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It might not surprise you to hear that annual sales of wine in the U.S. were up in 2020 over 2019 according to the consumer insight company Numerator. The number dropped in 2021, likely due to people returning to their office jobs or feeling the effects of a months’ long pandemic hangover and needing to calorically course correct. Yet other sugar-laden pleasures (or coping mechanisms, depending on how you look at it) such as candy and doughnuts are still surpassing their stats from last year – a time when we saw the sales of essentially every saccharine delight soar.
At Uber Eats, the number of restaurants selling desserts has increased by 55 per cent year over year. The top-three selling goods in the category range from ice cream (think McDonald’s McFlurries and Dairy Queen’s Blizzards) to bubble tea and cakes of all kinds – red velvet and chocolate fudge being the best-selling.
On the gourmet side of cake cravings, let’s take the 13-layer chocolate King’s Cake from Louix Louis, the opulent restaurant inside Toronto’s St. Regis hotel. The sumptuous sweet – a slice of which sets you back $34 – reached record orders in 2020, thanks to takeout and delivery options. And according to the kitchen, the over-the-top offering is set to royally overtake last year’s figure, too; 3,009 cakes were sold in 2020, and by the end of this July, 2,567 had already been purchased.
Louix Louis’s website describes the restaurant as “a place for daily indulgence,” and that notion heartily sums up what lots of us have been looking for during the pandemic. Fortuitously on this front, Calgary-based entrepreneur Ronnie Mupambwa opened the Candy Shop Café mid-summer. On offer are a range of dessert-ish drinks, such as a spiked Creamsicle Soda, which features spiced rum and Cointreau, and a Lemon Meringue Pie Sour composed of vodka, Limoncello, graham cracker syrup, lemon and egg white. Alongside these luscious libations are a host of goodies, from gluten-free chai-spiced snickerdoodles to several varieties of cheesecake, tarts, cupcakes and parfaits as well as sweet standbys, such as apple tarts and Belgian waffles.
To wit, the desserts we’re currently craving often offer a mix between inventiveness and the familiar. Take the edible flower-topped goods whipped up by New York-based recipe developer and food stylist Noreen Wasti, who posts her creations to Instagram to much fanfare; a smattering of pretty petals elevates her otherwise simple treats.
What a mounting interest in such fanciful-yet-homey creations says is that we’re in search of sweets that stimulate as much as satiate. Montreal software developer Linh Le Kim initially began her dessert-making journey as a dilettante, creating iterations of the Vietnamese delicacy chè, a soup-style dish that incorporates attractive floating morsels such as pandan jelly (made from the extract of the tropical pandan leaf, mixed with rice and tapioca flour), tapioca-covered water chestnuts and brightly hued agar jellies, for herself, friends and family during the pandemic.
“I think it was a mixture of boredom [and] escapism,” Le Kim says when explaining why she pursued her interest in making chè. She was supposed to travel to Asia with her family in 2020; with those plans scuppered, Le Kim leaned into probing her family’s cultural traditions and the remembrance of delicacies that was fading away due to a lack of availability where she now lives.
“I thought it would be more of a Western thing where people won’t know about chè,” she says of introducing her business, An Chè Desserts, through a pop-up in Montreal last month. “But even among Asian friends, or North American Vietnamese friends that I have, they actually didn’t know too much about it. They [might] have vague memories about it, like their grandmother would have made it. But maybe the grandmother stopped making it or had passed away, [and] they don’t have access to it any more.”
Le Kim struck a chord with consumers when she took her goods to market, selling an estimated 100 dishes per day during the three-day pop-up. Her success was in part thanks to the novelty of her offerings, and the welcome familiarity for those who were chomping at the bit to try her take on chè. Her culinary approach of using artisanal methods and inclusive ingredients – An Chè’s wares are vegan, gluten- and dairy-free – would also endear the most dessert-averse among us. She’s since been approached by local restaurants to sell her dishes and is considering taking what she originally considered a “side hustle” to the next level.
Swift expansion and the millennial-magnified momentum of drumming up interest via initial short-term supply is something that’s pervaded the dessert scene over the last year-plus. Good Behaviour, the ice cream-centric company begun by hospitality experts Eric Chow and Michael Lam, launched in Toronto in February as a drop-based business, and now has two – soon to be three – physical locations as well as a booming online ordering operation.
Crediting a universal desire for comfort foods as to why they landed on ice cream for their new joint venture, Chow says he and Lam were additionally inspired by the fervour roused by another local brand, Bar Ape, which specializes in gelato, and its limited-quantity product releases.
“I was stunned by the fact that there was like, 50 people lining up in the middle of winter, myself included, waiting for ice cream,” Chow says. The duo has now designed a range of their own flavours, from the best-selling Strawberry Cheesecake to the nostalgic Honey Nut Cereal to HK Milk Tea, a spin on the much-loved Cantonese treat. Good Behaviour’s version includes the use of Ceylon tea and condensed milk and speaks to the pair’s propensity for originality.
It’s also why you’ll find ice cream-filled doughnuts on their menu. “We had [it] in our pocket almost since the beginning,” Chow says about the uber-rich confection, which made its debut in late June – a dessert that sets them apart from other sweets spots in Toronto.
With Lam’s prowess as a chef leading the development of the twofold dessert, it’s been a hit so far. And there’s no doubt Good Behaviour and its fellow purveyors of all things comfortingly creamy, pleasingly pastry-based and lusciously lavish will continue to see eager eaters at their doors and on their websites.
As Chow says, “Food is like the glue that holds a lot of cultures together.” And after what we’ve just lived through, a united front sounds quite tempting.