FORMER fashion design diploma-holder turned artistic cake baker Tan U-Mae uses her creative mind, knowledge from the world of fashion and talent in art and painting to create one-of-a-kind, stunning cake decorations.
“Education in fashion design helped me to have an eye for detail and create design patterns. In fact, I am still using design tools [such as] rulers and measuring tapes,” said Tan, who owns online cake business bitter/sweet, which is based in Kuala Lumpur.
“I used to draw and paint as well, but now my canvases are my cakes. My family is ‘arty’. My creative genes came from my dad but my business sense came from my mum,” said Tan.
Encouraged by family and friends, Tan left her job as a business development executive at an automotive agency in 2014, and set up the bitter/sweet Facebook page and Instagram page, gaining almost 24,700 followers to date.
Since then, there has been no looking back.
How did you get into baking?
“It was by chance. It is a funny story. I was always fascinated by pretty cakes but never put much thought into venturing into it as a business, until one day I had the chickenpox. I was homebound for two weeks. Since I had time on my hands, I watched YouTube tutorials on cake decoration, and started to experiment with baking and decorating cupcakes.
“I made a set of Valentine’s Day-themed cupcakes and posted a picture on my Instagram. My friends commented that the cupcakes were very pretty and asked if I was selling them. I got support from my family and friends from the start.
“It kind of took off from there. I think it [was also] good timing, as I was really looking to do something [new].”
What motivated you to start the business?
“I used to work as a business development executive at an agency, which dealt with publishing a wedding magazine. While working there, I was exposed to gorgeous wedding cakes. I always admired them from afar.
“It started as a passion project. I never thought it would [become] a full-fledged business. It just progressed naturally over time as I started to make more cakes.
“As I was younger and very unsure about running a business on my own from scratch, my family and friends gave advice and support, which pushed me to set up bitter/sweet as a proper business. It was encouragement from my family and friends which motivated me to turn baking cakes into a full-fledged business.”
What kind of cake flavours and designs do you have?
“[My] cakes range from a very rich Belgian chocolate cake, down to fruity strawberry chocolate and lemon blueberry cakes, to savoury cream cheese paired with red velvet cakes. Recently, I introduced an orange rosemary flavour to cater to more mature palates.
“I also experiment with flavourings and pairings with my customers, as well.
“Wedding cakes are intricately designed for my customers’ tastes. Some couples will share their taste preferences with me. I don’t only make custom cake designs but flavours, too. I am more than happy to accommodate, if I can.
“At the moment, [I create] mostly butter-based cakes. I do offer vegan-friendly options as well, which is new. The next step is to create separate birthday and wedding categories. [I also plan] to create separate (social media) pages for wedding cakes.
Where do you get the ideas for your cake design or decoration?
“I work very closely with clients in terms of designs. They sometimes come to me with an idea/theme in mind and from there I will personalise it to make their cake their own. If not, I will spend time talking to them, to get a grasp of their ideas and needs, and craft something from scratch.”
What is your signature cake?
“My signature flavour is a Belgian chocolate cake ... As a cake baker, I will use buttercream and fondant, fresh flowers and sugar flowers.
“In terms of design, [the] ‘arrangement of the flower’ is my signature style, the bitter/sweet touch. I think every cake baker has their own style. I will try my best to do it for my clients.
“The moment customers come back for a second cake, it is very good for me.”