(This article appeared in the Summer 2022 issue of Pastry Arts Magazine)
by Sophia McDonald
Crystal Bonnet used to catch every illness that circulated around her office. Recognizing that something must be out of balance in her body, she tried a raw food detox plan that worked so well she permanently transitioned to a raw, plant-based diet. Her new way of eating didn’t curb her cravings for sweets, so she started experimenting with raw chocolates and other desserts. She sold her treats at local farmers markets, where numerous shoppers asked if she offered classes on raw food cooking. Today, she has a fulfilling career teaching both in-person and online classes and certification courses through her business, Crystal Dawn Culinary. In a recent interview, Bonnet shared advice for entrepreneurs who would like to start their own digital dessert courses, debunked raw dessert myths and dished on one of her latest experiments: red velvet brownies that get their signature color from root vegetables.
How did you get started in the raw food and desserts niche?
In 2013, I was looking for a way to improve my health; I was working in a large office with many people and catching every illness. I knew something was out of balance, so I researched cleanses online and came across a raw food detox meal plan. I purchased it, which was pretty much the beginning of my love and passion for raw, plant-based foods. I started eating raw food dishes, juicing and introducing healing smoothies, my health turned around and I discovered a creative side I thought I never had. I’ve always loved sweets, so when I discovered raw chocolate and desserts, I wanted to dive deeper into learning and started a small farmer’s market business selling raw chocolate and snacks.
And how did you get into teaching raw desserts?
Raw desserts became my main focus. Not only did I enjoy them, but it was where I could be most creative. The textures and colors you can create with raw, plant foods are amazing. When working at the farmer’s markets, I had customers asking me for raw food classes; I started teaching small classes at home and eventually received opportunities to teach raw chef certifications, one-on-one courses, and vegan café owners. I had some requests for raw dessert certification courses, so I created a curriculum I taught in person. I received requests for classes from people in other countries, so I eventually decided to put the curriculum online. I had some experience with online courses and knew this course was missing in the niche market, so I decided to put this online to reach more people.
The textures and colors you can create with raw, plant foods are amazing
What tools and resources do you use for your online teaching?
The LMS platform I use to house my online courses is Thinkific. They are an excellent local company based here in Vancouver, BC. I chose this platform because it accommodates my courses in an organized way that no other platform could at the time. My courses are certification courses with assignments, learning assessments and multiple videos per lesson, so I needed a true LMS platform that would be user-friendly for the students. I do not film my courses myself; I hired professional videographers for all my courses. It was really important to me in the beginning to have everything top quality. I also did not have the space to film; I rented Airbnb’s to film all my courses until recently.
There are many tools and resources used in the online course industry; it’s hard to name them all, but I’ll list the ones you will most likely need to start on top of the learning platform you choose. Any LMS platform should integrate with Paypal and Stripe to collect payments. This allows the students to pay with Paypal or credit card. I use Zoom, of course, to hold our monthly calls and Calendly, which is a scheduling software. I do my own food photography, so I use Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop to edit my photos.
My sales pages are on WordPress and I use Elementor as the design tool. You have the option to build your sales pages in Thinkific but the design capability is limited unless you know how to code. For website hosting, I use Kinsta and when starting any business, I recommend setting up an accounting software asap! I use QuickBooks; I don’t know if it’s the best for online businesses, but it’s serving me fine at the moment.
What advice do you have for professionals who feel they are ready to create a course or program relating to their particular dessert expertise?
I would say the first place to start is creating the course. Decide what kind of course you want to offer and your target audience. Then start with an outline and develop the curriculum. That is the most important part. Once you have that figured out, you can start filming and building it out.
Once you have your course and you know how you would like to deliver it, I recommend signing up for all the free trials on the LMS platforms and start building out your course in each one to see which platform is the most user friendly for you and will accommodate your course the way you want. Hire out help where you need it! There is so much to learn and getting help where you can will save you a lot of time and frustration.
What was the hardest part of getting your online teaching business started?
The hardest part for me was financing. I started with a comprehensive course – the Raw Desserts Chef Certification, which now has over 100 videos, so hiring videographers for this project was a costly investment. The technical work also for me to this day is challenging because, as a creative, I’d rather be in the kitchen creating, but most of my time is spent on the computer. I hired a Thinkific expert to help me set up my Thinkific site and do all the integrations. It was all way over my head and I had to focus on reviewing videos and creating the curriculum. As I mentioned above, don’t be afraid to ask for help! When I started, I did not have a large audience, and you don’t need one to offer an online course. Start small and build from there.
I’m also a little obsessed with chocolate, so I’m all in anytime I can pair a new flavor with chocolate. For my cookbook, I created a double chocolate red velvet brownie with fresh beets; it’s one of my favorite recipes.
What are the common misconceptions that you find people have in relation to raw desserts?
The most common misconception from someone new to raw desserts is they don’t taste good because they are healthier. This is furthest from the truth because raw desserts are made with natural, whole foods that hold most of the flavor. Once they try them, most people say they are more flavorful than their baked counterparts. I’ve also had students who came from a baking background say that raw frostings are much easier to work with than traditional buttercream.
The other misconception is that all raw cakes are made with cashews and dates. While cashews are an excellent ingredient to create a creamy texture in raw frostings and raw cheesecakes, I also create layered cakes that look and have the same texture (if not better) than baked cakes without using cashews or dates. I also use fewer dates than most raw dessert chefs because they are too heavy when paired with nuts and other fats. In most of my crusts, I don’t use dates at all.
The last common misconception is that the ingredients used in raw desserts are expensive. While they can be costly if purchased at retail, I encourage the students to buy in bulk and wholesale, saving a lot of costs. I have sourcing lists in my courses with student discounts and educate them on where to purchase them at wholesale prices. We also make ingredients from scratch, such as oat flour, coconut butter, and almond flour. Almond flour, for instance, is more expensive than processing down whole, raw almonds, which I use a lot of in my crust bases.
What are some of the most challenging parts of creating raw desserts that people tend to struggle with?
Definitely the preparation and organization, because you’re not using processed ingredients. Raw foods require more prep, especially if you’re making ingredients from scratch and soaking and sprouting to make the foods more bioavailable. It could seem overwhelming when you’re first starting, especially if you have never worked with raw food before. But like with anything new, once you get the hang of it and have more practice, it becomes easy and you develop a flow. I don’t think the methods, equipment and ingredient sourcing are more challenging than cooking or baking. If you’re using any piece of new equipment, it could be challenging at first until you get used to it, just like any new method you’re learning.
The process of preparing raw food teaches you how to be more organized. If you’re an organized person and already possess this skill, it will be easier for you. If you are not, then it might be more of a challenge. This is why I set up my courses the way I do; you start with the basics and then move on to the practical work. In our new course – Raw Food Culinary Academy, because we teach all areas of raw food, we really focus on organization, scheduling your recipes and preparation. Once you find your groove in the kitchen, it gets much easier.
What are some of the flavor combinations you’re currently playing with?
I recently finished writing a cookbook while I was creating a new course, so I was experimenting with many different flavor combinations. A couple of surprising flavor combinations I used in both projects were beets, raspberry, chocolate and balsamic. I recommend trying it out; it’s definitely a winner. I also love to use spices and herbs in raw desserts where they make sense, such as thyme and rosemary with orange and cardamom with almond. I’m also a little obsessed with chocolate, so I’m all in anytime I can pair a new flavor with chocolate. For my cookbook, I created a double chocolate red velvet brownie with fresh beets; it’s one of my favorite recipes.
The process of preparing raw food teaches you how to be more organized.
What’s your favorite raw desserts of all time?
It is difficult for me to pick a favorite; when I create a new recipe, I’m famous for saying, ‘This is my favorite recipe.’ Most of them are my favorite, but I will name a few of my current favorites. I tend to favor the chocolate ones more only because I love chocolate. The current favorites I created for the new cookbook are the Mocha Crisp Cheesecake because the texture and flavors of the crust on this cake, paired with chocolate and coffee flavors, are outstanding. The crust melts in your mouth. I mentioned briefly above the Double Chocolate Red Velvet Brownies. These were a huge success because I wanted to create a raw brownie that resembled a moist baked brownie and this was achieved using fresh beets to provide moisture and body along with other ingredients to create a cakey texture. The brownies are topped with a dark chocolate ganache and white chocolate marble; it’s one dessert I could eat every day. I also created a Tiramisu Cake for the book: a three-layer cake with ‘baked’ cake layers, mascarpone ‘cream’ filling, double chocolate frosting, and an espresso cacao dust. It is one of those cakes you would never guess is raw.
Can you share a technical tip related to making that dessert?
Yes, of course! Use molds to mold your desserts. I use an 8-inch square pan to make the brownies, line the pan with parchment paper and press the brownies into the bottom of the pan. To even out the top, I use the back of a soup spoon. I use small springform pans to mold the cake layers and of course, for the cheesecake. When I pour a filling into a mold or springform pan, it’s important to lightly tap it on the counter or a hard surface to even it out and release any air bubbles that have formed.
What’s on the horizon for you for the future?
I’m currently creating and filming some masterclasses to offer smaller courses for those who want to learn my recipes but would not like to enroll in a complete certification program. My first published cookbook, The Art of Raw Desserts, is also set to release in early December; it’s actually available for pre-order now. And beyond that, I hope to have the opportunity to keep growing my business and sharing my passion with others.
Online Courses – https://crystaldawnculinary.com/courses/
Cookbook Pre-Order – https://crystaldawnculinary.com/shop-2/
Instagram – https://www.instagram.com/crystal_dawn_culinary/
Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/crystaldawnculinary
Email – [email protected]