Clara Polito, the 19-year-old baker behind Clara Cakes, is about to debut her first cookbook, full of delicious (and vegan) sugar bombs.
It's 7 AM and I've told myself I'm not going to eat leftover Breakfast Cake this morning. I get out of bed and walk into the kitchen, where a pink cake box innocuously rests on the counter. I mercilessly attack the leftover cake with my fork, hovering over the box like a monster. This has happened two days in a row. Breakfast Cake has low-key ruined my life.
You'd do this too (please tell me you'd do this too) if you had baked goods by Clara Polito in your house. The vegan teenager just wrote her first cookbook, and it's filled with creative and delicious dessert recipes like the one for Breakfast Cake.
A few days before my Breakfast Cake addiction began, I met up with Polito at her home in Los Angeles to learn more about Clara Cakes: Delicious and Simple Vegan Desserts for Everyone!, which debuts to US readers in March.
Inside the sunny Atwater Village apartment, Polito told me about her meatless history. Her mother, Colleen, became a vegetarian at the age of 16 for ethical reasons. Polito followed suit at the tender age of five, then made the switch to veganism at 14. "I read more about factory farming and the dairy and egg industry, and felt that being vegetarian wasn't enough anymore," Polito said.
Her baking interests began when she was 12 years old. Her calm demeanor helped her get over the initial challenges of getting the hang of the craft. "My experiments weren't always good, but the best part was that I never thought, Oh, I'm not going to bake anymore, I can't do this," she said. "I tried by trial and error, and once I got the hang of it, results started getting better."
That year, Polito launched Clara Cakes, a company to service Los Angeles' vegan baked goods needs. In addition to the many pop-ups, special events, and custom orders she does, Polito regularly supplies her treats to Pizzanista!, Azla Vegan, and Cruzer Pizza.
Polito believes that word of mouth got the attention of powerHouse Books, who approached her about a book deal a year ago. She was initially skeptical. "I felt that all of the work I had done wouldn't really matter until I had a storefront," she said. Polito changed her mind and accepted the deal.
"I wrote all of the recipes," she said. "Each recipe has some sort of memory attached to it because that's the way I write. I'm maybe a nostalgic writer in a way."
In addition to writing the copy and developing the recipes, Polito shot all of the book's dessert photography. The end product is a youthful and fun cookbook filled with stories, beautiful images, and inventive recipes.
Take the Breakfast Cake—you know, the one that yields a nasty 9 AM sugar crash when you binge-eat it like a feral animal. (Author's note: you can easily avoid this disaster if you enjoy the cake in moderation.) It's a banana cake with maple frosting and caramelised corn flakes. "I like it served cold because it does feel like a deluxe version of a bowl of cereal," Polito said.
Perhaps one of the most appealing things about Polito's baking style is that it's approachable as hell. The recipes do not yield delicate, ornate pieces of art. You get homey, satisfying results. The banana cupcakes with chocolate and peanut butter frosting look like something you can easily tackle.
By 2017, it's probably tired and condescending now to use the "you can't even tell it's vegan" line. We're past the point where we need to make excuses for vegan food (in metropolitan cities, at least). Chefs and bakers have shown us that eating vegan doesn't have to be a sacrifice. Polito isn't a pioneer, but she does fall into the category of professionals solidifying veganism's place in the mainstream.
Now that she has a cookbook under her belt, Polito's next ambitions include opening a brick-and-mortar, making more cooking videos, and continuing to host events. She would love to have her own cooking show and put out more books.
Before I left, Polito packed up about half of the Breakfast Cake for me to take home, where it would continue to haunt me until it was gone.