Gifts Packed and Baked

The Ras Garba during the Navratri festival is followed by Dussehra and is to be followed by Diwali. This festive season is also the gifting season for many Indians. But gifting trends are changing and you find people, all over the country, exchanging exquisitely gift-wrapped packets of baked goodies, as they wish each other a Happy Diwali.

Ashok Malkani takes a look at this new tendency among people in urban India for gifting baked goodies, and the different products that the bakeries are concocting to tickle the taste buds of all those having a sweet tooth.

With the Diwali round the corner to be followed by Christmas and the New Year, the attention is once again on gifting. The traditional gifting on Diwali is a box of sweets but this is no longer the trend, not only among the higher echelons of the society in urban India, but also among its middle classes! Chocolates, muffins and other bakery products are replacing the pedas, mawa cake, kaju katli, etc. as gift items. The trend is now to adorably gift wrap a box of assorted cookies, low-cal premium biscuits and other bakery products as many savvy Indian consumers are showing a shift away from traditional sweets on grounds of health.

Chef Joy Dey of DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Pune-Chinchwad stated, “Nowadays many people are highly conscious about health and are reluctant to have heavy sweets. Due to health-consciousness several people accept the heavy fat-laden sweets but do not consume them. The people are now aware of other edible gifting products that can be offered for occasions like Diwali and are shifting to bakery and confectionery products like chocolates, cookies, candies, flavoured cookies, bread loafs, etc. These products could be quite healthy and are light to eat and are available in markets with big brand names with stylish packing.”

A Happening Trend 

“There has been a noticeable change in preferences in gifting for Diwali, and a change in the choice of sweets is one of them. Bakery products are being preferred  as gifting items over the traditional sweets for two main concerns that have to do with health and shelf life. During Diwali and even in other Indian festivals, many local sweet makers resort to using low quality food ingredients that may include impermissible preservatives or chemicals to keep the costs low and increase their sweet products’ shelf life,” explained Sanjay Mamgain, Corporate Executive Sous Chef,  Lords Hotels & Resorts.

 “Moreover, most of the mithais are dairy products and cases of adulteration are common, especially in milk products. This trend is discouraging and people are now opting for other choices including baked sweets over the traditional mithai.  Even if there is no adulteration, then also we can infer that baked products are a comparatively healthier choice as compared to many traditional Indian sweets that are generously loaded with sugar, ghee and oil. People today are more health conscious than ever before and understand the consequences of indulging in unhealthy eating choices. Another reason for their growing popularity is that bakery products have a longer shelf life as compared to the traditional Indian sweets,” he elaborated further.

“There has been a tendency during the past few years of people shifting from traditional mithais to bakery products. One of the main reasons for this is that people are becoming health conscious by the day and prefer something light on their palate; giving rise to a demand for chocolates and sugar-free confectionery products, instead of the regular sweets from the halwai,” averred Siddharth Anand, Executive Pastry Chef, Sofitel Mumbai BKC.

 “Due to globalisation and a rise in the standard of living and incomes, the Indian consumer has drastically evolved in the last decade. There has been a huge shift in food gifting where Indian consumers are moving from traditional sweets & dry fruits to baked goods because of changing tastes and preferences. The shift has also been towards healthier food options that are gluten-free, organic and vegan, because of increased health awareness,” conveyed Richa Talwar, Partner, Sustenance Artisan Food.

 “Due to the busy schedules in today’s superfast world, many people are not getting the time to prepare sweets for their loved ones. Previously they used to buy sweets from halwais and sweet houses but we have heard of quality concerns and health issues regarding them during recent festive times. This is one of the reasons why people are moving towards bakery products as gifting options. They find bakery products to be premium, better in status and worth the money and, most importantly, safe and healthy,” declared Satej Saigaonkar, Executive Chef, Holiday Inn Chennai OMR IT Expressway.

 “Actually it is not a shift, it is basically that our gifting customers who got divided. There are people who still believe in traditional sweets for gifting and there are some who are open for or want to experiment with new things,” proffered Sunil Menon, Executive Chef, Four Points by Sheraton, Pune.

Delectable Offerings

There is a wide variety of bakery products being offered for gifting by the Indian bakery and confectionery industry. Different bakers are trying out new baked goodies for those seeking variety.

 “During festive season, a lot of bakeries create gift baskets and hampers. We specialise in elegant food gifts that are stylish, healthy and delicious! People can choose from a beautiful range of gifts like the Celebration Hamper, the Decadent Box, the Holiday Hamper and the Indulgence Hamper, which includes a decadent selection of bakery items like madeleines, shortbread cookies, biscotti, fruit preserves, gluten-free granola, tea cake and artisanal breads. Our baked goods are beautifully packed in stylish pinewood boxes with an elegant floral arrangement and includes a thoughtful handwritten note to impress and surprise your loved ones and knock them off their feet,” asserted Richa.

“People are looking for both decadent as well as healthy food gifts made using all natural ingredients. Baked goods such as biscotti and cookies are really popular right now and we have a wonderful selection of great flavours like cranberry pistachio biscotti, chocolate crinkle cookies, espresso thumbprint cookies, pistachio cardamom shortbread, and gingerbread chocolate biscotti,” she informed. 

“A lot of bakeries do themed desserts for festivals and try to experiment with traditional Indian flavours. We, at Sustenance Artisan Food, have done delicious thandai shortbread cookies in the past for Holi, which was very popular and this year we are doing a variety of flavoured nut mixes like rosemary spiced, chipotle honey and candied nut mix to give a modern twist to the traditional dry fruits & nut box exchanged during Diwali,”  elaborated Richa.

“We also have specialty breads like chocolate babka, fig & sea salt challah, swedish cinnamon buns along with brown butter madeleines, parmesan & black pepper biscotti, pear scones and chocolate coconut lamington cakes as part of our new festival menu. We have also created hampers that are vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free as well as baked goods that are made using whole grains and natural sweeteners to appeal to those who are choosing a healthier lifestyle,” expressed Richa.

“We are very excited to introduce pie and tart gift boxes as part of Diwali this year and customers have a variety of delicious flavours to choose from pecan pie, frangipane tart, chocolate & sea salt and the all time classic apple & caramel. We hope, this Diwali,  people will choose our unique pie box to gift instead of the traditional mithai box,” Richa stated further.

 “We have a gift hamper for all occasions, be it corporate, festive, personal celebration, birthdays or anniversaries. We have readily available premium hampers as well as personalised ones, which guests can customise as per their preferences. We also have a readymade hamper menu available with actual price of each product to tailor-made hampers as per guest’s choice,” disclosed Satej.

“With so many bakeries and pastry shops opening across all major cities, there is a huge competition to be trendy and to come up with unique products to become the market leaders. The current trend is for designer cakes, vegan cakes and cakes with health and fun facts,” he stated further.

“In our bakery at the Holiday Inn Chennai OMR IT Expressway, we have created premium cakes album, which talks about each cake’s health facts. We also have premium hampers for special occasions. We have combined western bakery products with homemade sweets, which will cater to both – festival fever and a healthy diet,” Satej affirmed.  

“This Diwali, fusion is in fashion. The trendy gifting options for Diwali now are various bakery products like  Pannatonne, classic fruit cake, home style cookies, traditional baklava, banana walnut cake, pineapple carrot cake, plum cake with royal icing, savoury breads, hand rolled chocolates and many more,” revealed Anant Bansode, Pastry Chef, Courtyard by Marriott Pune Chakan

“At this time of the year, we prepare hand-crafted chocolates, homemade cookies, English spiced fruit cakes, herbal tea, infused herbal olive oil, instant pasta sauce, candid nuts, local spiced rubbed almonds, and seasonal sweets,” Anant pointed out.

“I always make sure that the hamper is personalised to create mind-blowing festival gift options. Gifts are meant to be unique and memorable and the exclusive gift hampers of the patisserie, at Courtyard by Marriott Pune Chakan, serve the purpose. Some of the fresh and irresistible offerings with  us are Pumpkin Drizzle Cake, Tamarind Chocolate Cake, Banana Nuttella Bread, Spiced English Fruit Cake, Paprika Parmesan Bread, and Moist Red Velvet Cake with Frosting,”  informed Anant.   

 “The bakery products most-preferred for gifting with us are macaroons, cookies, teacakes, muffins,  granola bars and chocolates,” declared Kamlesh Salve, Executive Chef   of The Mirador Hotel Mumbai.

“We, at the The Mirador Hotel Mumbai, specialise in making designer and customised cakes, healthy cakes and basic cakes. The other bakery products that are in demand are puffs, croissants, Danish pastries, muffins, and cupcakes. Besides these, we have specially made breads such as French baguette, ciabatta, etc.,” offered Kamlesh.

 “The most preferred bakery products with us include customised cupcakes, macaroons, cookies, assorted chocolates, and dry fruits coated with chocolate,” claimed Sunil.

“There are a lot of bakery gift hampers being offered by many bakeries. For this festive season we have a fantastic collection of bakery products ranging from hand-made chocolate hampers, chocolate bouquets, assorted cupcakes and macaroons made from the finest quality of almonds. We have hampers ranging from assorted chocolate bouquets, doughnut hampers, muffin hampers and many more,” Sunil elaborated.

“We, at Four Points by Sheraton, Pune, focus on all types of cakes ranging from designer cakes, vegan cakes, customised cakes, cookies, macaroons etc,” he pointed out further.

 “The special products which we are offering for this festive season are a wide variety of cupcakes, Italian biscottis, tea cakes, homemade marmalade jam, country loaf, handmade chocolates, cookies, dry cakes, candies, jujubes, etc. Besides these, we also have healthy cakes like  gluten-free cake, sugar-free cake, lactose-free cake, eggless cake, wheat cake, multigrain cake, fat-free cake, etc.,” disclosed Joy.

“The Patisserie at DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Pune -Chinchwad offers special designed cakes like Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting, Rasmalai Cheese Cake, Wild Berries Cake, Exotic Fruit Cake, Waffle and Hazelnut Cake, Ice-Cream Cake, New York Cheese Cake, Gulab Jamun Berry Cake, Glacier Cake among others,” he informed.  Joy also said that they were offering a variety of hampers to their guests on festive occasions like Diwali, Christmas, Valentine’s Day, and New Year.

“Hampers are very popular as gifting choices for special occasions. The presentation or the style in which the hampers are put together makes them appealing and make for delightful gifting options. Many bakeries put together hampers, which are assortment of their best products, in different styled bouquets or packing. Many bakeries which operate within hotels, prepare special hampers, which include a mix of juices, non-alcoholic beverages, cookies and chocolates among other treats. At Lords Hotels & Resorts, we offer three types of standard gift hamper baskets, which are made for festive seasons including Diwali, Christmas and New Year’s Eve,” explained Sanjay.

“Bakers have evolved in the way they make and present their products, and this has created much interest in the festive gifting  segment in India. For this Diwali, we plan to introduce an assortment of choices in cookies, eggless brownies, and chocolates,” he added further.

“At festival times, cupcakes and chocolates are the selected choice. People, more often than not, opt for bakery products which are considered healthy, like  cupcakes and tea cakes made with whole wheat as opposed to flour;  products that are gluten, lactose and sugar-free, etc. Some customers even prefer chocolates that have a touch of Indian flavour such as saffron and cardamom, which add the traditional element to the gifting process,” stated Siddharth.

 “At the Sofitel Mumbai BKC kitchen, we are still offering the traditional mithai but also adding a western twist to it. For example, we present almond barfi in the form of a cracker as a garnish to our mixed-fruit and dry cakes, or something as simple as kaju katli dipped in chocolate. The second one is not really that novel since the essence is that of chocolate coated marzipan,” pointed out Siddharth.

Sweet Future

With so many options for gifting in the bakery products, the future of bakery products during the festivities in the country seems to be bright. 

 “We would like to believe that gifting bakery items is here to stay for good and that its market share will gradually only grow in the country. Even the traditional mithai may continue to stay as there is no absolute replacement for these recipes and sweets. With changing times and trends new products will get added to what the market has to offer and the changing lifestyles will decide whether a particular trend may fail or continue to eventually become a tradition,” opined Sanjay.

 “The trend of gifting bakery products will eventually grow in India,” added Sunil. Kamlesh too believes that the trend of gifting bakery products has an enduring future in the country. 

 “This trend of opting for bakery products as gifts will grow further in the country. In today’s times, people are well travelled and are aware of the trends across the globe. However, the challenge is for Chefs and establishments to bring the international products and trends to the Indian market and incorporate those along with the occasion to match our culture and preferences,” averred Satej.

 “Bakery items as part of our celebrations are not a trend anymore. I think they have become part of our lifestyle. Like our traditional sweets are always going to be part of any celebration, so will be the baked goods, because people have developed a taste for them. Many of them also take an active interest in the art of baking by baking at home and trying new baking recipes or by exploring options available in different bakeries,” explained Richa.                                                                                          

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