Big Sugar Bakeshop

vegan

I never thought I would eat a vegan cupcake unless under duress. Then I met Big Sugar Bakeshop’s vegan chocolate vanilla bean cupcake. Holy moly, a vegan baked good that is just as good as the eggs-and-butter-laden kind? How is that possible?

First, let me say that Big Sugar Bakeshop is my favorite purveyor of cupcakes, not only in Los Angeles but anywhere. Here’s why I love Big Sugar:

  • Cake is always moist and fresh.
  • Frosting is light, smooth, and not too sweet.
  • They use a reasonable amount of frosting, not a gigantic mound that overpowers the cake.
  • Decorations are cute and minimalist.
  • Cupcakes are cupcake-sized, not mini or jumbo.

On a recent visit to Big Sugar, I became curious about their vegan cupcake. I asked what was in the frosting. The answer: Earth Balance, a butter substitute made from a blend of natural oils. I was skeptical, but the guy behind the counter insisted that their vegan cupcake was immensely popular, even amongst folks who are not vegan. So I gave it a shot.

This cupcake was as chocolatey and moist as could be. In fact, the cake tasted almost exactly like their non-vegan cupcakes. As for the vanilla bean frosting, it had a smooth texture and didn’t taste artificial at all. A little heavier and less fluffy than buttercream frosting, with just a touch of oiliness. But not a deal breaker. On the contrary, the next time I went to Big Sugar, I ordered the vegan cupcake again.

You might ask why I’d do such a thing, when I’m not a vegan and I do eat butter. I have to admit that my stomach likes the vegan cupcake a little better than the regular ones. There is zero fall-out — no stomach ache, no bloat, no gas. What more can you ask for?

Well, this: more flavors of vegan cupcakes from Big Sugar. Red velvet, please!

BIG SUGAR BAKESHOP, 12182 Ventura Blvd., Studio City, CA 91604

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Big Sugar’s red velvet cupcake. Hope they make a vegan one soon.

Dairy-Free Virgin Piña Colada

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Memorial Day is almost here, which means summer is approaching and we need tropical beverages. Here’s a recipe that is fun and dairy-free. I adapted it from a recipe on Real Plans, a menu-planning website that I subscribe to. One of the reasons I love Real Plans is that it contains tons of dairy-free recipes.

This is technically a smoothie, but add a splash of rum and you’ve got a cocktail. I also recommend serving it in a coconut shell or a tiki mug. I would’ve done that for the picture, but I thought the glass would give you a better view.

My favorite part about making this recipe is you can sing that Harry Nilsson song that goes, “You put the lime in the coconut,” and actually be doing just that.

Dairy-Free Virgin Piña Colada Recipe

1 cup frozen pineapple
1/2 ripe banana
1/2 cup coconut cream (chilled)
1/2 cup coconut water (chilled)
juice of 1/2 lime
1 tablespoon raw honey

Put all the ingredients in a blender. (Be sure to sing, “You put the lime in the coconut,” when adding the lime juice.) Blend until smooth. Makes 2 servings.

Arctic Zero Cookie Dough Chip

Before I stopped eating dairy, one of my favorite ice cream flavors was Ben & Jerry’s Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough. Heavenly chunks of actual cookie dough embedded in smooth, rich vanilla ice cream. No one makes it better than Ben & Jerry’s. As a friend of mine once said, “Those two do good work.” My dream is to find a dairy-free chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream as good as theirs.

That’s why, when my husband was scoping out the freezer section at Ralphs, he knew I would be excited to try Arctic Zero Cookie Dough Chip. I had my doubts when he read the ingredients to me over the phone, because the first two were “purified water” and “whey protein concentrate (milk).” Technically, this means it’s not dairy-free although it has no lactose. And quite frankly, “whey” does not sound very appetizing.

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I was also suspicious because this Arctic Zero dessert claims to contain only 75 calories per serving. No dessert that low in calories tastes good, unless you consider celery a dessert.

But I decided to try it anyway.

The first problem is that despite the name “Cookie Dough Chip,” there’s no cookie dough in it whatsoever. There are chocolate chips, but no dough! That’s false advertising!

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Do you see any dough in there? I don’t.

The second problem is that the chocolate chips are terrible. They’re waxy and not very chocolatey. It’s like chewing on bits of brown crayon.

The third problem is that the ice cream has no creaminess or vanilla flavor. It tastes like gritty snow that you scooped up from the sidewalk — but not as natural. Here’s the lesson I learned: Stick with coconut-milk-based ice creams. They really are the best.

Arctic Zero scores a big fat (albeit low-calorie) zero.

Follow Your Heart American “Cheese”

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That’s right, another blog post about dairy-free cheese… ’cause I found one that rocks! When I came across Follow Your Heart American Cheese at a Sprouts grocery store, I decided to give it a shot since I had a good experience at their health food restaurant in Canoga Park. The night we went there for dinner, I wanted coffee but didn’t want to have trouble sleeping. I asked our hippie waiter whether Teeccino, a caffeine-free coffee substitute, was any good. His answer was, “Well, some people like it. Personally, I like to drink real coffee, stay up all night, and have good conversations with people.”

But I digress. This blog post is about the cheese.

The first thing I love about it is that it doesn’t contain any weird ingredients. It’s not trying to make something (like nuts) into something it’s not (cheese). The main ingredient is coconut oil — simple and good for you.

I tasted the cheese straight up, right out of the fridge. Not so great. Definitely better melted, as I discovered when I cooked some up with scrambled eggs.

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The flavor is mild like American cheese, and best of all, it has a nice smooth mouthfeel. No grainy or chalky texture. No artificial aftertaste. I was so excited that I started putting the stuff on everything.

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My dairy-free alternative to the Egg McMuffin.
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Turkey nachos with square (but tasty) cheese.
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Grilled cheese and tomato soup make me feel like a kid again.

Note that when melting Follow Your Heart cheese, it doesn’t look melted the way a real cheese does. The little squares of cheese I put on the nachos never lost their square shape. The grilled cheese didn’t get that gooeyness like in a Kraft ad. I kept wondering if it needed more heat. But it was actually melted, and tasted so.

Big thumbs-up for Follow Your Heart American cheese. I’ll be getting this one again.

Slicetruck Pizza

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Slicetruck pizza with Daiya vegan cheese, sausage, and mushrooms

No discussion of dairy-free eating is complete without broaching the topic of pizza. Fortunately, more and more restaurants in L.A. are offering pizzas with vegan cheese. Slicetruck, a gourmet and insanely pricey pizzeria in West L.A., offers Daiya vegan mozzarella, a fairly decent substitute for real cheese.

What I love about Slicetruck is their high-quality toppings, e.g., organic vegetables, Niman Ranch bacon. Their homemade sausage tastes super fresh and fennel-y. The pepperoni is flavorful and not greasy at all. The hot garlic is so good it’s addictive. They also include a baggie of fresh basil leaves with each pie.

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So much prettier with fresh basil.

What I don’t love about Slicetruck is the crust. They boast that it’s made from Kamut brand Khorasan wheat, and it does have a nice flavor. But it’s too thin to support the weight of the toppings, so you end up with a soggy mess. My husband likes their Grandma Pizza, a Sicilian style pie with a thicker crust. I’ve never been a fan of thick crusts, but I might have to try this one because it’s gotten such rave reviews.

As for the Daiya cheese, it won’t fool anyone. Vegan cheeses don’t melt the way dairy cheeses do. Daiya is also wetter than real cheese, not as viscous, which may be contributing to the structural collapse of the thin crust. I reheated my leftover pizza in a skillet in an attempt to make the crust crispier — utter disaster. Even with a little olive oil in the pan, the crust stuck to it and then disintegrated.

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After reheating in a skillet – yikes.

Bottom line: I can’t give a thumbs-up for Slicetruck’s dairy-free pizza yet. Stay tuned for a review of their Grandma Pizza made with Daiya… coming soon.

SLICETRUCK PIZZA, 1523 S. Bundy Dr., Los Angeles, CA 90025