It’s Vegan Baker Wednesday!
Today’s vegan baker is Jess of Compassionate Cake, a new business based in Milwaukee. I met Jess after finding her cupcakes at a bake sale earlier this year. She has been making consistently amazing and impressive baked goods and I’ve been lucky enough to try lots of them! Jess provides cupcakes for a local, volunteer-run coffee shop on the East Side, Brewing Grounds for Change. Together, they just launched a Kickstarter to raise money for a commercial oven so Compassionate Cake can have a storefront! Please consider donating! The fundraising will run through October and there are t-shirts, free cupcakes, and more in it for contributors. Help a great cause-starting up an amazing vegan bakery in Milwaukee! Instead of, you know, funding someone’s vacation or burning desire to own a Vitamix. But let’s not derail the introduction to such a wonderful person. Jess makes beautiful baked goods and she also has a kind heart.
I mean, look:
White Chocolate Cheesecake with Biscoff Crust. And it was my birthday cake!
Look at even more photos!
Now let’s talk to Jess!
What was your experience going to culinary school and how has working with food influenced your decision to be a vegan baker?
Culinary school was pretty tough! I was a vegetarian at the time (in the mid 90′s) and being so caused some eyebrows to be raised and some evil looks. Even though I graduated with good marks, I did fail exams due to the fact that my chicken wasn’t seasoned enough or that the beef tenderloin was cooked to the wrong temp. I even remember there was a field trip to the slaughterhouse! Needless to say, I was absent that day! I never backed down on my morals on animals and how I feel about them. Sticking to my guns was what pulled me through.
I have always known that I wanted to be a chef from early on. Maybe it was too many re-runs of Three’s Company with Jack Tripper being a chef! I would read cookbooks like they were novels. First, It was The Joy of Cooking, next I read all of Julia Child’s books, soon it was vintage cookbooks found at rummage sales. My Grandma would renew my subscription to Bon Appetite every year for Christmas. Even though these books and magazines taught you how to cook and prepare meat, there was still a lot of other great information in them that didn’t pertain to meat.
Were you involved in art before cake decorating and how did you become so skillful at what you do?
That’s very nice of you to say:) My parents were always involving art in mine and my sister’s life. I remember us being in a lot of art classes growing up. Both my parents are really crafty. My mom is a great crafter and embroiderer and my dad does beautiful stained glass work. My sister is an excellent drawer. Instead of going out a lot as a kid, I would buy a container of Betty Crocker canned frosting and practice decorating over and over day after day. I remember it took me forever to master a shell border! When most kids were outside playing after school, I would beg my mom if I could make cookies or petite fours and I would play with marzipan like it was play-doh. I was a weird kid!
In addition to making cupcakes and cakes, you are working on French pastry. And you have sparkly Marie Antoinette business cards! What kinds of recipes are you creating and how did you become inspired by European-style bakery?
I have always been interested in France. I am French and Belgium on my mother’s side so maybe that’s where the fascination comes from. It is known that I have ancestors who ran a bakery in Belgium and the King and Queen used to send their servants there daily for their bakery. That’s where the Marie Antoinette business cards come in! As a nod to my ancestors. Baking is in my blood! I like to do European style bakery because it is not usually vegan friendly. I guess it is my way of proving that anything can be made vegan! I love to make Greek Baklava, Italian Pizzelle cookies, French Macaroons, etc. I worked forever on the right pate a choux for creme puffs and eclairs. I currently am trying to master the French Madeline and Ladyfingers. Those have been a little rough!
You bake for Brewing Grounds for Change, a cooperative coffee shop in Milwaukee. What is that experience like and what opportunities have come out of it so far?
Brewing Grounds has been AMAZING to me! I cannot even begin to tell you how kind they have been. They are so open to ideas and give me complete creative free will. They truly are a joy to work with! Every one of them! Right now, we just launched a Kickstarter program that is raising money to help buy an oven. That way I can bake right there in the shop. I am hoping to bring in vegan baked goods that you do not normally see such as gourmet cheezecakes, rice krispie squares, cakes by the slice, and maybe some artisan chocolates. Also, personalized special occasion cakes and wedding cakes.
What has the process of creating your business been like? What are your core objectives and values?
I am proud that I stand behind an all vegan based business. I have had a few inquires about if I did anything that was non vegan or that I was willing to. My reply is no. I feel that there are too many food businesses out there that offer maybe 1 or 2 items that are vegan. I like to have everything vegan so that there is no guessing. It makes vegans happy and animals happy too:)
What is the vegan scene like in Milwaukee and what are your favorite vegan food spots?
I think the vegan scene in Milwaukee is awesome! I have had the pleasure in meeting some wonderful people! You, Colleen, (from Vegan Milwaukee) Steph, (from Milwaukee Vegan Bake Sale) and Lindsay are some of the nicest I have met in a long time! As far as the food goes in Milwaukee, it is no secret that I LOVE The Comet!!! It is my was my first and still is my favorite! I also really love Bel Air Cantina! Anodyne makes a mean soy latte. Brewing Grounds for Change makes the best Dirty Chai. Through Vegan Milwaukee I found the little gem known as Babe’s for the Espresso Oreo Soy ice cream.
Thank you, Jess!
Please follow Compassionate Cake on Facebook, and donate to help open the storefront at Brewing Grounds!