Sol's secret ingredient to delicious desserts is cereal
Pastry chef is sweet on breakfast for Moorhead restaurant's dessert menu.
MOORHEAD — Breakfast is often referred to as the most important meal of the day, but for Mandy Dolney, it’s good enough to eat all day.
Dolney is making a name for herself with her cereal-inspired cakes at Moorhead’s Sol Ave. Kitchen, including the current offering, a peaches and cream cake with Golden Graham streusel.
“Cake is my least favorite pastry, I have to say. But I try to make it less boring,” she says. “Cake can be very versatile. It doesn’t have to be fancy.”
Maybe not fancy, but Dolney’s cakes have certainly been creative. There was the After School Snack, a peanut butter cake with grape jelly buttercream, peanut candy and cornflake infused milk jam. For St. Patrick’s Day there was a pistachio Jell-O cake, with marshmallow buttercream, shamrock shake milk jam and Lucky Charms. For Sol’s second anniversary last August, she served a Hawaiian Punch poke cake topped with a lemon butter cream and Fruity Pebbles.
Not surprisingly, her appreciation for cereal goes back to her childhood in Ada, Minnesota, where her mom ran a daycare out of their house.
“Every morning we’d line up cereal on the counter. It was like a cereal buffet,” she says.
That buffet didn’t include the super sweetened options like Count Chocula or Cap’n Crunch, but rather Cheerios, Frosted Flakes, Rice Krispies, Honeycomb and her favorite, Cornflakes.
There’s just that caramelly corn flavor. They are great to bake with in muffins,” she says, adding that she just had them for lunch.
Cereal was a family love affair, she says, noting that her father would sometimes pack corn flakes for lunch and that as a busy family, sometimes late dinners meant cereal or leftovers.
Sometimes Dolney will use cereals as a topping, like the Golden Graham streusel.
“Cereal is accessible. Sprinkles are expensive and don’t taste as good,” she says.
Other times it’s using milk that’s been infused by cereal.
“I love cereal milk. My grandpa would tell me, ‘Be a good Norwegian and drink this.’ I started soaking corn flakes at home just to drink the milk,” she says.
She’s seen that what she and her family love, others love too.
“We love it and our guests love it and we sell out of cake every week,” says Ryan Nitschke, executive chef at Luna Fargo and Sol Ave. Kitchen, where he is also a co-owner.
He says one of his favorites of Dolney’s delectables was the Queen Bee, a honey and graham cake with lavender syrup, blackberry compote, vanilla bean buttercream and honeycomb candy.
The two have known each other for over a decade, back to when Nitschke was the head chef at the HoDo and Dolney worked in housekeeping. She was interested in food and was eventually brought into the kitchen to help make desserts on Valentine’s Day, 2016.
“I never thought I’d work in a kitchen.I didn't know what I wanted to do, but I love food,” she says.
As she established herself in the kitchen, she started tapping into her creativity. She recalls seeing celebrity chef David Chang make milk custard on TV and thought if The HoDo made milk jam why not make cereal milk jam.
Nitschke says the mash-up of cereals and desserts are having a moment, thanks to Chang and his partner Christina Tosi’s Milk Bar chain of bakeries. USA Today called Tosi’s signature recipes, “low-brow, high-brow sweet treats.”
In addition to Sol, Dolney will soon take over baking at the sibling restaurant Luna, creating not only desserts but revamping baked goods for breakfast options. Ultimately she’ll head up the company’s operations in the developing Brewhalla Market.
With so much on her plate, she’s constantly thinking of deconstructing the breakfast bowl.
“I’d love to make cookies with cereal. You could also crumble cereal and use it like a Graham Cracker crust."
Through trial and error, she discovered some cereals don’t work as well for desserts, like that Fruit Loops’ flavor doesn’t last.
Still other overlooked cereals are underrated when it comes to baking potential.
“Grape Nuts get such a bad rap, but they are lovely in muffins,” she says.
Whatever the ingredients, Nitschke is looking forward to diving in.
“The next cake is always better than the last one,” he says.
Dolney appreciates the help and support she’s received professionally, especially since she’s not a formally trained cook.
“It’s been a great learning environment everywhere I’ve been,” she says. “If you’re passionate about something but want to learn, do the work and show up and people will give you a chance.”