Scrolling on Instagram, I came across one of the cutest cakes I’d ever seen.
And the artistry was on point. I could instantly tell what—or who—the cake was supposed to be. It was Noelle, from the popular action roleplay game Genshin Impact, but as a little teddy bear!
As I continued lurking on the baker’s profile, I saw that they had also baked other characters from the game, as well as other popular cultural icons such as Wednesday Addams, Pompompurin, and even a Furby.
As a Genshin Impact fan myself, though, I was perhaps the most pleased whenever I came across any design based on the game’s characters.
The person behind all these delightful characters is Ika Natasha Yahya, also known as Minkao of Minka Cakes.
A home-based baker in Shah Alam, Minka is an accountant by training and used to teach economics and accounting to IGCSE students. She had decided to pursue accountancy as her father, who owns a business, had taught her the importance of business management.
“I never had thought during those times I would be here changing my profession and handling my own business,” she shared. “But eventually everything is connected somehow.”
Kicking off her baking career
Other than entrepreneurship, the baking gene seems to run in the family too. Two of Minka’s sisters are bakers as well.
One is baking in Terengganu, where Minka herself hails from, while the other is based in Cyberjaya. Plus, her older sister runs a small coffee shop in Denai Alam.
“Growing [up in] a family of 10, food is always in our top chart, and desserts come in first,” she explained.
It was actually at her cousin’s bakery in Ampang, The Flour Whisperer, where she started her baking career as an assistant baker.
“After I worked as an assistant baker, I really wanted to create my own custom bakes as I love to go freely with my creativity,” Minka explained. “And I know I can only do this if I have my own business instead of working with someone.”
As most of her family members are working in this industry, they were able to help and support her in the early days of Minka Cakes.
“During my early startup, my sister would come and help me prepare bakes when the orders are in high volume,” Minka shared. “And Minka Cakes started off from a small baking room which is at my sister’s house. Just recently we have moved to a new and bigger place.”
Creating something of her own
Even with her family’s support, though, things were rough in the beginning.
Although she loves baking and decorating cakes, she truly did not exactly enjoy managing the business.
“As I said before, I love to create art, but to sell them you need proper business management,” she said.
Plus, doing things as a one-woman show can get tiring and complicated at times. She had to handle baking, cake decorating, packing, contacting customers, and her brand’s social media—a seemingly never-ending process for a lone baker.
“It was quite a hard time to start,” she admitted. “But I managed to create something I love.”
As a lone baker, Minka mostly deals with small cakes, which are cost and time effective. Even with smaller-sized cakes, she takes a limited number of slots per day.
“Sometimes, I have to reject bigger orders because my hands are full,” she explained.
While small cakes had been popular during the pandemic when gatherings were not allowed, Minka noticed that people are starting to host parties in bigger groups. Thus, they would prefer bigger cakes instead of mini ones.
“But still, my mini cakes are a hit for the ones who like to celebrate things small and private,” she said.
Minka’s prices start at RM60 for the smallest-sized cake, though prices depend on not just size but design as well.
Leveraging trends and interests
Starting out with daily bakes such as cheesecakes and chocolate moist cakes, Minka eventually began to create vintage designs.
From there, people began to take notice of her brand, as vintage cakes were quite popular at the time. Thus, orders for custom cakes began to trickle in.
However, there were already many bakers in the region specialising in vintage cakes. Yet, instead of seeing the saturated market as competition, Minka believes it’s an opportunity for everyone.
“It makes people know more about customised cakes and that they can customise cakes for any kind of occasion,” she said. “And the customers can choose from a variety of bakers to try their bakes instead of going to only one.”
With that said, Minka does have regulars that enjoy her decorations and flavours. She takes pride in the fact that her cakes and fillings are all made from scratch.
“I would say my design is quite different from other bakers around me because I am inspired by Lambeth and Rococo style,” she shared. “Not a lot of bakers can do the same techniques due to the intricacy of the design.”
Did you know: The Lambeth method is a classic cake design that uses a royal icing over-piping technique that creates intricate depth using lots of layers of icing. Meanwhile, Rococo consists of cocoa flavoured cream, layered with choc chip cookie pieces, and whirls of cocoa ganache between three layers of moist chocolate cake, covered with fine chocolate flavoured shavings.Craftsy / Chateau Gateaux
Some may consider vintage cakes to be a trend, and not necessarily one that will last very long. To this, Minka shared that she isn’t concerned at all, as she has never only focused on trends.
“I am here to create edible art,” she clarified. “And I will always change my designs from time to time.”
Coming up with a beary good design
While vintage cakes used to be her bestseller, Minka’s Little Kuma (Japanese for “bear”) designs have now become her most popular product.
Originally inspired by a Korean baker named Synthesis, Minka tried her hand at creating a Sailor Moon-themed cake, which her sister gave to a friend of hers.
As a fan of Genshin Impact, that friend then asked Minka to create a custom piece inspired by the characters.
And with that, a whole new world of possibilities opened up before the home-based baker.
“I really love cosplay but never had tried to get involved myself in one,” Minka added. “And I guess that’s why I continue to create my Little Kumas. For them to do all those cute cosplays. And at the same time, they’re edible!”
From games to anime, Minka has been able to “cosplay” vicariously through her teddy bear cakes.
“I never get tired of creating them because of my customers,” Minka expressed. “They are very creative in choosing the theme for the cake, and I love seeing those happy faces upon receiving my cakes.”
Growing the baking community
Having just moved to a newer and bigger place, Minka is planning to hold her own bake classes and workshops. These lessons will focus more on cake decorating at beginner and intermediate levels.
This new space marks a new chapter for Minka and shows how far she has come since she started her own homebased bakery.
“Everyone knows starting a business is hard, especially when you do everything alone,” Minka said. “Leaving my full-time job to start a business is a huge step for me. Never gonna lie, I was quite financially unstable during those times. But I just kept on going.”
Now, years later, it seems like her perseverance has paid off after all.
Featured Image Credit: Minka Cakes