No dairy? No problem. Chefs are heeding the call for more vegan-friendly options, and that includes pastries. When planning menus and sourcing ingredients, they must find sufficient substitutes that don’t skimp on flavor while still adhering to their customers’ needs. These club pastry chefs are well-versed in vegan to find out what works—and what doesn’t.
Going Bananas for Cake
At Onondaga Golf & Country Club in Fayetteville, N.Y., a member-driven request inspired Pastry Chef Alexandra Loewy to create a vegan dessert option for a visiting grandchild. While she had only been working at the club for a few months, Loewy was not only up to the challenge but intent on providing a lasting—and tasty—memory for her guest.
“Having dessert options that are more than just a sorbet or ice cream really makes members feel welcomed, knowing they can dine with us and have a variety of choices,” she says.
Loewy credits her prior pastry-making experience at New York’s Le Coucou and at Castle Hill Inn in Newport, R.I., for giving her a foundation for appealing to high-end clientele.
“By working private dining events, weddings and sold-out Saturday nights, I was able to adapt quite quickly to private clubs,” she explains. The past two years at OGCC have enabled Loewy to perfect her craft and expand her repertoire.
Current vegan pastry options are available by request for special occasions or events, with Loewy rotating her menu seasonally and incorporating local produce whenever possible. Because she works in a kitchen with allergens and animal byproducts, Loewy ensures a safe product by wiping down all equipment, labeling all her products and communicating her use of vegan-friendly ingredients.
When first devising her vegan pastries, Loewy takes a close look at what she deems “focus flavors” and concentrates on finding complementary pairings. Her vegan chocolate cake, for instance, substitutes bananas for eggs.
“The chocolate is very forward and prominent, and then on the backend, you can find a subtle banana flavor, which complements the overall dessert,” she notes. “Having an alternative that helps amplify the flavor experience, I find to be very beneficial.”
Mastering this chocolate cake has led Loewy to seek out other vegan pastry options, including her current culinary challenge—cheesecake—which necessitates a certain type of taste that’s difficult to mimic.
“While working with vegan ingredients, I have found that some of the butter alternatives can be very salty,” she says. “While that might be nice on a slice of toast, it isn’t exactly what I’m looking for in a buttercream.”
Plated desserts aren’t the only platform on which to satisfy a vegan’s sweet tooth. Executive Pastry Chef Mellisa Root of Farmington Country Club in Charlottesville, Va., concentrates on creating confections that range from fruit and chocolate pairings to nut-studded mendiants and dragees (Jordan almonds).
“I have always had vegan confections in my repertoire as a confectioner,” she says, “as there are so many delights that are naturally that way.”
One such standout on Root’s roster involves extensive preparation and results in a showstopping presentation for Farmington members. To create an orangette dressed in dark chocolate, the orange peel undergoes a two-week candying process, along with a six-week maturation. Her favorite part follows: “We will roll out the enrobing belt into the guest area and enrobe in front of the guest, which makes for such a fun, interactive element to a chocolate station,” explains Root. She also fashions raspberry O’s in a similar way by enrobing raspberry pâte de fruit.
When crafting her vegan confections, Root does not often rely on substitutes for such things as egg whites or honey. “I can make enough vegan options to be inclusive for those guests without compromising flavors and textures for other guests,” she notes.
Of course, crafting a vegan confection comes with its challenges. Root finds vegan marshmallows somewhat tricky “because you have to give up the egg white and the gelatin, both of which make it one of the trickier items to produce as vegan,” she explains. Pulling off a convincing creation requires an extensive knowledge of hydrocolloids and thickening agents for achieving the right consistency.
If You Like Piña Coladas
The tropics have come to coastal New England cuisine by way of a vegan dessert starring pineapple, coconut and other refreshing flavors. It’s all thanks to the handiwork of Pastry Chef Ashley Corrao at Wequassett Resort and Golf Club in Harwich, Mass., where she has been in the kitchen since 2014. The Cape Cod facility began offering vegan desserts at the start of the 2018 season, and Corrao and staff have been finding ways to meet the increasing demand for dairy-free and vegan sweets ever since.
After completing her culinary training at Johnson & Wales, Corrao was able to transition from intern to pastry chef within three years and gained additional experience preparing pastries for outside clubs in the off-season. She stepped up to the plate when her predecessor at Wequassett left for another position, but not before learning the tricks of the trade.
“Our pastry chef experimented with vegan ingredients and recipes, resulting in delicious peanut butter crème caramel, plantains and passionfruit coconut sorbet,” she says. “We wanted to present our guests with options beyond sorbet, as we are a five-star resort and felt it was essential to provide quality vegan options.”
Currently on the pastry menu at Wequassett’s fine dining facility Twenty-Eight Atlantic is one vegan option: ‘Play on a Piña Colada,’ a combination of coconut panna cotta, piña colada sorbet, pineapple crumble and coconut foam. Corrao relies on key ingredient substitutes like oat, coconut and almond when designing vegan pastries.
“Depending on what I’m trying to achieve, I’m partial to certain [substitutes] that don’t compromise on flavor,” she notes. Corrao credits coconut milk for achieving tropical flavors and attests to oat milk working well in chocolate-forward desserts. “I’ve also been exploring products from a wide selection of plant-based stabilizers to swap out gelatine and dairy products, allowing me to achieve the same flavors and textures,” she adds.
When producing vegan breakfast pastries, Corrao focuses on different flavors and textures outside of conventional recipes: Coconut oil, almond milk and vegan cream cheese all play a part, while ingredients like matcha and blueberries help elevate the overall product. Later this season, diners at Wequassett Outer Bar & Grille will be in for another treat when Corrao introduces a vegan version of a Pop-Tart.
“By experimenting with different recipes and ingredients,” she says, “we create delicious vegan pastries that don’t try to replicate the traditional.”