We are thrilled to share our latest interview and article written for Inked Magazine (01/16/15 / Photo by Kencredible / ).
Death by (Cruelty Free) Chocolate
Whether you love Valentine’s Day or scorn it with the name “Single’s Awareness Day” (SAD for short), you can’t say “no” to a delicious chocolate box filled with peanut butter cup coffins, white chocolate bones, and caramel-filled anatomical hearts. The beautifully crafted treats found in the Fatally Yours Gourmet Chocolate Box are to die for. But wait, this darkly humorous goody box filled with candy skulls and bones is also entirely vegan. Say hello to the latest dessert package offered by the Bethlehem, Pennsylvania-based bakery, Vegan Treats. Just as the name proclaims, Vegan Treats is entirely plant-based and has become a total hot spot for sweet teeth up and down the east coast. It produces delicious pastries every day, like their new gourmet chocolate box, that have earned it award winning titles, such as American Express’s Top Ten Bakeries in the World in 2012. That’s top ten out of every bakery (vegan or not) in the world.
So how can you make classic, award winning desserts like gourmet chocolate, cannolis and cheesecake without even an ounce of an animal byproduct? We just had to know, so we sought out Vegan Treats founder and pastry master, the lovely tattooed Danielle Konya to learn how her bakery got its start, how she crafted her morbidly delightful Valentine’s Day gift box, and how to make a delicious chocolate snack that’s vegan friendly on our own.
INKED: What first got you interested in opening up an entirely vegan bakery?
Danielle Konya: It was a complete accident. I started baking to satisfy my own sweet tooth and didn’t have a clue that what I was creating was innovative. I never set out to own a bakery. In 1998, when I started baking, vegan desserts for the most part simply didn’t exist. There was a restaurant in Philadelphia that was making vegan cheesesteaks. I was young, and broke, and thought the extra money sounded nice, so I made the restaurant three cakes and dropped them off on a Friday morning. By eight o’clock that night they had sold out and wanted to know if I could bring in 11 cakes the following Friday. Within weeks restaurants in New York City had heard of my cakes and were calling me to get their hands on their own “vegan treats.” A month after delivering my first cake to Manhattan, the New York Times came knocking. I had gone from college student to bakery owner in the span of a few months.
Your website says the first vegan dessert that helped Vegan Treats come about was the Peanut Butter Bomb Cake. Can you tell us a little about that?
Our Peanut Butter Bomb is still one of my own personal favorites. It’s a chocolate bundt cake filled with and topped with peanut butter mousse, encased in Belgian chocolate, and finished with a drizzle of peanut butter. My idea behind it was to make a cake with more whipped peanut butter frosting than cake because I could not stop eating the peanut butter mousse by the spoon-full!
What’s your favorite dessert at Vegan Treats?
That changes every other day. Of course I love the classics and they will always have a special place in my heart, but I always get excited about new ideas or inventions. My new favorite dessert is our Chocolate Speculoos Cake. Speculoos is a Belgian cookie butter and we make a light fluffy mousse and a Speculoos chunky candy filling and sandwich it between two layers of chocolate cake. It’s delicious! Oh! And éclairs! They’re also delicious with a light, whipped vanilla custard filling.
What inspired the Fatally Yours Gourmet Chocolate Box?
I’m not a gushy romantic type and first made these for a friend who shared a darker aesthetic and sense of humor. I don’t know how to do anything half way. I’m more of a “if it’s worth doing, it’s worth over-doing” kind of person. So when I made the original box I went all out with every detail including gold leaf and exotic flavors such as passion fruit. I posted a picture and what was meant to be a funny joke turned into popular demand. The rest was history.
Why take the “fatally” yours approach to Valentine’s Day?
What better way to name a macabre box of chocolates than after one your favorite songs? I was attracted to the title “Fatally Yours” because of the Alkaline Trio song. I shared my idea with the singer, Matt Skiba and when he saw them he said, “Oh shit! That is so rad!” I’ll be sure to send him a box when we finish production.
What are some of your favorite pieces from the Fatally Yours Gourmet Chocolate Box? And how did you design an anatomically correct candy heart?
The peanut butter pieces are delicious, but my favorites are definitely the chocolates with passion fruit filling. Passion fruit and chocolate taste incredible together and not many candy companies pair the two. There’s even Madagascar vanilla bean in the filling. It’s divine, or in this case, “passion-less fruit.” As for the anatomically correct heart, you’re asking me to give away secrets! Perhaps I carve each one out of a block of chocolate with a chisel like Michelangelo creating David… but most likely not.
When designing a dessert or pastry with the idea to not only make it taste great as a vegan treat, but also taste better than non-vegan treats, how do you approach creating a recipe?
It is my belief that all vegan desserts, regardless of how they taste, are automatically better than non-vegan desserts because no animals suffered in the creation of them. My process starts with an idea for something that I want to make and I often have to research how someone would make it using conventional methods. I then have a rough idea in my head of what to substitute and I get to work. Sometimes it takes multiple tries to get the recipe exactly how I like it, and I often need to consult with my staff of professional taste-testers (friends, family, and employees) to get things perfect.
For someone interested in going vegan, how would you suggest they get started?
I always tell people that compassion starts with your fork. The absolute easiest way to make a difference starts with the decision you make every time you sit down to have a meal. Going vegan is not difficult, especially in 2015. There is an alternative to everything and people have worked tirelessly to invent recipes for your favorite foods. You won’t be missing anything! The internet is an incredible tool; use it to your advantage! There is a ton of information on recipes, nutrition information, effective outreach strategies, how to eat vegan on $5 a day (don’t let anyone tell you how expensive it is), and why being vegan is the best decision you can make for yourself, the planet, and the animals we all care about.
Is there an easy vegan dessert recipe you could share with us for people interested in vegan baking?
Here’s a recipe for Chocolate Peppermint Dreams; a delicious vegan cookie that combines chocolate and peppermint, making it a perfect cookie to share around the holidays or something tasty to snack on while you’re curled up with a good book or movie on a cold winter night!
Chocolate Peppermint Dreams
Yields 4 dozen
For the cookie:
- 1½ cups sugar
- 1 cup brown sugar
- 1 cup margarine (protect wildlife, use palm oil-free please)
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 1 cup Tofutti sour cream
- 1 cup cocoa powder
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 3½ cups all purpose flour
- ¼ cup water
- 1 Tablespoon Ener-G egg replacer
For the coating:
- 1 box opened and unwrapped candy canes
- 4 cups confectioner’s sugar
- 5-6 Tablespoons soymilk
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- Red food coloring, optional
In a mixer, combine sugar, brown sugar, margarine and vanilla. Beat until fluffy. Add sour cream and beat again until smooth and creamy. Add cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, salt and flour and beat on medium speed until combined. Be sure to scrape sides of bowl and mix thoroughly. Lastly, whisk water and egg replacer in a separate measuring cup and pour over batter and beat.
Scoop with a small ice cream scooper onto lightly sprayed cookie sheets. Place one inch apart and bake at 350 degrees for 8 minutes. They will rise up and crack but feel soft in the center. As they cool, they will set and fall back down into a chewy, chocolate cookie.
While they’re cooling, prepare topping. In a food processor, crush candy canes and put in a bowl and set aside. In the same processor, put in confectioner’s sugar and puree and slowly add soymilk until smooth. Spread onto cookies and dip into crushed candy canes.
Optional: Add a drop of red food coloring to remaining glaze and drizzle cookies with pink if you so desire.
To order your very own vegan treat, check out the Fatally Yours Gourmet Chocolate Box right here.