Paige Welch isn’t a baker, but she is a cake maker. She’s traded eggs, flour and refined sugar for nuts, fruits and vegetables – and an oven for a freezer – to produce scores of vibrant, rich and very vegan treats. We caught up with Welch, a Virginia Beach native and the owner/founder of Empowered Plant Cakes to see what all the fuss is about.
Did you ever bake traditional cakes?
I’ve tried to make cookies and muffins; I cannot even make pancakes. I like to throw stuff together in a kitchen – I can cook – but baking is very scientific.
Describe the foundation of your cakes.
I make them out of nuts, seeds and coconut; that’s the base of them. So, they’re all raw sprouted nuts. I soak the cashews (softening them and making them more digestible) and then blend them in a blender. From there, they’re frozen to set versus baked. And then when I pull them out onto the counter, I let them thaw out; I slice them, and they become a cheesecake consistency.
Should people with nut allergies stay away?
I can do nut-free cakes, but on all my equipment I use a lot of nuts, so if you’re sensitive it’s not the right thing.
What inspires your flavors?
I think it just intuitively comes to me. I feel it out when I’m doing it. Two weeks ago, I made a salted chocolate chip cookie dough cake and it had dried apricot chunks and things like that and it was a really big hit.
You made your first raw vegan cake for your son, Wesley’s, first birthday. Is he your biggest fan?
Over the summer, he comes to farmers markets with me. He knows the whole spiel. Wesley’s very familiar with food and he can talk to people.
Sounds like he was a big inspiration for your health consciousness.
Yeah, it was really important to me. When you have somebody else in your body – I was just super aware of what I (was) putting into my body. And so, for his first birthday he had been eating a clean diet. I was like, I don’t want him to have a cake with a bunch of crap. I wanted to make him something healthy – or healthier.
You started offering your cakes at The Green Cat Juice Bar & Market at the Oceanfront, now you’re based out of Leaping Lizard Café. What’s your goal?
I would love to have a much larger scale business where I’m just turning and burning out cakes, you know, in a grocery channel and then into (other) restaurants as well.
What are some of your most popular offerings?
Chocolate, peanut butter; lavender, lemon; salted caramel, chocolate and vanilla. And raspberry, lemon, fig is a really popular. Some people are turned off by that one, but I think they’re kind of shocked when they taste it.
What is the biggest misconception people have about your cakes?
They just think it’s vegan and gluten free and going to be gross or something. The majority of my customers aren’t vegan. It’s just people wanting to make more health-conscious decisions, or just who have tried it.
So, it’s OK to be a nonvegan?
I’ve been vegan for almost seven years now, but I get a little bit turned off by some people who are just like hardcore vegan. I’m passionate about what I do, and I think it’s important, but my goal was not to convert everybody. Because it’s your choice and nobody wants to be forced to do anything.
How do you make your cakes so rich and decadent?
I use maple syrup, dates, agave, coconut sugar, monk fruit and xylitol to sweeten the cakes, depending on the flavor and dietary needs.
Are they really healthier?
I think desserts should be eaten in moderation. The difference between mine is the ingredients being put into them are good ingredients for your body.
You did a lot of art growing up. What were you in to?
I used to hand-paint mandalas. I would just spend hours and hours on little pieces; they’re very detailed drawings and they’re very symmetrical.
Was it a conscious decision to make the cakes look so beautiful?
No, I just think that it’s the same
type of energy I put into doing art.
I really love making the cakes and doing what I do. And when you put love into something, I think it is reflected.
How do you achieve those vibrant colors?
All the colors come from fruits and vegetables. But the main ones would be dragon fruit, beets, blue spirulina (derived from blue-green algae), turmeric. Matcha is another one. I’ll throw spinach and stuff in the cakes.
You’ve got a real presence on Instagram. Was that always part of your business model?
I’m so grateful to have the Leaping Lizard (as a home base), it’s just, I wouldn’t exist as a business without social media. That’s how people really get to know you.
What music gets you moving in the kitchen?
Some days I listen to rap, some days I listen to country, some days I’m listening to reggae. It just kind of depends.
Interview by Victoria Bourne; condensed and edited for space and clarity.