When vegan chef Chloe Coscarelli won Cupcake Wars on Food Network last year, I did a fist pump of victory for fellow vegans everywhere. The judges marveled at Coscarelli's moist, delicious creations baked without eggs or butter and frosted without cream cheese, validating on national television what many vegans already know. Done well, vegan cakes, pies and desserts are every bit as complex and flavorful as their non-vegan counterparts.
Fortunately for Isthmus readers with a vegan sweet tooth, there are a growing number of choices available in the Madison area. Here are some of my favorites.
Bloom Bake Shop
If it's cupcakes, cookies or brownies you crave, Bloom Bake Shop is worth the short drive to Middleton. On my last visit, there were four types of vegan treats in the case, all also gluten-free. My chocolate cupcake frosted with vanilla "buttercream" was velvety and moist, deliciously simple. I also sampled a chocolate-chip blondie, which tasted rich and buttery, and a cookie "whoopie," two soft, chewy chocolate-chip cookies with a generous layer of vanilla frosting in between.
The best of the four was the sweet potato spicy chai cupcake - sweet potato cake flavored with ginger, cloves and other chai spices, and topped with fluffy cinnamon frosting.
Green Owl Café
Pastry chef Cara Moseley turns out an impressive variety of vegan desserts. Her signature vegan cheesecakes are dense and creamy, just like the real thing.
Past flavors have included roasted pineapple, lemon poppyseed, and peanut butter cheesecake topped with chocolate ganache - all winners. I also love the vegan chocolate lava cake, an individual-sized spongy chocolate cake with a warm, molten chocolate center. It's so good you won't want to share, so if you're dining with companions order one for everyone. The desserts change daily at Green Owl Cafe, but popular favorites make regular appearances.
Vegan desserts are new at Bunky's, something I discovered purely by happenstance. My husband and I got married at Bunky's last year, so the owner, Teresa Pullara, knows we are vegans. When we stopped in for lunch recently, she offered us a sample of vegan baklava that's now on the Bunky's menu, from a bakery in Chicago. It's some of the best baklava I've had - layers of flaky filo pastry filled with chopped walnuts that are soaked in agave syrup rather than honey, and flavored with cinnamon and a hint of lemon.
I inquired about other vegan desserts and found out Bunky's dessert chef, Susie Feest, now makes a vegan chocolate layer cake with chocolate frosting that looks amazing. But I'll have to try it next time because I couldn't eat another bite.
Willy Street Co-op
Both Willy Street Co-op locations have excellent selections of vegan bakery. The vegan chocolate-chip cookie is always good. The vegan grasshopper brownie is also popular, although a little too minty for my taste. It's a moist, dense chocolate brownie topped with mint frosting and a layer of chocolate ganache. If you like peppermint patties, you'll love this brownie.
The co-op also just introduced a chocolate hazelnut mocha mousse cupcake so rich I couldn't finish it in one sitting. It's a chocolate cupcake with chocolate ganache and crushed hazelnuts on top, filled with incredibly silky mocha mousse dancing with chocolate and coffee flavors.
Monty's Blue Plate Diner
Let them eat pie. Monty's confirmed that many of its famous pies are vegan, including cherry, blueberry and apple. The crust is made with vegetable shortening, not butter, and the fruit fillings contain no dairy products or eggs. Ask your server before ordering, since not all of the fruit pies are vegan. The Dutch apple pie's streusel topping, for example, contains butter.
I learned Monty's stopped offering soy ice cream, which is a shame, since pie really is best served warm and à la mode, in my opinion.
Mother Fool's Coffeehouse
Everything in the Mother Fool's bakery case is vegan, made by East Side Ovens in Milwaukee. I like that I don't have to scan the labels for "vegan" before placing my order.
The selection varies but usually includes cookies, scones, muffins and bars. I'm partial to the scones, the cranberry-orange in particular. The cookies have been hit or miss for me. I like the chocolate-walnut cookie; it's extra chocolatey but not too sweet, with generous chunks of walnut. I was underwhelmed by the blueberry-lemon cookie, however, which was disappointingly bland and very dry.
Cheryl Breuer is a Madison writer and vegan. She blogs at peculiar-girl.com.