Chef Marisa Churchill: Skip Calories, Not Dessert

Pastry chef and author Marisa Churchill doesn’t buy the notion that dessert can’t be part of a healthy lifestyle. And to prove it, the effervescent chef made four dishes for guests at

Chef Marisa Churchill and Chef Rachelle Boucher taste biscuits.

Chef Marisa and Chef Rachelle try the biscuits.

Fresh Starts Chef Events – all chock-full of luscious flavor but missing much of the fat and sugar.

No one felt deprived eating her creations since the “proof was in the pudding” that recipes light on calories can be delicious too. Or in this case, the proof was in the Feta and Dill Biscuits, Flax and Quinoa Granola Bars, Carrot Cake and chocolatey Fudge Popsicles.

Students placing biscuits on plates

Students plate Feta & Dill Biscuits.

All the recipes came from the upcoming book to follow “Sweet & Skinny,” her first collection of 100 sweet plus savory items. As she ran through the recipes with help from Chef Rachelle Boucher, Fresh Starts Culinary Academy students made and served them for guests.

With “Sweet & Skinny” named one of People magazine’s top cookbooks, it’s no surprise that Chef Marisa has been appearing regularly on “The Talk” on CBS-TV and will be filming 20 episodes for a new healthy baking show. She’s created pastries at San Francisco hot spots Ame, Lulu, Rubicon, and the Slanted Door along with competing on “Top Chef” and being part of various Food Network challenges.

Pouring carrot cake into pans

Chef Marisa makes carrot cake

Trained at the California Culinary Institute and the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone, she also holds nutrition certification from Cornell University. Her depth of knowledge showed as she explained the science behind lowering fat and calories by substituting ingredients—such as Greek yogurt, pea protein, gelatin, sorghum flour—that retain the desired taste and texture.

Chef Marisa doles out plenty of tips on advantages of ingredients like coconut oil (it’s those medium-chain fatty acids), dairy-free cream cheese (used in the frosting for the gluten- and dairy-free carrot cake), and puffed quinoa (healthier than puffed rice). She talked about TV challenges, such as building an edible city in eight hours (you can watch it on YouTube).

When you try to fit so many activities into one career, time is short. And Chef Marisa says, “Life is too short not to eat dessert.” — Contributed by Carol Inkellis with photos by Neely Wang.

Fudge Popsicle from Marisa Churchill

Fudge Popsicles

Fudge Popsicles  — Makes 8 – 10

2/3 cup agave syrup
1/4 cup unsweetened Dutch processed cocoa
2 cups reduced fat milk, divided
1 teaspoon gelatin
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Pinch of salt

In a small pot, combine the agave and the cocoa powder. Pour 1¾ cups of the milk into the pot and whisk until thoroughly combined.

Place the mixture on the stove and cook over medium heat, while whisking occasionally. Meanwhile, place the gelatin in a small bowl and add the remaining milk, set aside to soften.

When cocoa mixture is hot and well combined, pour in the remaining milk with the softened gelatin. Whisk until smooth. Remove from the heat, then whisk in the vanilla and salt.

Pour the mixture into the popsicle molds and freeze for at least 5 hours and up to 2 weeks. If you lack molds, you can use plastic cups with popsicle sticks held in place by plastic wrap.

Marisa Churchill makes popsicles in plastic cups.

Popsicles can be made in plastic cups.

To serve:

To unmold the popsicles before serving, fill a pot with warm water. Dip the molds into the water, keeping the water just below the fill line of the molds. Hold the molds in the water for 15 seconds.

Remove from the water and lift the popsicles out. If they don’t unmold easily, place molds back into the water for another 10 to 15 seconds, until popsicles easily lift out.


About Fresh Starts Chef Events

Fresh Starts Chef Events offers a parade of presentations by celebrity chefs, cookbook authors and artisan producers in The Key Room. Visit the online calendar at for upcoming events. Our list of presenters includes luminaries from the worlds of food, wine and restaurants who share stories, demonstrate techniques and offer tips on making the most of our local bounty. You can register online for upcoming classes or call us for more details at 415-382-3363 x243. Proceeds from our events support shelter and job-training programs at Homeward Bound of Marin; learn more at and
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