Kind Comfort

You Don't Have to Be Vegan to Be Sweet on These Animal-Free Desserts

You won't believe it's not butter when you try these treats.

By Joanna O'Leary September 7, 2017

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Trust us, it tastes far more sinful(l) than it looks.

If you had told me a decade ago that a butter-free and egg-free dessert wasn’t by definition taste-free, I would have rolled my eyes back into my head harder than Reagan in The Exorcist. But via some much-needed education about vegan cooking in the past 10 years, I have come to the delicious realization that while Me Like Animal Products, satisfying my sugar cravings can be accomplished in vegan fashion. I almost wrote, “in cruelty-free fashion,” but then I remembered that one time I violently elbowed my way past some fellow shoppers in Central Market to secure the last vegan cinnamon roll from Sinfull Bakery on the shelf.

While the aforementioned establishment, whose goods are available at various outlets throughout town, is perhaps best known for their enormous, transcendently soft and gooey cinnamon rolls, I also very much enjoy the (also vegan) coconut dream bar (a.k.a. seven-layer bar) made with chocolate chips, oats and pecans. It’s sweetened with maple syrup, which gives it a more mellow flavor less likely to induce that rapid spike in blood sugar I find often comes from consuming the regular version.

Houston vegans can have their cake and eat it, too, thanks to Jody Stevens, whose namesake bakery JodyCakes and catering company specializes in sophisticated tiered confections that adhere to different dietary restrictions. Standout creative cakes include her vegan Monkey See, Monkey Do, made with bananas, cinnamon and nutmeg layered banana cream, and the Better than Chocolate…Chile, which combines a rich cocoa base with enlivening dashes of pepper.

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Coconut-pineapple and Green Apple’ade Juice Creams at Juice Girl.

Image: Alice Levitt

On the other end of the size spectrum: the vegan cupcake. Doshi House delights patrons with its solid menu of vegetarian and vegan South-Asian influenced fare, including a rotating selection of vegan cupcakes often made with seasonal berries. Though I generally prefer to frequent H-town based bakeries, it should be known that I recently entered Crave Cupcakes dead set on only procuring a peanut butter-and-jelly cupcake but on a whim changed my order to the vegan red velvet cupcake. I was shocked to find it almost indistinguishable from its non-vegan twin. When my nieces visited a few weeks later, I conducted a taste test with them as well and received similar feedback.

Last fall, Gretchen Todd of Juice Girl debuted a new line of vegan ice creams that have been a wildly popular due to their inventive choices (vanilla chai and sweet potato chocolate chip have been among the recent offerings) and smooth texture. The latter quality is especially tricky to reproduce without traditional milk fats; Todd deftly deploys cashew milk instead.

Finally, Pat Greer made a name for herself very early on in the Houston vegan dessert scene with her luscious pecan pie. Since then, she has expanded her repertoire to include an insanely rich chocolate-peanut-butter pie and a terrific seasonal strawberry-and-walnut cake. You won’t feel bad downing a large wedge as a reward for eating one of her made-from-scratch garden burgers.

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