Paleo Desserts: Pastry Chef Alyssa Dole Fills us in
Sick of hearing about paleo this and paleo that? We were too, until we met Corner Table's pastry chef Alyssa Dole and tried one of her desserts made with almond and coconut flour, sans butter, sans dairy, and actually enjoyed it. We enjoyed it so much, that it inspired us to find out more about this up-and-coming chef's background, cooking style and what else she's creating at Corner Table, which has its own special paleo menu. Dole's turning skeptics into believers with her special paleo, raw and vegan desserts at the upscale restaurant, whether they choose the paleo lifestyle or not.
Zagat: How long have you been with Corner Table?
Alyssa Dole: I've only been here for a few months now. Before I was working at Roots Bistro before they closed. Bruce [Molzan, Corner Table's chef] got my number from Roots' former chef and brought me in. It worked out perfectly, because I myself am paleo, so it's nice to be able to create things that I can eat and try. I'm given complete creative freedom to do whatever inspires me.
Zagat: Why did you become paleo?
AD: I have a gluten sensitivity that I've been dealing with for a while, then I had a diagnosis of arthritis, and that drove me to seek out ways to control it through diet. That stuff is important to me. I feel like food is our medicine and what we put into our bodies is really important. I made that big life switch, and paleo seemed to be the most ideal diet to keep inflammation at bay [for the arthritis].
Zagat: Did you suggest the alternative dessert selections when you got to Corner Table, or did they?
AD: When Bruce and I met, he definitely wanted to expand his paleo dessert options. He had a few on the menu, but he wanted someone who could take that over. I brought the raw/vegan stuff to the table, and he was super excited about that. I think it's really cool that people are intrigued by these raw and vegan desserts, and come back for it.
Zagat: Did you have to rewire your entire cooking style to learn how to create paleo desserts?
AD: The basics are somewhat similar, you just have to re-train using different ingredients. I use almond and coconut as my main flours. At the heart of it, it is the same as far as pastry. You keep your wet ingredients separate from your dry ingredients until the end and little things like that. Having to learn differences between different fats that I'm using has been a challenge. Recently, I ran out of coconut oil when I was making a paleo tres leches. I tried using grapeseed oil instead and it didn't turn out quite as good. The cake was a little more dense and a little bit drier than it was when I used the coconut oil. Through trial and error, I'm figuring out how these new ingredients behave. The difference between oil and butter - how are things going to turn out? They're all fat, but baking you have to be a little more scientific with it. Even with traditional pastry - someone opening the oven can ruin a cake or make it fall. With paleo, I've found it's actually a little bit easier. The flours aren't as sensitive. Someone can open up the oven in the middle of a cake baking and it's no big deal. So that's been nice.
Zagat: What do you think the percentage is between traditional desserts on the menu and paleo or raw/vegan items?
AD: It's probably about 50/50, because we group the raw, vegan and paleo together. What I try to do is create paleo versions of things that I'd be missing out on. One of them is gingerbread. It was something we always ate growing up - it was my dad's favorite dessert - and that's why I introduced the paleo gingerbread now that it's the season for those kind of flavors. I really wanted to create things that people with dietary restrictions can still enjoy. Chocolate cake, or an apple crumble pie, and not have to break their diet.
Zagat: What are some surprises you've encountered - good or bad - trying to come up with new desserts?
AD: One that I tried, that I was actually really excited about was a paleo chocolate lava cake. The cake itself did turn out…it was ok. It had the 'lava,' but just the nature of how many desserts we go through in a pizza oven, consistency-wise, it was not something that we could maintain. I was a little sad to see that one go. I love chocolate lava cake. I do have a lemon raspberry pound cake parfait. That one has gone through some evolutions, but now is settled into what it is. It started off as just a pound cake, and now it has turned into a layer dessert in a big glass Ball jar. We use honey and lemon juice, so you get that moist lemon cake feel, but then I introduced a raw vanilla frosting into the middle, and then a raspberry layer, more cake and then coconut whipped cream. For me, that's been the most interesting evolution of one of my desserts.
Zagat: What are the three ingredients you couldn't live without?
AD: An ingredient that I've become best friends with is actually coconut oil. I use it in the raw and vegan desserts and the paleo dishes. Definitely almond meal, or almond flour (it's the same thing). It's blanched almonds that are ground up. And then raw cocoa powder. I go through a lot of that. I need four, though. I need to add agave nectar in there too.
Zagat: If a paleo skeptic came into your restaurant, what desserts would you feed them to change their mind?
AD: The raw avocado mousse first. That one is the most outside people's comfort zones. Using an avocado as the base of a dessert mousse really throws people off. But, once you eat it, it's sweet, decadent and rich, but doesn't leave you with a really full, heavy feeling. It's three layers. The bottom layer is the chocolate avocado mousse - there's only three ingredients in that. Then there's the raw ganache layer, just like a liquid chocolate. It's topped with a coconut whipped cream and some raw cacao nibs for crunch. Gingerbread would be another one. This one, because it's familiar. Those flavors are comforting to people. We serve it with a coconut whipped cream on top and a pumpkin spice paleo ice cream that we make in-house.