Imagine scrolling through your regular newsfeed, and a basket of freshly plucked jasmines catches your eye. A deeper second look at the beautiful flowers and a realisation hit the brain that it was, in fact, not a basket of flowers but a hyper-realistic cake.
Such is the progress in today's bakery businesses, where there is a seemingly limitless range of creative approaches to contemporary cake-making. With the international market booming with jaw-dropping cakes, some entrepreneurs in Bangladesh have been excelling in the field with their innovative, eye-catching work. Cake, indeed, is the new canvas for contemporary art. They are sometimes so pretty that breaking into them feels like a shame.
The Financial Express has featured three such cakemakers who produce artwork through baking.
The previous story with a hyper-realistic flower basket exists in Ifrit Zahin's venture Karuzatra. Her online based bakery boutique has flourished a lot in the last two years. Zahin's journey has been full of hurdles in a stereotypical Bengali society, but that has hardly stopped her from creating beautiful pieces which she addresses as 'tokens of memory.'
Ifrit Zahin majored in Mathematics at the University of Dhaka. She has always been a craft enthusiast, but it wasn't until the pandemic that she decided to give cake-making a go. But her works didn't look as good as they tasted, at least not how she had expected them to be. So she dedicated hours to practising and honing her craft. And she succeeded in mastering the skills and began making beautiful-looking cakes with the smallest of details.
Zahin started her venture with her savings and a little help in funding from her then-fiancee (now husband), Kazi Abdullah Salehin, which totalled around Tk 12,000 to buy ingredients and baking tools. The venture has now reached thousands of followers and developed a loyal clientele. They review Zahin's work with beautiful attributions like - the creator of emotions whose messages and crafts are reaching the heart of loved ones.
Artwork by Karuzatra
Now the online-based venture is running entirely on its own profit. She has also started an online Facebook group that helps understand novice bakery enthusiasts with tidbits about honing their baking skills. Zahin also holds baking courses to train aspirants.
Zahin operates her business with a strict motto - quality over everything. She says, "When people choose homemade, they expect fresh, hygienic, best quality ingredients that we'd use for our own family. It is a matter of grief that many of these homemade bakeries don't even care for these criteria and conduct business at the cost of people's emotions."
Criticism and negative comments have always motivated Zahin to push her limits and better her craft. "Though my husband has supported me throughout, my family wasn't happy with my career choice. I would sometimes feel depressed as people constantly advised me to take up another job that paid the bills. I continued anyway because I had found my love and passion for baking and creating something that worked as delicious love notes."
In her work, she always prioritises her clients' preferences. But most of the time, clients trust her with her independent designs. Zahin plans on creating a chain of boutique cakes all around Bangladesh. She wishes to have an offline cake parlour too.
If you are looking for contemporary desserts with perfection in look and awe-stuck taste, Pastryarchy could be your go-to place. The Facebook and Instagram pages of this online patisserie are proof of it. This unique bakery embodies the perfect balance of visual delight, deliciousness and craftsmanship of a professional pastry chef.
Elma Arifeen and Naveed Masum
Pastryarchy is the delicious brainchild of Elma Arifeen and Naveed Masum that started in 2018. Elma completed her Bachelor's in Economics from Brac University, and Naveed has a degree in Chemical Engineering from the University of Edinburgh. Elma later went for a diploma in pastry from Gastronomicom, France and interned at La Bastide Saint Antoine, where she trained and experienced a professional Michelin-starred kitchen.
The founders of Pastryarchy describe it as a plan to change the local pastry scene of Bangladesh. As an institution, Pastryarchy already provides consultation and catering services for cafes in Dhaka. They are also heavily focused on B2C services, including online ordering and delivery of pastries and gelato. Their services include event dessert catering, gift boxes and every other requirement for a program.
Pastryarchy started as a small kitchen in Mohammadpur, where they rented a small apartment. With their plan in motion, the mega task was introducing products to consumers with little to no existing market research.
"Our most memorable moments from the start of the business would be the sleepless, effortful nights of making paper boxes by hand and preparing the desserts that would go in them -- Handmade Valentine's Chocolate Boxes, Mother's Day Boxes, etc. It was initially just the two of us making the desserts, photo-shooting, marketing, packaging, washing and delivering them at times. We have come a long way from there," says the founders.
Mouthwatering pastry of Pastryarchy
Pastryarchy was self-funded by the founders, and the initial investment was two work counters - a fridge and a freezer for a minimal kitchen setup. Afterwards, Pastryarchy expanded on its own and has been profitable for the past three years.
Managing an exclusive and innovative product line that always surprises the customers and viewers and being scrumptious at every bite - is one tough challenge. But Pastryarchy has always given the top game at this.
"Having a flexible menu was and is a big challenge for us, but there is no alternative to challenges. But having a cloud kitchen, taking bespoke orders and keeping waste to a minimum helps with that," remarked the founders.
As the bakery business is already suffering from various challenges ranging from the sky-high prices of quality ingredients to poor traffic conditions, Pastryarchy points out some challenges it's been facing. The challenges include sourcing ingredients, delivery time scheduling for uncertain Dhaka traffic, and consistent social media marketing.
About the latest, the founders express their concern by saying, "We work full time in the kitchen, do our photography, our branding, as well as respond to customers. This leaves us with little to no time every day for marketing which we do ourselves as well. You need a consistent online presence for better reach. However, we curate it ourselves and do not rely on frequent, repetitive, sponsored posts, sacrificing a wider audience due to slow marketing."
Pastrarchy plans on opening an institution for entrepreneurs in the bakery business in Bangladesh. They express their vision by saying, "Entrepreneurship is much more than just knowing how to bake, so a good number of people starting their own business in this sector would be working closely with professionals in the industry. Pastryarchy plans to have an institution where we can train people, help them get experience in a professional kitchen and finally set up their business."
"The overall scene of the industry is difficult to picture at the moment with the rising costs, declining LCs, diminishing purchasing power, import bans and the horrid situation we all are going through. We have seen a lot of failing bakery businesses amidst Covid, but hopefully, everyone gets back up," they concluded with a hopeful tone.
Sabrina Akter Bhuiyan Nitu makes beautifully painted cakes, but her handwriting makes her cakes stand out among others. The intricate work with piping bags resembling graphically measured lettering made her a much sought-after cake maker in Chittagong.
Sabrina Akter Bhuiyan Nitu
'Nitu'baburchi started her page on October 2020, operating from her home in Chittagong. But even before she launched a page, she had completed around a dozen cakes with beautiful paintings and handwritten messages.
Nitu was always into arts and crafts as well as henna artistry. She also hand-painted customised t-shirts and worked as a drawing tutor. She invested in her venture from her own savings, which took a long time to save. But in the face of the adversaries, she persisted.
Nitu's handwritten messages are generally from her customers who want to convey their care to someone they love. Her beautiful handwriting, combined with the emotions hidden in the messages, has won hearts. But operating a full-scale bakery is a daunting challenge as there are not enough training programs, courses or guides for entrepreneurs. Nitu is self-trained, watching hundreds of hours of YouTube videos, reading books and practising backing on her own.
Nitu's handwriting which everyone loves
"To sustain as a home baker and try to bring something new to the table is a challenging task that requires a lot of passion and patience."
"But some bakers don't care about passion; they only think about profit, and customers do not get what they want in quality and their expectations. It is actually ruining people's trust towards home bakers. Had the quality been ensured sincerely, it would have been a big opportunity to create their carrier and make way for the new home bakers," explained Nitu.
Nitu thinks the home bakers need to be exposed to more professional assistance because it will help empower women and homemakers more, especially the talented ones who lack the skills.