It’s said that one dog year equates to seven human years, so a dog’s birthday is truly an occasion to celebrate. And as pet owners become increasingly willing to spend on their dogs, they are also happier to mark birthdays or adoption days with occasion cakes that both dog and owner can enjoy.
For these dogs’ doting owners, it’s worth spending upwards of S$70 on a pretty treat that’s made with premium, organic, human-grade ingredients, since only the best will do for Fido.
That’s especially true if the dog has special dietary restrictions, allergies or age-related conditions. And it’s not just for birthdays – many are also ordering cakes and tarts as special treats to share with their ailing dogs before it’s sadly time to say goodbye.
Whatever the occasion, the doggie cake trend is gaining momentum, as we found when we visited three doggie bakeries specialising in all-natural treats.
At Barking Good, founder Sim Dionne said that demand for their cakes has tripled in the last year or so.
As for Gwen Tan of Superdog Kitchen, a home business specialising in doggie tarts, she now sees about 15 per cent more orders, compared to a year ago.
Even the cost of the ingredients has risen with demand, said The Barkery’s Ann Marie Chua, adding that they do try their best to keep products affordable for their customers.
Still, it seems dog owners are happy to spend top dollar on their fur kids. These treats aren’t your basic pupcakes – they’re carefully engineered works of art. And because they are made only with natural ingredients, hoomans can partake in the feast.
To be able to share the same cake with your canine bestie on a special occasion and know that it’s a healthy yet delicious treat – well, to a pawrent, that’s worth all the licks on the face in the world.
Years ago, when Ann Marie Chua, 29, got her golden retriever Toby, the runt of the litter with digestive problems, she realised that there was a growing awareness and demand amongst dog owners for better food for their dogs. Since Toby responded well to her aunt’s home recipes, they decided to open the gourmet dog bakery The Barkery in 2011.
“Dogs don’t have a choice in what they’re fed. And the majority of commercially produced pet food is full of fillers, artificial preservatives, additives, flavouring and colouring," said Chua.
"So, it’s very important that our products are made from all-natural, premium, human-grade ingredients. We don’t use fondant, sugar or colouring. It’s very important for us to produce something that is good for them, and that, just as importantly, they enjoy eating," she said.
One of The Barkery’s best-selling designs is their Burger Cake, which consists of a real beef patty sandwiched between meatloaf buns. The accoutrements are made from potato coloured with natural ingredients. For instance, the “cheese” is coloured yellow with turmeric, the “lettuce” is coloured green with spirulina and the “ketchup” is coloured red using beetroot. The single-patty burger cake costs S$68 for a 1kg cake.
They also customise cakes according to customers’ requests – and there have been some unusual ones.
“There was a request for a cake to be made entirely of pure durian, and in the shape of a trophy because the dog had just won an agility competition, and durian was his favourite food. We managed to do it and that was an accomplishment,” Chua said.
“We also have requests from customers whose dogs have extreme allergies and can’t eat most proteins. We have made cakes out of crocodile meat, kangaroo meat and even frog meat.”
Sim Dionne, 25, who was motivated by the desire to give her malti-poo Noodles more wholesome treats, opened Barking Good in 2014.
“When we come up with new cakes or treats, we make sure that the dog’s experience is at the forefront of our minds. It has to taste and smell good,” she said.
One of Barking Good’s most popular designs, the Nigiri Sushi Cake, comprises a hand-shaped meat patty covered in what looks like grains of rice. These are actually made of potato and each grain is rolled by hand.
The slab of “salmon” on top is made from sweet potato and decorated with potato to create the marbling effect. Other ingredients include carrot, broccoli, beet, carob, spirulina, rosemary and even activated charcoal, which is used for the “seaweed”.
A 1kg Nigiri Sushi Cake costs between S$150 and S$200, depending on the type of meat selected for the filling.
“We use only all-natural ingredients in our cakes and goodies. The colours in the cakes are derived from plants or fruits,” Sim said.
This natural approach has created issues when customers want cakes with fancy colours, such as neon ones. "We always explain our philosophy of using only natural ingredients, and we work out a design that looks good and is healthy for the pets.”
It can get emotional in the kitchen when a cake is meant for a dog’s last birthday or last meal – when owners request for the cake to say "Goodbye, we love you", she said.
“At the same time, we are very honoured to be part of the journey of saying goodbye to a beloved pet.”
Superdog Kitchen, which specialises in doggie tarts, was born in 2012 when Gwen Tan, 33, started baking for her golden retriever, which had developed irritable bowel disease at the age of four. Back then, all the ingredients had to be imported. But in recent years, and with growing awareness, the former makeup artist has been able to find and work with local suppliers.
Many of Tan's customers have dogs with allergies and sensitive stomachs. It isn’t easy, she said, to concoct something they can eat and “still make it look like a celebration”.
Superdog Kitchen’s Aloha Summer tart certainly fits the bill. The eye-catching confection is topped with mango, papaya, kiwi, apple, strawberries, blackberries and blueberries. The organic fruits are personally selected by Tan from her wet market suppliers.
The nine-inch Aloha Summer tart costs S$85, while a tart of the same size with just one type of fruit, such as strawberry or mango, costs S$70. Mini tarts, sold in threes, are also available for small dogs.
All are handmade from scratch by Tan herself. Each tart’s pastry is made with chickpea flour, which is free of wheat, gluten, soy and corn; olive oil instead of butter or shortening; and cage-free eggs. It’s then baked and filled with doggie ice cream, which is hand-churned from organic Greek yoghurt and flavoured with manuka honey, organic vanilla beans or pure durian.
The durian flavour, Tan said, is the most popular – customers can choose between D24 and Mao Shan Wang.
She also makes cheesecakes – including durian cheesecakes – quiches and meat tarts. None of the treats contain sugar, salt, preservatives or colouring. “Although there is no seasoning, it’s still very tasty because I always make sure the flavours pair well,” she said.
It all comes from a desire to enjoy experiences together with her dogs. “For me, cooking has always been about love and family, and dogs are family,” she said.
That is why, even though Tan has been approached by investors, she prefers to keep the business small. “If my hands are full, I won’t accept more orders, and I won’t accept last-minute orders because that would compromise the quality. Nothing good comes out of rushing things.”
Tan also makes tarts for dogs, who are nearing the end of their lives, as their final treats. Flavours are especially important to whet their appetite. "That’s very special for me because dogs don’t have very long lives, and my customers are dog owners who care about their dogs," she said.