Trend Feast

Nostalgic Desserts Are Bringing Back Memories—and Customers

Sep 27, 2023

Nostalgic Desserts Are Bringing Back Memories—and Customers

After Sakari Smithwick’s father passed away due to complications from diabetes, he vowed to carry on his legacy. The New York chef, who’s worked at famed Michelin-starred eateries Eleven Madison Park and Marea, chose to honor him by re-imagining his favorite sweet treat: the classic banana pudding.

Instead of upping the decadence in the ϋber-indulgent dish of ripe bananas, eggs, vanilla wafers, sugar and heavy cream, Smithwick created the plant-based Kari’s Banana Pudding. It’s gluten-, nut- and dairy-free and uses no processed sugar. Instead, natural sugar from bananas and monk fruit serve as the main sweeteners.

A touching tribute to his dad, the dessert simultaneously checks all the boxes for consumers conscientious about what they eat. It’s also playful and nostalgic.

“For me, history isn’t only historic figures like Barack Obama or Dr. Martin Luther King,” says Smithwick, who competed on season 21 of FOX-TV’s “Hell’s Kitchen” and serves as a private chef through his company Smithwick Provisions.

“It’s also your family and the food you grew up with,” he continues. “I wanted to create a product that is not only allergen friendly, so everyone can enjoy it, but it also brings back good memories. I want to make delicious food that comes from good ingredients, and you feel good after you eat it.”

The broad appeal of nostalgic desserts means business

According to Datassential, nostalgic desserts are on the rise with flavors like s’mores, cookie dough and banana pudding as some of the top trends in the segment. More than four-in-five consumers are at least somewhat interested in nostalgic desserts and appeal is broad across generations (although what makes each generation nostalgic varies). Restaurants are late to the party, though:

  • Only 43% of dessert-serving operators currently offer nostalgic desserts.
  • 32% are interested in adding them.
  • With a gap of 57% consumer interest to 43% operators offering, operators can better capitalize on their patrons’ nostalgia.

Smithwick is indeed capitalizing on his patrons’ nostalgia as the online waitlist is long for his banana pudding and he sells out every weekend at festivals and markets. And while his treats aim to be healthier options, other chefs play up the decadent essence of nostalgic desserts.

An indulgence filled with memories

For instance, Justice of the Pies, situated on Chicago’s South Side, specializes in miniature s’mores pies, peach cobbler soft serve ice cream, ginger + cardamom lemon bars, and gooey oversized cinnamon rolls. Owned by James Beard Award finalist Maya-Camille Broussard, the chic bakery draws lines throughout the week for its modern accents on classic sweets.

Also in Chicago, BBQ pitmaster Dominique Leach smokes whipped cream to top her signature Bacon Bourbon Bread Pudding. The owner of the award-winning Lexington Betty’s Smoke House created the recipe on a whim as she prepared for a special event.

“Well, I knew how to make bread pudding. I also knew how to make caramel [from scratch]. And I can clearly make whipped cream,” says Leach, a regular culinary personality on Food Network. “I had never smoked the whipped cream, but sometimes you have to just go for it.”

In Los Angeles, chef Margarita Lorenzana-Manzke whips up all sorts of imaginative, nostalgic desserts at République, the French-inspired bakery, café and bar set inside a historic space built in 1928 by Charlie Chaplin.

Here, Lorenzana-Manzke—who won a James Beard Award for Outstanding Pastry Chef earlier this year—is the creative force behind strawberry and dates-and-bacon pop tarts, brown butter oatmeal cookies, and bombolini (Italian doughnuts) filled with ube coconut.

Tip: You don’t have to stop serving strawberries when strawberry season ends. High-quality frozen fruit, like Simplot Simple Goodness™ Fruit Whole Strawberries, let you indulge your customers with the taste of summer all year long.

The rise of nostalgic desserts with Asian accents

While Lorenzana-Manzke’s bombolini filled with ube coconut is one of the Filipina chef’s best sellers, other Asian desserts are performing equally well. Most notably, the Thai-inspired Mango Sticky Rice Parfait is gaining ground in the United States. The centuries-old dessert consists of coconut milk, sticky rice and sweet ripe mango.

According to Datassential, sticky rice has grown 22% on dessert menus in the last four years. Also important to note: Three-fourths of consumers are aware of sticky rice and more than half of consumers have tried it. Of those who have tried it, 72% enjoy it.

Mango, the most popular flavor for the sticky rice dessert, grew 4% last year and is on 9% of dessert menus. The number of consumers who love mango was up 5% over the previous two years.

Tip: For delicious mango without the tedious prep and waste, consider Simplot Simple Goodness™ Fruit Mango Cubes.

In San Diego, classic mango sticky rice is abundant and popular at restaurants like MNGO Café, Sang Dao and Good Moments Tea Bar. Meanwhile, Boba Bar and Desserts serves the mango sticky rice in a puffle, a spherical egg-based waffle popular in Hong Kong and Macau.

Fresh fruit as inclusions in nostalgic desserts

Many ice cream, novelty and pastry shops play up candy, retro snacks and fresh fruits as inclusions in a wide variety of applications. For example, blueberries are up 6% from last year on dessert menus, states Datassential, and blueberry lemon as a flavor profile grew 52% on menus in the past year.

Tip: Some of the best blueberries in America are grown in the Pacific Northwest. Simplot Simple Goodness™ Fruit Blueberries capture the natural quality of this region in large, plump berries you can count on year-round.

In the Washington, D.C. area, the tangy combo can be found at quite a few spots, including lemon-blueberry pound cake at ThreeFifty Bakery and Coffee Bar; lemon-blueberry cupcakes and cookies at Sprinkles; and Blueberry Lemon Pound Cake ice cream sandwiches from Nightingale.

The latter is from wife-and-husband team Hannah Pollack and Xavier Meers, professional chefs who first offered their delightful versions of house-made ice cream sandwiches at a Richmond, Virginia, restaurant where they worked for five years.

The nostalgic desserts are handcrafted in small batches and made with 14% butterfat ice cream, fresh-baked cookies and homemade inclusions, and became so popular they eventually took them to retail. The Blueberry Lemon Pound Cake is their newest seasonal flavor. Other classic choices include Key Lime Pie, Banana Pudding and Strawberry Shortcake.

In 2022, their sugary sensations made the “O List”—from Oprah Daily. They are certainly doing something right.

Nostalgic dessert recipes from the Simplot Culinary Team

Ready to serve some nostalgic-dessert magic of your own? Here are some kitchen-tested recipes from our Culinary Team:

Raspberry Rice Krispies Treats
Still the chewy, crunchy, marshmallowy goodness you remember eating as a kid, but better. We added raspberry crumbles for color and flavor, then dipped them in white chocolate and crushed pistachio nuts.
View Recipe »

Fruitfetti Cake
Three fluffy layers and the addition of raspberries, blueberries and mango make this cake fancy; the old-school frosting and generous application of sprinkles make it fun.
View Recipe »

Waffle Fruit Filled Baked Alaska
We threw a delightful twist on the classic version of this time-honored restaurant dessert by adding raspberries, blueberries and mango to the ice cream layers and finishing it off with a fancy Belgian waffle base.
View Recipe »

Raspberry, Blueberry and Mango Cannoli
Delicate, flaky cannoli shells filled with a lightly sweetened, fluffy cream filling and finished with mango, raspberries and blueberries. These easy-to-make little pastries will really dress up your dessert menu.
View Recipe »

For more on the latest trends and recipes for Fall/Winter 2023-24, download our new Trend Feast Guide.