Exclusive Q&A: England's Queen of Vegan Baking
Self-taught vegan baker and cookbook author Mellissa Morgan lets us in on the sugary secrets of running the first vegan bakery in the UK.
Mellissa Morgan is living the sweet life, serving the masses vegan treats out of her London-based bakery, Ms. Cupcake. The retro-style outfit offers a rotating roster of cruelty-free confections that are as colorful as they are creative, with a menu that includes Neapolitan Triple Layer Cakes, Carrot Maple Nut Muffins, Lemon Cheesecake Cupcakes, and much, much more. Morgan and her team are making the leap across the pond with the release of their new cookbook, Ms. Cupcake: The Naughtiest Vegan Cakes in Town, a colorful compilation of baker’s tips, ingredient insights, glossy images, and recipes. We talked with Morgan about her journey into veganism, how she got into the baking biz, and what the future holds for her and her culinary crew.
VegNews: You opened London's first vegan bakery. How did that happen?
Mellissa Morgan: I am the classic story of a home baker that grew a business from her hobby. When I became vegan, I realized that vegans (and those with food allergies) weren’t being catered to in the UK like they were in North America. I figured that if I wanted to eat cruelty-free cake, I was going to have to make it myself. Like so many people before me, I turned to the gurus of vegan cooking, notably Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero, and I started off with one of the recipes from their awesome cookbook Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World. I have a super-duper sweet tooth, and I tend to make things to my taste, so I have been experimenting and changing and inventing recipes ever since. I like to think of my baking as American-style with a British flavor twist. We do over 100 flavors of cupcakes at Ms. Cupcake (and counting). We get inspired by “traditional” baking—no matter how an item is normally made, I always think, “How can we veganize this?”
VN: When did you go vegan?
MM: I became vegetarian as a young teenager when I learned about where our food comes from. After attending the Toronto Vegetarian Food Festival (I’m originally from Canada) when I was about 13 or 14, I decided to become vegetarian on the spot. I’ve always been intolerant to dairy products, so it was a pretty easy switch to veganism. I live in London, where vegan products are readily available, and soy is pretty universal, so I ran out of excuses as to why I was only vegetarian. I have a pretty basic philosophy to life—every living thing has the right to live. When you start researching the food industry and see how animals are farmed for their eggs, you realize that even though they are living, it’s not really an existence. However, I celebrate everyone who makes steps toward a cruelty-free lifestyle, whether they are vegan, vegetarian, flexitarian, or even eat meat sparingly. Every bit counts.
VN: What are your top sellers at Ms. Cupcake?
MM: This is a hard question because we have 12 different flavors available each day out of our menu of 150 flavors. We always keep the Triple Chocolate and Red Velvet on the menu, along with our trademark, "The Ambassador," which is hazelnut-infused chocolate cake filled with our Nutella-like ganache, topped with chocolate-hazelnut frosting and rolled in roasted hazelnuts. Decadence on a plate!
VN: That sounds incredible. What are some lessons you've learned about running a vegan business?
MM: Running a vegan business in the UK over the last few years has changed remarkably. Three years ago it felt like we needed to explain to everyone what vegan meant, but that has changed, and now people hear about vegan cake and they say, “Oh, I know what that is, I’ve had a vegan cake before.” I feel like you are under immense scrutiny by your customers and your competitors when you run an ethical business. It can be really tricky when you need to make decisions that won’t necessarily please everyone. When you run a vegan business, your bottom line can never be about profit—it’s always about ethics. We have managed to survive by being honest, welcoming, and friendly to everyone. I may never get rich that way, but it was never about that. It was about seeing a need and knowing I could help fulfill it.
VN: Why did you decide to write a cookbook?
MM: We were approached by quite a few publishers soon after we opened the doors of our bakery. There was clearly a need for a vegan baking book infused with British flavors that was accessible and easy to use. We were happy to oblige! When deciding which publisher to go with, I insisted that each of our recipes would be accompanied by a colorful, gorgeous photo. There are quite a few really good vegan cookbooks on the market that aren’t getting the attention they deserve because they don’t have pictures. People eat with their eyes first, so photos are crucial to entice the reader to actually make the recipes. The book really captures who we are as a team because it is packed with pictures of my staff and me and the things that really excite us.
VN: What is your favorite recipe in the cookbook?
MM: I’m a massive fan of peanut butter, so I would have to say our Peanut Butter Snap Bars, Peanut Butter Cookies, and Chocolate Peanut Butter Cupcakes. However, to be completely honest, I love every single recipe in there! The book is completely packed with yummy and indulgent, yet easy-to-make awesomeness!
VN: What are some new projects you hope to embark on in the future?
MM: I had such a blast writing the first book that I already have another one underway! Our shop produces a line of savory items, so hopefully some of that will be included in an upcoming book as well. We also plan to open a few more Ms. Cupcake locations across the UK and possibly abroad. We just want to make sure that everyone who wants to get a hold of awesome vegan cake will be able to do so!
Want a taste of Ms. Cupcake's desserts? Check out her recipe for Mint Chocolate Chip Cupcakes here!
Photo credit: Ms. Cupcake
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