There are few who possess the willpower to say no to a brownie. Simple and quick to make, delicious and infinitely customizable, brownies continue to enliven the category with updates of convenience, premiumization, nostalgia and indulgence.

Perfection in its most simple state, the brownie can be even more appealing with simple additions. Take, for instance, brownies with the addition of premium ingredients. Pure vanilla, deluxe chocolate and real cane sugar level up the brownie while also being the perfect vehicle for brand callouts that add to the wow factor. Bakeries adding California-grown pecans and walnuts, Nutella and chocolates from Barry Callebaut or Ghirardelli can increase the profile and price point of an already delicious product.

The traditional baked good also has the power to trigger feelings of nostalgia in consumers who grew up eating brownies as an afterschool snack or lunchbox treat. What could be nicer than recalling the pleasure of choosing the perfect square picked to offer a moist, ooey-gooey center or crisp edge and a chewy bite? At moments like this, nostalgia becomes a great excuse to slow down and savor delicious memories.

“Many consumers are seeking products that leave them with a memorable experience, whether that is from new and innovative products or through traditional products that give a feeling of nostalgia,” says JoAnn Rupp, global market insights manager for Lenexa, Kansas-based Corbion. “When consumers finally find the time to take a break and indulge, they want the experience to count.”

Today, indulgence in the chocolatey treat also means meeting needs of convenience and on-the-go lifestyles. Mini versions and brownie bites and fries are the perfect size for lunchbox treats and are easily portable for busy lifestyles as a snack or as a sweet cap to lunch or dinner. Brill, a CSM Bakery Solutions company, Tucker, Georgia, is seeing brownies move beyond the dessert table where they are finding a spot in retailers’ grab-in-go offerings and as a sweet addition to party platters, according to Val Burnett, vice-president of marketing, Brill.

“Brownie consumers tend to be from smaller, more affluent households,” Burnett continues. “Due to the size of the smaller households, retailers need to make sure they have a variety of sizes in their brownie offering. Also, these consumers typically purchase brownies to share at a family or work event or for an individual reward. These occasions are also what’s helping to drive the inclusion of brownie offerings in the individual and party platter formats.” Brill recently launched a new brownie with inclusions of toffee, semi-sweet chocolate and milk chocolate chips.

Upping the Ante

Because brownies offer the perfect vehicle for indulgence, there’s always room for unique toppings and flavor combinations. Brownies can also add indulgence to cakes, message cookies and cupcakes and are perfect inclusions for crumbling into gourmet shakes and parfaits. Can’t decide between a cookie or a brownie? Brookies, a mashup of cookies and brownies, translate into delicious indecision.

Pico Rivera, California-based BakeMark, a supplier of brownie mixes, frozen brownies, icings, fudges and raw ingredients to instore bakeries, predicts big things on the horizon in the category. David Lopez, director of marketing, believes brownies are poised to shine and be on trend among the 18-30 age demographic.

“Because brownies are so traditional, they may be a bit overlooked but there are so many ways to enhance chocolate,” Lopez says. “It’s a shame there isn’t more experimentation on new ideas for brownie innovation. Things like spice, chili, salt and caramel are things that go great with chocolate and could stand out in a brownie but haven’t quite done so yet. Traditional brownies are just so good that there isn’t much innovation that’s changed behaviors for brownie consumers.”

One innovation that continues to make its way to the forefront is clean label ingredient formulation. Such requests speak to the growing demand for gluten-free, keto friendly and vegan versions that demand the use of alternative flours, sweeteners and egg replacers. Corbion is seeing requests for formulations with added protein, edging a halo of health toward brownies.

As a long-time favorite, brownies must meet consistency of product. The use of mixes, bases and concentrates ensures consistent quality when producing large amounts of baked goods. Consistency allows bakeries to reduce variations in scaling and production and increase reliability, allowing bakers to be flexible with their formulations. Nimbleness also comes from reliability of freshness including softness, moistness, resilience, tenderness and shelf life.

Corbion’s enzyme technology protects products during processing, handling and distribution. Its Ultra Fresh Sweet enzyme solutions offers instore bakeries a way to extend the freshness of baked goods for several days and up to 45 days for packaged baked goods. The solutions help bakers meet consumer preferences, reduce waste caused by stales and offer additional selling opportunities from fuller shelves, according to Rupp.

Dawn Foods, Jackson, Michigan, offers bakers convenience with a complete frozen brownie category solution. This includes offerings in salted caramel dark chocolate, cookies and cream, chocolate chunk, s’mores, coconut macaroon, maple pumpkin and red velvet.

“Brownies are also starting to emerge in the higher-end dessert configurations,” says Hugh Brooks, senior category marketing – frozen products, Dawn Foods. “When it comes to brownies, similar to other desserts, we often see a good, better and best range of offers with new innovation taking place in both product form and flavor trends.” Dawn Foods is also seeing an increased interest in clean label from its retail customers as well as consumers placing an emphasis on social responsibility in their products, according to Brooks.

Upscaled Brownies

For bakeries looking to add color and fresh berry fruitiness to brownies, Barry Callebaut, which has U.S. headquarters in Chicago, offers its new ruby chocolate product. While not bake-stable, the naturally rosy pink chocolate is a great decorative addition via a post-bake drizzle or ruby chocolate blossoms, extra-large pencils and domes from the company’s Mona Lisa line. To play up the beautiful color, Laura Bergan, director of brand marketing, Barry Callebaut-North America, recommends topping a blonde brownie with ruby.

Global flavors such as Barry Callebaut’s ruby chocolate continue to influence desserts. Datassential’s Dessert Trends Keynote report showed 41% of consumers are very interested or interested in global desserts. Some examples include pastry chefs taking the traditional brownie to the next level.

Christina Kaelberer, executive pastry chef of Edward’s Dessert Kitchen, Minneapolis, created a chocolate-based mole blend featuring pecans and caramel. Michael George of Bambera in Salt Lake City is wrapping brownies in phyllo dough before deep frying and topping with Moroccan-spiced nuts, and Chef Dominque Ansel of New York City’s Dominque Ansel Kitchen is giving brownies a smoky, woodsy aroma with a sage-smoked version. Served traditionally or with an upscale flourish, it’s safe to say brownies will always be a delicious crowd-pleaser.