The sight of flower pots piled with soil-like crumbs and sitting next to pastries and cakes is drawing curious stares at cake counters.
Meet the dirt cake, a confection that looks more at home in a garden than on a dining table.
Served in a palm-sized flower pot, the dessert usually consists of cream cheese, pudding or mousse topped with "dirt" made of crushed Oreo cookies. Sprigs of artificial flowers or herbs, such as mint and rosemary, adorn the cake.
The earthy-looking dessert is getting more popular, with at least five bakeries and cafes selling them.
Fart Tartz Cafe at Singapore Expo started selling it in June, while Chyn Nonya Cakes in Marine Parade Central and mezza9 restaurant at Grand Hyatt Singapore got into the act in September. Naomi Kitchen in Serangoon Central started serving its tiramisu in a pot last month, while Vanilla Bar and Cafe at Boon Tat Street started selling dirt cakes about five years ago.
The cake got a boost from Taiwanese romance drama A Hint of You, which aired last year. The male lead in the show, played by actor Michael Zhang, whipped up the confection for his love interest.
It was the series that sowed the seeds of inspiration for Ms Teo Bee Yan, 45, a sales executive at Chyn Nonya Cakes. The bakery offers dirt cakes only on weekends and sells about 60 pots a week. She says: "It is a cute concept which catches the attention of mainly youngsters who pass by the shop."
Ms Jo Ann Ng, 31, owner of Vanilla Bar and Cafe, says the dirt cake brings back fond birthday memories. Her mother used to make vanilla pudding in a flower pot and serve it with a clean garden spade.
She says: "The cake always impressed my brothers and me when we were kids, as we had fun playing with it." That was why she included the dirt cake on her menu when she opened the cafe in 2009.
Her version is made of vanilla pudding blended with cream cheese. She sells around 100 dirt cakes in a week, which is a 30 per cent increase compared to two years ago. "Diners usually find out about this cake through photos on Instagram and more of them have been coming here specially to try it," she adds.
The novelty of digging into a flower pot for dessert fits in with the garden theme of the six-month-old Fart Tartz Cafe, which is decked with shelves of flowers and fitted with a garden shed.
Its co-owner, Ms Cleo Goh, 39, says the cafe sells up to 300 pots in a week. She says: "Our mud tarts have become the main attraction here and they give our cafe an interesting stand-out factor."
The cafe offers 10 flavours of mud tarts, with ingredients such as Snickers chocolate bar and Nutella nestled in chilled mascarpone mousse or cream cheese. Most of the shops use food-safe plastic containers shaped like flower pots. mezza9 restaurant says its flower pot dessert is housed in glazed terracotta pots.
A hotel spokesman says: "The pots are first cleared manually before they are sprayed with a hot water spray gun and put in a dishwashing machine."
The dirt cake has drawn questions from customers, with the most common being: "Is this edible?"
Some also mistake the cake for a table decoration.
Ms Ng says: "Once, a customer asked why it took so long to serve the dirt cake, when it had been sitting right in front of him for a while."
Engineer Toh Hanwei, 29, did a double take when he came across dirt cakes while holidaying in Taiwan in May. He says: "I thought that the cafe was selling plants in the fridge, until I saw the other cakes. I like how the creaminess of the potted cake is balanced by crushed Oreo bits."
Undergraduate Chua Min Pei, 19, tried a dirt cake at Vanilla Bar and Cafe last week. She says: "Initially, I was a little worried as the soil looked quite realistic. I will order it again as it is fun to eat from a flower pot."
DIG UP SOME DIRT CAKES
Fart Tartz Cafe
What: Mud Tarts (left, $5.50 each) are available in 10 flavours, including Nutella and Oreo, caramel macadamia and matcha. The cafe also sells a large version ($68) in a 20cm wide pot, for 10 to 15 people. Order at least three days in advance.
Where: Singapore Expo Hall 2, 02-04, 1 Expo Drive, 9am to 6pm, Monday to Thursday, 9am to 8pm, Friday to Sunday
Info: Call 9772-9780 or go to www.farttartz.com
Chyn Nonya Cakes
What: The Flower Pot Cake ($4.50) is available in four flavours, such as Oreo cheese, blueberry, raspberry and chocolate mousses.
Where: Block 82 Marine Parade Central, 01-616, 7am to 9.30pm daily
Info: Call 6564-4060 or go to www.kyo.com.sg
Vanilla Bar and Cafe
What: The Vanilla Dirt Cake ($9.50, right) is made of vanilla pudding blended with cream cheese and has gummy worms on its "soil".
Where: 3 Boon Tat Street 01-01, 10.30am to 11pm, Monday to Thursday, 11am to midnight, Friday, 11am to 9pm, Saturday, closed on Sunday
Info: Call 6423-0366 or go to www.vanillacafe. com.sg
What: Tiramisu ($4.50), comes with a mini spade.
Where: Block 264, Serangoon Central, 01-203, open: 10am to 830pm, Sunday to Thursday, 10am to 930pm, Friday and Saturday Info: Call 9321-3688 or go to www.naomikitchen. com
What: The Flower Pot dessert ($18.80, right) consists of caramel sea salt ice cream and dehydrated chocolate sponge cake and is garnished with mint leaves, flowers and berries.
Where: Grand Hyatt Singapore, 10 Scotts Road, noon to 3pm, 6 to 11pm, Monday to Sunday
Info: Call 6732-1234 or go to singapore.grand. hyatt.com
This article was first published on Dec 14, 2014. Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.