If you leave out the butter and eggs from the Nestlé Toll House chocolate chip cookie recipe, you’ll find yourself with nasty cookies at best and a useless mix of dry ingredients at worst.
For vegans—who abstain from all animal products, including dairy and eggs—enjoying typical baked goods can be difficult. With veganism on the rise, the food industry has responded accordingly. Here in Manhattan, two bakeries, the Upper East Side’s Vegan Divas and the Lower East Side’s Babycakes, cater specifically to those with vegan diets. As a non-vegan, I felt obligated to try these specialty treats to see whether they could measure up to the gluttonous desserts I’m used to.
A short cab ride from campus, Vegan Divas is a small store with just a few trays of baked goods on display. The brand is no stranger to New York—its products are available at a number of specialty grocery stores—but Vegan Divas’ flagship store opened just this summer.
The treats are all made with natural ingredients, some of which were surprisingly delicious. The chocolate cake, which was moist and incredibly decadent in its own right, is mostly made with spelt flour, tofu, and chocolate chips. (My previous aversion to tofu was likely a result of never having experienced it in cake before.)
While the blueberry muffins looked appetizing, the aroma and first bite of one revealed it to be a sore disappointment. The texture was off, and something about the flavor was very unappealing.
Vegan Divas also sells a pre-packaged, gluten-free chocolate mousse. Mousse, traditionally made almost entirely from egg or dairy products, would likely be the greatest challenge for the vegan baker. Surprisingly, however, the dessert held its own, its rich flavor making it virtually indistinguishable from non-vegan mousse. All in all, Vegan Divas is a solid 3.5/5 stars, but I think I’ll stick to my breakfast-cart muffins.
BabyCakes, accessible by subway from Columbia, has gained a notable following in New York and beyond. Customers nearly fill the small store and can see right into the kitchen, where fresh goods are loaded onto trays and into display cases.
BabyCakes offers baked goods to fit even trickier restrictions—a large number of products are gluten-free or sugar-free. Rachel Maddow- and Martha Stewart-approved, the bakery boasts a wide selection, from cookie sandwiches (two fresh cookies with delicious frosting in between) to breads. The popular pumpkin chocolate chip bread is moist and surprisingly unflaky, considering the lack of gluten.
The “brownie cupcakes” come in a variety of flavors, the frosting more remarkable than the cake itself (the mocha being very satisfying and the red velvet less so). If you’d rather bake on your own than make the trek downtown, check out Babycakes’ cookbook. On the whole, though more expensive than its uptown competitor, Babycakes gets 4/5 stars.
While these up-and-coming vegan bakeries are somewhat expensive, they offer a healthy alternative to some of NYC’s more hyped stores. Both Vegan Divas and Babycakes merit a visit if you’re in their neighborhoods, whether you’re a true vegan or an omnivore with a love for decadent desserts.