The secret to baking good vegan baked goods is to make sure they don’t taste like vegan baked goods. To many people, the idea of a sweet treat without butter, eggs or cream seems wrong. “Eggs make things fluffy, milk makes things moist,” said Gabriela Gutierrez ’12, a junior in Calhoun and a lifetime baker, after trying Willoughby’s vegan peanut butter and jelly muffin. “When you have none of those things, you end up with a brick.”
Yet there are many reasons why people are seeking out vegan desserts in greater numbers than ever before. While some of these people are exclusively vegan, others, like myself, have trouble digesting dairy. And then there are those who think that eating vegan is inherently healthier. This latter group tragically fails to realize that what these desserts lack in butter and eggs they make up for in cups of pure oil.
Unfortunately, despite the copious amounts of oil put into many vegan baked goods to give them the illusion of decadence, most of New Haven’s offerings fall short. Willoughby’s sad attempt at a vegan muffin is as dense as a baseball. Eating it requires an amount of effort I’m only willing to put into scavenger hunts. It’s like a vaguely sweet dog treat.
Claire’s offerings are even worse. I brought one of their vegan chocolate chip cupcakes home to my suitemates, who described it as “fishy,” “salty,” and “reminiscent of coconut.” I personally thought the icing tasted like what (I imagine) marijuana would taste like. The cupcake did manage to get down the proper texture, a difficult feat considering its lack of eggs or butter. It was moist and just-dense-enough, and the frosting, despite its fish/pot flavor, was fluffy.
Their vegan and gluten-free ginger snaps (or should I say ginger pucks?) are probably the worst thing that’s happened to baking since the fruitcake. I feel sorry for the oven. The snap tasted like what (I imagine) rat poison would taste like: bitter, spicy and vaguely chemical. The texture was also a disaster — it’s never a good idea to make a dessert both vegan and gluten-free. You might as well just eat a raisin.
Book Trader’s vegan goods are certainly more palatable, though still fail to rival what a normal person would eat. Their vegan chocolate cake is sufficiently rich and chocolatey, but its chalky texture and lingering aftertaste, the unmistakable signs of shoddy vegan baking, keep it on the wrong side of delicious. Alexandra Addison ’12, another junior in Calhoun who eats cake like it’s her job, found this one to be “gritty and dead-tasting.” Book Trader’s pumpkin bar, as well as their trail mix bar, are reliable vegan alternatives. They’re moist, sweet and chewy, and would go nicely with a bold cup of coffee.
If it’s decadence you want, look no further than Blue State Coffee’s vegan chocolate cupcake. It tastes like a cupcake is supposed to taste — rich, fluffy, chocolatey — and could easily fool your average seven-year-old. And they put sprinkles on top! That’s a fun touch. Sometimes people forget to have fun with vegan baking.
Annabel Kim GRD ’14, a vegan graduate student, acknowledged that vegan baked goods are often accused of being “deviantly/sneakily healthy,” but that it’s sometimes not deserved. Kim enjoys Book Trader’s chocolate cake, as well as peanut butter cookies at Elaine’s Healthy Choice.
If you’re really craving sweet treats sans animal byproducts, I advise you to make your own — you can easily find recipes on the internet — or even take the train down to New York City. Babycakes, Little Lads, and Whole Earth are all excellent vegan bakeries just a hop a skip away!