By Priyanka Sacheti, Womens Feature Service
Professional to the core and passionate about their careers, these Omani women actually don aprons to work. Meet sisters, Fatma and Maryam Mohammed; and Mariam al Mandhari, whose products are quite literally selling like hot cakes.
Bake n Cake proprietors Fatma and Maryam had always dreamt of working as a team. “We had always wanted to do something related to cooking and initially thought of opening a gourmet cafe in Muscat, where Maryam would bake and I would cook. However, we ended up starting a bakery business instead,” says Fatma, 23, the younger sibling.
Encouraged by their father and her husband and with plenty of support from Fatma, Maryam began transforming her childhood skills into a profitable business last October. “Whenever our friends would come over, she would go inside the kitchen and make us brownies,” Fatma reminisces. “I especially enjoyed experimenting with cakes, chocolate being a particular favourite,” Maryam adds.
While Maryam already had a close group of friends whose taste buds could vouch for her confectionery masterpieces, it was the social networking site, Facebook, which spread the word of mouth even further.
As a result, what was once a hobby now sees Maryam working with her ingredients – the finest she can find, sourced from the local supermarkets – from early morning to around three in the afternoon, after which she starts baking her final products in an electric oven. Incidentally, Maryam does the cleaning up after the baking on her own, taking help only from her domestic maid. “It’s definitely tiring but I am determined to ensure that my fare is ready at least two hours before the collection time of eight in the evening,” emphasises the dedicated professional, who takes pride in creating her own recipes and cake designs.
“Some of our popular recipes include chocolate chip cookies, regular and mini cupcakes, pistachio and date cakes, and pecan pie – a novelty as pecan is difficult to find here and imparts a distinct flavour to the pastry,” says the master baker. As she carefully positions the marzipan flowers on to a mouthwatering strawberry cake, her sister adds, “We use the finest ingredients available, whether it is butter, eggs or chocolate, and create these cakes with love.” For those keeping a watch on their weight, Maryam conjures up delights like low-fat date cakes and the slimmer’s strawberry cheesecake.
It took a marriage and a botched up wedding cake for Mariam al Mandhari, 25, a qualified interior designer and a successful wedding planner, to find her true metier in an oven. A stickler for perfection, Mariam was horrified to discover that her wedding cake was not the one she had ordered. “It was completely the wrong design, colour, and flavour and I only realised this when I was about to cut the cake,” she recalls, her disappointment still palpable when she describes how meticulously she had planned and executed each aspect of her wedding only to confront this flaw.
“I was so upset after the cake debacle that I decided to start my own creative bakery business,” she says, explaining how The Cake Factory came into being.
Mariam now juggles between two professions, wedding planning and confectionery, handling around five baking orders a week and often declining a few so that she can focus on the occasional big event, like a client’s wedding. Yet, her nine-month-old foray into baking has made her dream of a complete wedding store – a one-stop venue for wedding plans, cakes and gowns. “I supply cakes for all occasions: weddings, birthdays, anniversaries and corporate events,” says Mariam, who recently provided around 250 miniature and regular-sized cupcakes for a photography exhibition at one of Muscat’s leading museums, Bait al Baranda. It takes Mariam roughly two to three days to bake a wedding cake depending on how detailed the decorations are.
From pursuing a degree in interior design, from a technology institute in Malaysia, to creating oven fresh works of art, Mariam’s success is a lesson in determination. Talking about her forte in cake decoration, she says, “I haven’t taken any lessons; I learnt it all from the Internet. It is amazing how much information you can get from there.” She proudly shows images of the first cakes she decorated: round mini-cakes with a flower and a swatch of fabric draped across it. “It took me the entire day to decorate them and, when I finally finished, I didn’t feel like cutting them!” she exclaims.
Mariam, whose biggest supporter is her husband, works from home on her electric oven range and does all the clearing up single-handedly, only taking her maid’s help occasionally when she has had a long day in the kitchen. Like the Mohammed sisters, Mariam, too, created a group on Facebook that has helped many more learn of her fondant icing-dressed cakes. “It is a different kind of sugar paste, more like a dough and easier to spread and shape,” she says of her preferred icing. All her recipes come from family members – who like to ask her to bake her their favourites – or sometimes from the Internet.
An inveterate craftsperson – a giant ribbon-festooned cake; and an orchid-studded three-tiered wedding delight are amongst the items in her repertoire – Mariam, who calls her cakes ‘comfort food’, is now busy learning how to create dolls, castles, and flower-shapes. She’s also very thrilled with her latest baking tool, the cake leveler, which will make “cake cutting so easy”. With a theme birthday party coming up, she is presently executing a Mickey Mouse-shaped cake that is guaranteed to provide pure pleasure to the youngster who will soon get to cut it. There is just no resisting the sinful temptations that emerge from her kitchen which, unlike supermarket offerings, contain no artificial preservatives.
With creativity, passion and a bit of help from Facebook, business is a cakewalk for these three creative women.