Have you ever wondered how to create delicious vegan gluten-free desserts? Victoria Vaccher (a.k.a. Tori) was a set and prop design student in Ryerson’s theatre production program when she started “veganizing” her family recipes. After graduating, she learned the baking trade through George Brown College. She then designed and opened her first Tori’s Bakeshop location in the Beaches neighborhood of Toronto. Tori now has an offsite production kitchen and a second retail location in the Canary District.
We chatted with Tori about her favorite gluten-free flours for cupcakes, her tips for baking healthy at home, and some challenges of opening an eco-friendly, natural and organic bakery.
WEHL: Tell us a little about yourself and why you became interested in natural wellness.
VV: I come from a theatrical production design background, but I grew up baking with my Nana and watching my parents run their own independent businesses. When I made the choice to start eating a vegan diet to help improve my digestion, I started reading product labels and researching ingredients, and my whole idea of “wellness” changed. The more you pay attention to exactly what it is you’re eating, the better choices you make, and the better you feel. And the more you want to share that feeling with others.
WEHL: What is your philosophy on wellness?
VV: I’m always refining what wellness is for me, because it changes so often. I definitely have an ecologically holistic, ideal view of wellness, which makes it challenging to create balance on the ground level of life. It’s hard to make choices sometimes: organic from far away with a lousier impact on the environment or local conventional? Enjoy the company of friends and family or get to bed at a reasonable hour? It’s really hard and you just have to know you’re trying to do your best and you’re not going to do it well all the time. Or maybe it’s too stressful to try your best every day. Maybe wellness is just making one good choice at a time, and also having compassion for your poor choices too. I guess I don’t believe there’s really a thing called balance. At least, it’s not something that exists in my life.
WEHL: Why did you decide to start your company?
VV: I created Tori’s Bakeshop to offer baked goods that could be shared among people with many needs, that they could all eat and enjoy together because it isn’t obvious that they’re vegan, or gluten-free. I wanted to use the same organic ingredients I bake with personally, and use as little waste as possible in the process, and figure out whether a business model like that is truly possible.
WEHL: What was one of the most difficult parts about opening an eco-friendly, natural and organic bakery?
VV: The cost of everything, and the fewer options to choose from for product and supply. It’s why this business model is not typical. Using the quality ingredients that are important to us while also competitively pricing our items with their conventional or non-vegan counterparts makes for super tight margins, especially as there’s only so much you can charge for a cookie, muffin, or coffee! I’m constantly looking for suppliers to offer items in as much bulk as possible, but the organic ingredients are still not as readily available. It also means that we must have more staff working at any given time, and more training for that staff, because people ask more questions, and we offer full transparency of our ingredients and allergens. It’s also a challenge to educate our guests; if organic ingredients and compostable packaging aren’t important in an individual’s life, it’s possible they don’t realize that this is our priority and business model.
WEHL: Were you surprised by the amount of support you got when you first launched?
VV: I was so grateful to be embraced by our local community, many of whom didn’t initially realize that what we make is entirely plant-based. And as far East-enders in Toronto, we’re still thrilled when anyone makes the trip to the Beaches to come see us, which so many in the vegan community take the time to do. But we especially love the relationships we’ve built in our neighbourhood with people we see daily or weekly. It’s quite a thing to watch a couple take engagement pictures in our space, order their wedding cake from us, and make a new human that we then watch grow into a person. We’re incredibly fortunate to have become such a sweet, safe place in so many lives.
WEHL: How did you develop your idea for your cupcakes? Was it a lot of trial and error?
VV: The most trial and error was in getting the balance of gluten-free flours right. Otherwise it’s fairly simple to swap out eggs and dairy. It was also important to me to create the perfect frosting; I find many to be far too sweet. The organic ingredients definitely help with that, the icing sugar we use is so good.
WEHL: What flours do you use for your cupcakes?
VV: Our original cupcakes are baked with organic unrefined wheat flour. The gluten-free cupcakes have a mix of organic brown rice flour, tapioca, and millet.
WEHL: Which gluten-free flours are very difficult to bake with?
VV: Nut flours can be a challenge due to their density; plus they’re very expensive. Also, using any single gluten-free flour can be troublesome, and it’s best to bake with a mix of flours as each has pros and cons. For example, bean-based flours have a great consistency, but do indeed taste like beans. However, using multiple gluten-free flours for any one recipe at home can quickly become expensive.
WEHL: Do you have any tips for baking healthy desserts at home?
VV: Using fair-trade or beyond fair-trade, organic, unrefined ingredients makes all the difference. The wholeness that these products offer makes for a better, more flavourful, and healthier treat, which means you can eat a little less of it and still be satisfied. Plus it is so much better from an ecological perspective, both for all the people involved in the supply chain, and the environment itself. Also: bake with love. It may sound silly, but we take care to put as much positive energy into what we’re making as we can.
WEHL: If we are baking at home, what is a vegan baking replacement for eggs?
VV: Flax and water is the best, healthiest, easiest, and most fiber-full! Add 1 tablespoon hot water to 3 tablespoons ground flax seeds and stir; this mixture is the equivalent of one egg.
Do you have any new baked goods that you are developing? Where do you get your inspiration for new recipes?
VV: We’ll be changing up our sandwich menu in the fall, and we regularly adjust our scone, muffin, pie, cake and cupcake, and biscotti flavours with the seasons. We work with what produce is timely and available, and play with flavours from there.
WEHL: You have some recipes that are refined sugar-free. What do you use instead as a natural sweetener?
VV: We bake with organic unrefined cane sugar most of the time, but we also have some baked goods that are made with either maple syrup or coconut sugar, or a mix of both. We have a raw bar and ice cream that is sweetened with dates.
Do you have a recipe you’d like to share with us?
VV: So many, but we’re in the process of planning a cookbook to do so! In the meantime, see above for the “egg recipe.” 😉
Do you have any advice for an entrepreneur who’s interested in building a socially and environmentally conscious business?
VV: Don’t try and do it on your own! Find a partner you trust, who shares your vision, complements your strengths, and compensates for your weaknesses. Make sure the business you create moves you, or all the hard work will certainly not be sustainable. Be clear about your mission statement, and let it reflect the values you hold in your personal life. Be aware of things you might need to compromise, like time off, and what boundaries are non-negotiable. Be really honest with yourself when you do all of these things.
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