Question: you're in Needham, MA and have a hankering for a delicious vegan and gluten-free cupcake. Where do you go?
The answer is clear: Treat Cupcake Bar. This sweet shop has an established following for their cupcakes, which can be ordered in a great variety of sweet flavors or built on command by choosing your own cake, frosting, and toppings--and now, they've added a sweet selection of vegan and gluten-free flavors to their regular offerings, including Chocolate cake with vanilla frosting, Orange chocolate cake with orange chocolate frosting, Mint chocolate cake with mint chocolate frosting, and Vanilla coconut cake with vanilla frosting and coconut topping.
Curious to learn more about the process of veganizing and de-glutening the product to the point of perfection? Here's an interview with baker Adie Sprague:
CakeSpy: Are all the new flavors both gluten-free AND vegan?
Adie Sprague: Yes, all the flavors are both gluten-free and vegan. We do this because we have separate equipment used for these products. It becomes easier to keep these products safe from contaminants if each of the recipes is free of all those allergens.
CS: I'm sure that developing recipes which don't employ common cake ingredients is tricky! Can you tell us some of the biggest challenges when it came to developing vegan and/or gluten-free recipes?
AS: It has gotten much easier to make gluten-free and vegan items, as there are increasingly more products to work with. At times, it’s difficult to develop new flavors because we’re doing products that are free of gluten, dairy AND eggs (that's a lot of cake ingredients)! Usually people substitute just one element of a recipe, for example they may substitute another ingredient in place of flour to make a gluten-free dessert, similar to a flourless chocolate torte which is delicious, but primarily made of eggs. At Treat Cupcake Bar, we must substitute them all. There are, however, many gluten-free flours and starches (i.e. rice, bean, potato), a plethora of different milks (rice, coconut, soy), and multiple ways you can substitute for eggs. The more of these products that become available (and with increased quality), the easier our job gets. We just play with all possible substitutions until we find something we like!
CS: How do you avoid cross contamination for gluten-free products? I understand this is very difficult for kitchens!
AS: It certainly can be hard in a small kitchen, but do our absolute best in keeping our gluten-free and vegan products separate from our other products, including dedicating a special section of the kitchen to this kind of cupcake creation, decoration, and storage. We use a separate table, mixer, and utensils for gluten-free/vegan cupcakes only, and we label them by color so that employees know, when washing & sanitizing, to keep these separate and send them directly back to the allergen-free table. When the cupcakes are done, they are placed on a dedicated gluten-free/vegan sheet pan on parchment and kept separate from our other creations. We make training employees on this importance a priority so that they are able to handle all products coming out of the kitchen. We acknowledge that you can never be 100% sure, but we’re confident in the system we follow and have many happy, regular customers who come in especially for our gluten-free and vegan treats!
CS: How do these treats differ, taste-wise, from your existing (dairy, gluten-containing) recipe for cake?
AS: People do ask if they taste the same, and they don't. We didn't take our chocolate cake recipe and then turn it into a gluten-free/vegan product. We started from scratch and made a great GF/V cake. Our regular chocolate is denser and buttery, similar to a brownie, whereas our gluten-free/vegan chocolate is a little fluffier with a rich, dark flavor.
CS: What's your personal favorite of the new flavors?
AS: The Chocolate Orange! It’s rich and chocolaty with a hint of orange flavor, and a layer of dark chocolate between the cake and frosting to give it another texture when you bite into it. The mint is made similarly, but there's just something about the orange! :)
Want more? Duh. If you're in Needham, MA, you can visit them in person at 1450 Highland Ave., Needham; even if you're not in the area, you can still visit Treat Cupcake Bar online here.