Consumers have high expectations of toppings, as many donut and coffee shops — even in-store bakeries — provide extreme eating experiences. They use simple finished products, sometimes made in-house but often purchased frozen and ready for finishing. Typically, these are donuts, donut holes, bagels, soft pretzels and swirled dough rolls. The operator frosts or glazes the product and then tops it with everything from bacon crumbles to crushed candy bars. These products are highly perishable and usually must be consumed within a few hours of topping. While some commercial bakers would like to offer similar adornments, it’s simply not possible from a quality perspective. Realistic expectations must be set.

While pieces of chocolate or chopped up candies, fruits, nuts and seeds are included in many baked foods, it’s the fabricated ingredients that are the workhorses in commercial baking. These might be crunchy clusters or diced chewy brownie bites. Many inclusions such as fabricated flavorful bits, chips, chunks, crunches, fillings, flakes, nuggets and sprinkles are designed to withstand the rigors of baking and distribution. They can be colored, fortified and texturized, and through careful manipulation of formulation, suppliers control their performance in the finished product.

Flavorful additions can be crafted to meet marketplace trends, including the current plant-based and protein platforms. Chickpeas, for example, can be dried, coated or even chopped, creating new flavor combinations and, at the same time, providing a healthful halo, said Kami Smith, chef and director of culinary showcasing, Pecan Deluxe Candy Co. Nuts and seeds can be combined into clusters or coated with a moisture barrier. Once the base inclusion is created, it can be flavored and even colored.

“Try a chipotle-seasoned pralined almond in a chocolate zucchini loaf instead of the typical walnut,” Ms. Smith said.

Agropur developed whey protein-based inclusions that can be used in baked products. These protein pods are made with nutritionally desirable whey proteins and no added sugar.

“They add light and airy texture to baked products,” said Anand Rao, vice-president of research and development, Agropur Ingredients. “Because of the high-protein content of these pods, they also increase the overall protein content of the finished goods, allowing for potential labeling claims on protein content.”

Consumers also increasingly are interested in gut health, making fiber content of baked foods an attractive sell. Sometimes it is challenging to add fiber directly and still deliver on taste and texture.

“We offer purple and blue barley flakes that add unique bursts of color in traditionally beige foods. Because they come from intact sources, fibers from grains can be tied back to the regions where the grains originated or to the particular growers,” said Don Trouba, ­senior director of go-to-market, The Annex by Ardent Mills.

Crisped grains are another source of fiber. They can be toasted or enrobed and added to various baked foods. Another way to add fiber is through specially formulated clusters.

“Granola clusters can be designed to be high in fiber,” said Jamie Wilson, director of business development, marketing, culinary, research and development, Parker Products. “Try baking some oatmeal cinnamon granola into an apple muffin to create a denser option for fueling up in the morning.”

Nuts can also provide a versatile way to include more protein in baked foods.

“From sriracha cashews to coffee-glazed almonds, incorporating nuts into a convenient breakfast bar increases its overall functionality and allure,” she continued. “Try adding maple glazed pumpkin seeds to a loaf of sweet cinnamon bread for an interesting crunch.”

Carefully crafted inclusions and toppings also can be used as vehicles for performance ingredients. Some are designed to provide fruit and vegetable content.

“Products infused with natural caffeine are inundating the market in the form of bars and other snacks,” said Andrew Wheeler, vice-president of marketing, Van Drunen Farms. “Consumers are also seeking functional products infused with superfoods, which are nutritionally dense ingredients sought out for their health benefits.”

This includes whole foods such as acai, blueberries, kale and spinach. These ingredients can be formulated with whole grains into a cluster and possibly even coated with dark chocolate or some flavored and colored confection.

“A rich carrot cake garnished with snickerdoodle cookie bites or a key lime cheesecake topped with pie crust pieces looks as great as it tastes, which is an important characteristic to have in today’s social media-happy society,” Ms. Wilson said.

With the right inclusions and toppings, bakers can impact texture, taste and color for a picture-perfect product.

This article is an excerpt from the June 2019 issue of Baking & Snack. To read the entire feature on inclusions, click here.