What’s the story behind this plant-based bake?

By Alison Egan

26 July 2023

In this installment of her Eat Ireland column, Staff Writer Alison Egan explores the story behind this hugely popular plant-based bake.

While we may be an island that prides ourselves on our fresh, flavourful beef, premium dairy products and variety of home-grown fruit and veg, we’re still largely lacking on the plant-based front. In 2017, plant-based baker and entrepreneur, Aisling Tuck, saw a gap in the market when she started baking from her parent’s kitchen, initially selling to a few customers on social media, in a local café, and at the Stoneybatter market.

At 21 years of age, Aisling began her successful vegan bakery business, Oh Happy Treats, which now sells an evolving variety of artisan plant-based baked goods, becoming one of the largest wholesalers of vegan treats in Ireland. Running off the success of Oh Happy Treats, Aisling bravely took the steps to launch her sister company, Naked Bakes, during the height of the pandemic in early 2021.

“During lockdown, I came up with the idea to package the cookie dough that we were already making in Oh Happy Treats, which we were baking and selling quite successfully to cafés,” Aisling explains. Home baking became a huge phenomenon during the pandemic, and Aisling decided to take full advantage of this growing trend. Offering a vegan alternative for aspiring home bakers, Aisling packaged her plant-based cookie dough and turned it into a retail product.

We recently had the pleasure of taste-testing the Naked Bakes range at easyFood, and it’s every bit worth the hype. After unwrapping the roll of cookie dough, conveniently packaged in a sheet of parchment paper, all that’s left to do is slice it up and bake! Chewy and sweet, soft and salty – and crammed full of decadent vegan-friendly chocolate, these cookies satisfy every sweet tooth craving — whether you practise a vegan lifestyle or not.

However, as Aisling explains, the recipe development process took quite a while to master. “I’ve been through so many batches of bad cookies and I’d say it took me probably the guts of a year to develop a really good recipe. There was a lot of playing around with different ingredients and measurements,” she says. “My family had the pleasure of tasting a lot of bad cookies, which is why I always say to people that ‘I went through all the really bad cookies, so you don’t have to. You now have this really great product that you can turn to with no baking experience or knowledge needed.’”

Naked Bakes now offers a total of five heavenly flavours, with their original chocolate chip still coming out on top. “It’s our core flavour, the first one we did. After that it’s a play-off between the salted double chocolate chip and the peanut butter chocolate chip,” Aisling adds.

The key to great-tasting cookies? It has to be in the chocolate. “We don’t scrimp on the chocolate chips, and I think that really makes it special. As much as we can, we’ll use Irish ingredients, and we’re now using Irish chocolate, instead of the Belgian chocolate, Callebaut, which we previously used.” Sourcing a local manufacturer in Co. Cork, who produces exceptional chocolate of superior quality, Aisling made the switch, resulting in a more eco-friendly business model.

“As much as we can, we’ll use Irish ingredients. Sustainability and working towards an eco-friendly model play a huge part in our decision-making. Being a plant-based business, we already naturally are quite sustainable in terms of the ingredients we use. In terms of packaging, we try our best to be as sustainable as possible too.” For instance, the brown paper that the cookie dough is rolled up in can be used as a sheet of parchment when it comes to baking. “I’d love to be the world’s first carbon-neutral cookie dough business — I think we probably have a while to go, but that is one of my goals, for sure,” Aisling adds.

Recently, Naked Bakes unveiled their striking new look on its outer packaging, which features a partially nude Adam and Eve — a savvy nod to their au-natural approach. “In the first edition of the new design they were a little bit more naked, but I didn’t think that would fly in SuperValu, so we gave them a little bit more modesty,” Aisling remarks, adding, “I think this stands out so much. Going back to what’s natural. Our cookies are made from as little as eight ingredients, all from stuff my granny would have baked with growing up. The Adam and Eve is a play on that.”

While there’s no denying that Naked Bakes cookie dough tastes simply divine as-is, sliced up and baked, it’s also worth noting that there’s so much scope for creativity. For starters, my mouth was watering as Aisling described one of her favourite recipes using the star ingredient; a crowd-pleasing plant-based cheesecake using chocolate brookie dough as a brownie base, complimented by a creamy baked cheesecake filling — sensational!

While Ireland still has a lot of work to do when it comes to expanding our vegan offering, it’s inspiring to see small businesses like Naked Bakes and Oh Happy Treats making waves and ensuring no one feels excluded from the Irish food scene.

Feeling inspired? Check out Aisling’s recipe for vegan red velvet cookie cheesecake, here.