Arbitrary Food Junk food

Arbitrary: Are Madeleines the next big thing?

Are Madeleines the next big thing? Watch us speculate wildly.

There’s a lot of money to be made latching onto a sweet-treat trend before it takes off. The surge of gourmet cupcakes hit the mainstream half a decade ago, and, while I won’t predict a dinosaur-style mass die-off of cupcake bakeries later this year, they’ve certainly exceeded the saturation point. How many cupcake shops can a neighbourhood possibly support? (I’m looking at you, Edmonton’s Old Strathcona.)

Newspapers, magazines and food blogs love to speculate wildly over what the next megahit baked goodie will be, so why not join in the fun? Currently, as I see it, the prime candidates include …

  • Macarons – They’re already somewhat available, but they’re both smaller in size and harder to make than cupcakes, which means they’ll have a hard time competing on the size/price value ratio. It’s very easy to eat $15 worth of macarons, whereas you’d be holding your stomach, groaning in agony, after eating $15 worth of cupcakes.
  • Pies – I can’t count how many stories I’ve read about pies being the next big thing, yet I haven’t seen a single new-wave pie shop in my neck of the woods. Why will the gourmet pie trend never catch on? Pie is messy, not bite-sized, not easy to eat on the go, and, while delicious, still a little bit too familiar/folksy.
  • Meta Pies – Not meat pies, but META pies. Smaller pies baked within larger pies. Or, better yet, a pie baked into a cake. Some of my friends in Toronto have been baking these for parties, and it’s just odd enough to go kitchen-viral. Shops probably won’t be selling them, but it could well become a home-baking trend for extreme food types.
  • Cream Puffs – The Beard Papa’s chain is spreading, and other shops are popping up. In Calgary, there’s Cruffs in Mission, which I really should visit. As with macarons, there are lots of creative flavour possibilities.
  • Cake Pops – Crumbled up cake mushed together with frosting, jammed onto a stick and dunked in melted chocolate – an idea so good even Starbucks got in on the action.
  • Whoopie Pies – Again, Starbucks has jumped on this. They look sort of like bloated macarons, and they’re a nice combination of fun, easily accessible and not entirely alien. They’re close enough to cupcakes that cupcake shops can offer these as a form of bet-hedging diversification.
  • Donuts – Just because I’d like to see this spread like wildfire doesn’t mean it will. Calgary’s Jelly Modern has turned the garden-variety donut into a culinary delight. Maple bacon donuts? They exist.

All those are well and good, but what about Madeleines?

A chocolate covered Madeleine.

The shell-shaped French mini-cake has been popping up in unusual places, which makes me think they deserve to be speculated about as a possible breakout hit. Why?

  • They’re from a foreign country, and a touch of the exotic never hurts.
  • They have a name that pedantic hipsters can feel good (ie. superior) about pronouncing correctly.
  • Starbucks has done them, and they’ve got an eye for these things.
  • They look neat. The shell shape is cute and distinctive.
  • Their taste is both unique and yummy.
  • Almost every decent cookware shop now stocks Madeleine forms, which should speed their exposure in North America.

Of course, once you can buy a treat by the eight-pack clamshell at the local Safeway, they must be catching on. Which brings me to this package of Miss Meringue Dipped Madeleines, which was found on a table in the Safeway bakery department. Are they any good? Sure, I suppose. Are they as good as real, made-fresh Madeleines from a place like Edmonton’s Duchess Bakeshop? No. But if you’ve never tried a Madeleine, they’re a good place to start.

When Safeway starts carrying pre-packaged Madeleines in their bakery, there's clearly a foodie trend afoot.

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