London’s Camden Market is renowned for its ‘alternative’ vibe; baggy hemp trousers are more common than jeans here, and incense wafts from every window, along with other interesting fragrances. So perhaps the last thing you’d expect to find embedded deep within the heart of this bohemian behemoth is, not a paleo curry house, not a Thai-Mexican fusion raw salad bar, not even a Wagamama’s, but a bakery, serving traditional-style cookies, pies, and cakes.
But all is not as it seems. In keeping with Camden’s counter-cultural vibe, Cookies and Scream is in fact an entirely vegan bakery. Their products contain no dairy or eggs, no gelatine or isinglass, no honey, and definitely no meat. And, if you weren’t already about to collapse with awe, the bakery is also entirely gluten-free.
No wheat was harmed in the making of these beauties.
When I heard about this place, I had to take a look. I have been a vegan for around a year now; for me it was never a challenge to give up chicken, and never a heartache to let go of horse-meat. But I have had a massive sweet tooth since childhood, when my dad would take me and my brothers each weekend to the local bakery for a treat. Almost every time, I would choose the creamiest, sugariest, most calorie-dense concoction I could find – the closer it was to the size of my head, the better. It’s a miracle that I have always been a slim-built guy, given how routinely the words ‘plaque’ and ‘flossing’ emanated from my dentists’ mouth almost before he even so much as glimpsed my teeth. As you can imagine, the prospect of having a free choice of sugar-laced calorie-bombs with which to fill my body was very tempting after a year of occasionally having to politely decline birthday cakes.
I can eat all these things!
Not only was I keen to stuff my face with sugar, but I was also genuinely interested to see how successfully traditional baked goods like cookies, brownies, and pies could be created without the need for eggs, milk, or gluten. Would they really be as good? Regular viewers of The Great British Bake Off all know the look of anxiety that has come to haunt ‘free-from’ week, when the contestants are challenged to work without without ‘key’ ingredients like gluten or dairy. Frequently, the episode features crumbly bread, tasteless cakes and enough ‘soggy bottom’ inunendos to make Alan Carr: Chatty Man look like Prime Minister’s Question Time. So a bakery that operates permanently within the apparently crippling ‘free-from’ limitations would, according to Paul Hollywood at least, be about as successful as leather-free shoe shop, or a meat-free butcher’s.
Ve-going, ve-going, ve-gan!
I was delighted to discover, then, that Cookies and Scream make quite simply fantastic food. People were queuing out the door for their daily dose of peanut butter cookies and marshmallow-embedded brownies. Every day new products are home-baked and brought into the store, so, like Forrest Gump’s box of (vegan) chocolates, ya never know what y’gonna gyet. But some staples on the menu are really worth ordering, including their classic, ice-cream-embedded cookie sandwiches, and highly indulgent milkshake floaters.
The things I do for good journalism…
One thing that really adds to the bakery’s charm is that, despite their often traditional flavours, you usually can tell that what you’re eating is not the same as what you’d get in a ‘normal’ bakery. This might sound like a bad thing, but it’s really, really not. When so many vegan companies are trying to replicate as accurately as possible the tastes and textures of non-vegan foods, Cookies and Scream have approached vegan baking from the ground up – rather than saying, “Right, we’re not using animal products, we’re not using gluten, let’s see how convincingly we can still make a cake”, they instead say “let’s see what we can make; what doors are open to us?“, with little anxiety as to how similar the end result is to a traditional cake. The end result is a face-stuffing experience that you remember as being somehow lighter and heavier, sugarier and more gustatorily-complicated, than a traditional bakery. When most bakeries rely entirely on wheat flour, eggs, and dairy in various different ratios to create their food, it’s no surprise that free-from baking has earned a reputation as being difficult and convoluted. By escaping this unholy trinity, Cookies and Scream have really shown that the only limits in cooking are in the imaginations of the chefs.
So get yourself down to Camden ASAP and treat yourself to a cake or seven; Cookies and Scream is paradoxically guilt-inducing and guiltless. It’s fantastically counter-cultural. In a nutshell, it’s exactly the kind of bakery you’d expect to find in Camden Market.