly fill the top or border of a cake with them,” she says. “It’s a nice time-saver when filling a case with floral cakes; (it provides) interesting flowers and foliage.”

What’s coming up next

But if you’re betting on what the future holds for these creators, you might do better to place your money on the flip side of simple elegance: wild glamour.

“The newest trend in dessert cakes right now is a ‘mirror glaze’ product,” Dillon says. “It’s a technique of simply pouring a ‘super glaze’ on top of your smooth-base, iced cake that creates a cake so shiny it’s reflective. And this glaze can be used in many ways: it can be a solid color and then garnished with a metallic chocolate piece for a modern look, poured and then swiped with a bit of color for a bold, marbled look, or smoothed with a few soft colors for a soft watercolor look. Throw some glitter on it for a metallic sparkle on top of the super shine for a show-stopping look. The nice thing about mirror glaze it that anyone can quickly learn the technique, as it’s really just pouring the glaze and learning a few swipes of the spatula. In no time, anyone can learn to use this product to make very impressive cakes.”

Dillion also noted that she’s started to see a demand for flashy coloring as well, with consumers trading in the tried-and-true pallet of standard rainbow colors for more extreme dyes and methods of decoration.

“And not just with icing, we’re coloring with candy!” she exclaims excitedly. “Everyday candy from your grocery shelves, like Skittles, bubble gum and lollipops, can be piled on top and around the sides of the cake like confetti. You can even drip a colored metallic glaze down the sides for more color and interest, or take it to yet another level and hollow the cake out and fill it with candy. When cut into, the cake spills out like a piñata for added fun.”

And of course, you can count on that wild sense of experimentation to keep going strong when it comes to flavors too, as Steichen mentioned. In fact, that trend may just cease to be a trend altogether and become permanent, as every person interviewed mentioned it time and again.

“Bakers are looking to shake things up,” Frattura says, “and trying flavor combinations like sweet and spicy. The Hoff’s Bakery R&D team recently tested a chocolate sriracha cake and jalapeño cornbread, which are unique twists on old-time favorites. These tests don’t always go to market, but it’s important to challenge ourselves and try something new — you never know when you’ll find a great combination.”