Thu, May 04, 2006 - Page 12 News List

'Creative cakes' flying off bakeries shelves

SWEET TEETHIncreasing affluence has prompted enterprising bakers to offer custom-made cakes to those who are tired of run-of-the-mill designs

AFP , TAIPEI

Cake maker Lin Yu-an poses with novelty cakes in her shop in Taipei last month, including one with a World Cup theme, center, one of President Chen Shui-bian and Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Chairman Ma Ying-jeou in a nuptial bed together, right, and one od an LV bag, in back at right. The so-called "creative cakes" - cakes made in the likeness of people, cartoon characters, animals and other objects - are becoming more popular for parties, weddings and corporate meetings.

PHOTO: AFP

From roasted chickens to designer bags and a pair of breasts, Taiwan's novelty cake industry is creating a bakery boom.

Increasingly outlandish "creative cakes" -- made in the likenesses of people, cartoon characters, animals and other objects -- are becoming more popular among young people.

Bakeries and shops touting novelty cakes are flourishing, particularly in Taipei, where the latest trends from Japan, the US and Europe are quick to catch on.

"In the past, cakes all looked alike and they were not special enough to satisfy younger people, who are willing to spend extra money to have cakes made from their ideas," says Lin Yu-an (林育安), 28, owner of Cream and Fondant Creative Cake Shop (開糖手創意蛋糕) in Taipei.

Lin takes more than 200 orders -- all made to designs from her customers -- each month for parties, weddings or corporate meetings, and during festive seasons such as Valentine's Day, Mother's Day and Christmas.

The most popular requests include cakes in the shape of designer bags -- purchased by male clients who can't afford the real ones for their girlfriends -- as well as parents ordering cakes of cartoon characters for their children and pet owners buying dog-shaped cakes, she says.

Not surprisingly, erotic cakes such as breasts and sex organs are in demand for Valentine's Day, while cakes in the shape of gingerbread houses, Father Christmas and roasted chicken are big at Christmas.

A tailor-made cake can fetch more than NT$10,000, compared with NT$400 to NT$500 for a simple one. The price of Lin's cakes starts at NT$700 for a standard creation.

There is no estimate of how big Taiwan's cake market is, but there are now at least 10,000 bakeries and cake shops in the country, according to the Taiwan Gateaux Association.

"The market is growing as dining habits change in Taiwan and people are influenced by the West and Japan where the pastry cultures are prosperous," association director Ron Lin (林廷隆) says. "Before, people just wanted to have enough food and saw desserts as a luxury. Now with improved living standards they want to eat well and having cakes is part of their lives."

He says that more young people are willing to become bakers because they can apply creativity to their business and enhance the value of their products.

Lee Rung-fu (李榮富), 32, who runs Ri Chin Fa Bakery (日進發糕餅) in Miaoli County, is one such example. He took up his grandfather's baker career seven years ago after losing his job at a car repair factory.

"At first I didn't want to inherit grandpa's bakery but gradually I found the job interesting," he says.

Lee has applied his fascination for adventure books and movies to cake-making and recently won a contest organized by the Taiwan Gateaux Association for his cake, "The Lord of the Rings," featuring a golden ring, swords and a dragon.

His other prized creation is a cake of a miniature bakery called "My Home" based on his shop, displaying a chef, colorful cakes, customers and a wall decorated with pumpkins and books.

But Lee says these elaborate cakes are only made for competitions because of cost effectiveness and taste, as it takes up to two months to make such a cake.

Lin, however, said that no matter how fancy a cake looks, it has to taste good to lure customers back for more.

Her cakes are usually made of a lightly textured sponge with sweet fillings such as fruit jam, chocolate or coffee cream, or red beans, while the decoration is made from colored cream and fondant.

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