From toilet rolls to face masks: the pandemic-themed cakes available in the UAE

Bakeries here are adapting to the pandemic by designing cakes shaped like hand sanitisers and toilet rolls

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At a time when small businesses are struggling to stay afloat and the food and drinks industry has been hit hard, one San Francisco bakery has managed to turn what would have been its worst week around.

Butter & started selling cakes with quirky messages on them, baking smaller sizes for self-isolating individuals. Consumers could buy pastries emblazoned with “Don’t hoard face masks” or “Wash your hands”.

Not only were these cakes a sweet success, but they also helped to keep the company financially afloat.

The popularity of such cakes has risen since. Home-grown desserts brand SugarMoo has launched a Stay Safe cake featuring a face mask. 

Sugarmoo's Stay Safe cake

“We received a lot of requests from customers to create cakes to send to friends and loved ones. Therefore, we created the ‘Stay Safe cake’ to encourage people to stay home,” says Alan Honein, chief operating officer at SugarMoo.

The brand has also released a 10-centimetre chocolate cake shaped like a toilet roll, in reference to the stockpiling of such products abroad. Reif Othman of Reif Japanese Kushiyaki launched his own version of the toilet roll cake, a lemon butter sponge with yuzu white chocolate ganache for four to six people.

Chef Reif Othman's toilet-roll-shaped cake

When pastry chef Nadia Parekh of Melange launched her cakes for self-isolating individuals this month, she was overwhelmed by the reaction. “We’re making six cakes a day and we’re almost booked out,” she tells The National.

So where does the appeal of these cakes lie? Parekh says it's two-fold. "Cakes are ultimate comfort food; they're associated with all things happy. The UAE has a big coffee and cake culture, but since people can't really go out to have this anymore, establishments are feeling the pinch," she says. "These cakes are the perfect way to satisfy dessert cravings. The other reason they're so popular is that people are treating them as occasion cakes," she says. "Just because we're quarantined, doesn't mean celebrations have stopped. A lot of the orders I'm getting are for gifts or birthdays – basically to spread a little bit of joy to loved ones without leaving the house. They have the same messages on top, in addition to a personalised message at the side." 

So far, Melange’s bestsellers carry phrases such as “Don’t touch your face” and “Habibi, stay home”. She says these cakes have been created out of necessity by an industry that has been hard-hit by the virus. With restaurants in the UAE having a limited number of dine-in customers and online delivery platforms charging commissions – some as high as 25 to 35 per cent on every order, restaurants and bakeries have had to try different approaches to stay afloat.

“We supply treats to businesses and take corporate orders as well. The biggest problem we faced when the coronavirus hit was that our B2B line went down the drain. Moreover, bespoke cakes are my speciality and these were usually created for big occasions, such as weddings ... which have been cancelled. Had our cakes [themed for those in self-isolation] not taken off, we would have struggled a lot. We can’t survive only as an online shop.”

Parekh says: “When you lose your main sources of revenue, you have no choice but to get creative,” adding that none of her staff had their salaries cut.

The messages on the cakes aren’t the only change in business operations. Melange's smallest’s bespoke cake was previously two kilograms, but Parekh has had to improvise and offer smaller creations, which has created its own challenges. “The work that goes into a smaller cake is more or less the same – the only difference is that less ingredients are used. It's harder to customise a smaller cake as you have less area to decorate – but at the same time you get less revenue for them,” she says. “Even the cost of delivering a big cake and a small cake are the same." 

But she believes it is worth it – not only to bring in business, but to bring a smile to someone’s face.