J Petite - Cakes in the ‘90s vs Now - Singapore Edition
Special occasions wouldn’t feel complete without a nicely prepared cake. Besides being a symbol of appreciation for its recipient, it encourages sharing and quality time within a group of people.
Although cakes have been a staple part of every celebration, they did not always come in similar flavours and designs. Before drip cakes and cheesecakes became a thing, several other versions of cakes were offered by Singaporean bakeshops.
If you’ve been around since the 90s, you’ve no doubt noticed the differences between the cakes back then vs the cakes now. Let’s take a good look at how cakes have significantly evolved to how they taste and appear today.
Cakes in the 90s
Cakes in the 90s were mostly made by our aunties from traditional bakeshops. Who can ever forget about the decadent-looking layers of chiffon peeking from their display cabinet? Some customers even brought home a slice or a whole cake when there’s no occasion at all!
While round cakes were still the most common at that time, it was in the 90s when cakes in other shapes like squares, rolls, and numbers started to become a trend. Most cakes were also flaky and made out of either buttercream (butter cake) or stiffly whipped egg whites (sponge and chiffon cake).
When it comes to flavour, chocolate, vanilla and strawberry were some of the standard cake options especially among children, but one flavour that became a crowd favourite was the pandan chiffon cake. It added a local twist to the cake baking method that we adapted from Europe. What Singaporeans in the 90s retained from this recipe was its outer frosting spread throughout its top and sides, with icing lined on its borders for additional design. The more elaborate its details and patterns look, the better.
Customisation was also possible, although the usual request most bakeshops got was to have a short dedication handwritten with gel frosting atop the cake.
Bakers finished off their creations with some sprinkles, cherries, sweet syrup, soft candies, or sugar flowers, along with colourful thin wax candles.
Over time, consumers had more specific requirements with the design of their cakes. Pastel colours and chibi designs, as well as the use of fondant to create three-dimensional elements, became more popular and some bakeshops started to offer full cake customisation. More consumers also started to prefer moist over flaky cakes.
Today, bakers get to express more of their artistry and creativity with handcrafted artisanal cakes. Like canvases are to paintings, white frosting is often used as the crumb coat of the cake, making the rest of the colours pop. At times, it is substituted by light gradients and other light neutral tones or further enhanced with embossed or textured embellishments.
Speaking of paintings, hand-painted cakes over white fondant are also becoming a trend. Food colors are mixed with lemon juice or clear alcohol on a clean palette, and then brushed flat on the cake in clean, random strokes.
Another cake design that Singaporeans have been interested in over the previous year are Korean Minimalist Cakes, single-tier white or muted-coloured butter cakes that feature short messages in basic handwritten font, simple accents, or 2D doodle art. Not surprisingly, this is also becoming a trend in other parts of Asia with the heavy influence of Hallyu culture.
Other interesting cake designs that bakeshops in Singapore are currently offering are ganache drip cakes and money pulling cakes.
For the taste, bakers use more complex ingredients that add excitement to their creations. You’d find all sorts of flavours from the well-loved strawberry shortcake and dark chocolate truffle to authentic local favourites like orh nee and ondeh ondeh.
Gold cake toppers and candles, fondant decors, and larger treats such as macarons, chocolate bars, and rock chocolates are sometimes added on top of cakes to make them appear more celebratory.
The Modern Baking Scene
In these contemporary times, a few traditional bake shops continue to thrive with the help of their bestselling recipes, although new home-based bakers also try their luck in the industry to stay financially afloat amidst the worldwide health crisis. Door-to-door cake deliveries are also slowly becoming the norm.
With the wide selection of cakes we are presented with and the convenience of buying cakes today, choosing the best one all boils down to which most closely resembles the cake you have in mind from its look to its taste, skillfully made with the use of high quality ingredients at the lowest possible cost.