By Adam Erace
Kate Jacoby of Philadelphia’s Vedge makes some of the most delicious desserts in the country. They just happen to be vegan.
Barring perhaps a bowl of perfectly ripe fresh fruit, vegan desserts are generally regarded with more suspicion than jubilation. When you take out the animal fats and proteins that provide flavor and structure, you’ve got to put something in their place, and sometimes, those somethings are unpronounceable, unpalatable, and unhealthy.
Kate Jacoby isn’t that kind of vegan pastry chef. Actually, she’d prefer you to not think of her as a vegan pastry chef at all. To borrow a term from winemaking, Kate takes a low-intervention approach to egg-and-dairy-free desserts at the Philadelphia restaurant group she runs with her husband, chef Rich Landau, and in the couple’s two cookbooks, Vedge and V Street.
“My goal is to tweak as little as possible,” Kate says. “I ask myself, ‘What does this non-vegan ingredient contribute, and what’s the simplest thing I can add to replace it?’ I never want to get too science experiment-y.”
At Vedge, widely regarded as the eminent vegan restaurant in the country, Kate features cozy desserts like creamy, cheese-less cheesecake, super-silky ice cream, and bread pudding rippled with strawberry preserves. She gets her love of homey (but gorgeously executed) baked goods from her grandmother, Mary Ketchell, who moved in with Kate and her family when she was eight.
“I’d come home from school, and she’d be sitting in the kitchen watching soap operas,” Kate says. “Oprah would come on at four, then we would make dinner together.”
Mary’s cooking and baking skills were legendary, and Kate would fantasize about the all-day, open-house holiday parties Mary would host at her old home in Chester, Pennsylvania, halfway between Philly and the Delaware border. “All the neighbors would come over. She’d put a big potato chip canister filled with chrusciki [Polish ‘angel wing’ cookies] out on the dining room table. She put out chocolate chip cookies, a bottle of whiskey, a ham, and a big thing of potato salad, and random people would show up and eat,” Kate says.
She might not eat the chrusciki or chocolate chips or her grandmother’s famous whiskey cake anymore, but Kate hasn’t lost her taste memories of and affection for classic desserts. They inspire her every day. “I don’t want someone to say, ‘This is great vegan ice cream.’ No, it’s just great ice cream,” she says.
Check out three of her amazing vegan desserts below.
- Pumpkin Bread with Concord Grape Jam and Drunken Figs (Image above)
Kate revisits the figs and grapes every year as a complement to cheesecake, or here, in warm, moist pumpkin bread made with vegan butter and vegetable shortening. Cooking the figs down with Madeira creates a syrupy compote that contrasts perfectly with the Concords’ zingy acid.
Kate grew up making pierogi with her Polish-American grandmother and wanted to recreate the memory in this dessert. Traditional potato dough becomes piecrust, while sweet potatoes sub in for white potatoes; she takes them “just into the sweet zone” with baking spices like vanilla, cinnamon, and allspice.
Kate created a vegan version of these waffles she spotted on a trip to Hong Kong by using tapioca starch instead of egg. It’s sweet and savory, with bittersweet ganache, umami-inflected miso caramel, and banana ice cream with fragrant curry spices Kate calls a savory envelope that carries the rich fruit flavor.