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For the Vegan Sweet Tooth

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For the Vegan Sweet Tooth

Food

For the Vegan Sweet Tooth

For the Vegan Sweet Tooth

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Warren Brown's vegan cupcakes Lee Hill, NPR hide caption

toggle caption Lee Hill, NPR

In this week's the Next Big Thing, a not-so-sinful delight — vegan cupcakes. Warren Brown of the Food Network's Sugar Rush is joined by his chief baker. They offer listeners a taste of vegan decadence.

MICHEL MARTIN, host:

I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.

Just ahead, I know you know all about Reggae. But what about Goombay? Straight from the Bahamas. But first, as news people, we're always looking for a scoop, the next big thing. Well, this time, the scoop is in a cup. Cupcakes that is, but not just any cupcake - cupcakes made without any animal product at all. It's known as vegan. We've got two experts on baking with us today. Warren Brown is the owner of Cake Love and Love Cafe in Washington, D.C. He's also the host of "Sugar Rush" on TLC. His chief baker, Mary Meyers is also here.

Welcome to you both.

Mr. WARREN BROWN (Host, "Sugar Rush"): Thank you.

Ms. MARY MEYERS (Bakery Manager, Cake Love): Thank you so much for having us.

MARTIN: Now, cupcakes have been a hot item for a couple of years now. Like there's the whole cupcake wedding cake idea.

Mr. BROWN: We make a lot of cupcakes at Cake Love. I mean they are the number one selling thing we have.

Ms. MEYERS: People like it as an entree into buying a whole cake.

Mr. BROWN: So we call it the starter cake.

Ms. MEYERS: It's a starter cake. And what's more fun than showing up at a party and opening a box of cupcakes. And the wow factor is just huge because of the assortment of colors and flavors and textures.

MARTIN: So cupcakes have always been big. Before we go on, Mary, what does a baking manager do?

Ms. MEYERS: Baking manager tastes a lot, bakes a lot, oversees production and quality of the different baked goods that we're making at Cake Love.

Mr. BROWN: Works a lot, too.

MARTIN: Do you have apprentices? Can I intern? Can I be an intern baking manager?

Ms. MEYERS: Absolutely.

MARTIN: Okay. When did you start offering vegan cupcakes?

Mr. BROWN: You know, we first offered them when we opened in '02, like five years ago, for a couple of months. They sold, but it was difficult to do and we were too new. So we began to offer them again last fall, like in November.

Ms. MEYERS: September.

Mr. BROWN: September

Ms. MEYERS: Actually, yeah.

MARTIN: But why did you want to?

Mr. BROWN: Oh, because people keep on asking for them. I mean, there's a lot of people that eat vegan.

MARTIN: Are most people eating vegan for health reasons, or are there other reasons?

Ms. MEYERS: I think there are a lot of different reasons that people are doing it - ethics, in terms of just food sourcing and agri-farms and agri-businesses has a lot to do with it. But I think people - our culture as a general group are really focused on reuniting with family and friends, slowing the pace of food down. And so going organic or using veganism is another way to do that.

MARTIN: I don't see how. It seems to me it's more work.

Ms. MEYERS: Well, because I think people are taking the time to be in the kitchen and become more knowledgeable about the food that they're actually putting into their bodies. So that they're actually eating healthier food, and the way that they're eating is healthier.

MARTIN: What do you substitute, though, if you were to buy a mix, chances are? I know that's a dirty word. I'm sorry.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BROWN: (Unintelligible)

Ms. MEYERS: (Unintelligible)

MARTIN: Okay. Hold it up there now.

Mr. BROWN: Everything we do is from scratch.

MARTIN: Yeah. Okay. But hypothetically, if someone other than you were to buy a mix, that was the first thing it would say - get some, you know, eggs. So what do you do to substitute for that?

Mr. BROWN: One of the big things we're trying to do is make everything stick together. Eggs have a lot of good properties for making things bind and congeal. There's a product that's called Egg Replacer. It's basically a combination of potato starch and tapioca, just different starches that help to make things bindy.

MARTIN: Where do you get Egg Replacer? Can home bakers get it?

Mr. BROWN: You can get that at retail grocery stores.

MARTIN: Is it refrigerated? Is it something you get...

Mr. BROWN: No, it's like a powder.

Ms. MEYERS: It's like a powder, yeah.

Mr. BROWN: Yeah. Go to the specialty-baking aisle. It's really easy to find.

MARTIN: Speaking of eating, I think you should put your money where your mouth is.

Mr. BROWN: We (unintelligible) that.

Ms. MEYERS: (Unintelligible) to do so.

MARTIN: Or you should put on cupcake where my mouth is.

Mr. BROWN: We've got samples reserved.

MARTIN: Let's do the taste test. How should I do this? Should I just taste blind? Because I don't know...

Mr. BROWN: Go for it.

MARTIN: ...which box you took each cupcake. And now, I'm looking at...

Mr. BROWN: But Mary knows.

Ms. MEYERS: But I do.

MARTIN: Okay. I got two cupcakes. They're both chocolate cupcakes.

Mr. BROWN: They're the same size and shape.

MARTIN: Okay. Now I'm having...

Mr. BROWN: A little wedge.

MARTIN: A little wedge here. Mmm. It's tasty, chocolaty and smooth. And now, I'm going to cupcake B. Yumolish(ph). Equally yum.

Ms. MEYERS: That's great.

Mr. BROWN: Equally yum.

MARTIN: Equally yum.

Mr. BROWN: Really?

MARTIN: I'm guessing...

Mr. BROWN: There you go.

MARTIN: ...that the cupcake on my right is the standard issue cupcake and the cupcake on my left is vegan cupcake. Am I right?

Mr. BROWN: You got it.

Ms. MEYERS: You got it.

MARTIN: Okay. Here is what I noticed. I noticed that the frosting is a little different.

Mr. BROWN: Yeah. Yeah.

MARTIN: But I can't figure out exactly why. It's not as shiny.

Ms. MEYERS: And that's the butter factor.

MARTIN: Okay.

Ms. MEYERS: The vegan cupcake, the frosting in that case is using a combination of vegan butter and vegan shortening. The vegan shorting is a combination of palm, olive, canola oils, whereas the vegan butter is almost all vegetable in base. So we use a combination of the two of those, combined with a vegan powdered sugar. It's not regular powdered sugar, it's vegan powdered sugar.

MARTIN: What's the difference?

Mr. BROWN: It's crazy. When they make sugar and pulverize it into a powder, they use bone char, which is just, yeah, bones from cows, I think, usually the thigh bones.

Ms. MYERS: It's cleaned bones. They make like a cake pie out of it, and then press the sugar through it, which is what gives it a pure white color.

MARTIN: You're kidding.

Mr. BROWN: Right. The oddest thing that I...

MARTIN: How do you hear about this?

Mr. BROWN: Research.

Ms. MYERS: Research.

Mr. BROWN: Yeah, the research and just find out.

MARTIN: How long did it take you to come up with a recipe for the cupcakes before (unintelligible) what's a long time?

Mr. BROWN: From May - May, June, July, August, and not until September were we satisfied. So a vegan is tricky, trickier baking, but very feasible to do.

MARTIN: What has been the response to your new vegan offerings?

Mr. BROWN: It's been good. It hasn't been as like wildfire as we would like.

Ms. MYERS: Yeah. It's been a little hit or miss.

Mr. BROWN: Yeah. I mean, getting the word out is always a difficult question for me as a business. Like how do you get it out there. We don't actively advertise, just because this is not something we've normally done. We don't expect it to be a huge part of the bakery sales.

It's more of a service to customers that we know are out there in this community in D.C., and I think that it will grow with time. It's just going to take a while.

MARTIN: Warren Brown is the owner of Cake Loaf, a bakery in Washington, D.C. He is also the host of "Sugar Rush" on the Food Network. Thanks so much for joining us.

Mr. BROWN: Thank you.

MARTIN: He's also joined by Mary Myers. She is the baking manager at Cake Loaf. Thank you also for joining us.

Ms. MYERS: Thanks so much for having us.

MARTIN: So what's the next big thing where you live? What's on your radar? We'd like to know. Send us an email at tellmemore@npr.org, or give us a call; our number is 202-842-3522. One more time, that's 202-842-3522.

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