Two KC vegan bakeries make plant-based eating a piece of cake

Photography by Caleb Condit & Rebecca Norden.

Veganism has long been the red-headed stepchild of food movements: tolerated but rarely respected by outsiders. Celebrity chefs—Gordon Ramsay, Jamie Oliver and Anthony Bourdain—even made scoffing at vegans and their tofu-laden plates part of their brash personalities. But the plant movement prevails. Slowly but surely, veganism continues to make inroads into the mainstream culinary scene, if only for reasons of health and sustainability.

Photography by Caleb Condit & Rebecca Norden.

It helps that vegan chefs are continuing to prove that cardboard tofu and rock-hard breads are a thing of the past. Two vegan bakeries in our cattle-loving city, The Littlest Bake Shop and Mud Pie Bakery, are leading the charge in plant-based sweets. They’re not the only spots serving vegan pastries in town; eateries like Gigi’s Vegan + Wellness Café and Mattie’s Foods whip up a dang good dessert as well. But they’re the only bakeries completely dedicated to plant-based baked goods year-round—no milk, no eggs and no refined cane sugars. 

The Littlest Bake shop is entirely gluten-free, and Mud Pie offers a significant amount of gluten-free items. Just try the Hostess chocolate cupcake at either of these two shops and you’ll wonder how any of the aforementioned ingredients were ever thought of as baking imperatives.

The Littlest Bake Shop 
Littlest Bake Shop pastries from left to right: floral cake, strawberry jam thumbprint cookies, persimmon spice muffins and floral cupcakes. Photography by Caleb Condit & Rebecca Norden.

5511 Troost Ave., KCMO, littlestbakeshop.com

Having opened in the middle of 2019, owner Iris Green laughs when mentioning her “impeccable” timing for opening her niche pastry shop. It’s a response dripping in sarcasm, of course. But even in the throes of the pandemic, Green quickly developed a loyal clientele. 

Green estimates she is one of a dozen spots around the country dedicated to serving both vegan and gluten-free baked goods. Plant-based gluten-free lemon cupcakes and cherry muffins aren’t just ideal for those choosing to forgo animal products; they’re also a great alternative for those who have dietary restrictions, possibly due to autoimmune disorders or severe allergies.

“People who are vegan or gluten-free, they want the special things, too,” Green says.

Green has been a vegetarian since birth and transitioned to vegan and gluten-free as an adult. She lived in Los Angeles for a spell and, when there, dabbled in culinary side gigs, such as selling her baked goods at the Brentwood Farmers’ Market, a hot spot for celebrity sightings, and teaching vegan cooking classes at her own venue, Green’s Center for Plant Based Nutrition. 

As a carnivore adverse to dietary labels, I was hesitant to bite into the chai cupcake dolloped with a swirl of shortening-based frosting. Gluten-free can often translate to a dense texture. After all, it’s the gluten that adds those air bubbles that make for a spongy, soft cake. But the cake was surprisingly moist, and the warm chai spice might as well have been singing as it harmonized with November’s cool air perfectly. 

Green’s whimsical, customizable floral cakes can be preordered online. The key to her vegan baking is that she’s not concerned about trying to replicate non-vegan flavors such as eggs or meat.

“I’ve never eaten meat in my life, so I’m not trying to substitute or replace any meat products when I’m cooking because I don’t have any frame of reference,” the KC native says. “I’m looking for things that stand on their own. I think people are sometimes afraid to season, and I’m not.” 

For something more savory, Green’s comfort food-driven breakfast and lunch menu is a hit for both vegans and non-vegans. Sandwiches are built with gluten-free bread, smeared with the likes of roasted garlic aiolis or a pesto and served with a side of roasted potatoes. The BLT, made with Thrilling Foods salt-cured, double-smoked soy-based bakon, is one of her most popular menu items. No, it won’t have that porky tang, but it’s salty, crunchy and delivers an umami-filled bite nonetheless. 

“Don’t sleep on the sweet grilled cheese,” Green advises. The grilled cheese sandwiches are an unexpected hit. They’re made with Follow Your Heart’s dairy-free cheese and jazzed up with a spread of chipotle apple butter or a homemade peach jam.

In early December, Green moved her bakery from East Brookside to 55th Street and Troost, doubling her bakery from 500 to 1,000 square feet. Before, her shop was a cozy 12-seater. Now, it has 28 seats, a full bar counter and much more kitchen space. She’s still sticking with the bakery’s original name, though, and all the quirks are still there: mismatched tables and chairs, rustic bundt pans hung on the walls and a vintage stereo as the host stand. 

Mud Pie Bakery 
Mud Pie dishes clockwise from top left: Village Coffee Roastery latte, pumpkin chocolate chip muffin, strawberry toaster pastry, gluten-free blueberry crumb cake, chikn sandwich and caramel macchiato shortbread cookie. Photography by Caleb Condit & Rebecca Norden.

7319 W. 95th St., Overland Park, KS, mudpiebakery.com

Unlike The Littlest Bake Shop’s colorful vintage vibe, Mud Pie feels more like an old-school coffee shop. You could easily grab a cup of joe and never realize the entire menu is plant-based. 

In 2011, Michael Valverde had been working at the 39th Street cafe Javanaut when it closed. Having developed a passion for coffee and seeing the potential of the downtown market, he saw the opportunity to start his own coffee shop alongside his wife Ashley Valverde—but with a vegan twist. But strict vegan businesses were nearly unheard of in Kansas City back then.

“Initially, no one would give us a loan,” Michael says. “It’s cowboy town, especially back then.”

Ashley’s parents saw the vision, however, and eventually became business partners and part owners in Mud Pie. Next, they had to convince KC of their vision. How do you sway those hesitant about vegan food? Free samples. A splash of oat milk here and a vegan muffin there began to break down wary customers’ preconceived notions.

Over a decade later, the couple has figured out what works. Everything is made from scratch, even their milk varieties—oat, almond, cashew and soy. They have a selection of constantly rotating pastries, such as blueberry and cream crumb cake, jalapeno-cheddar scones, pumpkin chip muffins and vanilla chocolate donuts, to name a few.

But it’s the kolaches, a traditional Czech pastry stuffed with various fillings, that the Valverdes hang their hat on. The filling of vegan sausage and cashew cheese is a great savory option, but they often switch up the flavors. On my last visit, I snagged a green onion and tofu cream cheese kolache and was not disappointed.

The chef, or “weapon in our arsenal,” Ashley says, is William Sims. Sims has a food science degree and brings a unique understanding to vegan and gluten-free baking. As Mud Pie continues to expand its gluten-free offerings, Sims has been experimenting. His latest gluten-free venture? Toaster pastries and French silk pie (with a homemade gluten-free graham cracker crust). Needless to say, both flew off the shelves.

Mud Pie’s 39th Street location closed in 2021, partly due to the pandemic and the Valverdes’ own need to slow down. But their Overland Park location remains a low-key safe haven for those with special dietary needs. “People come to us when they’re trying to avoid certain allergens,” Michael says. 

“I would say [people with allergens are] one of our main clients that come into our shop,” Ashley adds.  

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