Thursday,20 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1284, (25 February - 2 March 2016))
Thursday,20 September, 2018
Issue 1284, (25 February - 2 March 2016))

Ahram Weekly

Icing into art

Mai Samih meets a young entrepreneur who has made her cake-baking hobby into a business and an art

Al-Ahram Weekly

Germeen Al-Baz, a Faculty of Commerce graduate and housewife who lives in Mansoura, explains how her cake-baking and decorating business started. “At first, making cakes was a hobby, but then my friends encouraged me to start a business,” she says, adding that she started out by taking courses in baking and decorating. She soon moved on to making cakes shaped like flowers with fondant bases and drawing designs on them. The business started in 2014.

Al-Baz has always been enthusiastic about baking and decorating cakes. “All my life I have had a passion for art, and I like drawing and so on. But I didn’t know where to start when it came to turning my interest in art into something more than a hobby,” she says. “I discovered that I liked baking cakes and decorating them, particularly if what I did was praised by others.”

She adds, “At school I enjoyed the cooking classes that were offered at my school, though I didn’t do a lot of cooking then. But every Thursday I would apply what I had learned at school at home and try to cook some beautiful cakes.”

Al-Baz lived most of her childhood with her parents in Kuwait. She carried on baking even at university and would try out every new recipe she could find. “I started with children’s sweets and cakes as my friends wanted some for their children or my son wanted some and so on. I kept an eye on the latest courses in the field and looked for suppliers on Facebook to find the best ingredients to work with,” she says.

“There is little difference between a cake, a cupcake and a cake pop when it comes to baking. Girls prefer princess images on their cakes, while boys prefer images of their favourite football players,” she says. “When I am asked to bake a cake, I sit down with the customer and we agree on what type of cake, how it will be decorated, and whether there will be cookies or cupcakes to go with it. I end up making a whole set.”

This year children prefer minions on their cakes, the cute yellow creatures from the popular film, while older children prefer sports stars like football players and, for girls, princesses, Al-Baz says. Child customers are usually under the age of 12. Al-Baz also bakes cakes for the sebo’e celebration (a celebration for a one-week-old child), weddings, and people coming back from the Hajj, the Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca.

“I am a member of a Facebook group called ‘Egyptian cake decorators’. Members of this group are from different governorates, including Tanta, Mansoura and Cairo. Through the group we co-operate together,” says Al-Baz, adding that it organises real as well as virtual meetings. The organized an event on the 13th of February in Cairo and was called “Keka fi Hob Masr” (Cake for the Love of Egypt).

Al-Baz, along with members of her Facebook group, also organised an event called “Cupcake Lil-kheir” (Cupcakes for Charity), where cakes are sold in support of good causes. Some 60 per cent of the profits from the event go to the Mansoura Children’s Hospital. “We have organised the event twice and almost all of us donate the money we get to the hospital,” she says.

A cake can be good to eat for two to three days after it is baked, says Al-Baz, and the same goes for cupcakes. However, cakes with frosting on the top must be put in the fridge, especially in summer. Cookies can keep for months if they are kept in a closed box.

“I have a special air-conditioned room at home to work in beside the kitchen,” she says. “If I am preparing a special cake it can take a week.

Anything less than that is impossible. After I meet the clients and they decide what the cake should look like, I start to prepare the cake at 7am the next day.

“First, I start with the sugar shape that goes on top of the cake and leave it to dry. Then I prepare the body of the cake. A cake needs four or five days to be baked and decorated. Cookies are baked in one day, and finishing touches are added the next day. The same goes for cupcakes.”

Al-Baz usually buys her ingredients from local providers in Mansoura, but if there are ingredients she cannot find there she goes to Cairo to buy them. A specialised store in Mohamed Ali Street is always useful for such ingredients, she says. There are also certain moulds she uses to shape the decorations that she buys from suppliers in Mansoura.

According to Al-Baz, the average price of a cupcake or a cookie ranges from LE10 for a plain one to LE15 for something fancier that takes more time and effort to prepare. The price of a cake depends on its size and the type of work that has gone into it. It can range from LE400 for a plain cake with a simple ornament like a rose to LE600 for a cake with 3D figures on it or a multi-level cake.

“A kilo of sugar costs LE6, a kilo of flour costs about LE5, a kilo of imported margarine costs no less than LE40. Some clients do not understand this and say that a cake should cost about LE150. But that price is only true for factory-made cakes, not handmade ones, and the factory-made cakes do not taste the same,” she says.

At the moment, most of Al-Baz’s customers are from Mansoura, but she does get some orders from friends or friends of friends in Cairo. She tends to work locally, however, as she fears that her cakes may not always be delivered to more distant customers in good condition. She is planning to move to Cairo next summer after her son finishes his school year.

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