If you’re not already a devotee of Allison’s Gourmet, it’s because you’ve yet to experience the pleasure of this artisan bakery’s exquisite offerings. It’s that simple. What a surprise it is, then, to find out that Allison Rivers Samson -- founder, culinary talent, and name behind the bakery -- became vegetarian in 1989 with “no idea how to cook.”
“I would go and buy vegan cookies and spit them out because they tasted so bad,” recounts Allison, who got motivated to go home and create her own recipes, and bring them to work to share. An eight-year process of trying, refining and perfecting gradually became Allison’s form of activism for the animals, for people, for fair trade -- not to mention more palatable vegan desserts. “Instead of holding a picket sign, I hold a cookie.”
Allison’s Gourmet gained popularity quickly, through word (and taste) of mouth. Soon enough, customers were asking for brownies. “Brownies are an art,” says Allison, who spent four years to perfect it. And that’s when the business really took off. You’ll understand when you try t he Classic Walnut brownie. Or any of the other delicious selections: Pecan, Chocolate Frosted, Peanut Butter, Peppermint Fudge, Original Heavenly Fudge… all superb.
The now-thriving company -- which, back in1997, was a small start-up pioneering the online vegan bakery trend -- has won two VegNews awards (for best online vegan bakery and best brownie), and now offers a full array of baked goods and confections. On the menu are caramels, truffles, fudge and toffee, and organic coffees and teas to go with them. The coffees are triple certified: organic, fair-trade and shade-grown. The teas are all organic, superior-grade loose-leaf teas and tisanes. The cocoa is amazing whether served hot or cold! I loved the Minty Hot Chocolate, made with fair-trade chocolate and organic peppermint. Can’t wait any longer? Go ahead: Visit www.AllisonsGourmet.com. The magazine will be here when you get back.
As wonderful as it all is, Allison’s ingredients are surprisingly simple. “You probably have every ingredient we use in your kitchen,” says Allison, to whom purity of ingredients is the top priority. “We don’t use any weird chemicals, but instead focus on pure ingredients and let them shine.”
Allison approaches baking in the most sensible way: by looking at traditional recipes. “I see what is going on in there, and I analyze what each thing is doing in there, and look at my pure vegan ingredients, and I ask, ‘What other ingredient has the quality of that one?’ Baking is chemistry, but there is also magic to it.”
Playing in the kitchen and coming up with new creations is Allison’s love. This might entail buying ten jars of peanut butter in order to pick the best. “I’m always looking at new ingredients,” says Allison. “Our intention is to create things more on the health side, and part of this is using minimally processed, organic and high-quality ingredients.” Consider the peppermint patties. They’re made with fully organic ingredients: sugar, fair-trade chocolate, brown rice syrup, vanilla, and peppermint oil. “I’m addicted to them,” says Allison. After trying one of these treats, I easily dub them the best I’ve ever had, and definitely addictive, with their delicate layer of dark chocolate covering a creamy-vibrant peppermint filling that lingers on the palate enchantingly.
Or take the new (vegan and organic, of course) vanilla caramels. These chewy morsels, made of sugar, coconut milk, agave nectar, coconut oil, molasses, vanilla, and sea salt, reign supreme -- but don’t let that stop you from trying the chocolate and chipotle versions.
“Our main thing is creating unique products that vegans aren’t getting,” says Allison, whose gourmet fudge comes in unparalleled variety. In addition to the creamy and heavenly Original style (made with coconut milk, it’s original indeed) there’s the Walnut, Sour Cherry, Apple Pie, Vanilla Chai, Chipotle Cinnamon, Pumpkin Pie, Cranberry Orange, and Crystallized Ginger. One bite, and your concept of fudge is forever changed.
And the cookies are no less innovative. Allison offers the cookie-seeking vegan a dazzling array: Coconut Key Lime, Gingerbread Spice, Mint Chocolate Chip, Cinnamon Snickerdoodle, Chocolate Chip Pecan, Peanut Butter, and Classic Chocolate Chip. Which reminds me. If you agree that one of the best combinations ever invented is chocolate and peanut butter, Allison’s peanut butter cups are made for you. These luscious cups of rich, organic peanut butter inside fair-trade chocolate are an ethicist’s version of the childhood treat. And that’s not all. Allison as also created organic Peppermint Crème Cups. I could go on. Imagine Allison’s Organic Vegan Chocolate Peppermint Stick Bark -- crushed organic peppermint sticks sprinkled onto a bed of rich, organic fair-trade chocolate . Other chocolate barks include Cherry Almond and Chocolate Almond.
Looking for a gift for someone who demands the unusual? Look no further than the Gourmet Toffee Chunks, which come in Organic Crunch Almond, and my favorite: Organic Crunchy Almond Toffee with Chocolate. And Allison’s three types of peanut brittle are each uniquely delicious. There’s the Classic, the Peanut Brittle with Chocolate, and mmmm….the Spiced Peanut Brittle.
Allison’s line of organic chocolates and truffles are as elegant as you’d imagine. You can select from hazelnut, almond or mocha truffles, and put them together with peanut, pecan or chocolate caramels in a gift box. For the romantic, cherry truffle hearts are available in fuchsia foil. Two-piece chocolate boxes work nicely for weddings or any special occasion. The selection’s up to you, and you also get to pick your shade of wrapping for the gift box. Gourmet gift baskets come in several varieties, and they’re an especially handy way to buy ethical, and please anyone! Put your care packages on automatic pilot and let Allison do the selecting for you with the cookie or brownie of the month club.
Although Allison’s Gourmet is based on the West Coast, customers come from all across the continent, and might or might not be vegan. One day, a friend told Allison, “What you’re doing is what makes being vegan possible.” Yet one of the best compliments Allison’s ever received was from a non-vegan: “I don’t know what you put in these cookies, but they taste better than Mrs. Field’s.”
This holiday season, check out Allison’s special brand of activism and share it with your friends and family. Contact:
PO Box 2454
Nevada City, CA 95959