Every month or so, Dwane Bowen drives two hours across Pennsylvania to buy cookies, brownies and sticky buns from a vegan bakery in Bethlehem – and he’s not even vegan. “A friend brought me here about a year ago,” says Bowen, “and I said, ‘It better be damn good if we’re driving two hours just to get a cookie.’ He was right, though.”

Bowen’s pilgrimage is to Vegan Treats Bakery, and owner Danielle Konya says she is not surprised. “We’ve actually found people camping outside the store when we arrived to open up in the morning, from Europe, Israel, all over,” she says. “People track us down.”
When Konya, 41, started baking vegan goodies for herself at home back in the 1990s, she had no idea that her hobby would become a phenomenon. Eighteen years later, her 1,600-square-foot bakery employs more than 40 people in a round-the-clock operation that in 2012 was named one of the top 10 bakeries in the world – not just the top vegan bakeries – by American Express’s Departures Magazine.
Konya’s experience is entirely self-taught. With nothing but a passion for plant-based baking and a flair for design, Konya experimented with triple chocolate chip cookies and whoopie pies, and they were a hit with her family and friends. But it wasn’t until 1998, after she gave a cake  — her now-signature chocolate peanut butter mousse bomb – to a guy in Philly who was selling vegan cheesesteak sandwiches, that she thought about a business. “He used to always say that there was no such thing as a good vegan dessert,” Konya says. “I just brought him the cake to prove a point, but then he called me a few hours later and said, ‘The cake’s all gone. Can you make me 12 for next week?'”
. The storefront bakery opened in 2005. It clearly has been a labor of love for Konya, but also a way to promote her agenda as an animal-rights activist. “Eating vegan food is the easiest way to make a difference on the planet,” she says. “Compassion starts with your fork.”
For those who think baking without eggs, butter or milk is a challenge, Konya and her staff — the vast majority of whom are not vegan — would strongly disagree. “It’s just science,” says pastry chef Samantha Armstrong. “If you can come up with a recipe made with traditional ingredients, you can always come up with one that’s vegan.”
Potato starch, tapioca starch and silken tofu are some of the ingredients that help give Vegan Treats desserts the same rich mouth feel their nonvegan counterparts have, but, to Konya, it all comes down to flavor. “Honestly, no one takes a bite of the Chocolate peppermint dream cookies and asks where the butter is. The focus is on the dark chocolaty base and that bite of peppermint.”
Using pureed fruit, such as applesauce or mashed pumpkin, in place of eggs to provide moistness is a technique common to fat-free baking, but, as Konya says, “I’m not cooking with substitutes. I’m just baking the only way I know how.”
For instance, when she was developing the Molasses Pumpkin Streusel Bars in October, autumnal flavors and textures were the starting point. “Then it started to come together as a classic bar cookie, with a layer of vegan cream cheese to balance out all that rich flavor and a crumbly topping for texture. It was really just about imagining what I’d like to eat on a chilly gray afternoon.”
Konya’s commitment to operating an ethical and earth-friendly bakery means spending energy on sourcing ingredients that fit both her mission and her standards, all within the confines of a high-volume operation. Sweetened condensed soy milk is shipped from a supplier in Portugal, while custom-blended chocolate made without palm oil (an ingredient linked to deforestation and animal extinction) comes from Switzerland. On the flip side, Konya forages for wild black raspberries herself in the nearby countryside each summer for a house-made soft-serve ice cream that is available only at the store.
Mindful of her commitment to veganism, Konya immediately pulled candy sprinkles off the line in 2014 after a customer asked whether the sprinkles on the doughnuts were made with shellac, a common ingredient that is also a byproduct of beetles. When the manufacturer couldn’t adequately explain what ingredients it was using, Konya switched to sprinkles coated with carnauba wax.

Vegan chocolate peppermint dreams

Tested size: 24 servings

For the cookies:
3/4 cup granulated sugar
½ cup packed light brown sugar
½ cup plant-based butter substitute or margarine
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ cup vegan sour cream, such as Tofutti brand
½ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
13/4 cups flour
2 tablespoons water
1½ teaspoons powdered vegan egg replacer, such as Ener-G

For the topping:
½ cup crushed candy canes or striped peppermint hard candies
2 cups confectioners’ sugar
2 teaspoons soy milk
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
Liquid red food coloring (optional)

Directions
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone liners.

Combine the granulated sugar, brown sugar, butter substitute or margarine and the vanilla extract in the bowl of a stand mixer or handheld electric mixer; beat on medium speed for several minutes, until light and fluffy. Stop to scrape down the bowl.

Add the vegan sour cream; beat on medium speed until smooth and creamy. Stop to scrape down the bowl. Add the cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, salt and flour; beat on medium speed until well incorporated, to form a soft dough.

Whisk together the water and egg replacer in a small bowl, then mix or stir it into the dough.

Scoop 24 to 30 rounded-tablespoon portions of cookie dough, rolling each into a ball about an inch in diameter. Space them about 1 inch apart on the baking sheets. Bake (middle rack) one sheet at a time for 8 minutes or until the cookies rise and crack, yet still feel soft in the center. As they cool they will deflate, forming a chewy center. Let them cool on the baking sheet for 5 minutes before transferring them to a wire rack to cool completely. Repeat to use all the dough.

While the cookies are cooling, prepare the topping: Spread the crushed peppermint candy on a small plate. Place the confectioners’ sugar in a food processor. With the motor running, gradually add the soy milk and vanilla extract to form a smooth, thick icing. Transfer to a bowl. Stir a drop of red food coloring into the icing, if desired, and then drizzle the icing (which will then have a looser consistency) over the cookies. You may have a little icing left over.

Use the base of a spoon or a small offset knife to spread the icing over each cookie; immediately press that glazed surface into the crushed peppermint candy. Return the cookies to the rack to let the icing set up.

Pumpkin molases streusel bars

Tested size: 24 servings

Ingredients

For the base:
½ cup vegetable shortening
½ cup granulated sugar
2 cups flour, preferably unbleached
½ teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground ginger
¼ teaspoon sea salt
½ cup unsulphured molasses
2 tablespoons warm water

For the filling:
½ cup vegan cream cheese, such as Tofutti
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
½ cup packed light brown sugar
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 tablespoons flour, preferably unbleached
Pinch salt
1 cup pumpkin puree
½ cup soy milk or other plant-based milk
1½ teaspoons powdered egg replacer, such as Ener-G
2 tablespoons water
For the topping:
1½ cups flour, preferably unbleached
3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
6 tablespoons plant-based butter substitute or margarine
 

For the base: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9-by-13-inch baking pan with cooking oil spray, then line it with parchment paper (bottom and sides).

Combine the shortening and granulated sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer or handheld electric mixer; beat on medium speed until smooth. Stop to scrape down the bowl.

Whisk together the flour, baking soda, ginger and salt in a medium bowl.

Whisk together the molasses and water in a liquid measuring cup; with the mixer on low speed, pour this mixture into the shortening-sugar mixture, alternating with the flour mixture, just until a dough starts to come together; it should be pliable but not too sticky. You may not need to use all of the molasses mixture. Spread the dough evenly in the pan; bake (middle rack) for 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, prepare the filling: Whisk together the vegan cream cheese and granulated sugar in a mixing bowl until smooth; immediately spread it over the still-warm cookie base.

Combine the brown sugar, cinnamon, flour and salt, then add the pumpkin and soy milk. Whisk the egg replacer and water together and mix into the pumpkin mixture. Gently spread over the layer of vegan cream cheese.

For the topping: Combine the flour, brown sugar and butter substitute in a mixing bowl. Use your clean fingers to work the mixture into a crumbly consistency. Scatter the topping evenly over the pumpkin filling. Bake (middle rack) for 30 to 40 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean and the center looks set. Allow to cool completely in the pan before removing to cut into 24 equal bars.

 
 

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