A Talk with Vegan Baking Queen Fran Costigan
From baking boot camp to the perfect cupcake recipe, the queen of vegan baking is ready to share her pastry secrets with the world.
Fran Costigan knows a thing or two about chocolate. She can tell you the best leavener for the perfect vegan torte, or a replacement for eggs that will transform your dairy-free mousse. After eschewing butter, cream, and eggs for vegan versions in the ‘80s, Costigan has shaped the art of vegan baking like no other. In fact, many say that Costigan is the country's first-ever vegan pastry chef, and her flawless cakes, cookies, and tarts will make you a believer. Now leading an always-sold-out vegan baking boot camp in New York City, Costigan is teaching students from around the world how to make perfect vegan pastry.
VegNews: How did you become a vegan baker?
Fran Costigan: After completing the professional program at New York Restaurant School, I was hired as a pastry chef at a high-end New York City café to make all the desserts and baked goods. My desserts were popular and my work was interesting, but I didn't feel well. I had to stop working to try to deal with my exhaustion, moods swings, and general malaise. During my time out, I read Annemarie Colbin's Food and Healing and had my first "aha, it's the food" moment. I became a whole-foods vegan overnight, shunning all sweets, and felt great virtually immediately.
VN: Shunning all sweets? We can't imagine Fran Costigan saying those words. How did you parlay your new lifestyle back into your passion for baking?
FC: I know! Well, not long after my epiphany, I remembered that sweet treats are celebratory and an important part of a balanced life. I investigated the vegan desserts on the market, and they were mediocre to awful. The last straw for me was when my mainstream colleagues decided that vegan and the pastry arts were antithetical, so I hit the stores for ingredients and sequestered myself in my kitchen. While I was madly testing, I enrolled in the Natural Gourmet Institute Chef's Training Program and worked as a pastry chef in a vegetarian restaurant. When I perfected my first chocolate cake, I knew I had cracked the code!
VN: What is your favorite dessert to prepare?
FC: That's like asking me to pick my favorite child! But when I am in the mood for true dessert artistry, I make my L'Opera cake. My version is true to the French original: four layers of almond genoise cake, two cream fillings, two icings, coffee syrup, chocolate designs, and gold dusted nuts.
VN: Tell us what one will experience in baking boot camp.
FC: It's a five-day, eight-hours-per-day intensive program that will give you the tools and confidence to make excellent, reliable vegan desserts. This course is on par with other professional pastry course intensives—it just happens to be vegan. Students learn how to work with quality ingredients integral to vegan baking and how to bake categories of desserts using the proper technique. We practice plating every night, and finish up the class with a dessert buffet party.
VN: When you want a terrific vegan dessert and don't want to make it at home, where do you go?
FC: I adore Lula's Sweet Apothecary for sundaes or a vegan macaroon by Sweet & Sara. And the cannoli at Candle 79—don't get me started! For a raw dessert, I hit Pure Food and Wine, and I love the atmosphere at the new all-vegan chocolatier, Cocoa V.
The #1 Way to Make Sure You Eat Your Greens First
Find yourself in need of some healthy habits? Its a lot easier to train your brain than you might think!
Read More »
How to Veganize Any Recipe: Sweet Edition
Dying to revamp a favorite dessert, but don't know where to start? These expert tips will help you convert any recipe vegan.
Read More »
Surprising Vegan Finds at Mainstream Grocery Stores with The Laziest Vegans
No Whole Foods? No Trader Joes? No problem! Thanks to The Laziest Vegans, finding vegan eats at your typical American supermarket is easier than you think.
Read More »
10 More Hot Veg-Friendly Spots in Nashville
Music City, USA has way more vegan fare than what we could cram into two magazine pages. Here are 10 more stellar options for sustenance.
Read More »
VegNewsletter Giveaway: Trio of Vegan Books
Don't miss this exclusive opportunity for VegNewsletter readers to win three of our favorite vegan reads.
Read More »
- 3 Mouth-Watering Vegan Mexican Food Recipes
- 5 Next-Generation Vegan Cheese Brands
- Sarno Brothers Secret to Getting Wicked Healthy
- The Three-Day Detox Plan Anyone Can Do
- 11 Reasons Why Oakland is the New Brooklyn
- 11 Spicy Vegan Dishes for Hot Sauce Lovers
- 11 Unbelievably Awesome Uses for Cauliflower
- 3 Gluten-Free Seasonal Springtime Dishes
- 13 New and Unique Ways to Eat PB&J
- VegNewsletter Giveaway: Vegan Alfredo Sauce
- The Best Vegan Brunch Youll Ever Eat
- Joseph Connellys 48 Hours in Los Angeles
- 10 Healthful Foods You Should Be Eating Right Now
- How to Veganize Any Recipe: Savory Edition
- Top 10 Healthy Vegan Products at Expo West
- All Aboard the 100-Percent Vegan Holistic Holiday at Sea Cruise
- VegNews Dessert Contest with Chloe Coscarelli: Winner & Finalists
- Celebrate St. Pattys at One of These 7 Vegan-Friendly Bars
- 3 Kid-Friendly Recipes the Whole Family Will Love
- The Healthy Dessert Ingredient Youve Never Tried