The first bite of the double fudge chocolate brownie caresses your tongue with the soothing taste of dark chocolate, followed by the crunch of chopped walnuts sprinkled on top. Suddenly the $4 brownies sold at the swanky bakery down the street seem anemic and dry. After cleansing the palate, it’s time for the crumbly peanut butter cookie with chocolate chips. The chips are soft and creamy, the cookie perfumed with peanut.
Then a look at the ingredients…oat flour, barley flour… sweet potato? Amazingly, these delicacies are vegan—wheat free, dairy free, and 99% organic. They come from Simple Treats, a small bakery run by the sisters Abraham—both SLC alumnae—in Eastham, Massachusetts. Jill ’96 and Ellen ’94 do everything themselves, including baking, wrapping and shipping. “We’re not trying to market them as vegan, we’re marketing them to the mainstream consumer,” says Jill, the younger of the two. “The coffeeshops in our area go through our stuff really fast.” And small wonder: their brownies were voted “Best of Vegetarian 2002” by VegNews Readers Choice. Recently they published a cookbook, Simple Treats, with more than 100 vegan dessert recipes, available at Amazon.com and elsewhere.
Jill and Ellen started Simple Treats three years ago, after graduating from the Natural Gourmet Cooking School in New York City. They could not find the sort of yummy baked goods they had enjoyed before turning vegan some years before. But starting up was rough. “We had mediators—our parents—at first,” Jill admits with a laugh. “It’s great; Ellen’s more creative and I’m more grounded. It’s absolutely like a marriage. When we first started, we were in a residential kitchen; one room; we had cocoa powder in the shower; we were right on top of each other.” The stress led them to create strict rules about who did what. And fortunately they found a larger kitchen.
After months of recipe testing, they created a line of brownies, blondies and cookies without refined sugar, dairy, honey or eggs. (Many are available with or without nuts.) For sweetening they use maple syrup, succanat (evaporated cane juice), or agave nectar.
As for continuing to work together, Jill says: “It’s hard not to blend your work and your personal life, but you have to keep them separate. But it is definitely a chemistry: once you get it, you’ve got it.”
Speaking of chemistry, where did I leave those brownies…?
— Elisa DeCarlo