Lisa Jansen proves with Taarten van Jansen that vegan cakes are not only delicious but for everyone to enjoy. This year she won the 2017 Vegan Awards in the category best caterer. I got the honor to ask her all about her big passion: Vegan baking!
Where did it all start, your passion for baking?
I’ve always loved baking a lot. Ever since I was just 6 or 7 years old. It all started with those packages of Dutch ‘Rakkers’ cakes and cookies. With my freshly baked goods, I often went door to door in the neighborhood to raise money for animal charities, such as the World Wide Fund for Nature or cats and dog shelters.
How did Taarten van Jansen originate?
I was around 16 years old when I really started baking lots of different vegan cakes. As a result, people started to ask me if they could order some cakes from me. I really enjoyed baking for other people and getting some feedback in return. Two years ago I noticed that the demand started to increase more and more and therefore I started to finetune my baking skills.
Cakes are often linked to female, pink, and polka dots. And there is nothing wrong with that! I like pink and polka dots but I wanted to show that things can also be done differently. I do not only want to cater to the vegan target group but for everyone. And cakes are the perfect stepping stone to introduce people to vegan food in a fun way.
What makes Taarten van Jansen special?
I think the personal touch. I try to show people who I am and what I make and I try to keep it accessible. I have incredible admiration for the skills that high-end patissiers have, but I want everyone to feel comfortable with my cakes. I hope that people experience the cakes of Taarten van Jansen as friendly and accessible. At the right times, I don’t take myself too seriously. I also show it when something goes wrong. I dropped a full bucket of coconut oil on the floor once. I took a picture of it and posted it online.
All products you make are 100% vegan, what does this mean?
Veganism is not actually a diet, but more of a lifestyle. Even though I think that words sounds absolutely terrible. But besides that vegans of course do not eat animal products in their daily lives, they also don’t use anything that comes from animal origin. That means: no wool, leather, silk and animal glycerin. But also no products that have been tested on animals or that cause damage to animals. So someone who eats plant-based is not necessarily a vegan.
What are the most common prejudices of vegan pies?
When people know they are going to eat vegan pastries, they often immediately think that it will be very dry or will have a weird flavor. People think that cakes can not be tender or light without eggs and that it therefore will be dry and compact. But of course, you have a lot of ways to make something airy or fluffy. Vegan baking is just something very different than ‘normal’ baking. People also often think that vegan pastries are gluten-free or that everything is baked with oatmeal or without sugar.
What are the challenges with vegan baking?
Vegan baking is especially a challenge if you literally want to follow recipes with buttermilk and eggs, but are replacing them with plant-based ingredients. You can not just substitute everything one on one because vegan ingredients stand in a very different ratio to each other. But because mainly I started baking vegan when I started baking more seriously, I’m totally not used to baking with butter, milk, and eggs. Therefore I do not really have a frame of reference. I have never had ‘non-vegan’ macarons or red velvet cakes, for example, so I only know how it tastes the vegan way or how I make it myself. Vegan baking may seem very difficult, but it’s just a matter of practicing a lot and knowing the right tricks.
Which style characterizes Taarten van Jansen?
My cakes are stylishly minimalistic with a pinch of drama at the right moment. I do not like too many frills, but I do like well-placed finery, non-standard color combinations, and a smooth base. I am inspired by beautiful, uncommon interiors and nature. For instance, I love to use fresh (optionally edible) flowers on my cakes.
Furthermore, I rarely use fondant. I think that fondant can look very nice and I do use it sometimes to apply details to cakes and pastries, but if it’s not necessary I use absolutely no fondant. I know that many people can work with it very well, but I just do not want to cover my cakes in something that in my opinion tastes gross. If in the future, I find a kind of fondant that I like, or I can come up with a good recipe myself, I will not rule out the use of it.
What is your guilty pleasure?
I do not do guilty pleasures, only pleasures. I think the concept of ‘guilty’ is so stupid. You do not have to feel guilty for something you like or enjoy. So I do not have guilty pleasures, but I really like the combination of paprika potato chips and chocolate. Preferably the paprika ribbed chips, from Croky. Furthermore, everything that combines banana, peanut butter, chocolate, and whipped cream. Besides, I absolutely do not like ice cream. So, no I do not make ice cakes.
Where did you learn to make such sweet works of art?
There are no vegan bakery schools in the Netherlands. Everything I do, I have taught myself by watching an endless amount of Youtube videos, reading blogs and books, and searching the internet for useful information. Then I dived into my kitchen to practice. It took some failures, but that’s how I learn the best and the fastest. Practice, practice, practice. Then you’ll get there.
What is the most special cake order you have ever received?
A few weeks ago I was approached by Joske from Happy Vintage if I wanted to be part of a so-called ‘styled shoot’ of Engaged Collective. We have staged a wedding with an awesome team to give future couples an impression of how such a day might look like if you dare to color just outside the lines. It has become a very warm, dark, moody shoot and I created a pretty dramatic cake. Deep dark blue with (dry) flowers from Raket & Distels from Rotterdam. This was really a dream project.
I think the best orders are: when people only ask me for a particular taste and a color and I can give my own interpretation to that. The fact that people trust me so much, especially when it comes to a wedding cake, means a lot to me. This often results in my best creations. In any case, it is a huge honor when you are asked to make a cake for such a special day. I realize that every time again.
How did you grow in recent years and what lessons did you learn?
A while ago I made some more rustic, basic cakes. More straightforward: apple pies, brownies, coconut cream pies with red fruit. ‘I then made a layer of cakes and did not yet work with buttercream. After I had watched a number of YouTube videos to prepare myself, I started practicing frosting cakes. Last year I made my first drip cake and now 90% of what I do is layer cakes in all shapes and sizes.
I have learned that I should not be too scared and just have to do things. Sometimes I bluff and it turns out that I can do more than I had imagined. It requires hard work, being grateful, and not giving up. Sucking up all information like a sponge, gain lots of inspiration, and ask for help on time. It is not like I have a magic wand which suddenly makes it all happen. I have to do it all by myself. People think that I’m romantically dancing through my kitchen with a pink apron, but 50% of the time I’m cleaning up shit. I want to get help in the future, but I always want to keep baking myself. They are my babies you know.
Are there exciting plans awaiting for Taarten van Jansen?
At the moment I am working hard on my new website. I also get a feature in a lifestyle magazine that is known by many vegans. I will soon be moving to Eindhoven, where I will decorate my own mini-cake studio at home. As soon as I am well settled there, I want to organize workshops and I can also handle a larger capacity of orders. That means more cakes from Jansen!
Got excited about Taarten van Jansen or do you have ideas for your dream cake? check out www.taartenvanjansen.nl for more information and inspiration. And don’t forget to follow her @TaartenVanJansen. It will take you to cloud 9.