After finally locating Winsome, a cozy restaurant nestled in the bottom floor of the Elysian building in Echo Park, I was charmed not only by the sun-lit space and watercolor wallpaper but by the wide-ranging small-plate–focused menu. Crispy tofu with marinated peppers, Thai basil and puffed wheatberries won me over despite my dislike of tofu, and the shelling bean and whipped feta spread on rustic toast was the perfect textural combination of creamy and crunchy.
With a full stomach, I was ready to pass on dessert when a particular item caught my eye: a baked Japan. I’ve always been a fan of baked Alaska, whether the classic version with Neopolitan ice cream or Faith and Flower’s spumoni baked Alaska with an absinthe flambé. This version of the dessert promised La Colombe coffee semifreddo with miso butterscotch and Nigori saké fondue. The dish that arrived bore little resemblance to a baked Alaska, with a puffed rice cracker resting on top of the flambéed semifreddo. It was an exploration into new flavors, with the umami-rich butterscotch playing with the coffee semifreddo and crunchy Rice Krispy-esque cracker.
Curious how this dessert came into being, The Clever Root spoke with Winsome pastry chef Leslie Mialma to find out the origins of her baked Japan.
The baked Alaska is a classic dessert. Where did you get the inspiration to create your own version?
My idea for the baked Japan stemmed from two roots: my love for miso in sweets and a memory of a baked Alaska we did for a dessert at the first restaurant I worked at. I had an obsession with sculpting the meringue in whimsical peaks when I was producing trays of baked Alaska for dinner service.
The dinner menu for Winsome is eclectic, from crispy tofu to lamb ribs with cucumber. Why choose Japanese flavors for this dish?
I’ve loved miso since I was a kid but hadn’t had it with sweets until working under Adrian Vasquez at Providence. Since then, I’ve been a bit obsessed with the stuff, trying it in everything from the meringue and sauce in my baked Japan to the miso butterscotch pie I put out for brunch. For the baked Japan, my idea came from trying to incorporate those flavors into a dish, so my thoughts were to create a play on tiramisu, but using sake as the alcohol. I have tried to bring in Asian flavors and textures wherever I can. To me, they are part of my life as a native Angelino. For me, this is the beauty of Los Angeles. The diversity surrounds us and is part of our daily lives, and this was something I strive to bring to Winsome. I want guests to experience how the diversity of our surroundings can be expressed through food.
What’s the process of creating this dish—how are the miso butterscotch and Nigori saké fondue made?
Traditionally a baked Alaska is made with ice cream, but since I do not have an ice cream maker in-house I have opted for a semifreddo instead. The miso butterscotch is very simple to make, consisting of butter, brown sugar, cream and miso paste. The Nigori fondue is a warm ganache using dark chocolate, which is then spiked with warm saké.
Any cocktail or wine pairings that would go well with the dessert?
I would pair the dessert with a nice chilled Nigori saké.
What other dessert ideas have you been working on?
My most recent addition has been the Malabi, which is an almond milk pudding. I keep it vegan and gluten-free and serve it with market cherries and a granita made with Ras El Hanout, a Moroccan spice mix I make in house. I have challenged myself by keeping a gluten-free and vegan dessert on the menu since we opened for dinner. I find inspiration from food history, botany, world flavors and family traditions.
Visit Winsome online here.