Can Desserts Without Wheat or Dairy Still Taste Like Dessert?

Pomegranate bake shop
Pomegranate bake shop
Photo by Gowri Chandra

Got a gluten allergy? An aversion to meat? Or maybe you've got an intolerance for dairy. 

Whatever your dietary restrictions, L.A. is a pretty accommodating place to dine. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals even ranked us the second most vegan-friendly city in the nation this year. 

But while L.A. boasts a wealth of imaginative plant-based restaurants, you'd be hard-pressed to find a good bakery or dessert shop that ditches the dairy, wheat and animal products. 

That's where Pomegranate comes in. The less-than-a-year-old Beverly Grove bake shop offers a menu full of organic and macrobiotic desserts — which sounds like an oxymoron but really just indicates there's no refined sugars or agave; all parts of the fruit, including the skins, are used whenever possible. There's also wheat-and-dairy-free tiramisu, green tea cakes and even crème brulée on the menu.

The real question: Does it still taste like dessert? To our pleasant surprise, very much so.  

Crème brulée at Pomegranate
Crème brulée at Pomegranate
Photo by Gowri Chandra

The show stealer is the crème brulée, which comes as close as possible to capturing the experience of the real thing without ever touching a drop of cream or glob of yolk. The top is caramelized, so you can have your Amélie moment and eat it too (if you’re into such things). The innards, pleasantly custardlike, are a purée of pumpkin, coconut milk and maple syrup, all thickened with kuzu root starch. Novelty aside, this vegan crème brulée is successful even by omnivorous standards (the only standard, of course, by which to judge plant-based fare).

Annie Yamamoto, Pomegranate’s co-owner, acknowledges that she and partner Tsuguhiro Morishima (who also owns Japanese vegan restaurant Shojin in Culver City and downtown L.A.) took on a daunting challenge with the gluten-free and vegan menu. Usually, wheat-free desserts rely heavily on the textural magic of egg to provide moisture and chewiness. Conversely, most plant-based bakeries don’t complicate their endeavors with completely gluten-free operations. But Pomegranate manages to do both.

Chocolate pudding with coconut whipped cream topped with berries
Chocolate pudding with coconut whipped cream topped with berries
Photo by Gowri Chandra

To troubleshoot this double challenge, Pomegranate recruited a traditional pastry chef from Ishikawa, Japan to start blending different gluten-free flours including sorghum, almond, oat and rice. The key, she says, is the perfect mix. For moisture and sweetness, rice syrup and maple syrup are her pantry weapons; kuzu starch, an unrefined root powder popular in Japanese cooking, is used to thicken puddings. Most of her desserts use canned coconut milk; she says soy milk has a divisive flavor that some people dislike.

As for the shop’s signature green tea cake, coconut milk and coconut butter are used for moisture, as well as rice flour and flaxseed meal to achieve the spongy texture that is so elusive in gluten-free pastries. The shop’s other offerings include mousse cakes of varying permutations — raspberry chocolate, orange chocolate; tiramisu — and an intriguing butterscotch cream over coffee jelly. Equally compelling are ice cream sandwiches no larger than a half-dollar. The real challenge here isn't the texture or the taste — it's not consuming them in just one bite. 

Layered green tea cake with green tea mousse, red bean mousse and green tea sponge, studded with mochi
Layered green tea cake with green tea mousse, red bean mousse and green tea sponge, studded with mochi
Photo by Gowri Chandra

Pomegranate, 8556 W. Third St., Beverly Grove, (424) 335-0506, pomegranatela.com 

Correction: A previous version of this post misstated several of the ingredients; it has been revised to reflect those changes. 


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