If you think vegans can't bake, Rikki Cupcake is going to make you think again. The vegan of two-and-half years is the mastermind behind the devious-sounding and diet-defying blog Seitanic Vegan Heathen and the vegan cupcakes at Ahwatukee's Pomegranate Café. Go, try, become a believer.
Rikki started joking that she was a "vegan heathen" after one of her customers at Trader Joe's (her former job) told her she was "going against God by not eating meat."
"He said that not eating meat was an evil thing to do, which I thought was pretty silly," Rikki explains. "When I went to do the blog, Vegan Heathen was already taken, so I took it one step further and did the Seitanic (as in the fake meat) Vegan Heathen."
She says she started her blog to help beginner vegans through the some of the biggest conundrums she faced when eliminating all meat and animal by-products from her diet. "And every other vegan out there has a blog, so I thought I would join the team," Rikki adds.
This clever lady's confections are even better than her puns. (Trust us; we've tried them: Deeeeeelish.) Apparently her sweet tooth and baking talent run in the family: Grandma owned a bakery back in the day. Now Rikki veganizes grandma's recipes (as well as creating her own) and blogs about it along the way.
We step into Rikki's whimsical, dreamsicle-colored kitchen that seems straight out of Candy Land to chat about how in the world one makes vegan treats that rival the real deal (if not surpass it).
After the jump, Rikki spills about her quest to perfect a veganized banana pudding, the Russian cookie that turned out to be Mexican, and the classic PB&J she loves.
What got you started making vegan confections? I am a total sweet junkie. I love candy, I love sugar. When I decided to go vegan, the only thing I could eat was dark chocolate chips. That was it. And if you're used to eating a certain way, you just crave it. So I decided to make stuff on my own. I was surprised that things turned out well, because I have no formal training and was just sort of making things up: Taking old recipes and trying to make them vegan.
Best recipe experiment? Cupcakes. I do cupcakes all the time. Just adding different fruit or extracts or that kind of thing. Everybody always craves cupcakes, and whenever I make them people are like, "Oh my gosh! These are like the best things ever!" I'm still trying to mater the best banana pudding ever. It's my favorite dessert in the world.
Any failed recipe experiments? I did my very first vegan cheesecake to bring home for the holidays, and it sucked. I made the crust out of the peppermint cookies from Trader Joes. The cheesecake was okay, but the crust was just hard and bitter and not good. My nephew, I think he was 8 at the time, took one bite and gave me this look like "no." It didn't sell my family on the vegan diet.
Favorite ingredient? I love peanut butter. And peanut butter and jelly together in cupcakes and cookies and anything; they're always good. And Matcha tea powder. I love making green tea and lemon stuff: green tea cheesecakes and ice cream. And green tea is really good for you, so it's like, "Oh, I'm getting antioxidants while eating ice cream."
First memory of baking? I remember exactly the first thing I ever baked. I was in fourth grade, and we were doing a school project. I decided to do mine on Russia, and my grandmother said "Oh, you should make something for them to eat, something that will get people to understand the Russian culture." Well, I decided to make Russian tea cakes, which are actually Mexican wedding cakes. I had no idea at the time. It was the first thing I ever made, and they turned out awesome. From that point on, my sister would just beg me to make them, so that was pretty cool.
First vegan recipe? The first one I came up with on my own was a cherry zucchini cupcake. It was awesome. It was a spur of the moment thing: I wanted to make zucchini bread and then decided to make a zucchini cupcake, but that sounded too much like a muffin. So I added some extra sweet with the cherries, threw some frosting on top and called it a day.
What was in your lunchbox growing up? I did not have a lunchbox. My grandparents gave me $2 every day to buy lunch at school, but I hated the school lunch so much that I would constantly tell them that I forgot my money, and they would give you a complimentary peanut butter and jelly sandwich. And the peanut butter and jelly sandwich was way better than anything they ever had. Every day the lunch lady would be like, "Really? Again?" and I was like, "Yeah...." which was good because I was able to save a nice little amount and get my favorite sandwiches every day.
Favorite kitchen tool? My Kitchen-Aid. My mixer is my baby.
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What chef you would like to bake for? Hannah Kaminsky is one of my all-time favorite people. She wrote My Sweet Vegan, and she did one of my interviews on my blog, which was super sweet of her because, to me, she's super famous. She's so young, and the stuff she comes up with is brilliant. Her food is just so rich and so delicious. I would love to make something for her; I'd just like to hang out with her for the day!
Best part about having a blog? Meeting lots of wonderful people. I've met so many people and discovered so many new blogs. It's a really tight community: Everybody is really friendly, really sweet and willing to open their homes and hearts to you.
What's the secret to vegan baking? Just be positive. I think when you're baking you kind of put your energy into the food. I know it kind of sounds silly and hippy-ish, but it's one of those things. If I'm having a good day and I'm baking, my food turns out amazing. You just have to love what you're doing. I love being able to share my food with people. I love being able to teach people about veganism that's not pushy. I don't need a soapbox; I just need a box of cookies.
Check back tomorrow for a lesson in chocolately fudgy goodness that just also happens to be vegan from Rikki.