Cup cakes with a Mehendi theme

Meet Prarthana Pednekar from Mumbai. A young, talented master baker and food sculptor who has a finger in every pie – from horoscopes and palm reading, to ethnic cuisines and baking.

While that’s diverse and multi-faceted, she spends all her waking hours in her kitchen-cum-baking-studio. Prarthana bakes the most fabulous cakes and pastries this side of the hemisphere, and what she likes best is listening to the faint hum that starts up when she turns on her oven. Her custom bakery line, run currently from home makes a lot of people happy – especially with the exciting listing she has on her custom order menu.

Here are some excerpts from the long chat I had with her, on what she does, and how she plans to expand her business.

Q: What does your current range include in your specialty bakery line?

A: I currently offer cakes for every rhyme and reason. Cupcakes in all shapes, textures, flavours, muffins that will tenderize the most hard-hearted, and hand-minted chocolates that can turn a frown upside down. There’s a lot that happens in my kitchen-turned-baking-studio, but the most popular orders that come my way are for cupcake bouquets, customized hampers, tiered butter-cream rosette cakes and festive hampers.

Q: Do cakes for special occasions form the bulk of your regular orders?

A: Yes they do, because I bake cakes for birthdays, weddings, anniversaries, baby showers and themed birthday parties. Each cake comes with a specific brief in terms of theme, ingredient mix, weight, size, shape and preferred icing. The icing can be a major challenge because it needs to add dimension and visual appeal.

I usually refer to a sugar-based topping as icing, and butter based, or thicker cream creations as frosting. Whatever ingredients I use, the icing invariably calls for an art component – to actually render cartoon characters, comic book heroes, glam-girl dolls and unusual variations. The finishing touches are the trickiest thing to do – one false move and you have to redo the whole thing.

Q: How do you plan your ingredient mix? Do you have a regular shopping list?

A: While I do have a regular shopping list, most orders have something special and unique that call for additional shopping. While I love the creative aspect of making my products look good and taste good, I also enjoy the planning and shopping process. I need to be careful here because I work with the best ingredients and the best doesn’t come cheap. Each order is literally assigned a small individual pocket book that contains all the specs and my shopping list. I like my pocket book idea, because this serves as a handy reference, the next time I bake something similar.

Q: What happens during the actual baking process?

A: The baking process can get tricky, because this is when you can bake, or break your order. I need to give special attention to the mix, oven settings, baking and cooling cycles. Even storage methods after baking needs special consideration. While this sounds complicated, things do fall into place as you go along – you know exactly what to do and how to do it.

My process pretty much goes like clockwork, though I face a bit of a challenge when I need to tackle multiple orders at the same time. That’s when I need to prioritize in terms of preparation, grouping similar tasks and scheduling oven sharing, which is easier said than done.

Q: Do you have someone to help you to make life a little easier?

A: Yes, I do – my mum is a lot more than an extra pair of hands – always there, always anticipating all those twists and turns where I might need help. Dad, of course, is really sweet and abundantly helpful – ever ready to shop with me, or help deliver when customers call up with an SOS request. I really should induct them onto my board as senior partners, because they prop me up in the many ways they can.

Q: How do you plan to take this to the next level?

A: Right now, I’m weighing my options in terms of core occupation and peripheral interests. And my gut tells my that I need to make the baking line part of my core occupation. I am in the process of outlining a few business models and need to validate them in terms of return on investment. I sometimes wish I could find a like-minded business partner – it’s always useful to have another person who shares the same passion and can help downsize the workloads. Another option is to be part of a value-based supply chain that caters to upper crust outlets – it can widen your canvas.

Prarthana with her Indian Idol, Vikas Khanna, during one of his visits to Manipal University. Vikas Khanna is an alumnus of Welcomgroup Graduate School of Hotel Administration.

Prarthana Pednekar has a B.Sc. in Hospitality and Hotel Administration from IHM in GOA, and an M.Sc. in Hospitality and Tourism Management from the Welcomgroup Graduate School of Hotel Administration at Manipal University.
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