In recent years, there has been something of a great awakening in the world of "restricted" baking. Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World gave us vegan cupcakes that are not only hip but delicious; books like Veganomicon and My Sweet Vegan have offered recipes that are completely inspiring to the vegan and non-vegan alike. At the same time, authors like Shauna James Ahern are raising awareness about celiac disease and living the gluten-free life in style. It seems natural that as awareness rises, the niche will widen, and more and more excellent vegan baking businesses are having a chance at success these days, and we can all enjoy the benefits! We recently got a chance to catch up with one such business, La Dolce Lulu, an Atlanta, GA environs-based custom order bakery specializing in vegan and wheat-free goods. Here's what we learned from proprietress Lindsey Walsworth about life, cake and the pursuit of the perfect "veganized" recipe:
Cakespy: Do you have a retail location, or do you just work by special order?
Lindsey Walsworth: Currently I am special order only. I am being licensed to sell wholesale, and have had a lot of interest from the West coast--so you may be seeing La Dolce Lulu goodies in coffee shops and organic grocery stores all over! I do plan to have a retail location in the near future, but am having difficulty finding that perfect place.
CS: You specialize in vegan baking. Are you vegan yourself?
LW: I aspire to pure veganism, and have been flirting with the idea for a couple of years now. I am vegetarian, and dairy products gross me out so I guess I'm cheater vegan. My grandfather is a beekeeper, and honey has always been a staple of my diet. I'm trying to kick the habit. For now, I'm vegan in my own house and more flexible when I eat out or when friends and family cook for me.
CS: What is the difference between vegan and gluten-free?
LW: Veganism is the strictest form of vegetarianism where no animal products of any kind are consumed. That means no eggs, no dairy, no honey, and of course no meat or fish. Gluten-free diets are those that avoid a grain protein called gluten. Gluten is found in wheat, barley, u.s. grown oats, kamut, spelt, and a few other grains. Gluten free diets are critical to those with gluten intolerance and Celiac disease. Gluten is what gives conventional flour the elasticity to rise and and stay together when baked, so substituting it can be difficult. Gluten free recipes generally consist of combinations of rice, soy, corn, tapioca, potato, and quinoa flours that produce a more delicate, but still tasty pastry.
CS: Have there ever been baked goods that you have found impossible to "veganize" ?
LW: So I didn't coin the term "veganize"--darn, I thought I was so creative. Anyway....I have one recipe that for the life of me I cannot veganize. It's killing me because it is the simplest recipe in the world when it's non-vegan. I have veganized some pretty tricky recipes in the past, but this simple 4 ingredient confection is stumping me. For now the impossible recipe is a secret (sorry), but when I crack it I'll be sure to let you know!
CS: Do vegan pastries taste as good as dairy ones?
LW: Better! In addition to baking, I am a nanny. I test all my recipes on unsuspecting football-watching dads whom I do not tell the goodies are vegan. Every single test has passed with flying colors, and I've even been asked to make two of their birthday cakes! Ha! Plus, each pastry comes with the peace of mind that no animals were hurt to make it--by avoiding commonly used animal products, my yummies are cholesterol free! Trans fat free! Contain no refined sugars! And are kinder to your body and the earth (it takes 10 times as much water to keep a pasture of dairy cows as it does to keep a field of beans to make my soy milk).
CS: What is the most popular item on your menu?
LW: Mayan chocolate spice cake--OMG, it's delicious. Although recently, the blueberry crumble has been giving the cake a run for its money. I could eat my body weight in both.
CS: You live in the Atlanta area. What type of desserts are popular there?
LW: Decadent southern desserts like bread pudding (which i am trying to veganize), pecan pie (which i detest and have not tried yet), and any fruit pie that a sweet grandmother might make for a holiday or family reunion--apple, cherry, blueberry.
CS: What is the most important aspect in making a good cake?
LW: Making it taste so good people don't think about anything else. If it tastes good enough, people forget to think about calories, forget that they have to send exactly 412 emails before they can go to bed, forget to worry about anything--even if for just a moment. My grandmother, who taught me to bake and was by far the best cook I have ever met, made the ugliest cakes in the world. They fell apart if you looked at them too hard, the icing was patchy and took most of the cake with it as you spread it, in fact most of the cakes looked a little like the dog had gotten to them before you did. But every single one of them was the most delicious cake in the world. The second you ate them it no longer mattered that they looked so bad, in fact nothing really mattered except getting more of that cake on your fork and in your mouth. Now, my cakes look a little better than hers, maybe a lot better... but that's not what I take pride in. I am proud that I can make a cake that tastes as good as hers did, because I think that is most important.
CS: What is the best time of day to eat cake in your opinion?
LW: Oh, anytime really....I never wait until after a meal because tastebuds get wasted on all that savory food. I say the best time to eat cake is whenever the mood strikes and cake is attainable--the stars wouldn't align for you like that if it weren't meant to be.
CS: What are some of the challenges of vegan and gluten-free baking?
LW: How much time you have? The challenges are many. For vegan baking: I was first stumped by how to substitute eggs. They can be used as leaveners, binders, or both--so I had to learn to read non-vegan recipes and figure out what role the egg was playing. Once I figured that out, I had to learn which egg substitutes worked best in which recipes. For instance, ground flaxseed in soy, almond, or coconut milk may work in a brownie recipe and fail miserably in a very similar blondie recipe. Yikes! After the egg problem, came quality problems. A lot of vegan alternatives, particularly for dairy products, contain hydrogenated oils which I am strictly opposed to using. I would rather leave an item off my menu than use a fat so dangerous for the human body. It's taken some sleuthing and some serious online shopping, but I now have all the vegan alternatives I need--and none of them contain hydrogenated oils! For now, my vegan hurdles are pretty much jumped (aside from that secret, un-veganizeable recipe). For gluten-free baking: first, a note: "gluten-free" is a government awarded term for a food item that has been tested by a government agency and qualifies with 2 parts per billion or less gluten per serving. My food has not yet been tested (it's really expensive), so my options are currently termed "no gluten ingredients" for legal reasons. When I have a spare few thousand dollars, my food will be tested. Gluten-free baking is tougher than conventional baking because the flour options-- rice, soy, corn, tapioca, potato, and quinoa--do not have the elasticity of their glutenous cousins. This makes for pastries that don't rise quite as much and can be a little heavy. Mostly, it takes tinkering with flour ratios. I have a super secret ratio that works like magic for pancakes and waffles, but is not so hot for cakes and vice versa. Vegan gluten-free baking is even more ridiculously difficult because non vegan gluten-free recipes can rely on eggs as a binder, so the toughest part has been concocting not only flours that will work, but egg substitutes that work as well.
CS: Are there any bakers, bakeries or cookbooks in particular that inspire you?
LW: Oh yeah. Isa Chandra Moskowitz of "Vegan with a Vengeance" and "Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World" introduced me to vegan cooking. I was throwing a little dinner party at my house and a friend was bringing her new girlfriend to meet us all. And oh no! She was a vegan! What ever will I cook?, I wondered. So I bought Isa's book (VWAV) and got started. The recipes were a great launching point to learn the basics and add my own style. Also, Jennifer McCann who writes the Vegan Lunchbox blog and wrote a book by the same name--her ideas are wonderful, and crazy popular with the kids. Now that i think about it....pretty much every woman in the culinary industry inspires me. It's not a place that women have always been welcome, so I'm glad to see women chefs out there making their marks and being successful.
CS: What is next for La Dolce Lulu?
LW: You tell me and we'll both know! But seriously... I have a lot of dreams in my head and only a small amount of money in my bank account. I've been pretty punk about it all until now--buying equipment when i had some spare cash, designing my logo 5 minutes before it was due at the printer, photographing all my food myself with my Canon SD1000 (thanks, Mom!), and kind of rejecting the typical business model. It worked for a while, and would continue to work if I weren't interested in expansion, but I am. I want everyone, no matter their dietary restrictions, to have good food. Whether you are allergic to eggs, have celiac disease, choose to be vegan, or just want the occasional healthier pastry, I think you should have delicious, high quality options. So, I guess what's next for Lulu is full commitment to the dream. I'm going to do what I need to to make it happen.
Want to find out more? Visit ladolcelulu.com. Want more drool-worthy pictures? Check out her Flickr Page. Or perhaps you're ready to make an order? Take that plunge by emailing Lindsey at