PESHAWAR: Placing toffee covered chocolate bars and vanilla wafers in a guest’s plate, the Khattak sisters smile, confident that their cupcakes will be liked. While their father did not encourage the business as he feared his daughters will gain fame — something that was not looked at benevolently in Pukhtun culture — the girls did not let that hinder them.
Rashmina, 24, and Pashmina, 23, started baking in 2010 – a time when there was no concept of designer cakes or cupcakes in the whole province. They learnt the art of baking on a trial and error basis and today, their cakes are not only fulfilling the sweet tooth requirement of people in Peshawar, but are famous throughout Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa.
The Khattak sisters have shared their secrets with women from remote areas of the province so that they can develop the art and become financially emancipated.
Defying norms and starting a business without relying on anybody was by no means an easy undertaking for Khattak sisters. At first, they used to see designs and fascinating products on the internet and message the bakers to seek assistance. However, that did not work out.
“The designers, particularly who make cakes in Dubai, refused to guide us or cooperate with us,” Rashmina told The Express Tribune.
The lack of support from their father was another issue. However, when Meena’s delight became a burgeoning business and their father saw the diligence and commitment of his daughters, his encouragement became inevitable. “It was never about money,” Pashmina said. “We wanted to promote our art and hone our skills and talent and seeing that, our father became encouraging.”
“I have seen fathers who are stubborn and think it is a taboo for girls to work like this – even my father wanted to me to pursue dentistry in which I have a degree but I wanted to showcase my art and my mother was my greatest supporter,” Rashmina added. The sisters said finding suppliers was difficult.
“There was no one to guide us and we had to go alone in cabs to find boxes, printers and talk to people about marketing,” Pashmina said. Rashmina said her disappointment at start was apparent but she stood her ground and continued her work despite hindrances. “I came to the conclusion that nobody will stand for you and you have to help yourself,” she added.
According to Rashmina, people’s envy when her cakes did remarkably well was also apparent. “It is but natural and today I am just glad people have learned a lot from my work and make recipes I created on my own.”
Rashmina said she learnt the art on her own. After a series of trial and error proceedings, she realised what makes better cakes, what makes better toppings and what gives fondant cakes intricacy of design and finesse.
At the beginning there was no competition as the concept was new for the people in the city. “People did not know what a designer cake was and now the first thing they want for an occasion is a designer cake,” Rashmina said.
The sisters started taking orders on social media and very soon phones would not cease to ring at Meena’s Delight. Today, these cakes are made and sold nationally as well as internationally.
A large number of people—young and old—prefer to gift cupcakes and designer cakes to people these days and demand for the home based cakes in the city is high. The newly opened bakeries offered me to join their business but the sisters preferred to go ahead on their own – a home based venture for the people of Peshawar.
The variety of cakes is vast – red velvet, black forest, toffee crunch, cheese, Cadbury, fudge, vanilla, butter cream, Nutella, Kit Kat, Twix, Snickers, Ferrero Rocher and fondant. However, it is not only the presentation that lures people but also their taste. Khattak sisters purchase ingredients from abroad so ensure premium quality of their cakes. They want to open a café in the city very soon that will offer customers a setting as sweet as their cakes.
Solidarity with women
The Khattak sisters believe nothing was unattainable if people strive hard enough.
Both sisters developed their business on their own because they believed in themselves. “Every girl in K-P should pursue whatever she is good at – everyone has a hidden talent which should be exhibited and polished,” Rashmina said. She has taught baking to many girls in the provinces, particularly those from villages and far-flung areas so they can learn, cook and become independent.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 24th, 2016.