Of my many faults, not having a poker face has gotten me into the most trouble.
For example: On being informed that someone would be bringing a vegan dessert to a summer party. “Could you at least try to look excited?” a friend commented. “Or at the very least stop rolling your eyes.”
I can’t help it. I equate vegan meals — and especially vegan desserts — as cardboard punishment for my sins as a lover of butter and sugar.
Of course, I’ve been proven wrong on several occasions. The aforementioned vegan desert – a coconut lemon bundt cake — was so moist and delicious nothing remained (I myself ate three (3!) slices, which if you know me at all, is a once-in-a-decade occurrence.)
All of this is to say, when Luke brought over a dozen vegan cupcakes, I couldn’t hide my disdain, eye-rolling and everything — even though it has been proven to me that, OK, vegans can maybe do dessert.
He set five orange cupcakes on the kitchen table. For the kids and me. I left them there, and didn’t mention their provenance when the nits ran into the room. “Whose cupcakes?” shouted the girl, shoving one into her mouth before I could answer. The boy followed, presumably on the instinct that his sister was enjoying sweets and he had to muscle in for his fair share.
They both ate two with great gusto and ran back upstairs. Then it was just me and the last vegan cupcake. Alone in the kitchen. I took a deep breathe, and dug in.
It was good. And it got better with every chew, flavors layered over texture. I smashed my nose into the frosting. Oh. My. God.
With one bite left I knew this cupcake to be insanely good. Wrongly good. Impossibly good. Too good to be vegan.
Wait it gets better.
Not only were these cupcakes vegan, but they were from a small outfit called Clara’s Cakes, based in Los Angeles. according to Luke.
Clara Polito, who became a vegan at 12, is now all of 14.
So now my old BusinessWeek brain was kicking into overdrive. Is this a company? Who’s bankrolling it? How big is it? Is there a brick & mortar component? Is the 14-year-old merely the face behind the cupcakes or is she actually doing the baking? Who helps? Who distributes? Why isn’t she in school?!
I inquired of course, and Clara called me herself tonight. She is indeed 14. And yes, she does the baking herself. “My mom decorates,” she says. “She’s pretty good at that. But I do all the baking myself. ”
It all started when she became a vegan, she told me. She’d long been a vegetarian, but when her mother and brother became vegan, she was piqued enough to try it herself. It wasn’t an over-night transformation. But the more she read, the more convicted she became.
Clara’s Cakes came out of her desire for a better tasting vegan dessert. “I couldn’t really find a good-tasting vegan cake,” she said, “so I thought I’d try to come up with something better myself.” And so she did.
She started out donating her cakes to fundraisers and animal rights groups within the vegan community. Not surprisingly, people started asking where they could buy them. About a year and a half ago, she started taking orders. Clara’s Cakes were born.
It’s still pretty much under the radar. You have to have a connection in the vegan community to know about them. Online and phone orders only. “Yes, it’s busy, but all my heart is in this,” says Clara. She says she still does all the baking, albeit in a commercial kitchen space donated by a family friend.
Luke, who works with a devout vegan, heard about these gems, procured, and brought them home to me.
Clara told me that although she is vegan, she never proselytizes. “I find the best way is get people interested is just to be vegan and let them come to it themselves,” she told me.
Refreshing to hear, since one of my objections to the lifestyle has always been the withering judgment of its adherents. Tell me I shouldn’t do something and I’m just gonna do it to spite you. I can’t help it.
But make cupcakes like this? No judgment? A charming, well-spoken young girl who bakes like a MoFo? Hmm. Ten points for the vegans.
Did I disparage vegan desserts up top? Not really. But I’ll admit I’ve once again been proven wrong. Vegans can do dessert. And well.
Check out Clara’s impressive website here.
And try a cupcake or a dozen. She’s got many varieties. You will not be sorry.