Many of you don’t know, but while living in Dublin I decided to start baking vegan cupcakes and cakes because I couldn’t find a job in Journalism there (hello crisis!) and I kept doing it until baby boy was born (you can see some of my sweets here). When I started my adventures in the amazing – and not so easy – universe of vegan baking I looked for some inspiration and good examples and I found the blog of Hannah Banana Bakery. This was in 2009. I stopped baking (as for taking orders) since baby boy was born but I still love seeing what people are doing. Hannah Banana Bakery, from the UK, is my favorite page on Facebook to follow.
Hannah Pinchin has been vegan for 11 years now and she started baking vegan since she decided to change her lifestyle: “I was always trying out new ideas and giving cakes to people for their birthday. Whilst writing up my PhD thesis I decided to do an evening course in sugar-craft to help me relax and to improve my skills. My friend heard about this and asked if I would make her wedding cupcakes to save her some money so I happily agreed. I got such great feedback at a time when I was struggling to get a job that I decided to start my own bakery!,” explains Hannah. She also used to be very upset – as many of us vegan cake lovers – about the difficult to find fancy and beautiful vegan cakes and a good variety of flavors, that goes behind chocolate or vanilla flavors.
In 2011, after being baking for nine years, Hannah Banana Bakery was officially born, in Southampton, (Hampshire, UK). Hannah’s creations look amazing – and delicious – and even after so many years of experience and qualifications that include an NFCE sugar craft course and a level 2 certificate in food safety in catering, she still thinks that every cake she makes is a challenge: “They’re never the same ideas and I’m a real perfectionist so if its not perfectly neat and smooth I re-do it even if it means I don’t make a profit! My customers expect only the best so I don’t sleep until its exactly right!”. Hannah has made her cakes fame go beyond her city and she ships to anywhere in the UK. It has being such a success that she’s getting most of her orders as postal special.
Besides baking everything vegan, she also offers gluten-free or sugar-free options and although she doesn’t get many orders with those specifications she thinks “everyone should be able to eat nice cake no matter what allergies they have so I do everything I can to make them the best cakes I can too using 12 different gluten free flours and 4 sugar free options depending on what they fancy”. As many other vegan bakeries, Hannah Banana Bakery also receives many orders from non-vegan customers. Hannah thinks she has more non-vegan customers than vegans (!). “I think people just like the look and taste of my cakes and also the fact they’re not restricted to a set menu…they get anything they ask for in any flavour including candy floss, bubblegum, fruit, marshmallow, 3 types of chocolate, etc! Why have limits, people should get their perfect cake the way they like it!”, says the happy baker.
When asked about the busiest period of the year to Hannah Banana Bakery, Hannah’s answer isn’t that different from most of the companies specialized in vegan sweets: “Christmas!!! I almost died this year! It was very closely followed by Valentines day 2013 though! I hand made over 200 cookie butter filled hearts which each took 30 mins to make as I stupidly only bought 1 mould!! I had to stop taking orders after 2 hours of the launch! I love my customers so much and am super lucky! Unlike a big company all the profit went to buy my mini vegan a cot so thank you to everyone who helped make that happen!”
All this hard work has already guaranteed Hannah some important awards, such as Best Vegan Cake 2012 in the UK Vegan Awards, best vegan cupcakes at the Bournemouth cupcake fair, best cake in show at a non-vegan village fair and a nomination to Venus Business Awards 2013. Excitement is one word to describe her feeling toward these great recognitions: “I think it’s important to get vegan cakes into non-vegan competitions and show people that vegan cakes are not all dull and brown but can be just as fun and decadent and tasty as any non vegan cake!,” says Hannah.
What does this lovely baker do when she’s not working? She spends her week days as a post doctoral research fellow at a local university (she has a PhD in microbiology and her study area is cleaning up oil spills using plant associated microbes) and before she got pregnant – yes! Hannah is 6 months pregnant of her first “mini-vegan” – she used to play roller derby for the Dorset Roller Girls and she’s now taking part as a non-skating official (NSO).
Hannah still finds time to write a vegan cooking zine, “Southcoast”, which she started in 2002. “I’ve sold them at fairs and gigs for £1 or trade and now they’re uploaded onto my blog for free so everyone can use them. They’ve always been so much fun as anyone can contribute any vegan recipe they like or some art work no matter how basic. I love seeing what real people like to make on real budgets and with easy to find ingredients which can be a problem with fancy cook books!”. Hannah has a new one coming out soon (probably this week) with great contributors that include Sarah Kramer and Annie Shannon, that happen to be two of her four top vegan chefs (together with Siue Moffat and Kelly Peloza). All profit of the new edition is going to local charity Oakhaven Hospice. When asked about the idea of writing a cookbook, Hannah says that for now she will focus on the pregnancy and the arrival of her first baby and after that she can think about it better. At the moment she just hopes that people will enjoy the vegan cooking zine.
When she’s not baking cakes and cupcakes for her orders, Hannah loves making vegan versions of non-vegan food. “Bakewell tarts, cinnamon rolls, fondant fancies, lemon meringue pie, banoffee pie, pecan pie, donuts, lemon curd, caramel sauce.. You name it I’ll veganise it!”.
Make sure to check Hannah Banana Bakery and place an order if you live anywhere in the UK. We will certainly try to get some of her sweets when we’re there!
* All images courtesy of Hannah Banana Bakery