KUALA LUMPUR, March 1 — Fancy a tea party? How about one that has a vintage Alice in Wonderland theme?
Imagine a dessert table covered with roses, hardcover journals, fine china teacups and strawberry-coloured macarons. There are fluffy doughnuts on sticks like lightly-fried clouds. Choose between heart-shaped “Eat Me” cookies and bottles with “Drink Me” labels. Cute little rabbits peek from corners, as though ready to hop into a hole. And let’s not forget the beautifully decorated cake, the centrepiece of this edible wonderland.
Meet Ling Tze Khoo, the cake artist behind Kitty Bakes who designs customised cakes and cupcakes for every imaginable occasion. This cat-loving Penangite (hence the feline moniker) first got hooked on cake baking and decorating some years ago, after seeing some pictures of designer cakes on the internet.
“I’ve always liked baking since I was a teenager. I would scour the Internet for cake recipes and file them away to test later. Cakes and desserts are my passion; I love trying them out at new bakeries and restaurants,” says Khoo.
In the beginning, the affable amateur baker never considered selling her cakes due to her lack of professional training. That changed when she received a cake order from a blog reader (Khoo also posts at her food blog, www.lingzie.com).
“This blog reader emailed me regarding a cake recipe that I had shared, saying he wanted to order the cupcakes from me. I was dumbfounded that a complete stranger would want to order my cakes! At the same time, a few close friends and family members were also encouraging me to start baking cakes for sale. And so I took the plunge and dived into the cake trade.”
Since then, Khoo’s hobby turned home-grown business has expanded to designing themed dessert tables and candy buffets for parties and weddings. She says,
“This happened slowly but surely, largely from referrals and word of mouth. Having a Facebook page for my cake business also helped since a lot of Malaysians are on Facebook.”
Khoo’s creative cake designs are often inspired by her love of fashion. She says, “My specialty is designing the wedding cake based on the wedding dress. Other sources of ideas include wallpaper, pretty wrapping papers and even cartoons!”
This muse-centric process has resulted in many memorable cakes, including one based on a luxury watch! Khoo shares, “Very early in my cake career, a customer requested a special cake for his wife’s birthday based on a 1993 Solvil et Titus advertisement starring Chow Yun Fatt. I could only find a rather blurry video of the ad on YouTube, and watched it many times as part of my research. Besides creating the watch, this was my first time modelling human figurines for a cake so, needless to say, I was both nervous yet excited when working on it!”
Though her client was delighted with the end result, the perfectionist in Khoo admits, “Looking back at the cake now, I cringe when I see the many flaws. On the other hand, I suppose it also shows how far I’ve come since that cake and I hope to improve even further.”
Other special cakes by Kitty Bakes include a wedding cake pasted with a yellow post-it notes (as the bride and groom habitually left post-it notes for each other) and a birthday cake that had a “rabbit popping out from the box” emoticon from a chat app.
Khoo spends a lot of time consulting with her clients in order to achieve the precise cake design that reflects their personality. She says, “First I would ask my clients what their preferred style is, whether it’s classic, modern, vintage, etc. We do this by going through various cake photographs to see what design elements they like. Colour is an important part and I also check the exact shade as well.”
Designing dessert tables is Khoo’s latest passion. She explains, “Although it may look deceptively simple, there is quite a lot of background work to them.
I have to decide on an overall theme to the table, design the customised food labels, select desserts that suit the environment (whether it’s outdoors or indoors), choose decorative elements to complement the theme, decide what flowers to use (if at all) and even track down the right shade and width of ribbon!”
A great dessert table has to be long enough and accessible (and look good) from both sides of the table. Khoo adds, “On the event day itself there is the hustle and bustle of setting up the table, making sure it looks good and finally dismantling it afterwards. It is a lot of work but I feel so happy when the whole thing comes together and the client loves it.”
Though she is often busy with cake orders and events, Khoo still takes time to keep track of the latest trends. She shares, “I would say that the ombre cakes (a type of layer cake with graded hues of a single colour, as well as matching frosting) are still pretty hot at the moment, as well as frilly ruffles and pretty florals. Burlap elements for a more rustic and vintage feel, geometric and art deco (chevron) patterns are also trending now.”
At the end of the day, whatever the trend is though, the most special cake is
the one that delights her customers and their guests. She says, “Often I work late into the night with little sleep and irregular meal times. To me, the smiles on my customers’ faces tell me it’s worth it.”
This story was first published in Crave in the print edition of The Malay Mail on February 28, 2014.