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Cookbook Club: Plantcakes
Fancy + Everyday Vegan Cakes for Everyone, in-stores today!
My dear friend Lyndsay Sung is back with the most colorful, creative cakes in her second book, Plantcakes. You will recognize her cute designs and whimsical piping that have been decorating the Internet since the beginning of blogging - but this time the recipes are all vegan.
Whether you are plant-curious or plant-adjacent (as Lyndsay puts it) and want to make delicious desserts for loved ones that are vegan, there is a recipe here for you. Most are made with pantry staples and simple non-dairy swaps. For plant-based meringue, learn about the magic of aquafaba made from the liquid of canned chickpeas! Yes, really!
Lyndsay is as rad as her cakes. You’ll fall in love with the designs and stick around for the flavor. The combos are playful (like Cotton Candy Cake and Party Time Chocolate Raspberry Ruffle Cake), her writing as charming as ever (hello Dance Like No One is Watching Earl Grey Cake), but it’s her approachable instruction that makes Plantcakes truly a book for everyone.
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Tessa Huff: Why did you decide to write this book?
Lyndsay Sung: As someone who has been veganizing cake recipes for many years, I hadn't seen a book like Plantcakes out there - full of buttercream, sugar and colorful cake designs! I love having a party and having a delicious dessert that everyone, vegan or not, can tuck into, and no one will even know it’s plant-based. That was the goal I had for the book and I’m excited to share it with everyone.
The book is not only for plant-based folks, but for those who are plant-forward or plant-curious, or plant-adjacent - this last one always reminds me of my own grandma, who was so confused when I became vegetarian during my first year at university, but immediately went to work in figuring out how to make delicious things for me.
TH: Which recipe should readers try first? Or which has become a stand-out recipe with readers so far?
LS: For folks who are well versed in baking and want to try out some plant-based recipes, I love recommending the Swiss Meringue buttercream. You will be amazed seeing it come together, all from the liquid from a can of chickpeas. There’s a black sesame brittle cake I can’t stop eating, and even a mocha dacquoise cake adorned with fresh raspberries.
For beginner bakers, there’s snacking cakes with simple glazes, such as lemon loaf cake with vanilla bean glaze, or an apple olive oil cake with maple cream cheese frosting.
There’s even cupcakes, too - blackberry almond cupcakes with vanilla frosting, or chocolate cupcakes with peanut butter frosting. I’ve even got a giant chocolate chip cookie cake in there! I think the book is quite approachable for all levels of bakers.
TH: Can you name a must-have ingredient or signature flavor that you use in your recipes often? Or do you think there is special quality about your recipes or writing that readers can identify as being uniquely yours?
LS: In Plantcakes, a must-have ingredient would be aquafaba - whipping it up into a meringue, you’ve then got your base for a creamy dreamy buttercream.
I really love the mix of tangy, textural and creamy in a cake or dessert - so you’ll find many of the recipes having textural components, or a tangy fruit component, or a combo of everything.
Coco Cake Land fans have told me they can easily identify my cakes by design, which I think is so cute. I’ve built my cake identity (hehe) on color, buttercream piping and kawaii cute cake designs (such as animal cakes or character cakes). Not only is Plantcakes packed with recipes, but I also cover buttercream piping techniques and tips and tricks for adding flair to your cake via flavor, texture and color.
TH: What keeps you inspired and creative in the kitchen?
LS: I am constantly inspired by what other folks are making/designing - I love the fancy-free artful more sculptural cakes that are happening these days that use lots of decor from nature - wild-looking flowers, unconventional things like a sprig of tomatoes or radicchio adorning a cake.
Also, I tend to find a lot of super cute inspiration from super cute objects - whether it’s a stuffie or a kawaii shave ice mascot - I’m always finding things to translate into cake form.
I think being creative in other aspects of life too - or always exploring or trying new things, helps to keep the brain juiced up and open to explore when it comes to cake design and ideas, too.
TH: What were you listening to or reading at the time of writing this book?
LS: I listen to a lot of “comfort music” when I’m in the kitchen - which is usually music from my past that I can sing along to and gives me a cozy nostalgic feeling. So, music by Low, or the Sundays, or Sinead O’Connor… ooh I recall a Tori Amos Under the Pink session, hehe. Sometimes I just blast Whitney, too!
I was listening to a fair bit of Mitski, and oh probably like the Singles soundtrack and Smashing Pumpkins Siamese Dream or something. Haha… very random.
I do read a fair bit, but the old mind is blanking as to what I was reading during the making of Plantcakes! Currently I’m reading A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki, about a Japanese girl’s diary that washes up on shore of a tiny BC coastal town and the mystery around what happened to the girl and her family. It’s hilarious and dark and sad.
TH: Walk into a reader’s home and where can you find your book? Displayed on a coffee table, next to the bed for late-night studying, or splattered with batter in the kitchen? What is the main takeaway you want readers to get from your book?
LS: I love this question because it so accurately describes what I tend to do with cookbooks!
I think Plantcakes is such a pretty looking book and I think it would be very cute on display in a home for sure.
I also always have a stack of cookbooks on my night table, and I have ones that have never been used in the kitchen but just read, and then there’s ones that are splattered for sure.
I think the main takeaway is to get in there and experiment and make something delicious!
For plant-curious folks, I hope their curiosity is fulfilled and they come away with having the chops to make a delicious, beautiful cake for everyone to eat.
TH: What is one important key to success for home bakers wanting to try new recipes?
LS: I’m sure most folks would agree that reading through the recipe instructions first before diving in is essential! Also - don’t forget to have fun with it.
You’re alive, you’re breathing - you get to make a thing!? Enjoy the process, have fun, and be proud that you made a thing! Yay!
“This was my first time making aquafaba meringue and my mind is officially blown. Skeptical at first, I am totally amazed how chickpea water can turn into something so magical! The buttercream is literally the same silky texture as regular Swiss meringue buttercream. The pistachio cake itself is nutty and moist and flavorful while the freeze-dried strawberries add a punch of flavor to the buttercream.” - Tessa Huff
½ cup (125ml) soy milk
1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
1 cup (130g) finely ground shelled toasted pistachios
1 ½ cups (195g) cake flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
¾ teaspoon fine sea salt
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ cup (112g) unsalted plant-based butter, room temperature
1 ¼ cups (250g) granulated white sugar
¼ cups (60g) plant-based sour cream
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon pistachio or almond extract
Preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C). Prepare a 9-inch round cake pan by spraying it with oil and lining with parchment paper.
In a small bowl, mix the soy milk with the apple cider vinegar and set aside for 10 minutes.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the ground pistachios, cake flour, baking powder, salt, and baking soda.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat together the butter, sugar, sour cream, vanilla extract, and pistachio or almond extract on medium speed until combined, about 30 seconds.
With the mixer turned off, add the flour mixture to the mixer and pulse to combine. Slowly pour in the soy milk mixture and mix on low speed to combine until a batter forms, 15 to 30 seconds.
Add the batter to the prepared pan and smooth the top with an offset spatula. Tap the bottom of the pan on the counter to reduce any air bubbles. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with only moist crumbs. Let the cake cool completely in the pan set on a wire rack.
Simple Vanilla Syrup
1 cup (200g) granulated white sugar
1 cup (250ml) water
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Combine the sugar and water in a small saucepan set over medium-high heat, allowing the sugar to dissolve and the mixture to reduce, 5 to 10 minutes.
Remove from the heat and stir in the vanilla extract. Let cool completely before using.
Strawberry Swiss Meringue Buttercream
1 can (18oz/540ml) unsalted chickpeas
½ cup (100g) granulated sugar
½ cup (65g) icing sugar, sifted
¼ teaspoon cream of tartar
1 cup (112g) unsalted plant-based butter, room temperature
¼ cup (15g) freeze-dried strawberries, powdered
Pink gel food coloring (optional)
Pour the chickpeas and their liquid into a strainer set over a medium bowl. Reserve the chickpeas for another use.
Pour the aquafaba liquid (the chickpea water) into a small saucepan set over medium-high heat. Bring the liquid to a low boil, then turn the heat down to low. Simmer until the liquid reduces by half, about 10 minutes. You will want to end up with about ½ cup (120ml) of reduced aquafaba liquid.
Once the aquafaba has reduced, remove the saucepan from the heat and whisk in the granulated sugar. Transfer the aquafaba to a heat-proof container and refrigerate until cooled and jelled (at least two hours, but overnight is best). When ready, it will be thick and gelatinous.
Once jelled, add it to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment attachment. Mix on low speed for 3 minutes, then increase to medium-high for an additional 3 minutes.
From there, gradually add in the powdered sugar and cream of tartar, a tablespoon at a time, until the meringue holds stiff, glossy peaks - 8 to 15 minutes. You did it! You made vegan meringue!
Stop the mixer and swap the whisk attachment for the paddle. With the mixer on medium speed, begin adding in the butter, a couple tablespoons at a time. Bump up the speed to medium-high and continue to whip until smooth. If the mixture appears curdled, just keep mixing.
Add the freeze-dried strawberries, salt, and pink gel food coloring (if using) and mix to combine.
Once the cake cools, place it on a cake plate or serving dish. Generously brush the top with the simple syrup (save the rest for sweetening coffee or tea). Ice the cake with the buttercream and decorate as desired.
For the starburst pattern, I used a 1M star tip. Starting from the outer edge, I piped single shells - the tails pulled towards the center of the cake. Repeat by piping concentric circles until the top of the cake is decorated. Top with freeze-dried strawberry pieces and fresh raspberries.
Serving and Storage:
The cake will taste freshest eaten within a day of making it, but it can be stored in the fridge, covered, for up to 3 days.
The Simple Vanilla Syrup can be stored in the fridge for up to 2 weeks.