Eating Vegan Doesn’t Mean Giving Up Dessert, Says St. Petersburg Baker
When Natalia Lima went vegan eight years ago, she assumed she was destined for a lifetime of dull desserts. But soon, the St. Petersburg baker learned to whip up her favorite confections—minus the animal products. She now sells them at her Curious Cat Bakery. Natalia is even veganizing recipes featured on The Great British Baking Show and posting the delicious results on Instagram.
Her version of one contestant’s lemon cake has all of the flavor with none of the dairy. During a baking demonstration of the cake, she spoke to The Zest podcast producer Dalia Colón.
DC: What’s the deal with this Great British Bake Off challenge?
NL: I’ve been watching the show for years and I love it. I find it so inspiring. And I knew when season 10 came out that I wasn’t going to be the only one watching. So I thought, wouldn’t it be fun to take all these challenges that have eggs and milk and butter, and all these things that aren’t vegan, and transform them into vegan recipes. So I put that out on Instagram and people were all about it.
DC: Can you talk us through what goes into making this cake?
NL: Since we don’t have eggs, you need something that’s going to glue it all together. So that’s where the cornstarch comes in. It’s really going to bring all the ingredients together and make it all stick. You don’t need eggs to do a cake, no matter what you’ve been told… You just have to get creative, and know that at the end of the day, baking is chemistry, and if you substitute some of those ingredients, you’re still going to have that chemical reaction that makes a cake a cake.
DC: It smells just like you would expect baking a lemon cake to smell.
NL: And that’s the whole thing with everything that I bake. I don’t want anything to taste, smell or feel like a vegan cake. I want it to feel and taste and smell like a regular lemon cake, because I was there. Eight-and-a- half years ago there were not many options. And all the options that were out there were those dry, tasteless cakes. And that was not going to work for me! I just knew that I couldn’t live my life eating dry cake forever. I knew that I had to come up with the solution. So that’s how this whole thing started.
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DC: What made you decide to go vegan eight years ago?
NL: I used to love meat. I used to love eating meat and cheese — all of those things — and then I watched Food, Inc, the documentary, and I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I just cried all the way through. By the time the movie ended an hour-and-a-half later, I’m in tears trying to see through the tears as I’m googling ‘how to go vegan.’ And I was like, ‘that’s it. I’m done.’ Never again.
DC: If you don’t mind my asking, what’s your cultural background? Was it difficult for your family to accept that you had gone vegan?
NL: I’m from Brazil, and it’s a very meat-heavy Brazilian diet. I used to love the Brazilian steakhouses where they just keep bringing your meat endlessly. So when I decided to go vegan, of course, I wasn’t going to go to those places anymore, but I was still visiting my family in Brazil. And my grandmother called it this weird phase I’m under. But then as you stick with it, people become interested and they’re like, ‘so what exactly do you eat?’