Pie or cheesecake? Choose your favorite.

Depending on which survey results you believe the most, either apple or pumpkin pie reigns supreme as the favorite encore for Thanksgiving dinner. In my family, both share space with some cheesecake and other desserts as well, so that everyone can select a favorite (or two—the holidays certainly allow for a bit of indulgence).

While many swear by secret family recipes that guarantee a flavorful outcome, others rely on bakeries or the refrigerated and frozen section of their nearby supermarket. According to Mintel the entire category of retail prepared cakes and pies reached $11.2 billion in sales in 2014, representing a 24% increase since 2009. And 61% agree gourmet or premium products are worth paying a bit extra for, including 72% of those ages 25-34. This is an area driven by indulgence.

Egg ingredients help provide structure and rich flavor in many refrigerated desserts, including cheesecake, custards, puddings, certain pie fillings (such as the ubiquitous pumpkin or pecan) and of course, refrigerated cakes.

The coagulative properties of egg yolks and whole eggs help set cheesecake in general, although there are two broad categories of cheesecake: solid/heavy/New York style, and light/French type that contains beaten egg white meringue for greater volume and a lighter texture.

New York style cheesecakes should bake at lower temperatures for a longer amount of time, with low-pressure steam for a moist environment. Overbaking causes the top of the cheesecake to dry out and crack, and can cause the interior to become gritty/grainy rather than smooth. Cracking also can occur when the cake cools too fast; cakes must be cooled thoroughly in a draft-free environment.

Egg ingredients and starch-based thickeners work synergistically to provide viscosity and structure. Fillings with too much starch can become glue-like and have a pasty mouthfeel. And unlike eggs, which enhance most flavors in baked goods, starches can have a tendency to dull flavors, especially in fruit fillings.

Soft-filled pies or pudding and custard creams rely on eggs for thickening properties—as the eggs are heated they aid product structure. Just note that sugar raises the temperature at which eggs coagulate, and acids decrease the temperature required for coagulation. For shelf-stable pumpkin pies, added moisture (such as water and liquid eggs) should not exceed 100% of the pumpkin weight.

Chiffon pie fillings or Bavarian creams are lighter and rely on the aerating properties of the egg white. As air is incorporated into egg whites as they are beaten, the structural framework created by the egg proteins help hold products together. In addition, egg white helps increase volume for lighter foods, lends an airy texture and smooth mouthfeel and allows the other ingredients to achieve better integration.

As a reminder, all liquid, frozen and dried egg products are pasteurized. Not only has there never been a food-borne illness associated with pasteurized egg products, the process also lends the ingredients a more extended shelf life without sacrificing quality, flavor or performance. To locate a supplier of quality egg ingredients, visit our Buyers’ Guide.

2015-12-21 14:51:30

Grocerant challenge to food manufacturers

Meal planning for today’s consumer is more of a sprint than a marathon. According to research presented by Tyson Foods at a recent conference, 70 percent of shoppers decide today what they will eat for dinner tonight.

Convenience is king – and although the industry has been talking for years about this trend, it continues to grow, fueling the rise of restaurant industry sales and giving birth to a new type of outlet – the grocerant.

Time-crunched consumers in search of quick and easy meals pushed monthly restaurant sales ahead of grocery store sales for the first time in December 2014. And that “share of the plate” keeps tilting more towards restaurant-style dining with each passing month. However, consumers also are thrifty and want restaurant quality food they can eat at home for a good price.

In response, grocery stores have upped the ante to tempt hungry shoppers with fresh, convenient meals on display at the front of the store and in the deli. Offerings include salad bars, soups, sushi counters or minimally wrapped, freshly prepared meals ready to eat after a quick whirl in the microwave. Some outlets encourage consumers to dine in, with small café tables in a side section or front of the store. The wide variety of fresh, ready-to-eat (RTE) meals alongside the dine in-store option has been coined “grocerant.”

This increased foodservice activity means food product manufacturers need to rethink some strategies in order to protect or regain market share.

Key factors defining the foods served at grocerants include:

  • Healthy
  • Fresh
  • Quality
  • Single-serve
  • Flavorful

NPD Crest data reveals consumers prefer to eat at home instead of going to a restaurant in order to keep their dining healthier, save money and because they like home-cooked food. Consumers define their grocery store needs as most closely mimicking fast casual experiences, which promote quality, freshness and customization.

Another driver for this focus on fresh, prepared meals, says Steven Johnson from Foodservice Solutions, is that 50 percent of Americans ages 18 and older are single. This makes a prepared meal an easy choice and less costly than dining out.

While fresh is the top mention by consumers looking for in-store meal satisfaction, they also want variety in flavors. A deli obviously has an easier time catering to seasonality than a packaged prepared food, however, limited editions or limited time offers (LTOs) can work for packaged foods, as well as foodservice. This past fall a number of manufacturers introduced limited editions of popular brands that featured fall flavors, most overwhelmingly pumpkin spice.

One key for a manufacturer seeking to create market interest with a LTO is agility. According to an article in Food Business News, quoting Anil Kaul, Ph.D., chief executive officer and co-founder of Absolutdata, “One of the challenges of the food industry is it typically has a relatively longer innovation cycle from product idea to the shelf...Companies that can move products from idea to shelf very fast are the ones that can be successful.” He predicts a continued emphasis on natural foods as well as flavor swings influenced by global cuisine.  

And manufacturers know the key to agile product development is reliance on a trusted stable of quality ingredients that have proven their performance through a variety of processing scenarios over time.

The good news is that retail prepared foods eaten at home are predicted by NPD Group to rise another 10 percent by 2022—double the growth restaurants will see. This places the consumer in the grocery store. The manufacturer that pays attention to the factors driving new meal purchasing decisions can benefit by keeping products as fresh as possible, providing gold standard quality and foods that mimic scratch cooking as closely as possible. 

Achieving this means using high-quality ingredients and avoiding those that might make the meal seem less wholesome and fresh. The nuts and bolts that hold products together and give them proper consumer appeal are those ingredients that supply both flavor and functional properties and are as familiar to the consumer as the contents of their own kitchen cupboard. Versatile egg ingredients are available in refrigerated, frozen, dried and value added forms to help develop products that fit in with the rising grocerant dining trends. To locate a supplier of quality egg ingredients, visit our Buyers’ Guide.


2015-12-09 15:21:21

Swooning for macarons

Less than one week after the nation celebrates Pi Day on March 14th, New York City pays homage to a light, airy confection that is slowly edging out cupcakes as a bakery favorite. In 2016 the Big Apple will mark its seventh annual Macaron Day on March 20th, with area bakeries creating and selling their own unique flavor varieties. The annual celebration has its philanthropic side, with part of the proceeds benefiting City Harvest.

The word “macaron” stems from the Italian maccherone or “fine paste,” named for the nut flour that forms the basis of this single-serve cookie. Born in Italy, the macaron made its way to France in the 1530s, according to one source. This European roaming gave birth to at least three distinct methods of preparation with the Italian meringue the most common.

The macaron depends on meringue for its shape and traditional light, airy yet crisp texture. It relies on a very simple list of ingredients—nut flour, eggs, sugar, flavoring and filling of jam, cream or ganache. This elegant, single-serve confection also has the benefit of being gluten-free.

More adventuresome bloggers have experimented with a broad variety of fine-ground nut flours, although the vast majority uses almonds. What differs the macarons flavors, with a pastry chef’s imagination the only limit, ranging from plain (yet upscale) vanilla to Cassis, Red Velvet, Rose or savory types in a rainbow of colors.

While exact sales figures are difficult to tabulate, Whole Foods has been selling macarons for years. An article in 2014 in The Atlantic quotes a representative of the grocery chain claiming a 40 percent increase in macaron sales in just one year.

There are both tabletop and industrial depositors to help automate the process and ramp up production for large or mid-sized bakeries and food manufacturers. The important factor whether dispensing by hand or via machine is the viscosity, so the dough correctly flows out of the depositor. We offer sample formulations for French Macaron Cookies using either dried or liquid egg whites and directions for Orange Curd, Mixed Berry or Dark Chocolate fillings.

At home I find flavor inspiration from influential bloggers or YouTube videos. This year for the holidays I might try “Candy Cane” or “Thin Mint” created by Byron Talbott. Whatever the occasion there is a flavor to match and the egg whites to whip up the perfect macaron meringue.

2015-12-07 14:29:38