Kate Rockwood

Trend Spotting: Mirror Cakes

When Russian pastry artist Olga Noskova shared photos of her glossy, impeccably decorated mirror cakes on Instagram last summer, the internet let out a collective squeal. From Food and Wine to “Today” to bakery industry news sites and personal Pinterest boards, mirror cakes were suddenly everywhere. In-store bakery managers who take advantage of this trend can set themselves apart from competitors with minimal staff training. 

“Grocery shoppers are seeking more novelty. They want to dabble in something new and fun and different,” says Jana Mickey, director of Nielsen’s Perishables Group. “Chasing a trend for center store products takes considerable planning, but in-store [bakeries have] a huge opportunity because they can pounce on a trend like mirror cakes much faster, and gain an edge.” 

“Grocery shoppers are seeking more novelty. They want to dabble in something new and fun and different.”

—Jana Mickey, director of Nielsen’s Perishables Group.

And while the cakes’ smooth-as-glass surface may suggest specialized tools or elusive ingredients, the fact is the average in-store bakery team likely has what it needs already at its fingertips. Below is a closer look at the stunning technique and how bakery departments can capitalize on it. 

Creating a Mirror Image

First thing first: Mirror cakes aren’t actually anything new. “The technique is called mirror glaze, and it’s been around forever,” says Thomas Vaccaro, dean of Baking and Pastry Arts for the Culinary Institute of America. “It started in France and has since spread, but it’s mainly used by pastry chefs in grand hotels and restaurants.” 

Gelatin, water and sugar are the holy trinity of mirror cakes, but you’ll want to add a milky component as well, such as cocoa and creme fraiche or sweetened condensed milk. “That gives it some viscosity, so it’s easier to pour, and gives it that translucent color,” says Vaccaro. 

That glaze can then be poured over any cream-based dessert, whether that’s dime-sized mousse entremets or a cake bearing buttercream frosting. The cream barrier is essential to ensure the glaze has something to sit atop as it sets. Without it, the glaze will absorb into the cake like a sponge. As the glaze sets, it develops a high shine. “Mousses and creams tend to absorb flavors in the fridge or from the air, but a mirror glaze acts as a little shell to protect the cake,” Vaccaro says. “It’s not exposed to air or refrigeration, so when someone cuts into the cake, it’s still soft and moist and fresh.” Not to mention eye-poppingly pretty, and many bakeries are taking notice of this trend and incorporating the technique to traditional baked goods. At CupCakery in New York City, bakers are even applying mirror glazes to full-size wedding cakes.

When bakers are ready to pour the glaze, they should keep their thermometers handy: The glaze should be brought down from boiling mirrorcakesto a lower temperature (between 110 and 120 degrees) before it’s poured over the cakes. The shine will increase as the gelatin sets, at 87 degrees. Vaccaro, who teaches the technique at the Culinary Institute of America, suggests putting cakes or entremets in the freezer before applying the glaze. “There’s a little magic there, in having a frozen cake: You wind up with a nice, thin coat that sets faster, because the frozen cake brings the temp down more quickly.”

While enrobing a cake may seem more wasteful than applying a frosting, that doesn’t have to be the case. Have bakers put a sheet below the grid before pouring, and they’ll be able to reuse any glaze that doesn’t make it onto the mirror cake. Simply strain it, retemper it and apply to a second cake, says Pastry Chef Gretchen Price, of the pastry blog Gretchen’s Bakery.

Spruce Up to Sell

Mirror cakes are visually stunning with the glaze alone, but bakery teams can also add embellishments like fresh berries or coconut shavings that hint at the flavors inside. “You want the glaze to set just a bit before you apply anything,” says Price. “But it’s fairly forgiving, so you don’t have to be in a big rush.”

Sales of many novelty bakery products have grown significantly over the last five years, Mickey says. Individual portions and bite-size sweets continue to be strong performers, and grocery shoppers seem to gravitate toward distinctive offerings, whether that means unique flavor profiles, like savory cupcakes, or rare decorating techniques, like mirror glazes. 

Putting mirror cakes in the display case may go a long way toward grabbing shoppers’ attention. However, to take marketing efforts even farther, bakeries can consider moving cake decorators from behind closed doors to behind the counter—especially when working with visually appealing, surprising new techniques like mirror cakes. “Having the cake decorator right behind the counter showcases the bakery’s capabilities and makes a connection with the shopper,” Mickey says. “It also plays up the importance of fresh perception that’s unique to the in-store bakery.”