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Recipes that Just Happen to be Vegan

She founded Sticky Fingers, a famed D.C. vegan bakery, and won Cupcake Wars without using butter or cream. Now Doron Petersan has written a cookbook in which she shares her secrets to creating delectable vegan treats.

By Lauren Reisig
November 2012


Cowvin Cookie

Little Devils

Gilbert Ganachefried

The word “’vegan’ scares people away,” Doron Petersan, owner of Sticky Fingers Sweets and Eats, admits in a recent interview with Jewish Woman. Perhaps this is why the jacket cover of Petersan’s recent book, Sticky Fingers’ Sweets: 100 Super-Secret Vegan Recipes, describes the D.C.-based Sticky Fingers not as a vegan bakery, but as “a bakery that just happens to be vegan.”

Yet, the bakery’s vegan kitchen didn’t seem to deter its steady stream of customers on a dreary Monday morning. In fact, neither the overcast sky nor the construction encroaching on the bakery’s entryway would stand in the way of customers and their morning indulgences. After all, in a place where the bacon is tempeh, the chicken is soy, and the chocolate cake can be made gluten-free, Sticky Fingers has become a coveted spot for customers with dietary restrictions.

But for the other patrons, the appeal of the menu items colorfully decorating the bakery’s chalkboards boils down to one thing: Taste. “If we were only catering to vegans, I wouldn’t be able to keep my doors open,” Petersan states. “People wouldn’t be coming back and we wouldn’t be around for 10 years.”

Since opening the doors in 2002, Sticky Fingers, situated off a side street in Washington, D.C.’s popular Columbia Heights neighborhood, has stayed true to its origins. Everything is done “easily, tastefully, and successfully,” Petersan says matter-of-factly. “It’s the only way to get people to believe in what we’re doing.”

What is it they’re doing, exactly? They’re making healthier alternatives to baked goods and café items, while “catering to those individuals with food sensitivity or allergies.” And Petersan is doing so without compromising the integrity of her products. It is no wonder that in the 10 years since Sticky Fingers first opened, Petersan has cemented her status as the proprietor of one of the most popular bakeries in the city, successfully eluding the stigma associated with most vegan and pareve desserts–that these dairy alternatives, albeit good for what they are, are simply not as good as their butter counterparts. At Sticky Fingers, this is not the case. Soymilk is as good as milk. Margarine is as silky as butter. And egg replacer does exactly as is promised.

However, learning how to adapt recipes to a vegan diet is not as simple as exchanging an ingredient or two. Initially, Petersan didn’t even know it was possible to do so. When she decided to adopt the vegan lifestyle at the age of 22, she feared it meant giving up most of her favorite foods. Petersan did not grow up vegan, or vegetarian, even. Of Jewish-Italian heritage, Petersan was raised in a home where meat was kept stocked in the freezer, and sweets were in limited supply. Everything was farm to table in her home in Redhook, N.Y. “We used to go to the farm and pick out our cut of beef that we ate all year,” Petersan explained. “And learning that most people don’t eat like that and most animals aren’t treated like that was shocking for me at 20 years old."

It was these “animal issues and agricultural issues,” that first motivated Petersan’s decision to become vegan, but it was her subsequent education that led to her career as a vegan baker and entrepreneur. In pursuit of a degree in nutrition and public health, Petersan enrolled in a science course, and suddenly something clicked. This one course paved the way for her future. She soon parlayed her initial interests in the health sciences into perfecting the art and science of vegan baking. To this day, Petersan relies on science to understand the balance of ingredients as she develops new recipes, many of which she includes in her book.

The philosophies Petersan employs at her bakery – simplicity and taste - are also what make her recipe book such a success. “The products that we have here [at Sticky Fingers] are easily replicated; they’re easy to train other people how to do. They’re very straightforward. They use a lot of ingredients that are affordable and easy to find. They’re sturdy – they travel well. They’re shelf stable. These are all things that have to be taken into consideration when in a production facility.”

“The recipes in the book speak for themselves,” she claims. “They’re the recipes we use here.”

Among them are three recipes upon which the bakery was founded, those things Petersan couldn’t bear to leave behind from her pre-vegan life: the Cowvin Cookie (oatmeal cream pie), Little Devils (chocolate -covered devil’s food cream-filled snack), and Sticky Buns. And so Petersan figured out how to adapt them and her customers reap the rewards. “These are the three recipes that built this bakery,” Petersan writes. In fact, they’re “still our best sellers today.”

Also featured are the recipes that earned Petersan a victory on Food Network’s popular Cupcake Wars. Inside the book, among the bevy of cakes, cookies, brownies, muffins, breads, scones, pies, cheesecakes, and assorted vegan goodies, you can find her winning George Caramelin, Gilbert Ganachefried, Working Blue, and Strawberry Daiq-kiwi cupcake recipes. Apparently a Cupcake Wars judge admitted to Petersan, in reference to the Gilbert Ganachefried frosting, “I know you are a vegan bakery, but I thought this was real banana cream.”

If Petersan can fool a professional into believing something isn’t vegan, now you can do the same, and your friends and family will be none the wiser. Because just like the bakery from which the recipes originate, Sticky Fingers’ Sweets: 100 Super-Secret Vegan Recipes isn’t a vegan recipe book, it’s a book of recipes that happen to be vegan.

Lauren Reisig is a writer who lives in northern Virginia.

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