Avoiding color overload: These bakery treats get back to basics

The unicorn food trend will continue to have a place for some time to come, but there are plenty of less-garish desserts to incorporate in your repertoire as well.

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November 13, 2018 4 min read


Colorful baked goods are nothing new. Brightly frosted cakes, sugar cookies covered in festive sprinkles and a variety of other visually appealing treats have long been favorites for eaters young and old at bakeries, restaurants and at home.

However, the highly colorful food trend – sometimes called unicorn food – can feel a bit overwhelming at times. A carefully deployed rainbow cake could thrill adults and kids alike, but when something special becomes routine, it loses its impact. Austin pastry arts students can look to some more classic and understated recipes for inspirations that are no less delicious than the most garish unicorn pastries available today.

Chocolate chip cookiesA variety of cookies are more traditional but no less delicious than many unicorn desserts.

Understanding the unicorn food trend

From dyes to sprinkles, pastel palettes to neon ones, the unicorn food trend has undeniable appeal. Taking a treat and making it seem that much more special or over the top is a simple yet effective way to positively influence the food and the related celebration. The New York Times said Starbucks’ release of the unicorn Frappuccino was what introduced many Americans to the concept, although it had existed in various forms previously. In fact, Starbucks settled a lawsuit brought in 2017 by an independent New York City cafe that alleged it had created the treat first, the Associated Press reported.

However, the unicorn food trend also has the potential to – and has already, in the eyes of some – become overdone. When you regularly see a rainbow-colored cake with shimmering sprinkles, it stops being special. To keep this approach memorable and impactful, you can offer customers a variety of more traditionally presented, but no less eye-pleasing nor delicious, desserts. Consider these options as you decide when to leverage the less-garish visuals of many common baked treats.

A long-time favorite: The eclair

The color scheme of an eclair is very traditional: a tan or very light brown pastry shell topped with a carefully deployed strip of chocolate icing. While this presentation won’t surprise anyone, a great eclair recipe and the final product go a long way toward pleasing diners. Food & Wine offered a recipe crafted by Joanne Chang, owner of Boston’s Flour Bakery + Cafe and a James Beard Award winner in the Outstanding Baker category. By incorporating some whipped cream into the normal pastry cream, the result is a fluffy, airy and fully delicious dessert – one that doesn’t need to be neon pink to garner attention.

Chocolate chip cookies please eaters of all ages

Chocolate chip cookies have a muted color scheme very similar to the eclair, and their presentation is even less attention grabbing. While you want your cookies to be roughly the same size and baked to the perfect consistency, it’s awfully difficult to arrange chocolate chips in the cookie dough. Despite lacking bright colors, these treats are nearly universally beloved. Serious Eats shared a recipe for this American classic that stands apart from many others by offering a chewy center, crisp edges and a rich, toffee-like flavor from the baked dough.

Who doesn’t like chocolate cake?

If an eclair or chocolate chip cookie only features a few different shades of the same color, the classic chocolate cake is positively monochromatic. With a deep, enticing brown color indicating the sweet, cocoa-based flavor within, chocolate cake’s moist richness pleases plenty of people without any sort of eye-catching color scheme. Bon Appétit featured a recipe for a chocolate blackout cake with frosting, an exterior crumb coating and a pudding filling that takes the flavor to the next level. While you can certainly turn some heads with your presentation and attention to detail with this cake, you won’t need to rely on a rainbow of colors to do it.

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