SusieCakes Cupcakes

fullsizeoutput_e5fI’ve had a cupcake fixation ever since my mom used to pick me up from preschool and take me to get a cupcake at the local bakery. I have to admit that although I gave up dairy years ago, I still eat the occasional cupcake, whether it’s the butter-laden kind or not.

My favorite cupcake shop in Los Angeles remains Big Sugar in Studio City, which does offer a very good vegan cupcake. But alas, for a Westsider, a trip to the Valley can be a daunting journey. So I have found my go-to substitute: SusieCakes.


Don’t let the fact that SusieCakes is a chain turn you off. I’ve only been to the Brentwood location, but every time I’ve gotten a cupcake there, it has been unbelievably fresh and moist. Every time. To me, that’s extraordinary. Freshness is the most important factor in assessing a cupcake. As much as I love Big Sugar, I have gotten cupcakes there that were a teeny bit on the stale side. And forget Sprinkles — their cupcakes are stale at least half the time.

A peek into the SusieCakes kitchen on a busy Saturday.

The frosting at SusieCakes is also beyond reproach: smooth, creamy, not too cloyingly sweet. My only criticism is that there’s too much of it. Many of their cupcakes are filled with frosting, so that when you bite into it, you come across a well of frosting in the middle. This is simply too much frosting, if you ask me.

Please ignore the lipstick marks.


My favorite flavors are the chocolate with vanilla frosting and the chocolate with peanut butter frosting. Holy moly, these are good. Unfortunately, they don’t have any vegan or dairy-free cupcakes. But unless you have a dairy allergy, I would encourage you to put aside your dairy-free diet to indulge in one of these delightful treats. It’s worth it.

SUSIECAKES, 11708 San Vicente Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90049



Pistachio Snowballs


I’m taking a break from my Dairy-Free Breakfast Series to honor the Christmas tradition of sharing cookie recipes. I clipped this recipe from the Los Angeles Times a year ago and was excited to finally try it out yesterday. These cookies aren’t dairy-free — they contain butter — but there’s not enough lactose in one or two to upset my stomach.

I love these cookies because they’re slightly exotic and not too sweet… and I’m obsessed with spherical food. (I find rolling food into balls oddly therapeutic.) They taste a lot like shortbread, but the hint of rosewater and cardamom give them a Middle Eastern kick.

If you’re not a fan of pistachios, you’ll want to pass this one up. Those little green nuts make up much of the dough.

Adapted from a recipe by Beth Corman Lee

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened
1/4 cup sifted powdered sugar, plus more for coating
1 teaspoon rosewater
1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 cup sifted flour
1/2 cup finely chopped toasted pistachio nuts

In a large bowl, using an electric mixer, beat together the butter and powdered sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the rosewater, cardamom, and salt. Slowly beat in the flour until fully incorporated. Beat or stir in the nuts.

Roll the dough into a ball and wrap tightly with plastic. Refrigerate the dough until chilled, at least one hour.

Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Break off and form the dough into one-inch balls. Place the cookies on a parchment-lined baking sheet so they’re not touching each other. Bake until set but not browned, about 8 to 12 minutes.

Transfer the cookies to a wire rack. After they’re cool enough to handle but still warm, roll them in powdered sugar to coat. Return them to the wire rack to cool completely. Makes about 18 cookies.


Easy Vegan Banana Bread


Do you always end up with a couple of bananas that are too ripe? Spotted and maybe even completely brown? Don’t throw them out — use them to make this easy vegan banana bread. Here’s what I love about this banana bread:

  • It’s dairy-free (doesn’t even contain eggs).
  • It’s super moist.
  • It only requires two bananas, so you can use those ones you have lying around that would otherwise end up in the compost.
The darker the bananas, the sweeter they taste.

I adapted this recipe from a banana cake recipe in The Peaceful Palate, a classic vegetarian cookbook. I halved the original recipe because I only had two bananas on hand, omitted the walnuts, and used a loaf pan instead of a 9-inch square pan. The result was a very short loaf of banana bread that was the perfect size for a household with only one banana bread eater (me).


I also substituted the oil with melted Earth Balance, an oil-based butter alternative. The Earth Balance worked beautifully, giving the banana bread a nice buttery flavor without the dairy. I only had the kind of Earth Balance that comes in a tub, but you can get it in stick form that’s easier to measure out for baking.

I baked this banana bread in a toaster oven and it came out way better than anything I’ve ever baked in my full-size oven. First of all, the toaster oven heats up faster so you don’t have a long preheating time. Second, it doesn’t make the house hot. And third, electric ovens produce a more even heat and better browning than gas ovens. So use a toaster oven if you’ve got it.

Now go on and put those spotty bananas to good use!

Easy Vegan Banana Bread Recipe

1 cup unbleached or whole wheat pastry flour
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup loosely packed brown sugar
3 tablespoons Earth Balance, melted and cooled
2 ripe bananas, mashed (about 1  cup)
1/4 cup water
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease a 9″x5″ loaf pan. In a small bowl, mix the flour, baking soda, and salt together.

In a large bowl, beat the brown sugar and melted Earth Balance together. Add the mashed bananas, water, and vanilla extract; mix thoroughly. Add the flour mixture and stir to combine, just until moistened.

Spread batter evenly into greased loaf pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 to 35 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes, then invert pan and continue cooling loaf on wire rack.

After banana bread is completely cool, store in plastic wrap at room temperature.

Dairy-Free Scrambled Eggs


I always thought you needed milk to make fluffy scrambled eggs. In fact, after I went dairy-free, I pretty much stopped making scrambled eggs because every time I did it without adding milk, they came out tough and heavy.

Well, here’s a secret for you: You don’t need milk to make great scrambled eggs. You just need the right technique. Here are some tips.

Beat It

Crack your eggs into a small bowl or a measuring cup and beat them vigorously with a fork. Really put some speed into it and try to whip as much air into the eggs as possible. This will break up the proteins which cause the eggs to be tough and stringy.

Add Salt Before Cooking

I used to think it didn’t matter whether you added salt before cooking or after. But it does. The salt, like the vigorous beating, helps break down the proteins. So add it early and don’t be afraid to let the beaten eggs sit for a few minutes before you cook them.

Use a Nonstick Pan

A few years ago I got paranoid about nonstick pans leaching toxic chemicals into my food. So I switched to stainless steel pans. Which are great — except when making scrambled eggs. No matter how much you lubricate the pan, once you start scrambling those eggs, they’ll stick like glue. You’ll lose half your eggs to the bottom of the pan, and you’ll spend half your morning scrubbing that pan. No fun.

Do yourself a favor and use a nonstick pan for scrambling eggs. I use a brand called Scanpan that’s supposed to be eco-friendly and nontoxic. Just make sure you don’t use metal utensils on it or you might scratch the coating. I find that a rubber spatula works best.

Never Use High Heat

Unlike fried eggs, scrambled eggs should never be cooked over high heat. Start warming your pan over medium heat. Once it’s hot, lube the pan. Butter gives the best flavor, but if you’re lactose-intolerant or vegan, you can use a butter substitute like Earth Balance. Don’t use olive oil, peanut oil, sunflower oil, or coconut oil. All of those will impart a flavor that just isn’t right.

Keep ‘Em Moving

Once the butter is melted, tilt the pan to make sure it coats the bottom. Give your eggs another good whipping and then pour them into the pan. Immediately turn the heat down to low. Start scrambling the eggs with a spatula and don’t stop. Seriously, you can’t leave those eggs alone for a second or they’ll end up clumpy.

The eggs should be done almost instantly. When they’re mostly solid but still look a little wet, take the pan off the heat and scoop the eggs onto your plate — they’ll continue cooking on their own. Trust me, there’s nothing that can ruin breakfast like dry scrambled eggs.

Eat While Hot

This is probably the hardest part: timing your breakfast so that as soon as your eggs are done, you can sit down and enjoy them. Once they get cold, they’ll be far less appealing. So fix your coffee, make the bacon, toast your pastries, blend your smoothie, get your fork and napkin set up — then scramble your eggs. Do not attempt to multi-task while scrambling eggs. It’s a lightning-fast procedure that requires your full attention.

But when you give it that attention, you will be rewarded with fluffy, moist, beautiful scrambled eggs that contain no milk whatsoever.

Earth Balance Organic Whipped Buttery Spread


If you’ve been following my blog, you know I’m a fan of butter — it’s one of the few dairy products I still eat despite being lactose-intolerant. But lately my stomach hasn’t been happy, and one night after eating a piece of buttered toast, it really wasn’t happy. So I decided to experiment with trying a dairy-free alternative.

I first heard of Earth Balance when I was enjoying a delicious vegan cupcake at Big Sugar Bakeshop and asked what they used in place of butter. Earth Balance is made of vegetable oils, like margarine. But unlike traditional margarine, Earth Balance doesn’t use hydrogenated oils– you know, the “trans fats” that are so bad for you.


I bought the Organic Whipped Buttery Spread, since I mostly intended to use it on toast and other bread products. Indeed, as a spread, it works beautifully and tastes very much like butter, although a little less full and complex. It’s great for making garlic bread.

The label says you can also use it to fry, sauté, and bake. I haven’t used it to sauté or bake yet, but I have used it for frying eggs. Here’s a photo of a Dairy-Free Egg McMuffin I made. I toasted an English muffin and spread Earth Balance on it. Then I melted a slice of Go Veggie non-dairy cheese on one half. Inside the sandwich is an egg, fried over-easy in Earth Balance, and two breakfast sausage links.

Dairy-Free Egg McMuffin

This egg turned out pretty well compared to some of the others. The verdict: Butter works way better for frying. When Earth Balance melts in the pan, it becomes thin and acts pretty much like olive oil would. The result is that my eggs would usually stick to the pan and burn around the edges.

So I’m going to continue using Earth Balance for spreading, and stick (no pun intended) with butter for cooking. When I finally get around to making some baked goods with Earth Balance, I’ll post an update!

Vegan Thanksgiving Stuffing

Thanksgiving is one of those American holidays when it’s almost impossible to avoid dairy if you’re eating a traditional meal. The fact that I do eat butter makes it easier for me. But for those of you who are strictly vegan, I would like to share one of my favorite Thanksgiving recipes, adapted from The Peaceful Palate, a classic vegetarian cookbook. Even Tofurkey needs stuffing, right?

If you’re not a vegan, you can make this stuffing with butter instead of (or in addition to) olive oil. And if you’re not a vegetarian, you can use chicken broth instead of vegetable stock. Both of these substitutions will boost the flavor of the dish.

One thing I like about this recipe is that it doesn’t require fresh herbs, which can be expensive to obtain if you don’t have your own herb garden. But if you do have access to fresh thyme, marjoram, and sage, feel free to use those instead of the dried ones from your spice rack — just double the amounts listed below.

I’ll be making this stuffing on Thursday, but since I don’t have a picture of it yet, I’m going to post this instead because it’s cute.

Please, Baskin-Robbins, make a dairy-free version of this cake!

Vegan Thanksgiving Stuffing Recipe

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 yellow onion, chopped
8 ounces cremini or baby bella mushrooms, sliced
2 celery stalks, sliced
6 cups cubed day-old sourdough bread
1/3 cup finely chopped fresh parsley
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon dried marjoram
1/2 teaspoon dried sage
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/4-1/2 cup vegetable stock

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9 x 9-inch baking dish with olive oil.

Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large skillet and sauté the onion for 5 minutes.

Add the sliced mushrooms and celery and cook over medium heat until the mushrooms begin to brown, about 5 minutes.

Stir in the bread cubes, parsley, thyme, marjoram, sage, black pepper, and salt. Lower the heat and continue cooking for 3 minutes, then stir in the vegetable stock a little at a time until the stuffing obtains desired moistness.

Spread stuffing evenly in the baking dish, cover with foil, and bake for 20 minutes. Remove foil and bake 10 minutes longer, or until lightly browned. Makes 4 to 6 side servings.

Jamaica’s Cakes


The first time I heard of Jamaica’s Cakes was when the HBO show Curb Your Enthusiasm had a storyline about penis-shaped cakes, like the kind you see at bachelorette parties. This bakery doesn’t actually specialize in erotic cakes, but I read that Jamaica, the owner and head baker, made all the cakes that were used in that episode.

When my husband and I got married, I wanted our wedding cake to look like a giant Hostess cupcake. So we ordered exactly that from Jamaica’s. The proportions were a little off, but everyone knew what it was supposed to be — and it was absolutely delicious.

My husband and I added the Pez dispensers.

This week I finally tried one of the vegan cupcakes at Jamaica’s. The cake was moist and dense (in a good way), and the frosting was smooth, not gritty or oily. It had too much frosting for my taste — I prefer Big Sugar Bakeshop‘s frosting-to-cake ratio. But I did think that the rainbow sprinkles, along with its not quite uniform shape, gave the cupcake a fun homemade look and childlike appeal.

Jamaica’s vegan chocolate cupcake

Now for the bad news. When I asked what they used in place of butter, they told me margarine. Remember margarine, the imitation butter that was all the rage back when people thought butter was bad for you? It’s made mostly of vegetable oil, but after the oil is processed (what is known as hydrogenation), it can’t be recognized by the body. (You may remember the big ado when the no-fat “oleo” was causing “anal leakage.”)

Some margarines are now made to be more healthful, phasing out the use of hydrogenated oils. But I have to admit it still grosses me out. Even though I’m lactose-intolerant, I can handle small amounts of butter, and I would choose butter over margarine any day.

Given this, I probably won’t go back for a cupcake, but I might consider Jamaica’s if I need another custom cake. Just not a vegan one.

JAMAICA’S CAKES, 11511 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90064

Milk-Free Mashed Potatoes


I never thought about how much dairy is in mashed potatoes until one day when I ate some at a diner and felt so gut-bombed that I was curled up in a fetal position for the rest of the evening.

But it’s easy to make your own mashed potatoes without milk. I simply replace the milk with chicken broth. (If you’re a vegetarian, you can use vegetable broth instead.) The texture will be less creamy than traditional mashed potatoes, but it’ll still be smooth and tasty.

Those of you who follow my blog know that I’m a fan of butter, despite being lactose intolerant. This is a recipe that benefits greatly from the flavor of butter. Omit it at your own risk.

Milk-Free Mashed Potatoes Recipe

1 1/2 pounds potatoes (preferably Yukon Gold)
1/4 cup butter
1/2 cup chicken broth
salt, to taste
freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Peel potatoes and cut into quarters. Place them in a large stock pot and cover by two inches of water. Cover pot and bring water to a boil, cooking for 20 to 25 minutes until you can easily pierce potatoes with a fork. Drain potatoes in a colander.

Return pot to stove. Melt butter over medium-low heat. Add chicken broth and bring to a simmer. Add drained potatoes and mash with a ricer, mixing in butter and broth. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Stir until smooth. Makes 4 side servings.

Big Sugar Bakeshop


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

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

Homage to Blinky and Butter

This week’s blog post is inspired by and dedicated to my late dog Blinky, who passed away a few days ago. Like me, Blinky ate a lactose-free diet… except for butter. She loved butter. My husband and I discovered her penchant for the stuff one night when we set our dinner on the coffee table, went back to the kitchen to get something, and returned to find bite marks on the stick of butter that we’d left out. As any dog lover will attest, it’s impossible to be upset about your dog doing something so darn cute.

Butter is the one dairy product that I still eat, and I eat it with gusto. For a while, I tried to avoid cooking with butter, having been brainwashed into believing butter is bad for you. I used olive oil instead. But then a nutritionist encouraged me to eat a variety of fats, including coconut oil, ghee and butter. I couldn’t believe it. This woman knew I was lactose-intolerant and she was recommending I eat butter? Hooray!

Now I do switch up my cooking fats, for instance, using coconut oil for frying plantains, peanut oil for stir-fries, bacon fat for browning meats, and olive oil for quick vegetable sautés. But my go-to is butter. Nothing works better for scrambled or fried eggs, and I wouldn’t dream of putting anything else on a baked potato. The amount of lactose in butter doesn’t bother my stomach (I mean, unless I were to eat a whole pound cake or something). And eating butter has hugely increased my quality of life.

It’s no wonder that Blinky sank her little teeth into that delicious yellow brick. I hope that right now she’s eating butter to her heart’s content. Mommy loves you, Blink.

In loving memory of Blinky (2003-2016)