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January 5, 2012

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Luxury cakes to match every fantasy

STACKED red gift boxes with a qipao pattern and gold mandarin buttons, a black camera with lens and flash; a blue velvet jewel box containing a diamond necklace - all these are luxury, customized cakes from the kitchen of Israeli pastry chef Revital Melech.

Or she might whip up a Tiffany box with silver ribbon and teddy bear sitting on top, a Lamborghini, a Chanel bag or a bottle of wine.

"This is my baking style, a combination of modern cake dressing and classical culinary technique," says 32-year-old Melech, who came to Shanghai two years ago and runs Revital's Studio Cake Boutique in the Gubei area. There, virtually anything that can be imagined can be baked.

Melech says that the first bite is always taken with the eyes.

She remembers the sweet aroma of cookies and cakes baked by her grandmother.

"I realized there's one food, cake, that easily makes everyone smile. So I decided to open a recipe book," she says. Melech completed her mandatory military service in Israel and then went to New York, studying at the Culinary Institute of America, in upstate New York.

She fell in love with the precision and perfectionism of baking. "You can't go back once you're done, and that tests my limits," she says, noting that in the world of pastry, one more gram of baking powder could lead to a failure.

For five years she worked as a pastry chef in top restaurants in New York, including a Michelin-starred restaurant. She then decided on a China adventure.

Baking wedding cakes is big business in Shanghai since many people are choosing Western-style weddings.

"There's more demand for a unique wedding cake that impresses all the guests," she says.

It's more challenging to be a custom pastry chef than to work in a Michelin-starred restaurant, since the two approaches are totally different.

"In a restaurant, cake is presented as a dessert, so nice presentation and flavor are the chef's main focus. But for a wedding party, the cake is shown in its entirety, as a full package, enlivening the atmosphere, matching the venue decor and making the celebration more festive," the chef says.

Good communication with clients is essential, but not everyone knows what they want or how to express it. More than half Melech's clients are Chinese, so there are issues of culture and language.

But she asks a lot of questions, general and then specific, and she shows pictures of cakes she has baked for various occasions.

"Usually, I start with easy questions in Chinese. Although most of my Chinese clients speak English, communicating with them in their first language helps them to relax," the chef says.

She asks about clients' favorite colors, shapes, patterns and flavors. For weddings, she also asks about dates, theme, decor, lighting, table linens and guest favors.

"The bride's wedding gown is another important reference for me in designing the cake," Melech says. "Its color, pattern and fabric, even lace, embroidery and crystal beading are nice elements of cake decoration. Reflecting these elements makes the cake unique, belonging only to this couple."

Hearing the couple's love story and experience can help the chef devise unique elements for the cake.

She uses fresh seasonal ingredients. For spring and summer weddings, she uses more fruits to give the cake a lighter and refreshing taste. In winter she uses more chestnut, caramel and chocolate, making the cake comparatively heavier and richer.

As in the fashion industry, so in the kitchen. There are trends in cooking and baking cakes.

In the United States, there's a trend toward cakes with geometrical patterns and black and white colors. Presentation is also changing, from a single, tiered cake to a main cake with smaller desserts and cakes such as cupcakes.

Sourcing inspiration

Every cake is a challenge and Melech draws inspiration from the city, its culture and daily life.

"I enjoy riding my bicycle to explore the city and small shops in the former French concession are often sources of inspiration," she says.

The qipao cake is partly inspired by a visit to a tailor shop showing qipao and displaying various fabrics embroidered with Chinese characters and flowers.

She also buys postcards bearing different Chinese patterns and symbols, using these as a reference for patterns of icing and whipped cream.

Melech also draws on Chinese food culture.

"I love the sweet-scented osmanthus flower and used the blossom as an ingredient in dessert, just like the locals. The final taste is fabulous."

She now is experimenting to incorporate new Chinese flavors, using ingredients such as green tea, black sesame and sweet red bean paste.

Last week she created a new dessert, bitter chocolate mousse served with sesame paste ice cream and ginger sauce.

She has learned various customs and taboos, such as making a four-tier cake - the numeral four (si) can also be pronounced as "death" in Chinese.

Melech is still learning to please the picky local palate and learn the taste vocabulary of Chinese.

"Many Chinese confuse 'richness' with 'sweetness' when tasting my chocolate cake made without sugar," she says. "The heavy sweetness they identify is actually the rich taste of the high-quality, 70 percent cocoa that I use."

For more information and ordering cakes, please visit

Hazelnut cake


Hazelnut flour (or finely ground hazelnuts) 85g; all-purpose flour 142g; baking powder 5g; unsalted butter (room temperature) 113g; sugar 298g; salt 1/4 tsp; egg whites 113g; milk (room temperature) 170g;


1. Preheat oven to 180 degrees Celsius. Spray the pan with non-stick spray and line the bottom with parchment paper.

2. Sift together the flour, salt and baking powder in a large bowl. After sifted, add the hazelnut flour and set aside.

3. Combine the butter and sugar in the bowl of a mixer fitted with paddle attachment and beat on medium speed until light and fluffy.

4. Turn mixer on low and gradually add the egg whites.

5. Alternately add flour mixture and milk to butter mixture in two batches. Scrape bowl between each addition and beat until thoroughly combined. Mix at medium for 20 seconds.

6. Pour batter into pan and bake for 35-40 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean.

7. Cool for 40 minutes. Remove it by running metal spatula or knife along the insides of the pan.

8. Flip cake over onto another plate and peel away parchment.

Revital Melech
Pastry chef at Revital's Studio

Q: Describe a dessert you'll always remember.
A: Sahlab, a drinkable pudding made of ground orchid bulbs, a popular dessert in the Middle East.

Q: If you were not a chef, what would you be?
A: Jewelry designer, also an artistic job with creativity.

Q: What's your favorite Shanghai restaurant?
A: Madison. The chef Austin Hu always cooks with high-quality local ingredients.

Q: What makes a good pastry chef?
A: Being open and precise.

Q: What's the best advice you've ever received?
A: Follow your dream.


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