In December 1967, a thoughtful mother decided to send a cake to her son who was turning the milestone age of 21; a son who was a soldier stationed in an army camp along the Indonesian border near Tawau. It was a simple cake, sent by normal post from Kuala Lumpur all the way to a remote area in Borneo.
By the time this delicate gift left the city and travelled by air, ground and water to reach the camp which only received external supplies on a weekly basis, it was very likely that over a week had passed. The birthday cake was a surprise in more ways than one. “When it reached me, the cake was rotten!” laughs my father at the memory during a chat about cake one evening.
Back in those days, cakes were a rare treat for the average Malaysian, and fortunately when my childhood rolled along, more bakeries appeared that weren’t just focused on breads and sugary doughnuts.
The humble chiffon cake or spongey Swiss roll used to bring wide-eyed delight to a skinny young girl with ponytails and pink-rimmed spectacles. The idea of proper cake delivery hadn’t even been conceptualised yet. Nowadays, cake designs have evolved into such sophisticated creations that I wonder whether we will one day see a flying cake.
I blink several times. I pinch myself. After confirming that I haven’t died and gone to heaven, I venture closer to check if the vision of paradise in front of me is real or just a mirage. This large table capturing everyone’s attention in the spacious room is festooned with the most tantalising assortment of desserts, from cute little profiteroles and decadent cakes to elaborate jelly creations and Malaysian-flavoured innovations. My stomach murmurs in appreciation.
I have waltzed in to The Cake Show 2019. Organised by Eat Cake Today, a cake-ordering and delivery portal that offers premium cakes, this inaugural event is showcasing the trending cakes this year and for next year. The spread laid out on the table for everyone to admire represents a tangible version of the online products and they’re not just for display.
Someone reminds me: “You’d better take photos now because they’re all going to be eaten soon.” I circle the table, wiping away my drool every few seconds as my eyes feast on offerings such as a conical tower of colourful macarons, an elegant 3-tier white cake with a crystallised concept, a curious cendol cake, and a chunky salted egg burnt cheesecake that looks like the firemen arrived too late.
Sighing in happiness, I hear the chocolate salted caramel praline cake topped with thick caramel drizzle calling out seductively to me, while the mango and passion mille crepe flaunts its cheery hues. Like a kid in a candy store, my yearning sweet tooth shifts into overdrive, with a little voice inside my head saying: “I want to try that one. And this one. This one too. Oh and that one…”
REALISTIC AND ARTISTIC
The cakes and pastries are not the only captivating displays in the room. A vintage table lamp tempts me to flip the switch to turn on the light. A rose makes me want to lean in for a sniff. Slices of toast look ready to be lifted from the toaster and spread with butter and kaya. The level of realism is almost mind-boggling.
In this corner of The Cake Show 2019, one of the vendors on the Eat Cake Day portal, C3 Lab, present their skills in Chocolatier and Sugar Artistry in the form of vintage tables and homewares sculpted from chocolate and delicate sugar flowers handcrafted from gum paste, all of which are entirely edible.
These are not cakes, but showpieces, the difference being (as I learn later from one of the founders of C3 Lab) that cakes typically start with a base and are layered with a filling before being finished with fondant. The showpieces, however, are artistic structures made from chocolate and do not contain any sponge or cake inside. Neither are they supposed to contain any inedible props inside such as a steel support or pipes.
The talented pastry chefs behind these creations are also the three founders of C3 Lab. Chef Chong Ko Wai and Chef Lawrence Cheong have been teaching pastry-making full-time for eight years, and have won numerous awards in local and international pastry competitions. They met their third co-founder Chef Chen Mei Ling when she was studying at the same academy where they worked. She developed a passion for sugar flowers after deciding to make her own wedding cake.
A male voice booms over a microphone, inviting everyone to come closer to the demo kitchen area where the invited pastry chefs (including C3 Lab) take turns to provide a simple demonstration of their specialty. Like a fashion show, a variety of trending or soon-to-be-trending creations are paraded one by one on the counter, from the playful Topsy Turvy cake and messy Boba Lava Cake, to an alluring geode cake and practical jar desserts.
Sufficiently teased, there’s only one announcement that we’re all anticipating. The male voice cuts through the ambient chatter once more, signalling at last the moment of indulgence when the guests can enter dessert paradise.
Chef Chong Ko Wai, 34, specialises in French pastries, chocolate and sugar showpieces, and chocolate confectionary. A silver medal winner at the 2016 Mondial des Arts Sucres.
What sparked your interest in pastry-making?
When I started my first job as a baker, I’d go to the bookstore to look at cooking books. There were only two books related to the professional industry. It really amazed me to see the recipes and pictures inside — how could cake be assembled in such a way, the components and the aesthetics. So I started to be more involved in pastries.
Where do you get your inspiration from?
We look for ideas from Instagram and social media, we go out, see interesting shapes - it comes naturally. You train yourself to see things differently.
What is C3 Lab trying to achieve?
Our first goal is to sell our products and secondly to create a new trend. People are used to seeing designer cakes at events. That’s the culture — cakes. Now we want to give you another option — the showpiece category.
Start with something basic like cheesecake to build up confidence. Study the recipe first and tools required. A lot of people underestimate the difficulty and go straight into a challenging recipe. This can break your enthusiasm. Start simple, grow the interest.
Chef Lawrence Cheong, 34, specialises in artistic chocolate showpieces, clinched 4th place at the World Pastry Cup 2015 and was also awarded “Best Chocolate Showpiece”.
How did you learn to make chocolate sculptures?
I learnt mainly from books. Over eight years, I made about 50 showpieces with different themes. I challenged myself to make something new and kept doing it.
How difficult is it to work with chocolate?
People misunderstand; they think chocolate has to be cold and that warm hands are difficult to work with chocolate. Actually it’s good if your hands are warm because it extends the setting time. It’s fun and I like working with chocolate because you can stay in the air-con all the time and it smells good, not like oil or onion smells!
What inspires your sculptures?
Movies, comics, and modern furniture. I have to think of the main character first, for example, Batman, and then think of the best position, what object can I add like a bomb or knife to create the flow and what is the background, the story.
How long does a showpiece take to make?
For a class that I teach, it takes 4-5 days. But for competitions, we only have 9-10 hours, starting from scratch.
What kind of chocolate do you use?
Normally I use dark chocolate with 50-60 per cent of cocoa solids. Milk chocolate is only for sculpting because it’s soft like clay, much softer than dark chocolate.
Have good air-conditioning and keep practicing. Don’t be afraid to get dirty because chocolate sometimes gets messy.
FLAWS ARE FINE
Chef Chen Mei Ling, 28, specialises in sugar flowers, bronze medallist in the 2017 FHM Culinaire Malaysia Competition in the Artistic Showpiece category.
How did you switch from an accounting graduate to chef?
When I make cakes, I feel happy when people eat it and finish what I make. I started to explore short courses, like 2-day courses. This sparked my interest and later I did a diploma.
What do you like about sugar flowers?
I like how they can last longer than fresh flowers. There are many types of sugar flowers. Some are more artistic, not so realistic, so you can play around with the style you like. You can take nature for inspiration and make something else.
Are they tasty and how long do they last?
They’re edible but it’s unlikely that people want to eat them. They’re not tasty. They can last a long time if you put some silica or oxygen absorber. The flowers you see in the bell jar have lasted for one month now. I think they can last another few months if stored properly. I change my silica every week.
Don’t go for perfection. Try to give a bit of character here and there, like some curves here, some tears there. If the petal is completely intact with no tears or “bug bites”, it looks too perfect, too clean. Some people like that but I prefer to have something more.
For more information, go to www.eatcaketoday.com
Order desserts online and save with Foodpanda promo code.