Lily Jones (aka) Vanilli is a baker and bespoke cake designer based in East London. She is the author of two recipe books and co-founder of the YBF Awards. Elton John has employed her baking skills for his famous white tie and tiara ball, Lulu Guinness is a fan, as is Nigella. She started selling cakes when she moved back home from Australia in 2009, just as the recession hit, in order to make money when she couldn’t find a job. Her vegan beetroot cakes are one of her big hits! Lily is helping to celebrate Del Monte’s 125th Anniversary, so we caught up with her to talk about vegan baking.  

Lily Vanilli

Lily Vanilli

Why are retro desserts like trifle still so popular today?

I think it’s because so many of us remember trifles and classic puddings from our childhood, and the positive connotations we attach to them. They’re hearty and homely and create a lovely sense of nostalgia which makes them really special. I think there’s also something rather magical in bringing back classics and changing them up a little so that they take on a new identity but still recognise their heritage. My modern take on the classic trifle, for example, uses trendy ingredients like Elderflower liqueur as well as traditional British favourites like Del Monte Fruit Cocktail.

Why is it important to reinvent classics to make them vegan friendly?

Well it’s fair to say that veganism has become more mainstream. The appeal and potential for vegan products and recipes has expanded beyond people who avoid animal products for ethical reasons to include a larger group of people focussed on healthier and cleaner foods. So naturally, there’s more demand for vegan alternatives of classic crowd-pleasers. Whether they’re childhood favourites, restaurant staples, or party snacks, so many classic dishes we grew up eating and loving seem inaccessible to those eating a strictly plant-based diet. It’s easy for the vegan at the table to start feeling left out, unable to join in on what’s supposed to be a bonding experience over everyone’s most beloved foods. If they can be reworked for those who eat a plant-based diet, then everybody can enjoy delicious recipes.

Your vegan beetroot cakes are a big hit with customers- so what other vegan bakes do you enjoy making?

I really like my Raw Vegan Cheesecakes, the coconut oil creates a light yet creamy consistency and I use almonds and date paste to create a naturally sweet base. You can decorate them with raspberries, edible flowers or anything you like to spruce them up a little! They make great healthy treats, we actually have a selection of vegan cakes and treats on offer at the Bakery.

What veggie delights do you enjoy at Christmastime?

Nut roasts are great at Christmas time and roast vegetables are always winners but I particularly love my carrot cake! It’s boiled like a fruit cake and has loads of spices and honey. Fruit is used a lot at Christmastime and there are so many ways to get creative with it, I love cranberry jelly, mandarin chutney and pineapple stuffing balls are great because they’re a little bit different and are really flavoursome. I think big strong flavours are the order of the day, season your vegetables with plenty of herbs and spices that pack a punch in flavour!

Why is it important to cater for people with different dietary needs over the festive period?

Well no-one wants to feel left out at Christmas! I think food really brings people together so if there’s something for everyone, then everybody can join in and that’s what Christmas is all about really.

You are working with Del Monte to celebrate its 125th anniversary so why is canned fruit such a great addition to any vegan pantry?

Yes, I wanted to create a trifle because it’s a long standing British classic and a firm favourite of mine. I love the combination of colours, textures and flavours; and of course, with all the beautiful layers, they make a fabulous centre piece, perfect for celebrations! I really wanted to create a contemporary dessert using canned fruit, my go to is Del Monte. They’re great for giving your family one of their five a day and they’re so useful when baking because they’re already peeled and sliced for you - no fuss, mess or waste, so winners in my book. I think there’s a real misconception about canned fruit actually. Most people think that it isn’t as healthy as fresh but Del Monte’s canned fruit range in juice, is actually really good for you. For example, when preserved in juice, the canning process locks in all the nutrients and they’re more readily absorbed by our body. It’s a lot like frozen food really.

Would you ever consider making a book solely on vegan bakes?

I always work on recipes to suit everyone's different dietary needs and really enjoy that challenge, I’m really passionate about the diversity and creativity of creating cakes to suit everyone, and that includes vegans!  

Have you found a rise in people asking for vegan cakes since the lifestyle has increased in popularity?

Definitely! Veganism is at an all-time high and it’s become a very appealing lifestyle so people are wanting to explore it further and get more fun and creative in the way they introduce it into their diet. I definitely see more people in my bakery looking for vegan treats. I’ve also got vegan recipes on my blog:

What are your top tips for baking without animal products?

Vegan cooking and baking can seem a bit overwhelming at first but the trick is to keep it simple. I think so many people have this misconstrued idea that vegan baking is over-complicated and time-consuming but the truth is that it’s just a slightly different approach. There are little tips and tricks you can apply like swapping butter for margarine. It’s good value for money, and adds a great flavour and colour to the bake. When it comes to eggs, there are lots of substitutes out there. Vegan eggs such as Vegg or Vegan Egg are good ones to use as a binding agent. Dairy-free milks and coconut milk can be used as alternatives to cream and custard so vegan baking doesn’t have to be restrictive or boring! Chocolate and honey are a no-no so try things like Maple syrup, Agave Nectar and canned fruit instead – they’re great for satisfying those sweet cravings! Oh and make sure you avoid products with Palm oil in them, a lot of vegan substitutes use palm oil, I’d look for coconut based products instead.

What is next for you?

I'm just about to launch a stall on the newly renovated Old Spitalfields Market which will operate seven days a week - I'm really excited about it and have been developing lots of really lovely new pastries and cakes for it.

I am also working on a project in Georgia (Europe) which is launching soon as well as working on Bake for Syria 2 - on Nov 18th!

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