At Cakespy, we're constantly impressed with the leaps and bounds being made in the world of vegan baking. What was once a category of brick-dense, vaguely healthy-tasting fare has really come a long way, what with groundbreaking cookbooks and recipes by the likes of Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero, Hannah Kaminsky, and inspiring sites like Have Cake Will Travel, Veggie Girl and Walking the Vegan Line. Whether going dairy-free for ethical or health reasons (or both), there's a stunning array of baked goods out there which will satisfy nonvegan appetites as well. And for residents of San Francisco, there's a huge reason to get excited about vegan baked goods: Melissa Elliott, who many of you know as Melisser from her blog, The Urban Housewife, has started a wholesale (check out retail locations here) and special order baking business called Sugar Beat Sweets, which focuses on providing locally sourced, organic, vegan baked goods. Swoon. Here's what she has to say about the new business:
Cakespy: First off, we hear that some refer to you as "San Francisco's Sexiest Vegan". (OK, by "some" we mean ourselves, though we, like, know everyone else is thinking it too). What is your response to this?
Sugar Beat Sweets: Ooh geez, well.. thank you? I can think of some damn sexy vegans out there (Morrissey, Joaquin Phoenix, Chrissie Hynde, my husband!), so I'm honored to even be considered in the ranks.
CS: You've been active in the food community through your blog, The Urban Housewife for a while now--what made you want to take the step toward opening your own retail/wholesale business?
SBS: It's no secret, I love to bake. I've always taken pleasure in baking for others & I found myself disillusioned with my career, daydreaming about being in a kitchen instead. I started making custom cakes for people & a local cafe while I weighed my options, then decided to go for it. Additionally, I wasn't happy with the lack of vegan dessert options in San Francisco. I wanted to give local vegans more choices & show people in general that vegan baked goods can be high quality, artisan treats that anyone can enjoy.
SBS: It's so tough to name a bakery, I think I annoyed everyone I know with names! I like sugar, of course & I'm also inspired by music, so I came up with "beat", which can represent music & something you do in cake making, somehow it all came together & "Sugar Beat Sweets" was born.
CS: How has running a commercial bakery as opposed to baking from your own kitchen changed your attitude toward baking?
SBS: I'm not sure my attitude towards baking has changed. I still want to produce desserts that you'd never know were vegan with a focus on high quality, organic, & local ingredients. I just have to approach things a bit differently, as I'm now working in large scale with the recipes I've developed & I don't get to eat the results!
CS: It looks like you're primarily offering cupcakes and cakes for the moment. Do you or will you be offering any other choices?
SBS: I'm considering expanding my offerings in the future. For festivals & events, I'll have whoopie pies & other goodies, but the main focus is cupcakes & cakes right now.
CS: In our experience, a lot of non-vegans approach vegan baked goods warily, or with the attitude that they won't like them because they're "different". Do you have any response to this?
SBS: There's definitely a stigma attached to vegan baked goods. People seem to think it's going to taste "healthy", be dry & flavorless, or have tofu & sprouts hidden in it. While the vegan baked goods of 10+ years ago may have left a bit to be desired, now there's plenty of sweets & treats that taste just like their dairy counterparts, but without the use of animal products! We've come a long way, baby! Just look at "Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World" by Isa Chandra Moskowitz & Terry Hope Romero, I know a lot of non- vegans who own & love the book. I see a lot of cupcake blogs singing its praises.
CS: On your site, your cakes are listed as being frosted with "buttercream". But it's all vegan--what is vegan buttercream?
SBS: Well, "butter-substitute-cream" doesn't sound so hot! I use a soybean oil based butter substitute that functions just like butter, so you have the same fluffy frosting that everyone else is making, without the cholesterol!
CS: Are there any developments or products you'd love to see in the world of vegan baking?
SBS: Easy to make marshmallows, meringue, & angel food cake would be nice. That being said, the vegan world has made leaps & bounds, especially in recent years, so I don't feel deprived in any way, shape, or form. There's amazing, motivated vegan chefs & foodies who are working to develop vegan versions of just about any treat you can think of, so I have faith that we'll have all those things shortly. In fact, I know of a few people on the verge of all three of those things!
CS: What sites, books, restaurants/cafes or people keep you inspired?
SBS: I read a lot of vegan blogs, there's so many great ones out there, people are really working to get veganism to the masses & they're making mouthwatering food, so it's always inspiring. I browse Flickr a bit & the typical cupcake compilation sites to see what's new & hot in the baking world. Cakespy is on my blog feed & is always teaching me about new pastries! (Cakespy Note: We did not bribe Melisser in any way to say that. Like, seriously.) I love Bake & Destroy, of course! Natalie is a dreamboat & her hoodie is in my daily wardrobe. Restaurants using local produce, organic ingredients, & vegan fine dining spots inspire me, like Millennium in San Francisco & Candle 79 in New York City. Basically, people who are passionate about what they are doing, especially those who are doing what's best for the animals & the world!
CS: You're based in San Francisco, and you know how we're interested in regional specialties. What are some of the best in your area--i.e, the things you can only find there, or that you miss when you're away?
SBS: Sourdough bread! I love a good loaf of freshly baked bread with a crusty exterior & tender center. In all my travels, I buy the local bread & I'm always wishing I was eating San Francisco Sourdough instead!
CS: What's next?
SBS: Well, one never knows, but my current plan is to keep blogging at theUrbanHousewife.com, churning out Sugar Beat Sweets artisan cupcakes & cakes for the people of the San Francisco Bay Area, & maybe doing some more video segments, like the one I did for Everyday Dish! I feel very blessed to have a fun & ever changing life, so I'm willing to see where it takes me!
Or, find them at these retail locations:
Rainbow Grocery- 1745 Folsom @ 14th Street / Other Avenues- 3930 Judah Street @ 44th Avenue / Real Food Co.- 2140 Polk @ Broadway / Urban Bread- 3901 18th St @ Sanchez / Mojo Bicycle Cafe- 639-A Divisadero St @ Hayes / Harvest Urban Market- 191 8th St @ Howard
Even if you're not in the area, enjoy the photos here and keep up with Melisser's adventures via theurbanhousewife.com!