“Croissants move”: vegan chefs are reinventing French pastry | Vegan food and drink

RStanding in his patisserie, Odolphe Landemaine inspects the rows of traditional lemon meringue pies and cream pavlovas. “In France, cakes have to be visual,” he said. “I had to produce something that not only tasted amazing, but looked elegant.”

The display – from apple pies to almond and chocolate croissants – looked like any other lavish Parisian bakery, with one difference: it was all vegan.

France is experiencing a surprise boom in artisanal vegan pastry. The meat nation, whose centuries-old baking tradition was based on eggs, butter and cream, has been shaken up by a new generation of pastry chefs reinventing classics without animal products.

But the crucial twist of this high-end French vegan patisserie is that it’s not marketed simply to vegans. By aiming to recreate classics that taste better than the original dairy-based versions and setting up traditional shops that blend almost imperceptibly into city streets, vegan pioneers are winning over an unsuspecting mainstream, making profits and seek to expand internationally. They see it as a subtle change in the world through strawberry pies.

Vegan cakes behind the counter at Land and Monkeys. Photograph: Ed Alcock/The Guardian

France is not an easy market to penetrate. According to an Ifop survey in 2020, less than 1% of the population is vegan, and the word “vegan” itself had taken on negative political associations amid squabbles over anti-butchery activism. France is the European country where per capita consumption of beef is the highest. But, crucially, 24% of French people identify as flexitarians and reduce their meat consumption.

Landemaine, 45, describes himself as a “pure product of French gastronomy”, a classically trained Norman pastry chef who worked in the biggest Parisian patisseries and then opened his own group of classic bakeries. “When I then became vegan myself, people thought I was joining a sect, really in France they looked at me and said: the boss is weird, he’s gone crazy,” he says. .

Landemaine decided that more people in France would go vegan if there were “more absolutely delicious, easy-to-eat offerings that spoke to the history of French food tradition”. His idea was: “Don’t throw away the classics, keep them, but simply bring French pastry into the 21st century.”

He launched his vegan pastry and bakery, earth and monkeys (named after a return to the land and our ancestors) just before the Covid pandemic, fearing it would fold after three months. But it now has six stores in Paris, and another opening in the La Défense business district in September.

Vegan cream pie, or flan, on the counter at VG Patisserie.
Vegan cream pie, or flan, on the counter at VG Patisserie. Photograph: Ed Alcock/The Guardian

Although a committed vegan, Landemaine banned the word vegan from the store, instead using “vegetable”, or herbal, in fine print. A lot of regular customers don’t know initially that it’s vegan. “People decide it’s fine, and only then can you address ethical and environmental issues as the icing on the cake,” he said. “If it doesn’t taste good, people won’t be open to these ideas.”

The biggest technical challenge has been replacing eggs: He launched a separate startup to develop alternative plant proteins from potatoes and peas.

“The last country in the world that will go vegan is France, so if it works here, it will take off everywhere,” Landemaine said.

In eastern Paris, Bérénice Leconte, 32, is considered the pioneer of French vegan pastry. She opened the country’s first vegan pastry shop, VG Pastry, five years ago. But since the easing of Covid restrictions, she has seen a huge surge in demand for her vegan croissants, vanilla flan, pastry and wedding cakes. “What has changed enormously are the orders I now receive to supply croissants to restaurants and exclusive hotels,” she said. “We see a change in mentality among the great chefs in France. Five years ago, nobody wanted to talk about vegan baking; now they are all interested in trying it. Before, if you asked for a vegan breakfast in a French hotel, it was bread, jam, fruit salad. This is no longer enough, because the croissants pass.

Vegan croissants at VG.
Vegan croissants at VG. Photograph: Ed Alcock/The Guardian

The trend goes beyond Paris with vegan pastries like Oh Fawn! in Marseilles and Zoi In Lyon. Juliette Draux, running The Moment in the provincial town of Tours, won France’s top prize for vegan pastry last fall and is known for creations such as apricot and lavender tarts and chocolate dessert covered with moss. “There’s a growing demand for vegan baking because people know it’s really good,” Draux said. “The picture changes. It used to be that if you said you were vegan, people thought you were going to tag a butcher shop.

Matteo Neri, director of food industry research at Xerfi analysts in Paris, said the vegan artisan pastry emerging in French cities contrasted with the relatively low French consumption of vegan supermarket products, such as plant-based milks. , fake meats and vegan cheese. recent sound report showed that sales of vegan products in French supermarkets were less than half of those in the UK and were “growing relatively slowly” due to “food conservatism” in France.

Patrick Rambourg, historian of French gastronomy, declared: “The success of these vegetable pastries is to offer classics, but made in a different way. For the French, pastry rhymes with pleasure. The young plant-based pastry chefs have understood how to anchor themselves in the French landscape by operating as a traditional neighborhood pastry shop, offering beautiful cakes for everyone. The taste corresponds to our traditions.

At Land and Monkeys, Valentine, 20, a maths student, was eating a cinnamon roll. She wasn’t vegan and didn’t notice at first that the shop was. “You can’t tell the difference,” she says. “I actually think it’s better than the standard pastry. I’ll be back.”

Vegan cakes at Land and Monkeys.
Vegan cakes at Land and Monkeys. Photograph: Ed Alcock/The Guardian

A short guide to vegan pastry in France

Some croissants French vegan bakers say their biggest challenge is to replicate the look and melting effect of a traditional butter croissant, while avoiding a margarine aftertaste. Considered the most difficult vegan pastry to succeed.

Yarrow Thin layers of crispy puff pastry covered in cream. The key to vegan versions of this classic is to achieve contrasting textures. The cream is often almond or soy-based, sometimes with cornstarch.

Lemon pie Traditional French lemon tart can stand alone or be made with a meringue top, sometimes made with aquafaba or bean water. Vegan pastry chefs focus on the quality and spiciness of the lemon cream filling, high in fruit.

Vanilla flan One of the most popular “everyday” pastries in France, the challenge is to replace the eggs. Some use a pinch of turmeric to create the yellow color.