Caryn Hartglass has taken a unique approach to cake decorating. Because of her belief that "food choices affect environmental and human health," she has taken an all-natural approach when it comes to baking and designing cakes. She uses only organic and vegan ingredients, and while at times, it has been challenging, she has created some wonderful cakes used to celebrate all occasions. She is also the executive director of EarthSave, an organization that strives to teach about the importance of living in harmony with everything in the environment, including the food you eat.
Hartglass, 51, who lives in New York City, New York, with her partner Gary De Mattei, recently took some time from her busy schedule to talk with LoveToKnow Cake Decorating about her unique cakes and designs.
LoveToKnow (LTK): How did you get involved in designing cakes, especially organic confections?
Caryn Hartglass (CH): When I was in my early teens I started designing cakes for my younger brother's birthdays. I started with a cake design pattern I found somewhere and made a hobby horse. Then I realized I could make my own. I would organize a theme party for him and his friends and make a cake to go along with the theme. For example - the monster-themed party had a Frankenstein cake. I would design the cake on paper, bake a rectangle or circular cake and cut out the desired shapes, piece them together and then decorate with colored icing. Now my brother has two young children and I always make their birthday cakes. It's now a tradition. My 4-year-old niece was recently diagnosed with Celiac's disease so my next challenge will be making my cakes without gluten.
Baking with Organic Ingredients
LTK: Tell me about the organic ingredients used. Why did you choose to use only them?
CH: I have a passion for healthy food. Eating food grown with pesticides and herbicides is dangerous. These toxic chemicals are harmful to the people who are exposed to them in growing the food and they also are destroying the soil and what naturally lives in it. It is important to support what we believe in with our dollars.
LTK: How did you find out what works and what doesn't?
CH: Making organic, vegan cakes is easy. There are numerous non-dairy milks on the market to replace cow's milk. There are also a variety of egg replacers - ground flax seeds in water, applesauce, mashed bananas, Ener-G Egg Replacer (a combination of starches), corn starch. Which type of egg replacer can depend on what kind of recipe you are making. My cakes are very delicious: chocolate, coconut, carrot, white, spice - everyone loves them. It's the icing that is tricky. I don't like to use too much sugar and I find the sugary fondants disgusting in look and taste. Also, I won't use artificial food colors.
Organic Earth Balance margarine works well for a 'buttercream' frosting and Toffuti brand Better Than Creamcheese, the non-hydrogenated oil version is great for frosting too - but unfortunately there is no organic version yet. Follow Your Heart makes a vegan cream cheese that is 76 percent organic. Soaked nuts, like cashews, processed in a food processor can work as frosting too. Non-dairy dark chocolate or non-dairy semi sweet chocolate chips melted and mixed with some silken tofu will make a great ganache or chocolate frosting. For colors, I juice carrots for orange or yellows, beets or berries for pinks, reds and purples. Chocolate is great for brown, obviously but also works to outline patterns. Depending on what I am making, I may use whole, fresh berries or other fruits for special colors. I've used finely cut blueberry skin for very fine detailing - like eyelashes.
LTK: Were there a lot of taste tests?
CH: Not really. I have been baking most of my life and I just know almost instinctually what will work. Of course tasting batters and frostings along the way can help.
LTK: Is there anything you can't design using purely organic ingredients?
CH: I have always succeeded with what I set out to make. That said, there may be some things I can't do but I don't know what they are!
LTK: Do you sell your cakes? If so, where can prospective customers find them?
CH: I do plan on selling them. We are working on a business plan at the moment but unfortunately there is no information available at this time.
Delicious Organic Cakes
LTK: What is your favorite flavor and style of cake to make?
CH: Coconut cake seems to be everyone's favorite, including mine. It was chocolate for a long time. But for my 50th birthday, I craved a coconut cake with coconut cream frosting, so I made it. Delicious!
LTK: Do cooking times differ than from making cakes without organic ingredients?
CH: Cakes and cookies take the same amount of time. Creamy pie fillings like pumpkin take longer (two to three times) for the filling to firm because I don't use eggs.
LTK: What type of reaction do you normally get when people first taste your cakes?
CH: People love my desserts! They are not as sweet as the average cake, but because I use high quality ingredients, there is so much more rich, delicious flavor. Organic chocolate is so superior to conventional chocolate. Organic flours and sweeteners have more dimensions to them in flavor then their over-processed conventional counterparts.
LTK: Designing cakes is only one small part of your organic/green lifestyle. Please tell me about EarthSave?
CH: EarthSave was founded in 1988, the direct result of the overwhelming reader response to John Robbins' best selling book, Diet for a New America. The only son of the founder of the Baskin-Robbins ice cream empire, John Robbins was groomed to follow in his father's footsteps but chose to walk away from Baskin-Robbins and the immense wealth it represented to '...pursue the deeper American Dream...the dream of a society at peace with its conscience because it respects and lives in harmony with all life forms: a dream of a society that is truly healthy, practicing a wise and compassionate stewardship of a balanced ecosystem.
We built EarthSave's mission upon this dream. The organization supplies information about how food choices affect environmental and human health and advocates a delicious, planet-friendly diet. We have been educating about chronic diseases, climate change and environmental degradation long before these issues came to the forefront of mainstream news and political agendas.
Our members receive our quarterly publication, the EarthSave News. EarthSave's chapters create communities of support to help people learn about healthy, plant-based foods. EarthSave's trademarked food festival, the Taste of Health, our free Internet program, the VegPledge and our outstanding print materials have helped tens of thousands of people move toward a planet-friendly diet. Recognizing the power of the Internet's growing appeal, we created EarthSave TV in 2008. In March 2009, we started a weekly, Internet radio program, 'It's All About Food,' where we talk with people making a difference for the planet at the grassroots level: activists, chefs, nutritionists and medical experts.
Cake Designing Tips
LTK: Is there anything else you'd like to tell us about your cake designing?
CH: I recently realized when I decorate a cake, it is like painting. I have done a bit of oil and watercolor painting and I treat cake decorating in a similar way. The cake is a blank canvas. I prepare my frostings and create a palette of frosting colors. Then I start to 'paint' on the cake. Colorful fruits, raw nuts and flaked, unsweetened coconut will be used for colors and textures too. My most favorite recent 'work of art' was my Ariel cake, using green kiwi on the mermaid's finned tail.
I also believe that food should be delicious, beautiful and healthy. Even treats like my cakes, while rich and sweet, are made with real foods, with fiber and are cholesterol-free.