Baking Business takes a look into the rise of vegan baking through the lens of a bunch of Weirdoughs.
For traditional bakers, it may seem like sacrilege to forgo seemingly integral ingredients such as butter, eggs, milk and chocolate in the trade, particularly when these few items are the foundations to most recipes. But, with more and more people choosing a plant-based lifestyle for ethical and health reasons, vegan baking is on the rise, and the results are pretty delicious.
Located in funky Flinders Lane in Melbourne, Weirdoughs is a vegan baking success story. It’s the brainchild of Melbourne vegan powerhouses and self-proclaimed weirdos Mark Koronczyk, Amanda Walker and Sam Koronczyk (co-founders of vegan fast food icon Lord of the Fries) and brothers Mark and Attil Filippelli of Matcha Mylkbar, il Fornaio, and Mark & Vinny’s. Joining them in the venture are fellow co-owners Ruby Shine and Shaunn Anderson.
The inspiration for the project began with a simple desire to see Melbourne’s CBD flooded with quality vegan desserts everyone can enjoy. The result is a store with huge personality – Weirdoughs is a bold, technicolour, day-night operation that has more in common with a laneway bar than a traditional patisserie, providing beats and sweets all through the day.
Served up by staff wearing full-length pale pink jumpsuits with a holographic wall as a backdrop, the Weirdoughs sweet offering is characterised by quirky twists on classic patisserie items – for example, a cube-shaped croissant.
While co-owner Mark Filippelli says he is the first to admit that traditional French pastries set the bar when it comes to flavour, he is also confident that Melburnians are ready for Weirdoughs’ unique approach.
Instead of animal products, the team are using apple cider vinegar, coconut oil, cashew nuts, macadamia nuts, white miso, yeast, salt, canola oil, xanthan gum, soy lecithin, wheat flour, soy milk, sugar, and Nuttelex as their key baking ingredients.
Some of the treats the Weirdoughs are particularly proud of are the unicorn almond croissants, which use all-natural colours and a special process to make the unicorn almond flakes on top, as well as the pavlova croissant and banana split weirdoughnut. These were deigned by senior pastry chef Amber Gallagher for a January special, putting the whole kitchen in a good mood in the mornings with their bright colours and fun presentation.
As well as its popular dessert range, Weirdoughs sells coffee, ‘weird lattes’ including spiced pumpkin, chai and matcha, a pink white hot chocolate, thick shakes, ice creams and savoury croissant sandwiches.
A dedicated After Dark offer takes the weirdness up a notch with flavours designed to satisfy even the most unconventional late-night craving. This might include the likes of ‘pepperoni’ pizza croissants with mozzarella, olive and San Marzano tomato, or Aperol spritz donut with champagne custard, blood orange sugar and popping candy.
Since opening in November 2018, head pastry chef at Weirdoughs (and former executive pastry chef for Shannon Bennett’s Vue Group) Kane Neale says the reception from the community has been overwhelming, and not just from vegans.
The store’s popularity is a nice reward for the team who face a few more challenges than a traditional bakery, such as finding the right substitutes for animal products, and ingredients being more expensive.
Vegan Baking Substitutes
EGGS – chia seeds, apple sauce, banana, flax seeds
BUTTER – Nuttelex, olive oil, homemade nut-based ‘butters
CONDENSED MILK –coconut milk
HONEY – maple syrup
MILK – soy milk
BUTTERMILK – 1 cup soymilk with 1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
In the supermarket, dairy milk can cost as little as $1 a litre, compared to a quality soy milk costing $4-$5 a litre. Kane says those costs are reflected at the commercial level as well.
“We make our own vegan butter [made from macadamia, cashew and coconut oil], which adds increased labour costs as well,” he says.
“We keep costs down by finding good suppliers, purchasing wisely and using ingredients to maximise their potential. For example using freeze-dried fruit in a way that will have a great flavour impact and will really stand out.”
As well as managing generally higher costs than traditional bakeries, the team had to learn a new skillset and science behind baking with vegan ingredients.
“Sometimes it takes some creative thinking to find a way to replicate a texture or flavour that is expected using vegan ingredients,” Kane says.
“We choose not to use artificial flavours, such as ‘butter flavouring’ in the products and so work to really get the flavours via a balance of natural, plant-based ingredients.”
Amber says baking great vegan treats is a big learning curve initially because during apprenticeships and culinary schooling, bakers are taught how to bake with the traditional, animal-based products.
“There has been far more information available about them for a lot longer, so we have more understanding of their structures and how they function, and there are also more specialty ingredients made to suit non-vegan baking,” she says.
“[In the transition] to vegan baking there were some really great resources available, but a lot had to be done via trial and error.
“When people say pastry/baking is a science they’re not joking – even small changes to formulas can have a huge impact on a finished product.”
On the bright side, non-animal products are becoming more widely available due to an increase in production and demand as people make more ethical food choices, which means more knowledge surrounding vegan baking as a consequence.
Australia is one of the fastest growing vegan markets in the world. Roy Morgan Research reveals more than two million Australians are eating meat-free. Data from Google Trends also shows that Aussies are more interested in learning about a vegan diet than they are about others like Paleo, sugar-free or gluten-free.
“Veganism seems to have surpassed a trend and turned into a movement,” Kane says.
“Animal farming takes a lot of resources, whereas farming plants generally produces far more food product for the same amount of resources.
“[More people are becoming] aware of the small changes they can make to have less of an impact on the environment, their health and animals.
“We consider our business plant-based – meaning we want to be inclusive to everyone, not just vegans.
“It’s the idea that you can still have your favourite treats, just without animal products.”
The Weirdoughs team say they have some ethical and exciting new products coming in the next few months, so keep an eye out for their unique vegan treats on the streets.