By Dustin Rhodes 

Surely, you have discovered something in life that, because of its complete perfection, you want to keep it a secret because you feel protective, selfish and a little bit greedy.  

This is how Sweet Maresa’s—a vegan bakery in Kingston, New York—feels to its legion of fans, not only because of its exquisite baked goods, including brownies, cookies and cakes, but also because proprietor Maresa Volante is, well, just (my apologies) the sweetest.  

It’s no wonder you want it all for yourself. 

I discovered Sweet Maresa’s 15 years ago, because a Friends of Animal’s board member—Barbara Sitomer, a baker and owner of GonePie Vegan Bakery—announced that Volante understood all the nuances of baking. Sitomer told us that we simply had to try a slice of one of Volante’s perfect cakes for ourselves.  

So my spouse and I, and our two dogs, made a trip to her original shop in New Paltz, New York, where we learned first-hand that not only is Volante talented, she is a perhaps a magician—creating spellbinding sweets that delight and enchant.  

For many years, Volante operated her baking business alongside Lagusta Yearwood—the renowned vegan chocolatier who operates Lagusta’s Luscious. Yearwood and Volante met at a farmer’s market in New York, where they became fast friends—a bond that lasts to this day. In fact, they now co-own a business in New York City together—Confectionery!—which features Yearwood’s ethical chocolates and Volante’s exquisite baked goods inside a tiny but resplendent shop in the East Village. If you live in New York City, go immediately. 

Macaron magic 

I assumed Volante would tell me she was one of those people who’s been baking her entire life—perhaps born with a sifter, measuring cups, and bags of organic sugar and flour already in hand. I also always assume that all Italians can cook, as if it’s a genetic gift.  

“I had never baked a thing in my life, and neither had anyone in my family. We are ‘pasta Italians,’ the Italians who make pasta and eat bread and olives,” Volante sheepishly admitted; “but I loved sweets with a passion, and when I went vegan in 2001, because there was so little on the market for vegans, I became determined to learn how to make all the things I would miss and wanted to eat. It was a lot of trial and error.” 

Volante is probably most famous for creating what I am here to tell you are the world’s best macarons—a French, meringue-based, colorful sandwich cookie traditionally made with almond flour and animal products that once relegated them to omnivores. Volante sees her lack of formal bakery training as a double-edged sword: “It took me two years of trial and error to perfect the macarons, but I think it was beneficial to not know all the rules, so that I could break them and learn in the process.”  

While there are quite a few vegan macarons on the market now, I have yet to taste (or see) one that comes close to the artistry and depth of flavor that Volante has achieved. Every bite is a sensation, almost like an exquisite perfume that slowly unfolds and develops to reveal nuance, a complexity and depth of flavor that’s rare to behold. How, exactly, does she do it, I have always wondered? 

“With macarons, we bake some of the intricate flavor into the shell itself, which adds complexity—so it’s more than just a jam or filling carrying it all,” Volante concedes. “But we also use a higher amount of salt than many would use, which really elevates the flavors.” 

Even when Volante was new on the scene, her creations tasted uncommonly full of flavor, with equally perfect textures. “When Lagusta and I first started, we had an herb garden right at the shop, and if I needed to add, say, lavender to a cake, I could go outside and pick it fresh and add it to the cake. That makes a huge difference. And I have also, thankfully, never used palm oil or shortening, which creates this waxy mouth-feel, which is supremely unappealing.”  

A dream come true 

One of my biggest fears in life is that Sweet Maresa’s will cease to exist. Will she burn out or tire of the grind of daily baking, difficult customers, or want to take up a new profession altogether?  

“Well, I just signed a new lease, and did tell the landlord this is the only thing I want to do with my life,” Volante admits with a laugh. “The best part of the job is that this feels like I am baking things for all my friends, and that I get to live in this world where my friends actually want to support me, so it all feels like a dream come true—except for having to do payroll and the management stuff. There are people for whom I have been baking cakes since they were in the womb, and now they are adults and I am still baking for them. That feels indescribably special.” 

I asked Volante if she could offer any secrets or tips for the home baker—those just starting out or wanting to hone their skills. 

“First, I would double the salt of any baking recipe. That tip is really for fans of what I create,” she said. “Secondly, your baked goods will only be as good as the quality of your ingredients, so use high quality and fair trade chocolate, organic everything and stay away from shortening or palm oil. Also, invest in a kitchen scale!” 

But if you are like me—sugar obsessed, intimidated by baking something myself, a tad bit lazy, —you can simply visit Sweet Maresa’s or Confectionery. If you live too far to walk into these slices of vegan heaven, you can order online: