Smile Politely

Strawberry Fields satisfies your sweet tooth

Vegan baked goods often get a bad rap. “How,” incredulous dessert-enthusiasts ask, “can you possibly bake something delicious without the use of butter and eggs?” I, too, have been a skeptic. I’ve had those black bean brownies that taste — no surprise, here — like black beans with some chocolate-ish powder. Gross. The vegan baked treats at Strawberry Fields are enough to prove that you can indeed have your vegan cake and eat it, too.

Over the course of the last several weeks, I’ve made two separate visits to the bakery for this research. In December, I stopped in to grab a few things to share with some friends. I took home a peanut butter bar, a vegan chocolate cupcake, and a slice of vegan carrot cake. For some reason I didn’t note whether the peanut butter bar was vegan or not, but I’m inclined to believe it was. More recently, I picked up a vegan chocolate cherry cordial cupcake, vegan strawberry and chocolate scone, and — although not technically from the bakery — vegan gummy bears. 

The chocolate cupcake was dense and chocolaty. It was fairly moist and appropriately crumbly. The cake decorator was generous with the frosting, and because it was around the Christmas holiday, the cake was topped with a very well executed festive decoration. The frosting was piled high, incredibly rich, and super sweet. The cupcake to frosting ratio was a little on the heavy side, but I was still able to taste the robust chocolate of the cake. Overall, this was a solid cupcake performance. I’d happily eat another. (Oh wait, I did.)

The (probably) vegan peanut butter bar was even more delicious, albeit quite messy. The chocolate crust was topped with a gooey peanut butter filling and finished with a chocolate ganache. Peanut butter and chocolate is one of the most sacred combinations in all of food-dom, and the pastry folks at Strawberry Fields coddled and nursed this little gem with the care of doting parents. A little dramatic, yes, but that bar was good. The peanut butter filling was sweet, and a little loose and sloppy; it could have used a stabilizer to keep it in check. The crust on the bottom was chewy and rich, and provided a relatively solid surface for the loosey-goosey peanut butter. The ganache top was a rich, fudgy, dark chocolate that added a smooth thickness to the other two components. Despite the slack peanut butter filling, the texture of this bar was pretty satisfying. There was some chewing involved — the crust bottom was in need of some teeth to break it down — but the smoothness of the other components really forced you to use your tongue to guide them down your throat, and thereby engage all of your taste buds. This bar required a utensil, or at least a significant amount of napkins and lack of self-consciousness.

The coup de grâce for this round of sweets was the carrot cake. I should preface this by telling you that I’ve never been particularly interested in carrot cake; it’s one of those familial dislikes passed down from parent to child (yes, I’m talking about you, mom). I believe that this carrot cake experience was an intervention of the universe, as I didn’t actually order the carrot cake. I ordered the pumpkin bread, but was given the carrot cake instead. Perhaps the young lady working the café counter knew something I didn’t, or genuinely didn’t hear me—I’m not sure—but I am super grateful that it ended up on my table (and in my mouth).  

This hefty slice of carrot cake was delicately decorated with piped frosting. There was a layer of frosting between the two of cake; it looked lovely. Chopped walnuts decorated the outside of the slice, and a dried cranberry provided a blip of color on the top. The cake had a bit of a lean, or a slump, depending on your position, which I found a little strange, but forgave. After all, it had travelled from Urbana to Champaign, and who isn’t tired after travelling?

The cake was incredibly moist, to the point of being a little greasy, actually. (If you look closely at the photos, you may be able to see the oily marks on the paper.) This offense was forgiven, too, as soon as a forkful was shoveled into my mouth. The cake was moist (oh, I said that already?), crumbly, and full of carrot flecks, crunchy, flavorful walnuts, and the occasional raisin. The cake was orangey in color and flavor; orange zest was clearly on the list of ingredients. Cinnamon was also very present, and reminded me that carrot cake is really just a spice cake with some carrots added in. The frosting—admittedly, the reason most people eat carrot cake—was smooth and creamy, without being overly sweet. Because the cake was dairy-free, cream cheese was not used in the frosting, but it was not missed. This sweet treat was the hands-down winner. It was awesome, and has completely altered my opinion of carrot cake (to the point that I have since baked carrot cake twice).

Inspired by and pleased with that round of sweets, I stopped by Strawberry Fields again last week to check for consistency. As I previously noted, I grabbed a chocolate cherry cordial cupcake, a strawberry and chocolate chip scone, and gummy bears. The chocolate cherry cordial cupcake was beautiful. The cupcake was topped with a chocolate ganache and dusted with a cocoa powder heart. Very romantic. The cherry cordial was hidden inside the cupcake: a pocket of cherry goo was released upon cutting, and the cupcake and ganache topping maintained form after being cut in half. The cherry filling also stayed put, more or less, with an equal amount in each half. The cake was chocolaty and rich, just like the holiday cupcake of several weeks past. It wasn’t nearly as moist, though; I found the cake to be a bit dry. In and around the cherry filling the cake was moister, of course, as the cake absorbed the gooey filling. The filling was not particularly yummy to me; the cherry flavor was tart and the texture was a little strange. The ganache on top was the perfect amount, smooth, and not all that sweet. My husband had the other half of the cupcake and he genuinely enjoyed it, so maybe this cupcake just wasn’t for me.

The strawberry-chocolate scone, on the other hand, was delicious. The scone was more biscuit-like than cake-like, and was crunchy on the outside and soft and moist on the inside. It was crumbly in the right kind of way. The strawberries inside were real. They were fresh. Not freeze-dried, strawberry flecks. I appreciated that. The chocolate chips were yummy and chocolaty, and didn’t permeate the entire scone, so it was nice to have little chocolate presents in each bite and still be able to taste the strawberry and the scone. This was a delightful addition to my morning coffee.

So gummy bears aren’t exactly baked goods, but they are sweet, and if you favor candy to pastry, you deserve a sweet fix, too. Non-vegan gummy bears are made with gelatin, and these gummies are not. Sometimes gelatin-replacements don’t function the same way and the vegan version suffers in texture. While these gummy bears didn’t have the tough, chewiness of non-vegan gummy bears, they did have a solid presence that resembled fruit snacks in texture. They were a little sticky, too. The flavors were more pronounced than the non-vegan counterparts (in which red tastes like red, and yellow like yellow), and these tasted a little more specifically like fruits found in real life. (Well, sort of; they were still a little saccharine and artificial-tasting, which is why we all like gummy bears, yes?) These gummy bears were not cheap: at $2.46 for .33 pounds, they’re costing you way more than the non-vegan 99 cent bag you used to grab at CVS.

The bakery prices are pretty much in line with most other sweet shops around town: high. The cupcakes were $3.75, the scone $1.51. Bars are at least $3. If you’re on a budget, consider the bakery as a special treat and learn to master your own vegan baking. If you’re looking to impress a loved one or feed a large crowd, you can special order cakes and cupcakes. I recommend the carrot cake.

Strawberry Fields is open Monday through Saturday, 7 a.m. to 8 p.m., and Sunday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. You can find more information on Twitter and Facebook.

For additional photos, follow Jess on Instagram or Twitter @epicureanjess. 

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