At Amaliah, we’ve started a series talking to women who are championing the art of hobbies. We’ve spoken to Esra Alhamal about the art of Islamic Illumination Azeezat Adeola about mindfulness in knitting, how to get started and knitting for social issues and Neda about pole fitness, body confidence and online trolls.
This time, we’re speaking with Chaimaa El, a professional cake artist and baker that runs her own cake business. Inspired by nature, her cake designs pay homage to the natural world and feature floral and artistic motifs throughout. Her unique designs have captured the attention of her Instagram followers and have gone viral on Twitter. We caught up with her to discuss her journey into cake design.
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What do you do and how long have you been doing it for?
I am a professional baker and cake artist and I’ve been running my own cake business for just under a year now.
How did you get into designing cakes?
By accident! I wasn’t able to order my 24th birthday cake from my favourite bakery as they were shut due to the pandemic last year, so my mum gave me the idea to make my own cake. I agreed, though I wasn’t really looking forward to it as I wasn’t into baking or decorating cakes at the time. I bought a plastic turntable online to decorate my cake and made it using a recipe I found online. To my pleasant surprise, it was edible! That encouraged me to bake more cakes; I made my sister-in-law’s birthday cake, then my niece’s and I sort of just became my family’s appointed baker! And then one day as I was scrolling through YouTube, I randomly discovered this video on how to pipe buttercream flowers. I was instantly hooked, I didn’t know this was something anyone could just do at home! What I also didn’t realise at the time was that this YouTube video was the beginning of my floral cake journey. After months of practice and taste test trials, I was pushed by family and friends to start selling cakes…and the rest is history!
My favourite thing about decorating cakes is that I’m an easily distracted person, but that goes out the window with cake decorating as I often get lost in the design process. Though it can be quite tiresome, there’s nothing like the satisfaction you get from seeing the finished result and witnessing your hard work come alive at the end. My favourite thing about running my business is the creative and professional freedom I have to set my own hours and come up with my own designs. I also love interacting with customers! It’s nice to know that my cakes are part of special moments and that no two cakes of mine are the same. I love the creativity that goes into each cake and that I’m able to bring a smile to people’s faces through my edible art.
I’d say the most challenging thing about making cakes is that it’s time consuming and can be quite tiring. Things can go wrong at each stage of the cake baking and decorating process, but that’s to be expected with anything in life. In those moments, I like to remind myself that I’m just a human, and that I should be aiming for excellence, not perfection. Another challenging thing about running your own business is that you have to learn to come up with solutions by yourself as it’s just you working in the business. This is the case especially with small businesses because you’re often doing the job of ten people which entails everything from photographing cakes to buying supplies and packaging, baking and decorating etc. Though it can be difficult wearing so many different hats at once, it has also taught me to be more resourceful and it has improved my skills in so many different areas of the business. This will come in very handy in future when I scale up my business as I will have a good understanding of what skills are required to perform each job properly and I will hopefully be able to recruit the most suitable people for those roles.
I mainly stay motivated by remembering the joy cake decorating brings me. Every piped flower and every palette knife stroke fills me with a sense of purpose. The whole concept of edible art and creating products that are not only beautiful to look at, but that are also very delicious is what keeps me going. I honestly cannot see myself working in any other sector. It took me a long time to find something I was passionate about, and I hold onto that dearly. That’s my main motivation.
What is the cake you created/worked on that you are most proud of, and why?
I think that’s a tricky question as I have a lot of cakes that hold a special place in my hear, but I’d say the cake I’m most proud of decorating would be the one I painted for my niece’s 3rd birthday which had sunflowers on it. It was my first ever time painting on a cake and I was so nervous but despite the fact that it was a struggle to make the cake given it was made on a sweltering July day, it turned out nicely and my niece loved it! Seeing her reaction is what motivated me to keep going on this journey.
Staying organised is one of the main things I struggle with but I just make sure that I always plan in advance so that I don’t have to stress about cake-related aspects of the business last minute. Having a good system in place also helps and taking 10 minutes out of my day each morning to plan the rest of the day is crucial to helping me stay focused.
Who are your biggest inspirations and why?
My biggest inspirations when it comes to painted cakes are cake artists who paint flowers on cakes! Some of my favourites include @ButterBlossoms who is based in Thailand and @SweetHeatherAnne based in America. Though her designs are not centred around flowers, I also love the work of @AliceandRosa here in the UK. I love how each baker adds their little twist to cakes and that’s my aim with my designs too. I also am inspired by my Malaysian friend Nurin who I met through a baking page on Facebook and became friends with through our shared love of cake baking and design.
Nature is also one of my biggest sources of inspiration. Whether it’s a beautiful sunset or a rose garden, I’m in awe of the beauty of God’s creation. My best friend recently gifted me a book full of every type of flower in the world and I’m always in awe of how many flowers there are in the world and how many more that are undiscovered that only Allah has knowledge of! Ultimately, my mum is my biggest inspiration, supporter and cheerleader when it comes to my cake business, and I am eternally grateful for her kindness, love and wisdom.
My biggest piece of advice for someone wanting to go into the cake business is to practice and perfect your art before selling, but to also not doubt yourself. Don’t delay starting. When you do start, keep in mind that it won’t be an easy journey but it’s so important not to stop at the first hurdle, regardless of whether you want to give up, or you’re tired. This was actually advice given to me by a baker when I started out. My other piece of advice to small business owners just starting out like me is to promote your work at every opportunity you can. I used to feel very shy to even tell people that I had a cake business but thought to myself, if I don’t tell people I offer a cake service, how will they know I’m selling? Part of it was unfortunately an external perception that I had internalised which is that running a cake business is not a “serious” job, and this mentally unfortunately is too often applied to the creative sector and to women’s labour in particular. But actually doing the job and seeing how much work goes into it, day in and day out, made me completely dismiss those notions. I may not be saving lives or offering an essential service, but adding joy to the lives of others and contributing to their special moments is a worthwhile pursuit and I am proud of what I do!
Before starting my cake business, I had so many other plans career-wise and I tried them out, but they weren’t very successful. It can be difficult navigating what career path you want to choose sometimes but that’s okay. Try out different things and from that you’ll learn what you like and what you dislike. Don’t ever be disheartened by failure as it’s merely a redirection to something better. At times you’ll be very confused and feel like you’re not at where you want to be, but keep working hard and trust the process. Of course, make lots of dua that if this is the right career path for you, Allah blesses your time and paves a beautiful way for you through it, and if not, that He redirects you to something even better for you. Either way, believe in yourself and know that the only person stopping you from starting something is you!
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