January 22, 2020

SA’s Most Creative Desserts


From perfect pastries to decadent desserts, South Africa’s pâtissiers are flexing their creative muscles to bring consumers some truly out-of-this-world creations

It’s not all French pâtisseries and Italian gelaterias – South Africa’s dessert scene is slowly rising up the ranks thanks to a new generation of talented pastry chefs. Nikki Albertyn, founder and pâtissier at LionHeart Pâtisserie Studio, says that international influence paired with a local pastry chef’s understanding of South African ingredients is making the dessert world a very exciting place to be. “There are so many realms to play in, from pastries to chocolates to beautifully plated desserts,” she says. “And South Africa definitely isn’t short on creativity.”

The local pastry scene’s capacity for creativity can be seen first-hand at LionHeart. Albertyn’s pâtisserie works closely with their clients for a totally personalised pastry experience. Her team has developed flavours for the separate elements of a cake – filling, frosting and the cake itself – and clients are given the opportunity to create their own combinations. It’s an ingenious way to make clients part of the journey and the creative process.

Eric Labuschagne, the founder of the Yummi group bakery, has watched the country’s dessert industry grow in leaps and bounds over his business’s decade-long lifespan. The perfect case study to see it in action? Macarons. “Six to seven years ago when we launched macarons, very few South Africans knew what they were,” he says. Now, authentic French macarons are virtually everywhere, from artisanal cafes to supermarkets, and consumers can’t get enough of them. Labuschagne has also noticed retailers driving quality desserts into their stores – something he’s especially excited to see.

Héloïse Haupt, classically trained pâtissier and founder of Pretoria-based bakery LunaBerry, says that while many South African pastry chefs are taking remarkable strides in reinventing the local pastry scene, South Africa’s dessert culture is quite different from other places in the world. “For example, in France, there’s the tradition of eating small pastries and desserts at any time of the day,” she explains. “In South Africa, it’s more common to order dessert on special occasions, like birthdays or weddings.” Because pastries and desserts aren’t treated as daily part of life, consumers tend to stick to tried-and-tested flavour profiles they know they’ll enjoy when they do decide to indulge.

It’s a sentiment echoed by internationally trained pastry chef Ilan Lipschitz, a founding partner and Director at Châteaux Gâteaux. He acknowledges that local consumers love cakes and desserts, but tend to be drawn to what they know and love. “It’s a balancing act to give our consumers what they want but in the same breath be original and creative, exposing our consumers to new and exciting trends, flavours and concepts that may come across as ‘foreign’,” he says. This creates a potential stumbling block for high-end pâtisseries in South Africa: competing with home bakers who know the precise tastes of the average family is a massive challenge. Pastry chefs are keen for more experimentation in their recipe development, but consumers need to be open to it.

Developing a new dessert

Creating a brand-new dessert from scratch can be an incredibly complex, time-consuming process. The LionHeart team spends on average one-month testing and perfecting a recipe; the creation of a vegan Swiss meringue buttercream took four. Albertyn and her team have developed several visually stunning sweet treats over the years, but her personal favourites of the moment are the gluten-free peanut butter cookies and a gluten-free cream cheese frosting-slathered torte covered in candied slices of ClemenGold (a local brand of super-sweet mandarin). “I’m not gluten intolerant in any way, but these are just the best!” she says.

Katelyn Allegra, self-proclaimed chocoholic and founder of award-winning dessert blog TheKateTin, recently released her first cookbook, Chocolate, preserving a collection of her all-time favourite recipes from over the years. “The Chocolate Explosion cake on page 145 is one I’m really proud of. It was inspired by the piñatas I had at birthday parties growing up. It’s multicoloured and comes with chocolate balls filled with sprinkles and glitter that the birthday boy or girl gets to smash all over their cake,” she says. Haupt also cites her own chocolate cake as her ultimate creation thus far. “It’s a delicious, moist cake with malted chocolate buttercream that’s almost mousse-like in texture – the perfect combination,” she says.

South African pâtissiers get their inspiration for new creations from a combination of their heritage and international trends, putting spins on South African classics and travelling to other countries for exciting new ideas. Haupt says the internet has been an invaluable tool in staying abreast of dessert trends and applying them to the South African market; Lipschitz adds that streaming services and social media play a huge role in research. “Back in the ‘90s, we used to travel to Europe to understand what was trending, visiting well-known patisseries and boulangeries. We’d page through several recipe books and create our own using the ingredients we had available,” he says. Now, the process is much the same – but quite a bit more convenient.

Albertyn and her team often use childhood memories as inspiration, pairing nostalgia with foolproof flavours for a winning combination. Labuschagne, on the other hand, has been experimenting with super-trendy CBD oil, recently releasing Yummi’s first CBD brownie. Yummy is set to launch more products in this category in the near future – an idea inspired by a conversation with Labuschagne’s friend and mentor, food scientist Grant Momple. But CBD confections aren’t the only thing we’ll be seeing much more of in 2020.

Trends for sweet treats

French pâtissier Jessica Préalpato, winner of The World’s Best Pastry Chef Award 2019, recently developed the ethos of desseralité. Desseralité is a portmanteau of “dessert” and “naturalité – another French cooking philosophy that translates to naturality or simplicity – and South African pastry chefs believe this is the direction in which desserts are moving. Albertyn has noticed a trend towards simple ingredients that are sourced sustainably – not overcomplicating a flavour profile of a dessert, but focussing on bold, basic flavours that can stand on their own and still be absolutely delicious.

As consumers become more health-conscious, pastry chefs are developing desserts that cut down on unnecessary kilojoules without sacrificing on indulgence. Allegra, for example, has noticed experimentation with nut milk, heirloom flours, kombucha and superfoods. “It’s not necessarily just to be healthy or vegan, but also because these ingredients are exciting and open up a whole new world of flavours and textures to play with,” she says. Labuschagne and Lipschitz believe upcoming dessert trends will revolve around specific diets – from plant-based and low-carb lifestyles to allergen-specific requirements and lower sugar intake. Labuschagne is also seeing more and more interest in recipes that actively promote good gut health.

Another trend that isn’t going anywhere anytime soon is the concept of dessert as a work of art. In fact, Haupt believes it’s gaining traction, with clients opting for simple flavours and instead of playing around with visual presentation. “These days, many people looking for desserts are also looking for pieces of art,” she says. “A good dessert should be beautifully decorated, taste amazing and be an experience that leaves you speechless.”  A few ways that pastry chefs are embracing their artistic sides include painting on cakes, using palette knives to create texture and applying metallic edibles.

Allegra adds that ethically sourced ingredients are becoming a major factor in the pastry industry, specifically with ingredients like coffee, cocoa and spices. “In the same vein, using hyper-local ingredients will also continue,” she says. “We want to eat dessert made with locally produced chocolate, not flown all the way from Belgium. We want the cream to come from a farmer nearby so we can support our farming industry.” All of these are small ways to make dessert a little more delicious and a little less guilty.

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