COLLEEN PATRICK-GOUDREAU is a powerhouse who needs little introduction. She is an animal advocate, chef, writer and speaker. In short, a doer. The author of six books , she regularly lectures around the country, inspiring others to think and act more compassionately. She is the creator of the 30-Day Vegan Challenge, an innovative program that has motivated many people to rethink and change their lifestyles. Her approach to advocacy is pretty straightforward. “My intention really is to take “veganism” out of the box and inspire people to recognize that it’s not some crazy, unfamiliar philosophy of living. It’s just common sense,” she says. We couldn’t agree more. Here, she brings us a one-of-a-kind recipe for a cake with aphrodisiac qualities— to spoil yourself or the one you love with (…did you know that cayenne pepper contains capsaicin, which raises endorphin levels?) And being the gold mine of information that Colleen is, we also couldn’t resist picking her brain for some food for thought. Read our insightful Q&A with Colleen, immediately following the recipe.

MEXICAN CHOCOLATE CAKE WITH CHOCOLATE CINNAMON FROSTING
The “Mexican Chocolate” aspect of this cake has to do with the combination of
the spicy cayenne pepper and sweet cinnamon. Pair with a nondairy vanilla ice cream, and book a flight to heaven.

Ingredients
2-1/4 cups all-purpose flour
½ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1½ teaspoons baking soda
½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon salt
¾ cup granulated sugar
1 cup unsweetened applesauce
¾ cup vegetable oil
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1½ cups nondairy milk (soy, rice, almond, oat, hazelnut, coconut, or hemp)
2 tablespoons apple cider or white vinegar (not balsamic!)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly oil two 8-­inch (round  or  square)  cake pans, or prepare cupcake/muffin tins with paper liners or silicon cups. In a large mixing bowl, combine the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, cayenne pepper, cinnamon, salt, and sugar.

In a separate bowl, beat together the applesauce, oil, vanilla extract, milk, and vinegar. Add the wet mixture to the dry ingredients, and mix until everything is thoroughly combined. It will be a bit of a thick batter.

Pour the batter into the baking pans or cupcake/muffin tins, and bake for 20 to 30 minutes (less time for cupcakes–between 15 and 17 minutes), or until the cake comes away from the sides of the pans and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. (Every oven is different!)

Chocolate Cinnamon Frosting

Ingredients
½ cup Earth Balance, somewhat  softened
2 cups powdered (confectioner’s) sugar, sifted
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa
1 teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 to 4 tablespoons nondairy milk

Although it can be done by hand, it’s easier to mix using an electric hand mixer. Cream together all the ingredients on low speed until smooth. Increase the speed once all the ingredients are combined, and you don’t risk powdered  sugar flying everywhere. Increase the speed even more until the frosting is  light and fluffy (about  3  minutes). Add an additional l or 2 tablespoons of milk, if necessary. Lick the  spoon, and frost your cake!
Yield: Enough for one layer cake or 18 cupcakes.
Soy-­free (if using soy-­free Earth Balance and  milk), tree-­nut-­free, peanut-­free.

Tell us a bit about the creative process involved in developing your recipes.
I’m always aware of my end goal, my intention of what I want that recipe to be by the time I’m ready to offer it to the world. Because everything I do is for advocacy, I’m always thinking of the recipient of the recipe rather than the pleasure I derive from concocting it. In other words, when I was writing The Joy of Vegan Baking, it was all about creating recipes that were as accessible and familiar and that would inspire someone to say, “Oh, this is a delicious cookie! It’s not a ‘vegan’ cookie; it’s a delicious cookie that happens to be vegan.” The end result was about helping people realize that there’s no deprivation in living vegan; it just requires undoing a few habits and learning new ones. With the recipes in Color Me Vegan, which are broken up in the book by their color, I didn’t want people to have recipes full of exotic ingredients just because they would yield a certain color. I wanted the recipes to be nutrient-dense and pop with color but still be familiar enough that people wouldn’t have to fly something in from Brazil to make one of the recipes. The cayenne and cocoa in the Mexican Chocolate Cake is simply the result of one of my favorite flavor combinations, and they both happen to be ingredients that can be considered aphrodisiacal – cocoa because of the chemicals in it that mimic the feelings we get when we’re in love and cayenne because of the heat they create in our bodies and how they open up our blood vessels, enabling our blood to flow more freely – to all of our organs.

So are aphrodisiac foods something that can integrated into the daily routine?
Eating and cooking are such sensual activities, and I encourage people to engage all of their senses in order to fully appreciate and enjoy food – whether they’re alone or with a partner, whether it’s a special occasion or not. Rather than be attached to one food or one ingredient possibly (or possibly not) having “aphrodisiac qualities,” I think it’s so much more interesting and pleasurable to take advantage of our aural, gustatory, tactile, visual, and olfactory senses – how things sound, taste, feel, look, and smell. We can have heightened experiences with food every day if we’re mindful of how they make us feel and what we want to get out of it. And of course I’m talking only about plant foods. I don’t consider animal flesh and fluids “food.”

Have to agree with you there. Any insider baking tips you could offer?
I always say that baking isn’t about animal-based butter, dairy, and eggs. It’s about binding, moisture, leavening, and fat. Again, it goes back to that end result I was talking about before. When people realize what the foundation is, then they become empowered to create that foundation with ingredients they never thought of before. So, your combination basically fulfills the need for moisture and fat, which is why it works so well.

You’re a very well-versed, compelling advocate for animals. When do you think you found your voice?
The only thing that’s going to change our treatment of animals is a shift in our perception of animals and our relationship to them. When the macro paradigm shifts from “animals are here for us to use, and my desire for convenience and pleasure supersedes their right to not be exploited and killed” to one that sees animals as fellow beings and cohabitants worthy of our compassion, then things will change on a fundamental level. The current treatment of animals as tools, machines, and objects is simply the physical manifestation of a paradigm that sees animals as ours to possess and use. We have to shift the paradigm, or nothing will ever change.

I’ve been clear about that for a long time, and it pretty much drives and dictates my message. When people are tuned into their compassion, they act from it, and their paradigm shifts. So, I see my job as shining the light on the compassion that already exists in them to enable them to have that paradigm shift. I’ve always seen my advocacy role as a guide – giving people what they want – rather than as someone that dictates what should be done. So, over the years as I was trying to find my place and my contribution, I just kept asking the questions: “What am I good at?” and “What do people need?” and I kept finding the answers. It’s not about me; it’s about giving people what they need to make it possible to make the changes I know they want to make. So, I taught cooking classes and wrote cookbooks to give them the recipes they need to make delicious food; I started producing a podcast to answer all the questions people have about the social aspects, ethical aspects, and nutritional aspects of living vegan; I launched The 30-Day Vegan Challenge to guide people to making these changes confidently, healthfully, and joyfully. My present and subsequent projects will continue to be driven by “what tools do people need to make the changes that will reflect their values of compassion and kindness?” As long as I can fill that gap, I’ll do it.

Why did you choose the duration of 30 days for your 30 Day Vegan Challenge? And what kind of response have you seen to the program?
The philosophy/strategy behind 30 days is that it takes 3 weeks to change a habit, though I like the extra week to make sure I’m addressing every question people have. Most people say “they don’t eat a lot of meat, dairy, and eggs,” and yet the truth is you don’t know how much you eat until you stop. So, I’m just saying, “look, do it for 30 days, and in that time, I’ll give you everything you need and address every challenge you have.” I don’t care WHY people come to the Challenge. It doesn’t matter. But throughout it, I give people everything they need so that by the end of the 30 days, they have a strong foundation on which to stand – and continue.

The response to the Challenge has been exactly what I’d hope it would be. By the end of the 30 days, many people have experienced measurable differences in their numbers (lowered cholesterol, blood pressure, etc), but many tell me about how its changed the lens through which they see the world. It doesn’t get any better than that.

Are you more encouraged about our society embracing “unconditional compassion” as you’ve called it, today than you were when you started Compassionate Cook? Any future plans you’d like to share with us, any big-picture dreams?
I knew 13 years ago when I first started my work that people would respond to the message of compassion, and I’m even more convinced today because I see the results through the thousands of emails I’ve received from people whose hearts have become awakened to their compassion. People aren’t more compassionate today than they were 13 years ago or 50 years ago, but there are more tools available with which we can get the message out to reach more people. My future plans and big-picture dreams are to do everything I can to reach as wide an audience as possible, using every tool and medium available to me. For me, the question isn’t “what’s the most effective message that people respond to?” I already know that answer; it’s compassion. The question is “how can I reach more people with this message?” Wherever that answer lies, that’s where you’ll find me.

Learn more about Colleen’s advocacy at Compassionate Cook and The 30-Day Vegan Challenge.

Chocoloate Cake photograph courtesy of Jennifer K. Warden