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Rachael Devlin puts sprinkles on vegan donuts at Eclair Bakery in Berkeley.
SEVEN DAYS A WEEK, bakers at People's Donuts churn out blueberry, chocolate, vanilla cake, lemon poppy seed and other sugary sweet doughnuts without using any animal products.

But some days, the bakers go hog wild, if you will, making a maple doughnut with textured soy protein bacon bits on top for their most special customers.

"I feel like you shouldn't let the meatatarians have all the fun," says doughnut maker Rachael Devlin, wiping a dab of chocolate from her chin at Eclair Pastries on Berkeley's Telegraph Avenue, which is where the 6-week-old People's Donuts does its baking.

From doughnuts to chocolate truffles to strawberry cheesecake, bakers are increasingly cooking up delectable vegan desserts, and plenty of non-meat eaters and carnivores alike are gobbling them up.

Last year, Alicia Parnell opened Que SeRaw SeRaw, an organic vegan raw retail food store in Burlingame.

Nothing in the store, which offers prepackaged salads, soup, entrees, pizza and desserts, is cooked above 118 degrees. Still, her food doesn't skimp on flavor, she said.

"We have the yummiest (vegan) cheesecake on the planet," says Parnell.

In addition, they sell blueberry scones, chocolate truffles, pecan bliss cookies, cinnamon rolls with frosting and pies.

"I have one customer, who wants to buy a whole pie every day," she says. "We are only two people making food. Then he comes in and says he's buying it for his mother and his aunt."

Her desserts, she says, also aim to satisfy even the most serious chocoholic.


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"We have a chocolate pudding that is absolutely out of this world," she says. "It handles the chocoholic's need for a fix."

Honing the dough

People's Donuts owner Josh Levine of Oakland spent a year studying doughnut-making and tasting doughnuts before perfecting his recipe, which he says contains no eggs or milk and is nearly all organic.

Claiming to be the first vegan doughnut operation in the state, he says even those skeptical of vegan food find the doughnuts tasty.

"I've had marriage proposals and exclamations of love," says Levine. "They are surprised because they think it's going to taste like bean sprouts and tofu."

Ryan Kellner, the owner of Mighty-O, an all organic vegan doughnut shop in Seattle, understands the long-standing prejudice toward vegan food and is working to change it by making great-tasting donuts.

"There are some people out there who, if you say, 'Try this, it's vegan,' they will say, 'No thanks I'm not vegan.'"

He once gave a batch of his vegan doughnuts to a group of construction workers who gobbled up every last crumb.

"Then they found out they were vegan doughnuts and then didn't want to eat them any more," he says. "I think it's really weird, but it's part of human nature. Some people like to eat meat (and eggs and dairy), and they don't want to be told that their lifestyle is wrong."

But these days with people paying more attention to the evils of trans fats -- thanks in part to the Food and Drug Administration's January 2006 requirement that it be listed on food labels -- there is an increased yearning for delicious, healthful desserts that go beyond the hippie, earthy, crunchy date-oat bar sort of thing.

"Vegan baking is becoming more popular, and people are becoming more conscious of the fact that there is a lot more of it going on," says Kellner.

"The vegan movement has always been asking for it, but most of the stuff five or 10 years ago wasn't any good. But now, these people are growing up, and they are willing to try different things," he says.

Beyond the table

A vegan (pronounced, VEE-gn) avoids all animal meat, chicken and fish as well as eggs, animal milks, honey and their derivatives.

But veganism also denotes "a philosophy and way of living that seeks to exclude, as far as possible, all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, nonhuman animals for food, clothing or any other purpose; and by extension, promotes the development and use of animal-free alternatives for the benefit of humans, nonhumans and the environment," according to one description in the Vegan Voice, a magazine devoted to the lifestyle.

Isa Chandra Moskowitz knows quite a bit about cooking and eating vegan.

The author of "Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World" and the "Vegan with a Vengeance," the 34-year-old New Yorker has been a vegan since she was 16.

She said vegan baking isn't more difficult than baking with eggs and milk, but there is a little more trial and error.

"You have to really learn how ingredients act together," she said. "I think a lot of people try and replace eight eggs with eight cups of apple sauce and that doesn't always work."

Moskowitz, who is working on a third cookbook, says she tried for a decade to make the perfect lemon bar. "Every couple of months for the last 10 years I'd try and make them," she says.

Finally, it was agar agar, a vegan gelatin substitute made from seaweed, that helped her turn out the perfect lemon bar. Moskowitz keeps track of what people are saying about her vegan dessert recipes, and the reviews are quite good.

"I haven't had any complaints. I look at people's food blogs, and people say 'I can't believe it, it's the best cupcake I ever had,'" she says.

Got cake?

Charlotte Blackmer of Berkeley can relate. She runs a Web site and food blog called Love and Cooking, which offers her home recipes, experiences feeding the multitudes, restaurant reviews and other food-related musings.

Blackmer says while "it is perfectly possible to make a lovely fruit compote, or a crisp, or even fruit pie without use of animal products, sometimes the soul just cries out for ... chocolate cake."

For this, she got help from an "extremely non-hippie source" -- an acquaintance who is a convert to Orthodox Christianity hipped her to a vegan chocolate cake that is truly heaven sent, she says.

Because Orthodox Christians have prescribed rules about abstaining from particular foods in the seasons of Advent (before Christmas) and Lent (before Easter), as well as abstaining from certain foods on most Wednesdays and Fridays during the year, they find ways to eat dessert without cheating, according to Blackmer.

So, wrote Blackmer, "If you or a near one are vegan, or dairy-sensitive, or egg-sensitive, or trying to cut down on your cholesterol, this is just a darn tasty cake, and it couldn't be easier to put together."

And if that doesn't satisfy the sweet tooth, you can always grab a maple bar with those yummy soy protein bacon bits at the People's Donuts in Berkeley. Your arteries will thank you.

Reach Kristin Bender at kbender@angnewspapers.com.

VEGAN FARE

  • Que SeRaw SeRaw offers vegan and raw food to go with many vegan desserts on the menu. 1160 Capuchino Ave., Burlingame. 650-400-8590. http://www.queserawseraw.com/index.html.

  • Whole Foods Market offers a wide variety of vegan cookies and desserts in their stores. http://www.wholefoods.com.

  • The People's Donuts offers vegan donuts in a variety of flavors at the Eclair Pastries, 2565 Telegraph Ave., Berkeley. 510-848-4221.

  • Author Isa Chandra Moskowitz has Web site called The Post Punk Kitchen (www.theppk.com) offers a variety of vegan recipes, including desserts.

  • Charlotte Blackmer features recipes, restaurant reviews and other food-related musings on http://www.loveandcooking.blogspot.com.

    Cake topping

    For topping, you have several options. Josephine either dusts it with powdered sugar, or frosts with frosting-in-a-can that passes the ingredient test. If you are a better person than I am, you can whip up some frosting of your own as long as you use margarine or shortening, not butter. What I did was put some high-quality dark chocolate chips on the cake the minute it came out of the oven, and after they melted (about 5 minutes), spread them with my spatula to cover the cake.

    Josephine's Lenten Chocolate Cake

    Serves 12

    2 cups very cold water

    Shortening or margarine for greasing

    3 cups all-purpose flour, plus some for dusting the pan

    2 cups sugar

    6 tablespoons cocoa

    2 teaspoons baking soda

    1 teaspoon salt

    Optional: 1/2 cup chopped nuts and/or 1/2 cup dark chocolate chips (check label to make sure they're vegan, some brands have whey)

    1 tablespoon white vinegar

    2 teaspoons vanilla

    3/4 cup corn oil

    1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees and put 2 cups of water into a container in the fridge. Grease (not butter!) and flour a 9-by-13-inch pan.

    2. Mix dry ingredients together in a large bowl until well blended. If you want to add the optional dark chocolate chips or nuts, you can do so at this stage.

    3. Mix cold water and wet ingredients together. Pour wet ingredients into dry ingredients and mix together.

    4. Pour into the prepared pan and bake for 40-45 minutes, or until tested done.

    -- Recipe courtesy of Charlotte Blackmer

    Per serving (made with nuts and chocolate chips): 448 calories, 5 g protein, 65 g carbohydrates, 20 g total fat, 0 cholesterol, 391 mg sodium, 3 g fiber. Calories from fat: 40 percent.

    Per serving (without nuts and chocolate chips): 372 calories, 4 g protein, 59 g carbohydrates, 14 g fat, 0 cholesterol, 390 mg sodium, 2 g fiber. Calories from fat: 34 percent.