Valentine's Crush: Vegan Treats
We’ve been huge fans of Vegan Treats for quite some time now, but when they launched their limited run "Fatally Your's" gourmet chocolate box, we officially needed to get to know the face behind one of our favorite vegan bakeries.
Danielle Konya is living the sweet life. Over 15 years ago she started her Bethlehem, Pennsylvania-based bakery, Vegan Treats, that is offering a rotating roster of delicious, cruelty-free creations such as Death by Chocolate Cakes, Peanut Butter Bombs, White Chocolate-encased Triple Berry Cheesecakes, and much, much more.
The super chill PA native took a time out to chat with us about her "vegan journey", her upcoming plans and how the American punk-rock band Alkaline Trio was part of her "Fatally Yours" chocolate box inspiration.
Luckily for us all, the award-winning tattooed beauty shared one of her favorite recipes with us, and to top that, we're giving away one of her famous chocolate boxes. Find out more below....
When did you start and what did get you into opening a vegan bakery?
It was a complete accident. I started baking to satisfy my own sweet tooth and didn’t have a clue that what I was creating was innovative. I never set out to own a bakery. In 1998 when I started baking, vegan desserts for the most part simply didn’t exist. There was a restaurant in Philadelphia that was making vegan cheesesteaks and I brought him one of the cakes I baked because when I told him I baked he scoffed and said “vegan desserts don’t exist”. But he loved it and wanted more. I was young and thought the extra money sounded nice, so I made him three cakes and dropped them off the following Friday. By eight o’clock that night he was calling me, they had sold out and he wanted to know if I could bring him 11 cakes for the following Friday. Within weeks restaurants in New York City had heard of my cakes and were calling me to get their hands on their own “vegan treats”. A month after delivering my first cake to Manhattan, the New York Times came knocking, it was all so hard to comprehend – I had gone from college student to bakery owner in the span of a few months.
How do you come up with your recipes? Is there a lot of experimentation involved?
The process starts with an idea for something that I want to make and I often have to research how someone would make it using conventional methods. I then have a rough idea in my head of what to substitute and I get to work. Sometimes it takes multiple tries to get the recipe exactly how I like it, and I often need to consult with my staff of professional taste-testers (friends, family, and employees) to get things perfect. At times, it can be frustrating, but the experimentation (and eating) is usually fun and exciting.
With Valentine's Day coming up our customers are dying to know, where did you get your inspiration for the "Fatally Yours Gourmet Chocolate Box"?
I’m not a gushy romantic type and first made these for a friend who shared a darker aesthetic and sense of humor. I don’t know how to do anything half way. I’m more of a “if it’s worth doing, it’s worth over-doing”, kind of person. So when I made the original box I went all out with every detail including gold leaf and exotic flavors such as passion fruit. I posted a picture and what was meant to be a funny gift and it turned into something much larger than that. I was attracted to the title “Fatally Yours” because of the Alkaline Trio song. I shared my idea with the singer, Matt Skiba, and he said “OH SHIT!! That is so rad” when he saw them.
Do you have a favorite treat/cake you just can’t live without?
Our Peanut Butter Bomb is still one of my own personal favorites. It’s a chocolate bundt cake filled with and topped with peanut butter mousse, encased in Belgian chocolate, and finished with a peanut butter drizzle. My idea behind it when I created it was to make a cake with more whipped peanut butter mousse than cake because I could not stop eating the peanut butter mousse by the spoon-full! I haven’t eaten it in awhile and had a meeting recently where I brought dessert. They insisted I have a piece and while eating the peanut butter bomb I think I went “Mmmmmm” out loud by accident. It’s impossible to get tired of.
What’s the coolest thing that happened to you over these past years since you opened Vegan Treats?
I guess two things stand out in my mind. First, was having the honor of being named one of the Top 10 Bakeries in the World by American Express in 2012. Not best “vegan” bakery, best BAKERY. It’s one thing to be recognized in the animal welfare community, have 2 hour lines at a VegFest, or grace the pages of a vegetarian magazine, but to get that kind of recognition from the mainstream was truly an honor. The second thing is being able to provide desserts to bands or people that I admire. Meeting Henry Rollins was an incredible experience I’ll never forget because his books have been such a huge part of my life. “See a Grown Man Cry” was attached to me like a limb for many years of my life. Giving something back, even if it’s just dessert, was an incredible experience.
What would you be doing if you weren’t baking?
I think about this a lot, actually. My heart is in Africa. I love apes, mountain gorillas in particular. I don’t run Vegan Treats for my love of cakes; I run Vegan Treats because of my love of animals. I would like to work for the conservation and protection of the very endangered mountain gorilla.
What is next for Vegan Treats?
We are in the midst of a major expansion and trying to close a real estate deal on a new manufacturing building and retail store. It is our hopes that this new flagship store can facilitate growth and allow us to open more Vegan Treats retail locations.
Is there any recipe that you can share with our customers, who'd love to try some vegan baking?
Here’s a recipe for Chocolate Peppermint Dreams; a delicious vegan cookie that combines chocolate and peppermint, making it a perfect cookie to share around the holidays or something tasty to snack on while you’re curled up with a good book or movie on a cold winter night!
Chocolate Peppermint Dreams
Yields 4 dozen
For the cookie:
- 1½ cups sugar
- 1 cup brown sugar
- 1 cup margarine (protect wildlife, use palm oil-free please)
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 1 cup Tofutti sour cream
- 1 cup cocoa powder
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 3½ cups all purpose flour
- ¼ cup water
- 1 Tablespoon Ener-G egg replacer
For the coating:
- 1 box opened and unwrapped candy canes
- 4 cups confectioner’s sugar
- 5-6 Tablespoons soymilk
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- Red food coloring, optional
In a mixer, combine sugar, brown sugar, margarine and vanilla. Beat until fluffy. Add sour cream and beat again until smooth and creamy. Add cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, salt and flour and beat on medium speed until combined. Be sure to scrape sides of bowl and mix thoroughly. Lastly, whisk water and egg replacer in a separate measuring cup and pour over batter and beat.
Scoop with a small ice cream scooper onto lightly sprayed cookie sheets. Place one inch apart and bake at 350 degrees for 8 minutes. They will rise up and crack but feel soft in the center. As they cool, they will set and fall back down into a chewy, chocolate cookie.
While they’re cooling, prepare topping. In a food processor, crush candy canes and put in a bowl and set aside. In the same processor, put in confectioner’s sugar and puree and slowly add soymilk until smooth. Spread onto cookies and dip into crushed candy canes.
Optional: Add a drop of red food coloring to remaining glaze and drizzle cookies with pink if you so desire.
Thanks so much to everyone, who took part in the contest.
Christine Courtney, you're the lucky winner of this yummy Vegan Treats chocolate box. Congratulations!