We all saw how trendy sourdough became during the pandemic, but this old-school bread isn’t the only baked good that’s seeing a much-deserved return to grace in the 2020s. Fueled in equal measure by a desire to return to the nostalgia of childhood during a time that offers little by way of security, certainty, and reliability, bakers have turned to recipes that remind them of times past: bake sale faves like banana bread or forgotten after-school staples like pudding. They’ve challenged themselves with homemade sourdough or bagels; they’ve pulled out the stained recipe cards for their favorite simple cookies or reached for a tried and true cake mix.
And this return to old-school baked goods is just as present in professional kitchens. In fact, during waves of restaurant closures in 2020, professional bakers and pastry chefs founded microbakeries in their apartment kitchens to fuel the demand for homey, comforting cookies. Bigger companies, meanwhile, appealed to the taste for nostalgia in new (and old) product rollouts.
And the trends don’t end there. Here are some of the biggest comebacks we’ve seen in old-school bakery items since.
Sourdough bread made an explosive comeback in 2020
It’s impossible to talk about recent bakery trends without first addressing the Great Sourdough Explosion of 2020. One of the most immediate fads that emerged following the first COVID-related lockdowns and shelter-at-home protocols was an almost obsessive trend of sourdough bread baking — not just across the nation, but around the world.
According to Refinery29, Google searches for bread recipes hit an "all-time high" in March of the year that brought us COVID-19, and Canadian bread baker Ashley Turner welcomed students from as far as Australia to her online sourdough courses. Bakeries sold or even gave away their long-cultivated sourdough starters, and millions of home bakers got in on the trend.
"I think what happened was, you couldn’t get yeast anywhere in the grocery store, and that’s what people are used to baking with," Turner tells Global News of the sudden spike in sourdough. "I think a lot of people wanted to get back to the basics, and cooking in their kitchens, cooking for their families, and this was one of the ways to do that."
Bagels are back and better than ever
Despite originally hailing from Poland, bagels have long been associated with one of two places: New York or Montreal. But with a Seinfeld-famous classic bagel spot in NYC shuttering pre-pandemic, compounded by the fall from grace of Instagram-able (and, to this New Yorker, wholly baffling) rainbow bagels, the round bread has been well overdue for a makeover.
Enter (bring on the hordes of angry purists…) the California bagel. To hear The New York Times, of all outlets, tell it, California bagel makers "are driving a great bagel boom, producing some of the most delicious versions around."
And California isn’t the only place outside of New York that bagel bakers are finding room to shine. Thanks in part to a rise in bagel consultants and to the debunking of the myth that New York water was what made Manhattan’s bagels so special, bagels are experiencing a resurgence all over the U.S. — both in professional bakeries and at home, as Jason Diamond explored with experiments in home bagel-making for Food & Wine.
These aren’t your mom’s boxed cake mixes
While one subset of the population has taken advantage of the COVID-19 era to really get their hands dirty with ambitious baking projects at home, another group has fled in the opposite direction. Being at home all day and becoming their own baristas, cafeteria lunch ladies, and restaurant chefs has led some to seek out simpler baked goods, and what better tool for those who are sick of being chained to the range than to rely on the tricks their grandmothers used?
Much as housewives of the 50s and 60s relied on convenience foods, so, too, are modern cooks taking advantage of shortcuts, like boxed cake mixes, to bake something with the appeal of homemade sans all the effort. A 2021 market report revealed that high sales growth for cake mixes is likely to continue until 2027, and it’s no surprise: boxed mixes aren’t just delicious on their own; they also make a great base for poke cakes, mug cakes, and more. Some companies have even launched luxury cake mixes to combine the ease of store-bought with the high quality Millennial home cooks so seek.
Banana bread is cool again
Banana bread has long been a bake sale fave, thanks not only to its ease and deliciousness but also to the fact that it naturally helps you use up food that might otherwise be wasted. Maybe it’s the double-pronged culinary nostalgia and increased attention to the issue of pandemic-era food waste that contributed to the increasing popularity of banana bread in 2020. Whatever the reasons, during lockdown, searches for banana bread recipes online skyrocketed a whopping 525 percent.
While there is a whole host of tasty banana bread recipes out there (our banana bread recipe is pretty darn perfect), of particular popularity during the pandemic was a banana bread recipe that called for an Instagram-worthy halved banana laid on top of the cake as decoration.
And to hear Southern Living tell it, the banana bread trend only continued after 2020. The 2021 spin, according to the magazine? Turning the tender quick bread into a decadent grilled cheese by sandwiching luscious Brie cheese between two tender slices of toasted banana bread.
Bread pudding reduces food waste
Much like banana bread, bread pudding is an old-school staple designed with reducing food waste in mind. Up to 40 percent of food is wasted in America, according to experts, and during the pandemic, with staples like pasta and rice flying off the shelves, even more attention was paid to this essential issue plaguing the nation.
Luckily, bread pudding is a delicious solution to the problem, aptly dubbed "pain perdu" or "lost bread" in French. Made by soaking bits of leftover stale bread in a custard and then baking until creamy and set, bread pudding is a nostalgic favorite that’s a popular way to "upcycle" stale bread, according to The Guardian.
Bread puddings can be sweet, as with this cherry pecan bread pudding, or savory, as with this bread pudding pairing seasonal artichokes with gooey cheddar cheese. Either way, they’re a tasty treat that’s thankfully come back into vogue.
Coffee cake is a nostalgic gem
Whether you grew up on homemade or Entenmann’s, coffee cake was likely a constant throughout your childhood. And now it’s back in full force!
Just like banana bread, coffee cake is a quick, easy recipe to assemble with just a handful of pantry staples, boasting the added bonus of a sweet, crumbly topping that’s deceptively simple to make.
Jimmy Fallon is responsible for the cake’s 2021 ascent to reclaimed fame, as he documented tasting the locally famous iteration from New Jersey’s B&W Bakery on his Instagram. In business since 1948, the bakery sells almost 2,000 pounds of the cake every week — and it ships nationwide. So when Fallon filmed himself trying the delightful, cinnamon-spiked cake with his daughters, he created fans of the Hackensack staple all around the country.
And if that wasn’t enough of a reason to revitalize this classic, one 100-year-old Scot credited a daily slice of coffee cake for being the secret to her longevity.
Lemon cake is a dessert fit for a princess
The nostalgic pleasure of digging into a slice of perfectly tangy lemon cake cannot be denied, and it recently soared in popularity when, in the wake of her eye-opening 2021 interview with Oprah detailing the racism she faced in her role within the British Palace, Meghan Markle baked up a lemon and olive oil cake as a thank you to volunteers distributing meals she and husband Prince Harry donated to hungry Chicagoans. That lemon drizzle cake is a favorite of the queen and is perhaps further proof that the beloved monarch was not at the heart of Markle’s beef with the royal family.
Markle allegedly made the cake with lemons from her own California garden — another on-trend choice during the pandemic, when seed packets and soil bags flew off the shelves. Martha Stewart, meanwhile, united two on-trend baked goods by mashing up lemon cake and coffee cake in a recipe perfect for spring.
Pudding is back for a new generation
Pudding has a somewhat unfortunate association to cancelled funnyman Bill Cosby, who began promoting the product for Jell-O in the 1970s. But Los Angeles -based Pudu Pudu sought to completely revamp pudding’s unfortunate and old-fashioned rep, with an Instagram-able Venice Beach shop peddling puddings boasting superfood ingredients like turmeric and pomegranate and, of course, a few plant-based options. Butterfly in the Sky had already become a popular flavor by early 2021 with its Bourbon vanilla pudding, spirulina, banana cacao powder, chocolate curls, and edible jasmine blossom.
"The feedback so far is very positive. People are surprised by what is possible with a product like pudding," Florian Schneider, managing director of Dr. Oetker Hospitality, Pudu Pudu’s parent company, told Santa Monica Daily Press. "Everybody knows it from his or her childhood, but playing with all of these flavors makes it a very exciting experience for them."
Rice pudding was already rising in popularity among home cooks during the pandemic, so it seems likely that this new look at a nostalgic fave will continue to experience success.
S’mores aren’t just for campers anymore
Campfire favorite s’mores are experiencing a resurgence that’s evident in new product launches from top brands in 2021. Jet Puff’d released s’mores flavored marshmallow bites to tide you over til your next cookout, while Hershey expanded licensing for its s’mores branded tools and accessories to help you perfect your marshmallow and chocolate sandwiches this summer.
"Consumers are continuing to find moments of goodness in simple activities like family S’Mores nights and backyard celebrations," Ernie Savo, Senior Director, Global Licensing, told All on Georgia of the new launches at Hershey. "We’re proud that our iconic brands have a place in these moments, and we’re eager to create partnerships that extend that relationship from our snacking portfolio to a complete experience."
And that’s not all: The NadaMoo! vegan ice cream brand also launched a new s’mores flavor in spring of 2021, while over in the UK, posh grocery chain Marks & Spencers launched an oh-so-Instagram-able s’mores brownie you can bake in the oven at home. And for the home cook, the The Wall Street Journal featured a from-scratch, ginger-spiked, boozy s’more recipe that revitalizes the classic.
Hummingbird cake is back and better than ever
Hummingbird cake was once one of the most popular cakes for home bakers, but its popularity fell somewhat to the wayside in the late 20th century. In fact, if you’re not from the South, chances are you’ve never heard of this spiced, pineapple- and banana-scented cake, with its whorls of cream cheese frosting.
For Martha Stewart, hummingbird cake’s fall from grace is due in large part due to the fact that the original is just too sugary for some. In 2020, Vice reported a rise in desserts that were "not too sweet," so this rich, classic cake understandably took a further hit.
But that’s all changing thanks to a 2021 makeover afforded to the cake by Stewart, who relies on better-for-you coconut sugar to add just the right amount of sweetness to the moist base. Compounded with the aforementioned increased interest in banana bread, it wouldn’t surprise us if hummingbird cake continued to rise in popularity long after its resurgence.
Cinnamon rolls are a giant ball of fun
The appeal of gargantuan foods is no secret, with giant pizzas, burgers, and more regularly making the news and appearing on the radars of folks up for a challenge. But while cinnamon rolls are known for their big cinnamon flavor, it wasn’t until recently that one in Ames, Iowa became known for its size as well.
The two-pound, $10 cinnamon rolls at barbecue restaurant Cornbred soared to popularity in March of 2021 when a Facebook photo of server Madison Eibes holding two "Gigantorolls" went viral. By March 20, the Ames Tribune reports, the post had reached more than 1 million Facebook users, and Cornbred Facebook page followers more than doubled.
You don’t need to venture to Iowa to try such rolls either. One journalist from The Washington Post journalist shared her experience baking these delightful rolls with her son at home — yet another example of home cooks revitalizing a nostalgic bakery favorite.
Doughnuts are the perfect post-jab treat
Old-fashioned doughnuts used to be a staple of diners and coffee shops, but today, on-trend doughnuts hail not from bakeries looking to nod to nostalgia but rather from a chain: Krispy Kreme. As the vaccine rollout progresses through the U.S., Krispy Kreme promised a free doughnut to anyone who could present a vaccination card.
And while the free doughnut only applied to the original glazed flavor, there are some other options for those looking to gild the lily (or wallow in their lack of vaccine thus far). In April of 2021, Krispy Kreme rolled out a limited edition Oreo glazed doughnut that doughnut fans were sure to fall head over heels for.
Dunkin’ Donuts, meanwhile, while not offering free doughnuts, certainly contributed to doughnuts’ increased rise in popularity with more than 40 vegan doughnuts joining their menu offerings in spring of the same year. Given the ever-increasing rise in popularity of plant-based diets with more than half of young Americans purporting to be flexitarian by 2021, this step will surely give Dunkin’ its piece of the pie doughnut.