Features & Stories

Author Interview: Vegan Baking Virtuoso Hannah Kaminsky

Hannah Kaminksy, author of Vegan Desserts

Hannah Kaminksy, author of Vegan Desserts

Hannah Kaminsky on 17 years of being vegan and her complicated relationship with cookbooks

ckbk author, photographer and vegan baker, Hannah Kaminsky, is the real deal. When going vegetarian in her teens didn’t go far enough to avoid harming animals, she went fully vegan, a commitment so deep she's maintained it for 17 years.

Powered by her sweet tooth and the inability to satisfy her cravings with the local offerings, she began developing recipes in her parent’s Connecticut kitchen, chronicling her culinary explorations on her popular blog, Bittersweet, a site she’s been devoted to for over a decade.

In the time since launching her blog she’s become the veritable expert on vegan baking, teaching countless others to eat deliciously without animal products through her growing library of cookbooks, such as Vegan Desserts (available on ckbk). This month, she celebrates the publication of her sixth book, Sweet Vegan Treats, a revisiting of nostalgic flavors spiced up with her signature twists.

We spoke to Hannah about her essential vegan pantry, marvel at how much vegan ingredients have changed over the years (“it’s wild”), and discuss her plans for holiday baking.

Tell us about your life in food, how did you become the expert in vegan baking you have become?

I’m honored to be considered that. It really started when I went vegan 17 years ago or so. I grew up in Connecticut and there was absolutely nowhere to get good vegan food. There were no vegan bakeries, no packaged vegan sweets, and no way to satisfy what I craved. So I had to make vegan treats myself and learned from trial and error—a lot error.

How did you find veganism?

I’m a bit embarrassed by the origin story, it’s a bit boring. I was in high school and had many vegetarian friends. I knew nothing about vegetarianism at that time, but I went vegetarian for about a month without questioning it. Then finally I did some research and realized there was still so much cruelty inherent even in that. I love animals and didn’t see any reason to cause harm since there is an alternative. I’m still vegan, 17 years, later, I’m very stubborn.

How has vegan baking or access to vegan ingredients changed in the time since you started eating that way? 

It’s a different world. Years ago I would never dream of using a vegan egg replacer, I still wouldn’t, but now I could. You can go to local Safeway, Piggly Wiggly, whatever you local supermarket is and get a vegan egg replacer. It’s wild! There are now direct subs for everything; for every vegan baker, vegan cook, there’s really anything you want. Plus, we’ve discovered alternatives for using simpler ingredients like aquafaba, the brine in a can of chickpeas, it performs just like egg whites. I just used it in a Baked Alaska, its kinda magic. 

What are the essential vegan ingredients that you always have on hand?

The essentials are the same as in any baking pantry—flour, sugar, olive oil, maple syrup, good vanilla, I really can’t stress this one enough. Depending on the recipe I may use vanilla extract but I really love the flecks of the beans, vanilla paste is excellent. Vanilla powder is great too. And lastly, salt. People overlook the importance of salt in desserts. It’s a quiet seasoning that makes a huge difference. It makes the existing flavors really pop and taste truer to themselves. 

Read Hannah’s guest post on Vegan Baking Basics »

Tell us about Vegan Desserts and what inspired you to write that book.

Vegan Desserts is seasonally inspired. I was trying to make desserts that go either with fresh produce or holidays. I find inspiration in many different sources, and this helped me funnel my thoughts into that group. 

We’d love to hear about your brand new book, Sweet Vegan Treats. Tell us what we’ll find in your new book. 

This one goes back to my beginnings, featuring a lot more nostalgic favorites such as whoopie pies, black and white cookies, the things I was craving when I went vegan and couldn’t find. I put twists and variations on everything—wild pairings, new ingredients. I’ve never wanted to make another vegan chocolate chip cookie or chocolate cake, the world doesn’t need 5 million versions of the same, I pride myself on more creative concepts.

When you aren’t making vegan sweets, what other kinds of dishes do you like to make?

I’m kind of a lazy cook, evidenced by my book Real Food, Really Fast. It has ruined me for more complicated cooking. I love making soups, stews, curries—just throw proteins and vegetables in a pot, simmer, done. If I get more fancy I really love different cuisines. I dabble in Thai, Japanese—sushi is really fun. My tastes span all over the board. 

Can you tell me about your relationship with cookbooks? Are you a cookbook collector? Do you refer to them for inspiration?

My relationship is complicated. I love cookbooks, I have so many, and I don’t have enough shelves for them. By the same token, I rarely have the opportunity to use them. I find them inspiring, and love supporting fellow authors, many friends are authors. I love to buy, celebrate, and share their books but I’m always creating new recipes and rarely have time to tries other’s recipes. That’s my job, my job it to create new recipes. 

Are there particular food writers or cookbook authors that you look up to? 

Too many to list. Right now top of mind Nava Atlas, I’m helping photograph her next cookbook which is her 12th or 13th. 

What was the last cookbook you recommended to somebody?

Veganomicon by Isa Chandra Moskowitz. It’s the classic, basic vegan guide. If you are new to veganism it presents, "here is what you need to do". It’s been out for a decade now, if you want explore vegan cooking, start with that book. 

What cookbook do you wish someone would write?

Thats tough, there are a lot of cookbooks out there. I wish someone would do vegan French pastry or vegan fine dining. Something more creative and innovative. But there’s not the audience for it, which is why it doesn’t exist. It’s hugely inspiring to see what is possible. 

Holiday baking plans?

I’m still working on that, the year is getting away from me, but I definitely want to do a yule log, with aquafaba meringue mushrooms, and the woodland creatures it will be crazy. There also have to be lots of pies, pecan pie in particular. When else can I invest that much money on nuts? Those are top 2 staples, classics, must haves.  

Highlights from Hannah’s Vegan Holiday Desserts collection:

Pistachio Nog from Vegan Desserts

Pistachio Nog from Vegan Desserts

Personal Panettones from Vegan Desserts

Personal Panettones from Vegan Desserts

Maple-Pecan Layer Cake with Gingerbread Frosting from Vegan Dessserts

Maple-Pecan Layer Cake with Gingerbread Frosting from Vegan Dessserts

For more about Hannah Kaminsky visit bittersweetblog.com, or follow her on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook.

Hannah Kaminsky is a featured author on ckbk, home to the world's best cookbooks and recipes for all cooks and every appetite. Start exploring now ▸