“We are often asked ‘How do you replace the eggs?’” Isabel Izquiedo said.
“Don’t substitute the egg for anything. It’s a question of proportions. It’s research and development.
The hardest technical feat of vegan baking is replicating the effects of the humble egg.”
By Ysabelle Kempe
Photos: Y. Kempe unless stated otherwise
Fat people are harder to kidnap. That’s the slogan of Freedom Cakes, a hip vegan bakery on the edge of the Malasaña neighborhood. I close my eyes and hope it’s true as I take another luxurious bite of the hunk of Muerte por Chocolate, or Death by Chocolate, cake that sits in front of me. It’s one of the bakery’s bestsellers, and I have to say that if I was forced to pick a way to go, this would be it.
As a lifelong lactose intolerant with a persistent sweet tooth, I know how difficult it can be to find desserts that stack up to the “real thing.” Many times have I gone out for ice cream with a group of friends only to end up sullenly licking a probably years-old ice pop because it was the only dairy-free item on the menu. But the unique endeavor of Freedom Cakes founder Isabel Izquiedo, see top photo, is not to provide a single option for vegans, it’s to give them an array of desserts so delicious that the so-called “real thing” becomes irrelevant.
Everything on the Freedom Cakes menu is vegan, from the milkshakes to the chocolate chip-studded cookies to the array of cakes in the window. The store interior is cozy, yet animated, with trippy rainbow floors and a friendly stuffed flamingo perched on the cash register. It has the air of a successful small business, but little do customers know that this cafe came from unusual beginnings.
“I was studying chemical engineering,” Izquiedo recalls. “But in my free time, I was always making cakes.”
The 33-year-old Madrid native has been vegetarian for about 15 years for ethical reasons and made the leap to veganism about five years ago. At the time, cupcakes were the next big trend in Spain, she said. Izquiedo had no formal baking education, but tried her hand at it, adjusting the recipes for her unique diet. The hobby soon blossomed into an online cake store, which Izquiedo ran out of her own kitchen.
When the time came to choose a career, Izquiedo had doubts about becoming a chemical engineer. She had started school later than most of her peers and was 29 years old by the time she graduated. She worried it would be difficult to find a job in the male-dominated field of engineering. There were hundreds of other chemical engineers in Madrid, she said, but not a single vegan bakery.
However, Freedom Cakes isn’t a space that grew out of Izquiedo’s fears of being unemployable. In fact, she never tried to find a job in the field. Her love for vegan baking had become so strong that she and her husband, who is also vegan, decided to bring the virtual to reality and open up a physical location for her cakes. In Izquiedo’s words, they wanted to create a space “the entire world could come to enjoy a good vegan cake.”
Izquiedo has a tangible passion for making her cakes the best, the most moist, and the fluffiest they can be with the vegan ingredients she uses. The entire summer before opening the store, Izquiedo slaved away in the kitchen. Everyday, she woke up and developed recipes, baking the same cakes over and over. The cafe now has a set menu, but she still introduces new flavors on a weekly basis and takes custom cake orders, which cost between 30 and 54 euros each. A slice of cake in-store costs three euros and 50 cents.
The challenges of vegan baking are numerous and mostly have to do with ensuring the cake turns out moist and fluffy. Freedom Cakes uses many substitutes, such as plant-based creams, sunflower oil, and vegan cheeses. Izquiedo hasn’t found the ingredients to be more expensive than the costs associated with traditional baking, with the exception of the vegan cheese and vegan white chocolate. The hardest technical feat of vegan baking, she said, is replicating the effects of the humble egg.
“We are often asked ‘How do you replace the eggs?’” Izquiedo said. “Don’t substitute the egg for anything. It’s a question of proportions. It’s research and development.”
After perfecting the recipes, Izquiedo and her husband searched for a location. The process took almost six months, but they finally settled on the site of an old pharmacy. The building was in shambles, she remembers, and it took another four months to transform it into the plant-based nirvana it is today.
At last, in May 2018, the bakery opened. Initially, it was just Izquiedo and her mother handling the entire affair, a far cry from the ten employees the cafe has today. The customers came, and with them came online reviews. At first, they were all glowing, Izquiedo recalls, but, inevitably, the criticism came, usually from nonvegans.
“It hurts me very much. There are many people who are not vegan, and they come in and try the cake, and they don’t understand,” she said. “The cakes are handmade. At times, it will be dry. There are no preservatives.”
In the event that someone doesn’t like their order, Izquiedo prefers that they tell her, so that she can return their money or replace the dessert with another. If they simply leave a bad review online, she said, there’s nothing that can be done to remedy the problem.
Izquiedo’s face brightens up as she tells me that there are many more positive than negative reviews. She has big dreams for Freedom Cakes, including offering vegan baking courses and opening up more locations, potentially outside of Spain. But she’s in no rush.
Right now, she’s reveling in the simple joys of running a vegan bakery, like seeing the looks on the faces of children with dairy allergies when they are presented with a milkshake they can devour comfortably. Or the absolute shock of customers who come from outside of the city, where there aren’t as many vegan options.
“They ask you ‘Is everything vegan? Really? Even that?’” she laughs. “I’m like ‘Yeah, everything is vegan. Even me.’ It’s the best.”
Calle de la Luna, 14
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