Secrets from the queen of healthy treats
Finnish cookbook creator Virpi Mikkonen leads the way with gorgeous recipes that are gluten-, milk-, and sugar-free.
Though it’s a well-worn cliché, it’s an apt one: Sometimes life serves up lemons, but in the right hands, that can provide an opportunity to create a unique brand of lemonade.
For Finnish journalist and cookbook creator, Virpi Mikkonen, who calls herself a “queen of healthy treats,” her wellness journey grew out of a serious health challenge (her lemons, if you will) about ten years ago.
“I had all these stomach and skin problems, and nothing really seemed to help,” says Mikkonen, self-described at the time as a party girl with a serious sweet tooth for candy.
“So I started looking at my diet and decided to gradually eliminate dairy, gluten, white sugar, and processed foods. When I did that the change was amazing – my energy levels and my physical and mental wellbeing improved,” she says. “Of course, I wanted to share my recipes and what I had learned with others.”
In 2009, she started her first wellness blog, which quickly became popular in Finland.
“I received a lot of positive feedback from people who had had some of the same experiences,” she says.
When Mikkonen started out, people in Finland weren’t talking much about raw food, sugar-, milk-, and gluten-free options. “At that time, the idea in Finland was that rye bread and milk were part of a healthy diet and that was a given,” she explains.
Sitting in the yard of her picture-perfect Helsinki cottage allotment garden, where she grows many of the natural ingredients that she uses in her recipes, she explains how the impetus to become a health coach and entrepreneur came about. Following her maternity leave from one of Finland’s leading women’s magazines as a journalist, she decided to take the leap and become an entrepreneur.
She founded her company Vanelja in 2015 and since then has worked as a recipe designer and food photographer and published four cookbooks in Finnish, two of which have also been published in the US and internationally.
She is a self-taught photographer and the splendid pictures of her creations on Instagram draw a 160,000 following to her account @vanelja.
Healthy dream foods
Originally published in Finnish as Kiitos, Hyvää, her book came out in English in the US with Weldon Owen in 2015 under the title It’s a Pleasure: Sweet Treats Without Gluten, Dairy, and Refined Sugar.
Venerable Vogue raved about it: “Mikkonen shares her secret concoctions for some incredibly delectable pastries, as well as confections like sea salt toffee candies and peanut toffee chocolates. But the standout recipes are those for Mikkonen’s rich but not too indulgent cakes.”
In 2017 Mikkonen’s blueberry dream cake became Instafamous when it racked up 12,000 likes overnight and went viral. It also went on to become one of Instagram’s most shared raw cakes.
Why is the cake so popular? Mikkonen replies: “It combines comforting notes of a traditional blueberry pie with wholesome and nutritious ingredients in a fresh and tasty way.”
Text Katja Pantzar
Photos Riikka Kantinkoski