Prachi Dhabal Deb’s studio table is a sight to witness. Laid out is a gorgeous display of art that resembles desi brides in a variety of avatars. These life-like miniature brides are decked in finery with their jhumkas (earrings), maang tika (forehead jewellery), and neckpiece exuding an almost real finesse.
That Prachi has managed to get the intricate details right on these figurines is not the only fascinating aspect. Take a bite, they are also edible!
As the 36-year-old from Pune busies herself adding the finishing touches, she says this is reminiscent of her childhood.
“I would spend hours on end working with arts and colours. And along with this, I’d bake. At the age of 10, I was already baking little cakes in an oven gifted by my aunt,” she says.
While everyone expected her to opt for a career in the creative field, when the time came, Prachi chose accounts and finance, spending the next several years as a financial analyst in a multinational company.
But as time passed, she found her interest waning.
“It got monotonous. It was the same thing over and over again, every day,” she notes. Unable to continue the daily grind, Prachi quit her job in 2011. What she thought to be a roadblock at the time, was in fact an opening into a new world.
A trip to Australia brought back nostalgia
With time on her hands now, Prachi was all about experimenting with new opportunities.
“In 2012, I took a trip to Australia with my husband. The six-month break was fun-filled and gave me a chance to revisit my passion for baking and painting. It dawned on me that I was happiest while doing something creative,” says Prachi, adding that when she returned to India, she continued being creative in the kitchen.
“I remember this one time I baked a cake for my friend’s birthday party. The guests relished it and one of them, an event manager, asked me if I would bake the same cake the next month for an event she was organising.”
Prachi was taken aback at the idea of her cakes being on par with professional ones, but agreed.
“I got my very first order in June 2012,” she notes. “Since then it has been a great journey of 10 years.”
Through time, she has watched and witnessed the baking industry evolve.
“Cake artistry wasn’t very popular in India; people usually bought their cakes from bakeries. Today the scene has shifted as a result of people travelling abroad and seeing the kind of cakes made there. This has slowly created a demand for customised cakes here. It’s been a graph with an upward trajectory,” she says.
This evolution in the baking scene also led to the availability of good gel colours, cake instruments and essences in India — factors that were earlier a problem.
Today, Prachi not only bakes customised cakes and edible art, but has also diversified into taking classes and being a judge at various cake-making and cake-decorating competitions.
From edible art to royal icing
Recounting how the bridal cookies were born, she says it was a spur-of-the-moment order by a bride getting married last year.
“They had gotten the graphic designer to get illustrations done of the couple in various outfits. The bride wanted this replicated. So, I went ahead and created cookies which resembled the bride on her mehendi, sangeet, etc,” she adds.
The cookies enabled Prachi to combine her love for art and baking, and they created a storm on social media.
“I started getting orders from Bengali brides, Maharashtrian brides, etc who wanted the same,” she says. While the cookies were a rage, Prachi also speaks of another highlight in her illustrious journey — learning royal icing from Sir Eddie Spence MBE.
A world-renowned baker, Eddie Spence received an MBE (a British honour awarded by the King or Queen for an achievement) from Her Late Majesty Queen Elizabeth II in 2000.
The master baker who spent close to eight decades in the industry was involved in the creation of nine cakes for the Royal Family, including wedding cakes for The Queen, Princess Margaret and Princess Diana.
Recounting how she got an opportunity to learn under the grand baker, Prachi says she had read about him during her initial years in baking. So, on learning that he was taking classes on royal icing in Bournemouth, United Kingdom, she emailed him hoping she would be one of the lucky ones to get selected. And she was.
In 2015, Prachi set sail to the United Kingdom, ready to take on an art that had originated in the 18th century.
Elaborating on the principle of royal icing, Prachi says the traditional recipe is made from egg whites. “The egg whites lend their strength and the icing, once dried, forms a 3D structure.”
On returning from the United Kingdom, Prachi spent eight months mining the internet and experimenting in her studio coming up with a substitute protein source to replace egg whites.
“I wanted to create an eggless version of royal icing, that vegans could use too,” she notes.
Today, her creation goes by the name, Vegan Eggless Royal Icing — a ready-to-use product by Sugarin, deployed by many cake artists for piping. The product is available in India, the US, the UK, Canada, Mexico and Malaysia, and has sold over one lakh units, says Prachi.
Meanwhile, in the midst of all she does, the cake artist continues to take orders for customised cakes, but limits these to five orders a month. So far, she has catered to “thousands of clients”.
Looking back on the journey, she says her favourite part of the day is going into the studio every morning brimming with new ideas.
“While the corporate way of life wasn’t painful, I wasn’t in a happy zone either. But baking gives me this freedom.”
She adds that the decision to test entrepreneurial waters was the best she ever made.
You can order Prachi’s vegan eggless royal icing here.
Edited by Pranita Bhat