I first met Amanda Bankert, the immensely talented American pastry chef based in Paris, when I sat down with her at her perennially popular Boneshaker Donuts shop for a profile in Frenchly a year ago this fall. Like many, Bankert fell in love with Paris when she spent six months in the city on a college semester abroad. Unlike most, she was on a plane right back days after graduating and enrolled in the prestigious Cordon Bleu culinary school’s pastry program. Then, after more than a decade working as a pastry chef in France and Ireland, she moved back to Paris and opened Boneshaker Donuts.
It’s no wonder Boneshaker is one of the most popular pastry shops in Paris. What is a wonder is that she’s made American donuts a thing in France. I was as struck by Amanda’s enthusiastic optimism and entrepreneurial spirit as I was by her delicious donuts and the scores of happy smiling customers enjoying their sweets or lining up down the block for her in-demand vegan donuts. Well, now Amanda’s cooked up a treat that foodies and baking enthusiasts can enjoy in the U.S., or anywhere on the planet for that matter. She’s just published her first cookbook, Voilà Vegan: 85 Decadent, Secretly Plant-based Desserts from an American Pâtisserie in Paris. It’s a delightful collection of tasty recipes alongside loads of useful information for baking enthusiasts, as well as tips on eating vegan in Paris. Amanda Bankert’s wonderful recipes and advice are brought to life through a combination of mouth-watering photos and whimsical illustrations.
The eight recipe chapters capture a satisfying spectrum of sweet treats. Some are traditional French desserts (Pain d’épices), others all-American (snickerdoodles), and many are a delightful blend of both cultures (maple syrup madeleines). There’s “Desserts for Breakfast” (chocolate, espresso & orange breakfast rolls, pumpkin cake donuts), “Cookies” (Oatmeal cranberry gingerbread), “Cakes & Pies” (cherry clafoutis, apple butter mini galettes), “Desserts” (chocolate avocado mousse, crème brûlée), “Drinks” (Champagne punch, no stress strawberry refresher), “Gâteaux de Voyage” (travel cakes, like banana speculoos coffee cake and lemon drizzle cake).
The final recipe chapter teaches some essential skills for every home cook; “Jams, Custards, Confiture & Pantry Staples” (from apple butter to chocolate ganache). There’s a reassuring “how-to” quality throughout the book which is clearly established in the first chapter, “Vegan Ingredients & Equipment”, which reads like a practical primer for the vegan baker. The “Places to Go in Paris” section is a list, complete with its own map, of Amanda’s favorite vegan-friendly foodie spots in Paris.
Interview with pastry chef Amanda Bankert
PR: When and why did you start eating vegan?
AB: I’ve had a history of dipping in and out of vegetarianism since I was around 8 years old, so transitioning to veganism felt like the natural next step. However, taking that plunge took me quite some time – mainly because of my career as a pastry chef. My livelihood depended on eggs and dairy, making the idea of going plant-based daunting. Professional kitchens, especially back when I started 15 years ago, weren’t particularly supportive of plant-based diets (to put it mildly). In 2019, curiosity got the better of me, and I decided to give myself a 30-day trial of a vegan diet. And I loved it! Being an animal lover, it felt incredible to align my eating habits with my personal values. And as I delved deeper into the environmental and health benefits of a vegan lifestyle, it was a no-brainer.
Sure, there was an adjustment period, but once I mastered the fundamentals of vegan cooking and baking, there was no turning back. It’s been 4 years, and I feel fantastic.
PR: Was there an “aha” moment that sparked the idea for the book?
AB: Once I became vegan myself, my next task was transitioning the bakery. It was non-negotiable for me that the taste and quality of Boneshaker’s wares didn’t change. People can have pretty strong opinions about veganism and vegan food, so I experimented by replacing our traditional donut flavors, one by one, without mentioning to customers that I had adapted the recipe. It took me about a year to get all our recipes fully plant-based, and the bakery was 100% vegan by 2020. No one noticed!! Veganism isn’t about deprivation, or even “healthy” eating (although it can be) – it’s about eating normal food, minus animal products. I wanted to share my tips and techniques – so I wrote a book about it!
PR: I love your line in the book intro about, “These desserts are intended for afternoons of coffee and gossip with your best friend, or raucous wine filled nights….” Your desserts, and you as a chef, strike me as grounded in a real-life philosophy, can you tell me a bit what that’s about?
AB: Anyone who has attended one of my annual Thanksgiving dinners here knows that they’ll probably be drinking wine out of a diner mug and eating dinner off of a Batman plate (I’m a mom). I am in awe of people who have perfectly set tables and enough cutlery for all their guests – but that’s not me, and I have zero qualms about that. One of my best friends came to stay with me once and laughed that I offered her a bathmat as a towel for the duration of her stay because I hadn’t done laundry. She still teases me about it – but the point is, we’re gathered together, we’re having fun, and life is messy. Things not being picture perfect are never going to stop me from having a good time.
PR: Your book is illustrated with stunning mouth-watering photos, as well as lovely whimsical illustrations. That’s cool and pretty novel, why did you decide to do that? Did you shoot in Paris?
AB: I wanted to really capture “my” Paris. The fabulous thing about my life in this city is that every day is a mix of opulence, creativity, grit, and a touch of the ridiculous. Joann Pai’s photography is exquisite, and I think that Jessie Kanelos Weiner’s watercolors bring a semi-surrealist touch that brought my personality to the project. The result is a visual representation of my daily life here. Joann is Paris-based, so we divided shoots between her and the food stylist’s apartment as well as local cafes, Boneshaker (of course) and on the street.
PR: I love the fact that you have an ingredient glossary, and right up front, as well as kitchen tools. What is a kitchen or baking tool you’d want to have on a desert (or, should I say dessert) island?
AB: Almost anything can be adapted in a pinch (a wine bottle can be a rolling pin; a fork can be a – subpar but passable – whisk). But you can’t beat a good, serrated bread knife.
PR: For readers coming to Paris for an extended stay or to live, is there a kitchen baking tool that’s hard to find that you’d advise them to pack?
AB: A classic 9 inch pie pan! The French don’t make “pies” per say – you can easily find tart molds, etc – but a good old fashioned pie pan, for traditional American pies, can be tricky to source.
PR: Conversely – for home bakers traveling to France, is there a baking tool they should buy in France that may not be readily available in the states? (I always advise people to buy toast tongs here, I never see them in the US.)
AB: I always pick up hard-to-find ingredients like pistachio paste from G. Detou (down the street from Boneshaker) as gifts for friends and family when I’m heading Stateside. That place is a treasure trove.
PR: Same question for ingredients, any you would bring to France? Any you’d back from France? (i.e. For cooking, I can’t find Italian seasoning mix, which is the basis of my mustard spiced brochettes.)
AB: Jello-O instant pudding mix! I use it in all my vegan custard bases to really recreate that egg-and-dairy mouthfeel. And it’s hard to come by (and crazily expensive!) in France.
PR: How did you decide on the Chapter categories?
AB: The chapters are collections of recipes that are in constant rotation at my house. I wanted a wide-ranging intro to vegan baking that covered the basics, but also included some fun, indulgent recipes. (Because what is pastry, if not indulgence?)
PR: Can you select a favorite (and home-baker friendly) Gateaux de Voyage, the story behind it, and any personal associations? (I like that category because the readers learn something cool about French food culture.)
AB: One of my favorite anecdotes from the book is the – incredibly French – backstory behind the Pistachio Pound Cake. It involves an impromptu contract written on a pizza box (as I state in the book, French people loooooove paperwork), and a moped ride through the Père Lachaise neighborhood at night. Doesn’t get more Parisian than that.
Chef Amanda Bankert’s favorite vegan spots in Paris
Are there vegan bakeries in Paris?
For sure, and chef Amanda Bankert’s Boneshaker Donuts in the 2nd arrondissement is one of the most popular.
What are some of the best vegan places to eat in Paris?
Amanda says that BrEAThe restaurants (two locations) are “an absolute must if you’re plant-based in Paris.”
Are there vegan bakeries in Paris?
For sure, Amanda’s go-to is Land & Monkeys (where she regularly gets vegan sandwiches and cookies), which has five locations in Paris.
Are there vegan-friendly boutiques in Paris?
Voilà Vegan gives a hearty shout-out to Aujourd’hui et Demain (today and tomorrow), a cool vegan-friendly concept store, with its own boutique and restaurant.
Philip Ruskin is an External Lecturer (ESSEC Bus. School), Consultant (food & travel marketing), writer, drummer and regular contributor to Frenchly. He loves to bike around his adopted hometown of Paris. Find him here, on Instagram. Illustrations by Jessie Kanelos Weiner.