Kelly Peloza is a photographer, cookbook author, vegan baker, and the blogger behind Seitan Beats Your Meat. After becoming an ethical vegan as a teenager she became fascinated with baking and was inspired to start a cookbook project. Kelly’s first cookbook, The Vegan Cookie Connoisseur, was written in while she was still in high school and later published in 2010. Her new book Cheers to Vegan Sweets was released earlier this month and it features 125 deliciously fun drink-inspired desserts. I met Kelly briefly at Vida Vegan Con in the spring, and I asked her if she would like to chat about her new book, baking and being vegan.
CV – What motivated you to become vegan? Was it an overnight switch or more gradual shift?
KP – I became vegetarian at a young age when I made the connection between animals and food. Something just clicked and I opted for side dishes at dinner that night. It only lasted about a year because I didn’t have the knowledge or resources to adequately cook for myself. Still, the idea was planted and I gave it another try when I was 14. After a few months meat-free, I learned more about the gross animal ingredients in our food and the cruel methods of obtaining them, so I made the switch to veganism over the course of a few days.
KP – Thank you! There’s a chapter in my first book, The Vegan Cookie Connoisseur, called ‘Cookies Inspired by Drinks.’ It was really fun and interesting to develop those recipes, so I was inspired to keep going. Other drink-inspired dessert books out there are focused on alcohol-based desserts, but I wanted to create recipes based on all types of drinks like cocktails, coffee, tea, and more. This book is about working with flavor and texture and recreating the drinks in dessert form, not adding booze to a cookie recipe just for the sake of it.
CV – You’ve recently teamed up with Upton’s Naturals to create desserts for their new Upton’s Breakroom café. How did that collaboration come about?
KP – I graduated college in May and started working part-time in Upton’s seitan factory shortly after. Dan and Nicole asked if I would be interested in developing a bakery menu for the Breakroom, which was still in the works. I said “yes” and I’ve been at Upton’s a few days a week making cookies, scones, muffins, and seasonal treats ever since.
KP – To me, writing recipes is essentially a form of creative problem solving. I love choosing a theme, like a cookbook or a Vegan MoFo project, and finding all the different ways to address it. Thinking about how I will photograph the final product is always on my mind, since it’s an important part of the process. And of course, interesting or seasonal ingredients inspire me to create!
CV – You wrote your first cookbook The Vegan Cookie Connoisseur when you were in high school. Do you have any advice for aspiring cookbook authors?
KP – Know your stuff and get involved! I learned so much about baking and cooking from following food blogs and becoming part of the community through The Post Punk Kitchen forums. I didn’t go to culinary school, but that might be a good option for some individuals, especially if the program is focused on plant-based foods. I had full-time commitments (school) during both cookbook projects, and that will likely be the case for most people, so time management and balance is important.
KP – Start by baking from some cookbooks so you can get the hang of it, learn the small differences from traditional baking, and become familiar with new ingredients. Learn about replacements for eggs (there are many!), butter (vegan margarine or oil), and milk (any kind of non-dairy milk), for starters. Vegan baking isn’t all that complicated once you know the basics. And you can eat as much uncooked dough as you want.
CV – Do you have any favorite recipes from your cookbooks?
KP –Some of my favorites from The Vegan Cookie Connoisseur are the Chocolate Peppermint Cream Bars (total crowd pleaser) and Hypnosis Cookies (a little more involved, but worth it!). I really enjoyed making ice cream for Cheers to Vegan Sweets, like the Margarita Ice Cream, Mexican Hot Chocolate Gelato with Cinnamon Sugar Tortilla Strips, and Coffee Ice Cream.
KP – Anything saucy and deep-fried! For dessert, I like ice cream and cake.
CV – What vegan product could you not live without?
KP – Coconut milk is one of my cooking and baking staples. I use it in savory dishes and for rich, decadent desserts.
CV –In addition to being a cookbook author and baker, you’re also a photographer. Where can people find your photographs?