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Divine Lemon Meringues (and more!) Made in Mina
Necessity is the mother of invention. In the case of The Cake Lady, an enduring craving lead to a sweet joint venture…
It all started four years ago with a Lemon Meringue. Or rather a wishful Lemon Meringue…Disappointed with Lemon Meringue Pies Souad Sbaiti ate and tired of waiting for her mother to give in to her pleas to bake her one, she eventually took to the kitchen and baked the pie she’d been craving for months herself.
She not only enjoyed making the pie but her creation brought her instant fans. This turned out to be the beginning of more baking sessions.Word got around and Sbaiti soon would receive her first official paid order. This was four years ago. On Friday, she launched The Cake Lady, a joint venture with Via Mina boutique hotel.
SoBeirut spent some time in the Cake Lady’s kitchen at the Via Mina boutique hotel to see where the magic happens – and to taste it.
“I worked as an architect when I started baking,” Sbaiti said while putting the meringue topping in small meringue pieshells. “I started on weekends, baking for Ahwak and another coffee shop in Gemmayzeh also placed orders. But as demand grew, I didn’t have time to do all of this. Being in the kitchen after hours was exhausting, so I stopped baking and concentrated on my architectural work.”
Last year though, Sbaiti put architecture on hold and took a sabbatical during which she travelled and also hiked the 470km Lebanon Mountain Trail (LMT) annual thru walk.
Sbaiti explained that she had been thinking about taking this step, of switching computer and CAD for bowls and Belgian chocolate for years butwas apprehensive to bake professionally. Would turning a hobby into a profession work?
“The reaction of people when they hear that I put architecture on hold and became a Cake Lady is split between one half that objects, saying‘you are an architect how can you go and cook?’ and the other half tells me: ‘way to go,do what you like to do!’I became disenchanted not with architecture but with big offices and the monotony of the work, to be honest.”
“So far it’s good,” she insisted with regards to her current occupation. “It still makes me happy to bake. I don’t mind spending a lot of time in the kitchen. I started baking when I wasn’t happy at work. Whenever I was angry at work I would go home and bake. When you see people tasting the cakes and enjoying it, that’s great! It’s making people happy.”
The story behind why she called my business The Cake Lady goes as follows: “Whenever I went hiking I would take a cake with me. Participants would always change and most of them would not remember my name but they would call me ‘The Cake Lady’. One day, on my way to a pub in Beirut standing in the elevator on the way up, the couple next to me looked at me and said: ‘The Cake Lady! You’re the Cake Lady!’So I thought this would be a nice name for the business.”
Her menu currently consists of Cheesecakes (cheesecake and chocolate cheesecake), Cakes (Honey Cake, Death by Chocolate, Chocolate Cake, Caramel Cake, Red Velvet, Red Velvet Cheesecake, Natural Red Velvet Cake and Carrot Cake) and five Pies: Lemon pie, Lemon Meringue Pie, Chocolate Caramel Pie, Caramel Crème Brûlée Pie and Pie of the Season. Among all these delicious creations, her Honey Cake is – hands down – Sbaiti’s bestseller.
Having tasted both the Honey Cake and the Lemon Meringue, one could settle for a tie…The Cake Lady’soutput is constantly increasing; her record stands at 17 cakes of various types – in one day!
However popular colourful theme cakes may be, Sbaiti does not only trust in sugar and only bakes the cakes that are on her menu. “My objective is to make good cakes that taste good. I use the best products, the best Belgian chocolate – everything should be the best quality and have the best taste.” Like Julia Child, she believes in butter. Besides in good ingredients, Sbaiti believes in precision and being patient.A perfectly decorated strawberry pie she put in the fridge after decorating it, says it all.
Half the cakes she presently bakes are for private orders, most of them in Tripoli, and the other half for Via Mina as well as cafes: Ahwak, Rassif (vegan cakes during Lent) and Sense. Orders take within 2-3 days.
Asked whether baking cakes in the city of sweets was like swimming against the stream, Sbaiti noted that indeed, Tripoli did not really have a cake tradition. “But the sweetsmakers have started to make cakes and ice cream…”
Her love for fine cakes comes from her mother but also from a situation of “need”: “My mom used to bake a lot, she didn’t work so she used to make a lot of cakes. There were no patisseries in the 80s in Accra, Ghana where I grew up. That is also why for me, cakes do not only have to be for special occasions.”
Sbaiti hopes that in the near future, she will be able have a selling point in Beirut. “When I used to live in Beirut my friends used to order cakes from me. Now that I live here I need to figure out a delivery system with a cooler. I did a tasting for Tawlet, which was very successful.”
The Cake Lady enjoys new challenges and has a long list of recipes she wants to try.“I like challenges. I’ve tried macaroons and I love making croissants.”Friends and family usually are her first testers.
“When I used to still work in the office I’d bring anything even cakes that didn’t work out to the office – my colleagues they ate anything! They were my guinea pigs and they loved it. My friends now do that. I love to make my friends happy.And I still take cakes to hikes.”
Hiking has taken off almost parallel to Sbaiti’s baking. She completed the LMT through walk last year. “It started as a fitness thing but it has become therapeutic,” she said.
“The North of Lebanon is my favourite, the Akkar mountains are amazing and I don’t just say this because I am from the north. Generally, any mountains will do, I’m just not much of a beach person.”
Baking in Mina allowed her to discover her city’s port district: “I didn’t know Mina that well, actually. I knew Mino but that was it. When I came here and saw how everyone knows everyone – like in a little village – and it’s really nice and I love it. I love the old town. The little alleys.”
When she’s not hiking, baking or trailing the Internet for tips or recipes, this passionate foodie loves to watch movies with a gourmet twist. Among her favourites are Julia & Julia, Burnt, The 10-Foot Journey, Chocolate and also Top Chef.
To get a slice (or cake) of happiness call Souad on 03 942 440