Several months ago I met Meagan Benz of Sweet Soul Bakery at the gym. We were both mid-pushup when I noticed the playful tattoo on her left calf. The tattoo says “I love you” above a drawing of a sprinkle covered doughnut. It made me smile and made me hungry – I knew instantly I needed her to become my friend.
Meagan is a an animal rights advocate, a vegan with an educational background in chemistry and visual art. She spends her days working at a gym, doing design and website development, freelancing needlepoint and cross-stitch for her Etsy site, and, most importantly baking gluten-free and vegan desserts. The desserts show off her serious sweet tooth. So much so that she got the tattoo over two years ago wanting to “express her love for doughnuts on her body to the world.”
But before that immortal day of permanent body ink, Benz started baking as a hobby. She had completed years of transitional college housing and planted herself in a Lindley Park home with a proper kitchen. She started baking for potluck dinners, neighbors and her boyfriend, Matt, who has a gluten and wheat intolerance. After rave reviews, the hobby became more serious.
She started with vegan recipes looking for a mechanism to educate and inform the cupcake-loving community about alternative diets and an animal cruelty-free lifestyle. But with a growing demand for gluten-free baked goods, she responded by experimenting with new versions of childhood favorites for both the vegan and wheat-intolerant community.
With skills from two years of studying chemistry at UNC Chapel Hill, she knows a lot about accuracy and precision, trial and error, and making chemical reactions. Her kitchen became a laboratory for gluten-free and vegan versions of her favorite sweets. Her first experiments with different flours were not all successful. The beginning treats often times came out flat and tasting of beans. She notes her biggest failure – and breaking point – on Valentine’s Day when testing a new recipe for red velvet cupcakes. On the floor with tears, she knew she wanted to get serious about revamping recipes.
She started her business, Sweet Soul, 8 months ago
from the same home kitchen where she now tests new recipes weekly. She spends most of her time doing research on recipes and gluten free alternatives. Just this week, she experimented with peanut butter and jelly, apple pie cupcakes, hostess cupcakes and buckeye ball cupcakes.
Her dreams seem to be just as permanent as the tattoo – aspiring to grow into a commercial kitchen and ultimately owning a bakery that meets the needs of sweet tooth consumers with dietary restrictions. In the future, Benz is interested in experimenting with different sugars for diabetics, those with nut and soy allergies along with other kinds of dietary restrictions.
For the time being, her biggest successes come in the form of happy customers. Like the local strawberry cake with chocolate ganache she made this Mother’s Day—Mom couldn’t tell the difference. And, as someone with almost no food allergies – I can’t tell any difference either. Her passion has paid off in the delicious things that emerge from her oven.
Sweet Soul offers cupcakes, cakes, doughnuts, pies, candies and cookies. She bakes in small batches for special orders – cakes and cupcakes for birthday parties, graduations and other celebrations and even a growing market for wedding cakes. For a full menu of offers and contact information, visit Sweet Soul online at www.sweetsoultreats.com.
Meagan’s Vegan and Gluten Free “Hostess” Cupcakes
Recipe yields 13 cupcakes
- ½ cup Garbanzo Bean Flour
- ½ cup Sweet White Sorghum Flour
- 1/3 cup Tapioca Flour/Starch
- 2 ½ tbsp Potato Starch
- 1 tsp Xanthan Gum
- 1/3 cup Cocoa Powder
- 1 tbsp Cornstarch
- 1 tsp Baking Powder
- 1 tsp Baking Soda
- ¼ tsp Salt
- 1 ½ tsp Ener-G Egg Replacer 2 tbsp warm water
- ¾ cup Sugar (I use Florida Crystals, but any certified vegan sugar will do)
- ¾ cup Pure Vegetable Oil
- 2 tsp Pure Vanilla Extract
- ¼ cup Vegan Sour Cream (I use the Tofutti brand)
- 1 cup Soy Milk (I use Kirkland Signature Organic Vanilla Soy Milk, but any non dairy milk will do)
- 1/3 cup Mini Vegan Chocolate Chips
- 2 tsp Distilled White Vinegar
Whipped Vanilla Filling
- ¼ cup Original Earth Balance Buttery Spread
- ¼ cup Non-hydrogenated Vegetable Shortening
- 2 cups Powdered Sugar, sifted
- 1 tsp Pure Vanilla Extract
- 2-3 tbsp Soy Milk
Chocolate Ganache Topping
- 1 cup Chocolate chips (I use Ghirardelli Semi Sweet Chips)
- 3 tbsp Vegan Sour Cream
- 3 tbsp Coconut Oil
- 1 tbsp Soy Milk
Step 1: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line your standard muffin tin with cupcake liners.
Step 2: Into a medium sized bowl, sift together your flours, starches, xantham gum, cocoa powder, corn starch, baking powder, baking soda, and salt; whisk together and set aside. In a small bowl mix your egg replacer with warm water until all of the powder has dissolved and a layer of bubbles forms on the top, let this sit for about 5 minutes. In a large bowl mix your sugar, oil and vanilla together with a whisk. After your egg replacer mixture has had time to sit, add this to your oil and sugar mixture, stirring vigorously with a whisk until combined (the mixture will change in texture and will become uniform in color once it has been stirred long enough, about 1 minute). Add your sour cream to the mixture and stir again. Add your flour mixture in two batches, alternating with soy milk. Stir in your chocolate chips. Lastly, add your vinegar to the mixture to activate your leavening and mix well.
Step 3: Scoop batter into cups, filling each one ¾ full. Bake for 18-20 minutes.
Step 4: While your cupcakes are baking, make your filling. With an electric mixer, cream together the Earth Balance and shortening, then continue to mix on lowest setting while slowly adding in your powdered sugar. You will need to mix the sugar in for about three minutes, until the sugar is completely incorporated and your filling has a thick, buttercream like texture. Then add your vanilla extract and milk and continue to mix, once incorporated, turn your mixer up to the “whip” setting to get a nice light texture. Add more milk if necessary.
Step 5: Once cupcakes are done, cool in pan for 5-10 minutes and then transfer to wire rack to cool completely.
Step 6: Once the cupcakes have cooled, cut out the center from the top (don’t throw this away!), using a small knife tilted at an angle and fill with whipped vanilla filling (recipe follows, note: you should have some left over for the piping on the top of the cupcakes).
Step 7: Replace the tops of the cupcakes after you have filled them, pushing them in securely so that they don’t fall out when you dip the cupcakes into the ganache.
Step 8: Make your ganache. In a small saucepan over low heat, combine all ingredients, mixing frequently. Keep mixing until all of the chocolate has melted and the ganache has a glossy finish to it. Remove from the heat and use while it is warm or slightly cooled.
Step 9: Coat the top of the cupcakes in the chocolate ganache either by turning them upside down and dipping them, or by spreading the ganache over top (I find dipping them is a little trickier but gives a smoother look in the end). Place in fridge to cool.
Step 10: Once your ganache has solidified, pipe the classic hostess swirl across the top of the cupcake with the leftover filling. I prefer to use a #3 piping tip but you can also achieve this effect by filling a zip lock bag with the frosting and cutting a tiny corner off of the bag.
Step 11: Share with your friends!