by Eric Ginsburg
Making a pie, even working from a recipe, is a daunting task, especially if the crust is made from scratch. But that’s how Allison Royal accidentally started a family Thanksgiving tradition, using a Martha Stewart apple-pie recipe.
She was only 10 years old.
Royal, who grew up in Greensboro, was fascinated from a young age with the transformation of raw ingredients that would taste terrible on their own — like flour — into meals people would crave. She experimented with different creations, figuring ways to make pancakes fluffier and desserts more memorable.
Throughout a decade working as a hairstylist, Royal always dreamed of opening her own bakery. She would use her coworkers as guinea pigs, bringing in batches of things for them to try, and gained valuable feedback. As time wore on she began feeling less inspired at work and more drawn to her kitchen, sometimes coming home after a shift and baking all night.
Royal started asking for baking equipment at every birthday and holiday, telling her family that it would all go towards opening a bakery some day.
She also struggled with feeling sick after eating the food that she loved. Seven years ago Royal started seeing doctors for gastrointestinal issues and, after an arduous process, figured out that gluten, soy and dairy were her main triggers.
“I’m Italian at heart, so I was heartbroken,” Royal said. “I didn’t want to go without.”
But that’s exactly what she had to do, with a dearth of tasty gluten-free and vegan desserts in particular and most of the existing ones acting as lousy substitutes.
Until she started doing it herself.
There were days when she methodically churned out eight batches of brownies with slightly varied ingredients to perfect the outcome. Things started clicking.
“I ate a lot to get to this point,” Royal said.
And then, around the beginning of the year, she jumped. With some confidence after years of baking and a desire to make a change, Royal shifted quickly from doing hair fulltime to baking desserts.
It started with a Christmas event at the Center for Creative Leadership, followed by the Corner Farmers Market in Sticks & Stones’ parking lot. Then Common Grounds coffee shop started carrying her desserts, and within a few months, Wallflour had spread to five businesses.
Royal still cuts hair on the side, but most of her time is spent running her one-woman business out of her kitchen. The ingredients are all recognizable, many of them local and organic, and they are all whole foods without preservatives.
“What you’re ingesting is going to turn into you,” she said. “I want to fuel people and give people energy.”
That’s why she selects the healthiest ingredients she can: whole grain flour, minimal sugar and no refined sugar or premade flour blends.
Anyone who has tried gluten-free or vegan desserts has likely been underwhelmed. They often come out grainy or gummy without gluten, or unmistakably less enjoyable without butter. Not so with Wallflour.
Royal’s creations are truly a spectacular feat, surpassing not just other gluten-free and vegan desserts both those laden with butter, eggs or sugar too.
Her fruit bars, which she calls “Nirvana” bars, and almond-butter brownies are bestsellers, but the finest products may be the ones she debuts each week at the Corner Farmers Market. The choices vary based on what’s seasonally available and what Royal experimented with that week — that inventiveness is part of what she loves about baking.
Last weekend, Royal featured two desserts about the size of doughnut holes, one chocolatey with peanut butter and chocolate chips on top. The other, which she called “Strawberry-Chocolate Love Cakes,” were arguably the tastiest thing she’s ever made. To attempt description would be to deprive the dish of its glory, but the two-bite delights should probably become a weekly market tradition.
Royal bakes other things too, from custom birthday cakes to loaves of bread. She even makes gluten-free buns for Emma Keys, and they move quickly.
While she’s always busy, Royal doesn’t move fast. She is growing her business slowly and intentionally, making sure she can keep up with the demand and keep putting the same amount of care and heart into each batch.
And she’s happy.
Royal was initially drawn to hair as an artistic expression and a way to make people feel good about themselves, but baking provides the same outlet, she said, but the results are longer lasting and more meaningful.