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Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Where is my micro-eclair?

Fit for the day after Halloween, the New York Times recently published an article about the trend toward itty-bitty micro-sweets. We're not talking cupcakes. We're talking sometimes elaborately decorated bite-sized goodies.

They're popping up around our city but, as far as I've seen, haven't made it to that many restaurant menus. Starbucks sells a collection of them, "Petites," although they might be more appropriately called mini-treats than micro-treats. (The salted caramel is the best.) Ditto for Seasons 52's test-tube-sized "mini-indulgences."

Alon's makes silver-dollar-sized tarts and eclairs, as does Henri's in Buckhead. These, I assume, are more likely to appear on buffet tables for special occasions than at a restaurant.

One creator of them in our city is Sugar Coated Radical. Besides making chocolates of classic shape, owner Taria Camerino also makes chocolate and hard-candy lollipops in adult flavors. Maison Robert has made little marzipan critters for years, along with classic mendiants.

What makes the itty-bitty desserts so appealing? Some say they provide relief from guilt and allow sampling, otherwise known as multiple portions. Then again:

The psychology of desserts fit for a dollhouse goes deeper than that. Just ask Brian Wansink, a Cornell professor and the author of “Mindless Eating,” whose research into consumption, satiation and human behavior has contributed to the trend toward eating smaller quantities of more alluring foods. Dr. Wansink directs the Cornell Food and Brand Lab, and his studies into consumer choices have become influential in food marketing, packaging and education.

Most people, he said, will be more satisfied by eating a 50-calorie cupcake than a dozen carrot sticks with just as many calories, because the sense of deprivation is less and the craving for “bad” food is calmed, if not entirely extinguished. “Smaller treats give people license to eat it all, which is a very powerful thing,” he said. “Psychologically, it’s exciting and comforting.”

But, he warned, his research also indicates that when eating small foods, people are much more likely to lose track of quantities. “Nobody forgets how many tacos or pieces of pizza they’ve eaten,” he said, “but people are terrible at estimating how many chicken wings they’ve had.”

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