This gem is the “baby” of 31-year-old Jandri van Zyl, a qualified pastry chef whose business took off unintentionally after customers at her former coffee shop in Durbanville couldn’t get enough of her velvet cakes.
Van Zyl opened her second shop in Loop Street, Cape Town, in 2015 following the success of her first shop in Bellville.
“All the cakes in here are my babies. While some people have pictures of their children and dogs on their phone, I have pictures of cake, cake and more cake,” she laughs.
Van Zyl says she sold cake slices from her coffee shop so that her customers could have “something sweet to go with their good coffee”.
“When I started the coffee shop in Durbanville six years ago, my main focus was cake because that was the one thing lacking in that area; most coffee shops only did about three types of cake,” she says.
“I wanted to create an old school tuisnywerheid (home industry), but I wanted to make it trendy and modern so people would have a bigger variety of cakes to choose from. I had no sweet things on my breakfast menu - like flapjacks and pancakes - because I wanted people to go for the cakes.” It worked.
“The cakes became a hit and suddenly people wanted a whole cake and not just a slice.”
Van Zyl says she never thought about selling large cakes until the orders came streaming in and the business expanded.
“It was all unintentional,” she says. “I decided to open a kitchen where we made all our cakes. We called it the Velvet Cake Company because our first famous cake was a red velvet cake, and it still is. The red velvet is our signature cake because it's unique. It wasn’t a traditional red velvet - it was a velvet with the meringue that’s toasted with a red rose on it.”
Today the Velvet Cake Company makes cakes in all the colours of the rainbow (and more), so it comes as no surprise that their rainbow cake is the most popular.
“We started with red velvet, but we also have pink velvet, blue velvet and purple velvet. It’s the same recipe, just in a different colour to add a personal touch to your party.
“The rainbow cake is our most popular cake because it’s such a fun cake. We bake each of the six layers individually. We sell about 500 of the rainbow cakes in a month,” Van Zyl says.
She prides herself in their perfect icing-to-cake ratio, which means no dry cakes.
“So you when you bite into the cake you get the taste of the cake and the icing. It’s not dry and not overly sweet.”
That has led to even people without a sweet tooth appreciating the cakes.
“We see ourselves as cake converters, so we tell them to try our cakes, and once they do, they usually come back for more.”
Van Zyl owes the success of her business to the quality of her ingredients and the personal touch and attention given to every cake that leaves her shop.
“We make between 2000 and 3000 velvet cakes each month and 14 types of velvet cake with a twist, including lemon meringue and cheesecake."
On 2017 cake trends, Van Zyl says the naked cake is still a big trend.
“It has a rustic look where you can still see the cake and the layers through the icing.
“It’s not necessarily a perfect cake, but people love it. Things like the meringue, Swiss meringue, butter cream, and cream cheese and chocolate ganache are also big trends.
"People also like things that are a little more natural and nostalgic, like sprinkles and candles, which are also quite trendy.”
Van Zyl says it's important to note that adding food colour to a sponge cake doesn't make is a red velvet.
“Red velvet is a traditional southern American cake. It is the velvet recipe, which is basically a buttermilk cake made with oil and eggs, which give it its texture.
The buttermilk makes it soft and velvety and the red food colouring reacts to some of the ingredients in the cake to create the texture and taste.
“Adding red food colouring to just any sponge cake recipe does not make it a red velvet cake; it just makes it a red cake.”