Ling Au works with tools that might seem out of place in her patisserie workshop, Glacé. To prepare for a two-tiered cake, she spent half a day rendering a miniature Eiffel Tower from her shiny 3D printer before hand-gilding its surface with edible gold.
The finished product is a piece of confectionery art, featuring the 3D-printed cake top and handcrafted sugar peonies that could easily set you back over HK$10,000.
Glacé is among the high-end designer patisseries that have been mushrooming across town over the past few years. Such couturiers cater to demanding clients who covet one-of-a-kind cakes to distinguish their celebratory occasions.
"It's natural that the bespoke notion applies to cakes, as they are often made for the most special occasions," Au says. "In the past, however, we used to accept cakes that were readily made despite customised cakes' popularity in Europe and North America."
Like with the other finer things in life, Hong Kong tastemakers picked up the couture cake trend quickly.
Bonnae Gokson of Ms B's Cakery is probably one of the city's most well-respected and sought-after cake designers. She opened her cake shop on Gough Street in May 2011 and serves a stellar clientele, including pop divas, retail giants and casino moguls.
The enthusiastic response came as a surprise for Gokson, who originally opened the cake shop to help out orders at her Central penthouse restaurant, Sevva. Business has been so good that she launched Ms B's Weddings last month to focus on customised wedding cake designs.
Before her services became available to the public, Gokson created unique designs for celebrity friends, including singer Coco Lee when she tied the knot with Li & Fung CEO Bruce Rockowitz in 2011. The nine-tier wedding cake was encrusted with thousands of moonstone Swarovski crystals on lace sugar art and sugar flowers and weighed over 181kg.
Cakes are certainly taking centre stage at special occasions. Most recently, Gokson's team was requested to make nine cakes for a single birthday celebration.
"A beautiful cake finishes off any celebration, as it marks one of the most important moments of the ceremony," Gokson says.
The appetite for couture cakes has been whipped up by designers' robust craftsmanship, endless creativity and highly customisable options.
Penney Pang, who runs a namesake designer cake brand, has produced cakes that replicate clients' favourite items - anything from shoes and bags to racecars and high-jewellery watches.
"I had a client who loves her watch so much that she had her private jeweller make matching earrings and asked me to make a cake in the same fashion," Pang says.
Couture cakes often carry meaningful messages too. Au remembers a mother who requested that two specific robots from the sci-fi movie Real Steel to be featured on her son's birthday cake.
Designers see sugar art as a vehicle to unleash their creativity, with only their imaginations as the limit. But to realise an impressive cake can take weeks or months to plan.
Like other bespoke services, the process begins with consultation. For cakes, the initial consultation covers flavour, size and style.
"For wedding cakes, I also take into account the bride's colour scheme, the style of her dress and venue decorations," Au says. "Tailor-made service and unique designs are our expertise. Generally speaking, no cakes made by us will be exactly the same."
Pang goes a step further by customising flavour combinations for different clients. "For example, chocolate mud cakes can be a good filling for a kid's birthday, and less-sweet lemon cakes would be better for a party of elderly guests," she says.
Going forward, designers create sketches and even 3D renderings so clients can visualise their concepts. And the alterations can take up to three months.
Designers also must figure out a balance of creativity and technical feasibility, which involves plenty of calculations to work within the constraints of the cake ingredients and decorations.
The skills required to create such elaborate confections can only be learned over time. Some of the craftsmen working at Ms B's Cakery have over 25 years of experience, while the award-winning Au and Pang have apprenticed with world-famous cake designers Eddie Spence and Alan Dunn.
The designers' elegant taste and impeccable sense of aesthetics elevate their cakes to a couture level.
"I've worked for over 20 years in high-end fashion and grew up in a family that constantly entertained with grand and memorable parties. My exposure to this world of beautiful expectations had never ceased, so creating couture cakes is only a very small outlet of my huge imagination and creativity," Gokson says.
Aiming to put a smile on the faces of her clients, Pang often surprises them with unexpected treats - a merry-go-round cake set on a revolving platform, or a sweet message written on the soles of a pair of sugar-art baby shoes.
"I believe the key ingredient of a cake that truly shines at a party is the heart put into it," Pang says.
These one-of-a-kind cakes also come with impressive price tags. Au charges about HK$7,000 for a two-tiered cake, while prices for Pang's couture cakes range from HK$4,000 and can go up to about HK$200,000. Ms B's Cakery creates ultraluxury confections that are priced at over HK$1 million.
To many, however, these are reasonable prices to pay considering how the perfect cake creation can completely transform a special occasion.
As Au puts it: "The happiness a cake brings to the party is irreplaceable."
ICING ON THE CAKE
At the moment it seems there's no limit to the level of opulence when it comes to wedding cakes.
Just when we thought the duke and duchess of Cambridge's eight-tiered royal wedding cake had hit a high note, we were left smitten after seeing the over-the-top cake for Kaley Cuoco, the star of the popular American sitcom The Big Bang Theory who tied the knot on New Year's Eve.
Cuoco's gravity-defying, seven-tiered cake hung upside down from a chandelier. Created by Los Angeles' Butter End Cakery, the chandelier cake was covered in buttercream frosting and crystal ornaments.
The actress' epic wedding cake went viral on social media platforms and was said to have started a trend for upside-down cakes.
Textile heiress Veronica Chou and Evgeny Klyucharev's grand nuptials in 2012 also started a trend for Russian-themed celebrations. For their wedding cake, the couple opted for a giant pillow-shaped sugar-art masterpiece topped with
Fabergé eggs (below).