SINGAPORE - Birthday cakes have come a long way. For some people, a simple cake with icing, candles and a piped greeting just isn't enough.
Bakers are saying that people are willing to spend, and spend big on cakes.
A custom designed cake used to cost about $80 three years ago. But these days, it is not uncommon to spend $200 to $300 for a 1kg 3D cake, which can feed 10 people. So says Mr Wong Chuan Sheng, 40, owner of Cake Avenue at Kilat Centre, which specialises in gourmet and customised cakes.
Mr Wong says his customers are into intricate designs, and they now want 3D cakes in the shape of objects or adorned with figurines and words made from sugar.
These quirky and elaborate birthday cakes are the rage. Customers are asking for cakes in the shape of their favourite things - from cars to cameras, chilli crab to buckets of popcorn and even coiled boa constrictors.
Cakes can take the shape of almost anything.
"Any design can be customised," says Madam Michelle Tan, in her early 40s, manager of Mei Yu Cakes with outlets in Bishan and Bendemeer.
But at what price?
Says Mr Wong: "Even the smallest cake for two to three persons can go up to $200. For a 4kg cake, that cost can be up to $500."
The most intricate and expensive birthday cake he has made is an Alice-In-Wonderland-themed one, which cost $2,200. He made the 6kg 3D castle cake - complete with characters - last year.
"The sugar works (such as models of characters) add on to the price," he says. Mr Wong says demand for 3D cakes has doubled over the past three years, though overall sales have remained the same. He says 30 out of 100 orders previously would be for 3D cakes. Now, it is 60 out of 100.
He adds: "It is not the doubling of the sales. There is a limit to how many cakes you can make."
Madam Tan says Mei Yu Cakes now makes more 3D cakes than other types. Demand has been partially attributed to US TV channels such as TLC and Food Network, which feature shows like Cake Boss and Ace The Cake. Of course, wanting what others have has also helped the rise, with social media as the driving force.
Mr Wong says: "For example, my classmate has a 3D cake. I want one too, but in a different design. These customised 3D cakes are very visual products. Once you do something nice, it is easy for people to follow (you)."
To accommodate demand, local bakers also have to keep their skills sharp.
Madam Marlisawati Abdul Rahman, 34, founder of SG Birthdaycakes, showcases her cakes online.
Together with her husband, Mr Hardi Osney, 39, the couple flew to New Jersey, US, to attend a course conducted by the Cake Boss himself, Buddy Valastro. She describes the trip as "a dream come true for a cake designer".
Novelty is another factor why people keep coming back.
Madam Marlisawati says: "The birthday cake is the highlight of a birthday party. Everyone looks forward to it. (Customers) want to appear unique. They want a cake that will wow their guests."
The more demanding designs demand a heftier price tag.
For example, a cake which resembles the Old Trafford Stadium, ordered for a die-hard Manchester United fan, weighed 8kg, cost $850 and needed three people to work on it.
Mr Wong believes there is a while more to go before the trend shows signs of slowing. And while demand is high, the skills of bakers must continue to improve, creating more elaborate cakes.
Making the confectionary more attractive has often led to the comment that the cake is too pretty to eat.
Mr Wong says: "That is the best compliment any baker can get. We try to achieve that."
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