Vegan Cupcakes Take Over The World

October 4, 2006

View From The Cupcake Tower

Filed under: Cupcake Towers,Musings — by isachandra @ 10:14 pm

What does it mean when non-vegans enjoy eating vegan food? Even omnivores like it. It’s a compliment of the highest order. Every vegan cookbook promises it. I am happy when vegans are enjoying their food; that’s why we started the cooking show, to keep vegans well-fed and entertained, not to convert anyone. And yet, try as I might to deny it, I’m reluctantly waiting for that omnivore seal of approval.

Years ago, I was a waitress at a restaurant in Park Slope, Brooklyn. When it came time to make my staff lunch there was always an audible sigh from the chef, and sometimes worse. Cooking for the vegan. On the occasions when we had some downtime, I’d go back to the kitchen and he’d teach me chef things – the proper way to cut an onion, how to flip a pancake. We’d argue about sexism, politics, and soup stocks (he always used veal stock in his vegetable soups). One day I decided to bring him in some of my own soup. It was one of my specialties, a light tomato-based chickpea soup with fresh coriander, baby potatoes, and veggies. He took one bite and before it even hit the back of his throat he said “I can tell this is vegetarian.”

Of course he was expecting something, it was written all over his face. He was expecting it to “taste vegetarian,” which, to his sensiblities, was a bad thing. Did he recognize the the notes of roasted onion, the leek and mushroom that I used to make the broth? Was he able to savor the tomatoes that I had gotten from the farmers’ market that very morning, blanched and peeled myself, all simmered and garlicky? How about the chickpeas I had soaked and boiled, the way they burst open on your tongue?

No. He wanted the veal stock box. He needed to taste the box. Spoon to lips was only a handful of seconds, but the tension was probably that of a boxer’s before a big fight, only completely unfair because I wouldn’t even get a chance to throw a real punch. The fight was fixed. It was going to taste like a handful of grass to him.

And so I learned a valuable lesson. Never tell them it’s vegan. Not until after the compliments have come in.

At this point in my life it’s mostly hard to avoid because I’ve written a cookbook. After 16 years of eating the food I make, my friends and family know that it’s going to be good. They know that my cookies are going to disappear; it isn’t even a big deal, they’re just cookies now. And so it was interesting to bake the cupcake tower for my friend’s wedding last weekend. Most of the guests didn’t know the cupcakes were vegan.

It was thrilling to watch them, smudged brushstrokes of frosting not yet wiped from their chins, and see their expressions as they took one bite, then another, some going back for seconds with a little cake still left in the wrapper of the first. Little girls in frilly dresses twirled on the dancefloor, cupcakes in hand.

It made me think of the cognitive dissonance that humans face everyday as they buy their cold, dewy cartons of milk, the happy cow painted on the front. It’s so hard to give up what we’re used to. We’re so convinced that we can’t let go, that this is the way it always has been and this is the way it always will be, that our little glass of milk doesn’t make a difference, and even if it does, who cares? Why should we even care? Plus, there is no way we can live without meringue. But who even really likes meringue?

And so I suppose the bottom line is that’s why it’s more important when a non-vegan likes our food. Because we feel we’ve changed something, set a mind on a different course. Of course, it doesn’t mean that the taster will never eat dairy again. They might not even remember the experience in the minutiae of their everyday life. But the next time they’re presented with a vegan cookie or a soup, their mentality will be different. The fight won’t be there; enjoying it will come easier. And that is the paradigm shift, the one little grain of sand, one of those “little things” we hear about, the ones that they say count. I’m sure that the first simple cell that ever existed seemed insignificant, not that anyone was around to notice, but now look at us, a bunch of simple cells running around doing who knows what.

I know, enough with the talky talky, make with the cupcake tower.

Click “more” for the rest of the pho-tos.

Here are some of the naked red velvets completely exposed and vulnerable.

Fizz and Avocado getting messed up in the decorations.

Decorating at the hall before anyone got there.

More decorating, now with helpers!

Cupcake tower, complete!


The crowd descends.

In short order.



  1. That is just plain awesome. Onward with the paradigm shift.

    Comment by Chris — October 4, 2006 @ 10:37 pm |Reply

  2. I forget, amid your pithy snarks on the forums, that you’re also a really good writer. Can’t wait for the memoirs…

    Comment by Brian — October 4, 2006 @ 11:58 pm |Reply

  3. I will attest to the toothsomeness of said cupcake tower.

    Well, not the tower, but the cupcakes therein.

    Comment by Epidiah — October 5, 2006 @ 12:19 am |Reply

  4. This is just simply a beautiful cupcake tower, vegan or not! I love to read your blogs, or your cookbook, which by the way is getting really beat down looking….cant wait for the cupcakes and next cookbook!
    I cant wait to “wow” my friends with the cupcakes at both my daughters birthday parties.

    Comment by Elizebeth — October 5, 2006 @ 12:25 am |Reply

  5. I love your writing style and what you have to say

    Comment by Bastah — October 5, 2006 @ 3:39 am |Reply

  6. That was pretty awesome.

    Comment by Keenie — October 5, 2006 @ 8:23 am |Reply

  7. Amazing, we are so in love with your cupcake tower. If Kit and I ever have a proper wedding we know who we are going to fly in to bake our cupcake tower!

    Comment by Ian — October 5, 2006 @ 8:39 am |Reply

  8. The cupcake tower is stunning!!! I enjoyed your story about the chef who could tell it was vegetarian soup. I’ve gotten responses like that before. Like you, I don’t tell people it’s vegan up front anymore. I’m looking forward to the cupcake book 🙂

    Comment by Emmy — October 5, 2006 @ 9:22 am |Reply

  9. Let me just say that I was there and witnessed die-hard omnivores freak out over these cupcakes, two fisting cupcakes, running down the stairs for more cupcakes. And the vegetarians and vegans were just besides themselves with joy.

    Comment by terryromero — October 5, 2006 @ 10:40 am |Reply

  10. oh wow! I think you will be starting a trend of cupcake wedding towers! I know I want one if I ever get married!

    Comment by denise — October 5, 2006 @ 2:29 pm |Reply

  11. it’s the pic of the uniced cupcakes that makes my mouth water, i don’t know why, since it was the iced ones i can recall wanting to devour as soon as i got to the wedding.

    Comment by al — October 5, 2006 @ 5:36 pm |Reply

  12. I have to say, this is the most beautiful assemble of baked goods (vegan or otherwise) I have ever laid eyes upon. Isa, I must say, you are my hero. I pre-ordered your cupcake food and I currently own VWaV, which is my food bible and inspiration for many of the meals on my food blog. I already decided to one day have a vegan wedding, but I think cupcakes would be the perfect dessert. It looks amazing and I want to eat it right off the computer screen!

    Comment by Kate — October 5, 2006 @ 6:16 pm |Reply

  13. now THAT is a sight to behold. gorgeous, daaah-link!

    Comment by Stephanie — October 5, 2006 @ 6:26 pm |Reply

  14. hey, i just want you to know, i am not a vegan and i am taking my own sweet time getting there…but i have your cookbook, i am eagarly awaiting the next, i read your blogs and…the food is good. we are out here, the slow to convert. the ones who care but struggle. the ones who are getting there…very…slowly. and i appreciate what you do and how you do it. especially when it involves cupcakes!

    Comment by ren — October 5, 2006 @ 6:40 pm |Reply

  15. I think you’ve helped me make up my mind that for my wedding, I will not search all over for someone to help me make a vegan wedding cake, and instead will do a cupcake tower. I hope mine looks at least half as fabulous as yours does.

    Comment by Tzippy — October 5, 2006 @ 6:43 pm |Reply

  16. You are a wonderful writer!
    And cupcake maker.
    I 2nd the memoir request. I’d read it. I’d preorder it, too.

    Comment by Universal Remonster — October 5, 2006 @ 7:10 pm |Reply

  17. I said this on the forums and I will say it again here: vegan cupcakes really did take over the world!

    Comment by primaryconsumer — October 5, 2006 @ 8:57 pm |Reply

  18. [|} you guys.

    Comment by isachandra — October 5, 2006 @ 11:56 pm |Reply

  19. Isa, thank you for everything! I continue to amaze people with your recipes from VWaV. Although everyone knows my cooking is vegan, they have come to depend on my meals as a way to “explore” and love the food I cook. You have a lot to do with that. I can’t wait to continue to WOW people over with cupcakes of all things!

    Comment by Heather — October 6, 2006 @ 1:00 am |Reply

  20. Hey! I don’t know if this is a good thing or a bad thing, or disproves your point but…

    The wedding menu DID say “Gourmet Vegan Cupcakes”

    Gourmet? Sure. Why not.

    But people DID know it was vegan. And gobbled it down, nonethless. I did have an omnivore tell me “Wow, it even tastes like a real cupcake!”. I shoved it in his face.

    Comment by Erica — October 6, 2006 @ 11:55 am |Reply

  21. excellent post, isa! and the cupcake tower is just breathtaking. you’re a wonderful friend.

    Comment by girl least likely to — October 8, 2006 @ 5:39 pm |Reply

  22. Wow…that tower has to be one of the most beautiful sights I’ve ever seen…gorgeous!

    Comment by Aurora's Mom — October 9, 2006 @ 11:27 am |Reply

  23. Hear, hear. As my husband, an omnivore, says, “Good food is good food.” Love the cupcake tower!

    Comment by urban vegan — October 11, 2006 @ 5:01 pm |Reply

  24. I’ve always hated merinque. Yuck.

    Comment by appifanie — October 11, 2006 @ 6:09 pm |Reply

  25. You so elequently put the frustrations we as vegans go through when feeding people with closed minds. Thank you!
    And your cupcake tower rocks.

    Comment by cherie — October 11, 2006 @ 9:20 pm |Reply

  26. I am an omnivore, but I eat vegetarian much of the time. I love your food and your cookbook. So you can get the “omnivore seal of approval” from me!

    Comment by Erin — October 16, 2006 @ 4:17 pm |Reply

  27. Hi Isa,
    This is absolutely awesome and exactly what I’m going to do for my wedding next April. I’d decided on a vegan cupcake tower before finding your new book (already own VWAV). Hard thing is trying to find a cake maker who will bake vegan cupcakes!

    I might just have to make it a family affair – so your next post on making large batches will be very useful for us!

    Cheers, Kate

    Comment by Kate — October 28, 2006 @ 11:04 am |Reply

  28. where can i purchase a cupcake tower?

    Comment by irma — November 3, 2006 @ 2:18 pm |Reply

  29. Never tell them it’s vegetarian before the compliments, you’re ABSOLUTELY right. I’ve had family members declining invitations for lunch because they dislike vegetarian food – or so they say. They love it when they don’t realise it’s vegetarian.
    I can’t imagine how much harder it must be for you, being a strict vegan.

    By the way, those cupcakes look delicious!

    Comment by Fibonacci — March 24, 2007 @ 2:18 am |Reply

  30. Thank you for answering my question about the buttery sticks!! Now, I am trying to figure out where I can buy a cupcake tower (sans cakes) like the one you use in your photos. How many cuppies does it hold?

    Thanks so much, LOVE your recipes!

    Comment by Alexis — June 12, 2007 @ 11:39 pm |Reply

  31. […] soy for animal products.” But I digress.) Which reminds me: everyone should check out Isa Chandra’s fantastic essay about the “never tell them it’s vegan” rule at Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World […]

    Pingback by TracyFood » Ask TracyFood: Veg-what? — August 14, 2007 @ 11:47 am |Reply

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