Behind the Scenes at the Vegan Bake-Off
By Lisa Le, Toronto Vegetarian Association volunteer and past Vegan Bake-Off champ!
In 2012, when I first moved to Toronto, I felt overwhelmed by the big city. I had just moved from Ottawa and relocated for graduate school. Away from friends, my partner, and my network of people to study in Toronto, I found myself spending a lot of time alone, so I used that extra time to develop recipes for my food blog.
About four months later (and many cupcakes and cookies later), my roommate showed me a flyer for the 5th Vegan Bake Off and encouraged me to enter. At first I was hesitant—100 sample servings? That seemed like a lot. And vegan baked goods? I wasn’t vegan then, and I had no idea where to start when it came to baking vegan.
After some research, it turns out that vegan baking isn’t really that much harder than non-vegan baking. There were so many alternatives for eggs: flax meal and water, chia seeds and water, commercial egg replacers, silken tofu, fruit and vegetable purees—there were so many different alternatives. Milk alternatives were easy to figure out: almond milk, soy milk, rice milk, galore.
I was invigorated and excited. I did the math: one batch of mini-donuts ended up making about 40 donuts anyway, so I just tripled the recipe to make enough to enter. About 3 hours later, I had over a hundred lemon donuts, frosted and ready to go.
I arrived at the Miles Nadal JCC, where it was held that year and bumbled in, a cupcake carrier full of donuts. There were hundreds of people bustling around, putting their baked creations onto numbered plates. A blur of baked goods later, I was surrounded by people hungrily grabbing plates to sample cupcakes, cookies, truffles, and more. There were so many delicious things I wanted to try, and I felt giddy that people were eating MY donuts. And then voting for them!
It became time to tally the votes, and I sat surrounded by some newfound friends who had all come to support me. My category came up, and I psyched myself out…Okay maybe you’ll win. But if you don’t it’s okay. I waited…
But someone else’s name was called. My heart sank and I tuned everything out, thinking about all the different things I could have done to do better. But then my name was called.
I won a runner-up prize for my category, which included Chloe Coscarelli’s Vegan Baking cookbook and a bunch of cookies and samples. I sat back down with my friends and was flipping through the cookbook, getting excited about all the things that were in my prize pack, until I felt a sharp jab in my ribs.
“Hey! That’s you!”
Somehow I managed to win runner-up in presentation, with yet another prize—a MASSIVE basket of Redpath sugar. I was overwhelmed. Even as a runner-up, I had gotten prizes! People were coming up to me saying that my donuts were so great. I was beaming ear to ear, hauling this gigantic basket of sugar and being shuttled around this unknown area of Toronto with my friends.
I was hooked.
I knew that every year the Vegan Bake Off was held in Toronto, I’d be participating. It was so exciting to see people’s baked goods and all the creativity when it came to presentations and goodies. Last year, there were savory creations that were a welcome change from the sugar rush that I was accustomed to.
This year, I’m entering the pool of cupcakes. They’re the most popular category, and I decided to step up to the challenge.
“MY CUPCAKES WILL BE DELICIOUS!” I declared as I registered this year.
Here’s hoping they are.
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Join me at the Totally Fabulous Vegan Bake Off this year! If you think making 100 baked goods is too crazy, don’t worry. It’s not! Make mini-versions or smaller samples, and experiment beforehand. Get your friends to taste-test, and don’t worry about it having to be an original recipe. You can always find a couple recipes to work from and tweak it from there.
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Lisa is the vegan, nerd, and feminist behind The Viet Vegan. She is in her 20s and likes taking pictures of food. She loves lemon-flavoured things, and her favourite food is mac and cheese (veganized, in a bowl, with a fork). Actually just food in bowls in general are awesome.