Vegans, celiacs and those with other allergies can now enjoy the baked treats from this hot New York City bakery.
BabyCakes: Vegan, Gluten-Free, and (Mostly) Sugar-Free Recipes from New York's Most Talked-About Bakery
By Erin McKenna
Even if you’re thousands of miles away from New York City, I’m willing to bet that you’ve at least heard of Babycakes NYC, the 100% vegan bakery on Manhattan’s Lower East Side that also caters to celiacs, diabetics, and above all else, people who really just want good cake. Like the answer to a prayer, this hot spot has been thriving since it opened in 2005, and is in fact doing so well that there are plans to open a West Coast outpost in Los Angeles. That’s the second most exciting morsel of news that Erin McKenna, the proprietor, has to share with her fans (who include celebrities such as Pamela Anderson, Zooey Deschanel, Mary Louise Parker and Natalie Portman). The first is that no matter where you live, you can now enjoy all of her wonderful sweets, thanks to her newly released cookbook that portends to divulge her highly-sought secrets.
So, what’s the secret, you may wonder? As a vegan baker, I certainly did. Quickly flipping through the pages in a mad rush not unlike a sugar high, my first thought was that it must be all that coconut oil. Yes, what was truly striking was how much coconut oil these recipes called for, and pretty much no other type of fat at all. That, plus the special gluten-free flour mixes, powdered soymilk, coconut powder and so on make each recipe a fairly expensive venture. At the very least, it certainly explains the bakery's relatively steep prices. You’re definitely paying for quality here though; there are few ways around such expenses if you want to make a dessert without refined sugar or flour that’s still edible.
Immediately I was drawn to making cupcakes, the focal point of this little bakery—especially noteworthy for their delectable frosting. The book would have been worth buying if only for the frosting recipe. But unfortunately, I never could get it quite right. After turning into a lumpy, curdled mess, only an overnight stay in the freezer and then a vigorous second blending helped smooth the mixture out at all. But even then it was far too thin to consider piling on top of a cake. It pains me to think of the the whole 1-1/2 cups of coconut oil that was wasted.
(Editor’s Note: Appearing on the Martha Stewart Show, Ms. McKenna mentioned that she used coconut milk in her frosting. The recipe uses no coconut milk, but coconut oil and liquid and dry soy milk. Babycakes NYC is a soy-free bakery. So apparently, not all secrets are revealed in this book.)
The chocolate cupcakes worked out just as written, rising just above the papers to achieve nice flat tops (see photo above). Alone, they weren’t much to talk about, and did have a slight beany flavor thanks to the garfava (garbanzo-fava bean mix) flour, but overall were decent gluten-free cupcakes. Frosted, I’m sure these would be downright delicious.
Photo of cupcakes (above) and blondies (below) © Hannah Kaminsky, http://www.bittersweetblog/wordpress.com.
While they may look like short cupcakes, these are actually gluten-free Blondies. Curious as to how such a creation might be possible, I couldn’t resist these round little sweets. Strongly flavored with vanilla, I loved the taste, but the texture left a bit to be desired. Much more like a moist cake than a blondie, I would simply call these “tea cakes” if serving them to an uninformed crowd. Still, they may not be for everyone, as my mother announced that her “favorite part about these were the chocolate chips.”
Going for one of the non-gluten-free recipes, the Raspberry Scones seemed promising. Very simple in construction and made with hearty spelt flour, these are something you don’t need to feel guilty about eating for breakfast. Again, they were much like tea cakes in texture, and not exactly what I would think of as a scone, but overall I truly enjoyed these little treats along with a strong cup of coffee in the morning.
If you’re looking for healthier, less-processed baked goods with classic flavors, or gluten-free desserts, this is the book for you. Despite having its fair share of hits and misses, it’s ultimately a beautiful cookbook with lots of helpful tips and ideas for creating your own sweet masterpieces, no matter your dietary restrictions. I’ll admit that it probably won’t be the first book I’ll turn to myself, but it will still hold a prominent place on my bookshelf.