Hafsa Uvais lives in a house in Rajagiriya that is filled with delicious smells. There’s a fresh batch of cupcakes going into the oven and on an adjoining table, a helper slowly pours condensed milk into a bowl full of rich, creamy chocolate icing. Hafsa and her older sister, Fara Sikkander have seen hundreds of such cupcakes come out of the oven since they moved here early this year. Together, the two run Cake Factory, a gourmet bakery that supplies places like Odel, Barefoot and The Sandwich Factory with cupcakes, love cake, brownies and caramel shortbread cookies.
The last year has been a busy one for the sisters – Hafsa quit her job in January to do this full time. They’ve bought themselves a professional oven and they’ve expanded their range. They now serve, among other things, strawberry tarts, chocolate mousse, fruit trifle and old favourites like wattalapam and biscuit pudding – all of which are available at the dessert counter at Urban Kitchen in Arpico at Union Place.
Cupcakes (priced at Rs.75 a piece) are their signature item. Red velvet cupcakes served with cream cheese frosting are the latest addition to the fold. Demonstrating on a batch of chocolate cakes still warm from the oven, Fara expertly swirls a thick line of icing into a point. “Cupcakes are such fun to do,” she says. She enjoys the process of decorating these cupcakes, and often uses decorations that suit the season. Right now it’s stars, miniature stockings and Christmas trees, but at other times of the year, ghosts and hearts are placed delicately atop mounds of icing. Of late, they’ve even been asked to create unique designs for weddings and engagements, says Hafsa, adding that designs are modified to suit the couples’ chosen theme or colour. Tiers of chocolate cupcakes, with fresh roses for accents have become very popular. They’re also generous with their recipes - on their website, www.cakefactory.lk, Cake Factory offers a cupcake recipe for each month.
Many of these recipes run in the family, says Hafsa. Their mother, Mifthia Husain is an expert baker and her children remember growing up enjoying her signature cakes on all special occasions. Even today, the three women will tweak recipes together, adding and subtracting until they are all satisfied. Hafsa is at her best when juggling practical details. Fara has inherited her mother’s gift for cooking. “When it comes to quality, we emphasise the fact that it is a homemade product,” says Fara.
Together, the two women have formed a strong partnership. Four years ago, Fara after much prodding from her family decided to start selling her much lauded love cake but she says it wasn’t until Hafsa quit her day job at Practical Action to join her that things really took off. Still, they’re small enough to be completely hands on.
Hafsa does deliveries and wraps cakes herself, Fara checks batches personally for consistency and quality. Running the dessert counter at Urban Kitchen has given them a sense of stability, says Hafsa, adding they no longer need to rely on orders alone to make overheads meet.
Still, the orders keep coming. On a busy day, say prior to a wedding, Cake Factory might turn out 500 – 600 cup cakes.
The two women employ four assistant bakers, but months like this are still filled to overflowing. It’s a particularly satisfying phase – Hafsa says she’s enjoying the flexibility running her own business affords, and Fara is revelling in the creative opportunities that each new order allows her. “Because we enjoy it so much, it isn’t a strain,” says Hafsa simply. “We’ve learnt along the way, experimented so much,” says Fara, detailing long nights and near disasters. As they’ve added to their staff and upped their production the two have also begun planning for what is clearly a cherished dream – a cupcake shop to call their own. They hope to open it next year.
Fara imagines it being a quaint little place, bursting with delicious offerings. Hafsa, practical as always, knows she wants a good location and parking space for at least three cars. As Fara places a tiny sugar flower at a jaunty angle atop a freshly frosted cake, you can see it’s a dream that’s well on its way to coming true.