Is it possible to make a lactose and gluten-free or vegan cake that looks and tastes exactly like the original version made with sugar, cow’s milk and wheat flour available in a classic pastry shop? There is a little cake shop in Győr, Hungary, where it is, indeed, possible, in a quite extraordinary manner. Zaandra Cake and Elevate, the studio responsible for Budapest’s new umbrella visual identity—a freshman in the cake business— brings an unmatched combination of flavors and design into our lives. Instead of remakes of Pinterest cakes, they offer a strategically planned and consciously composed line of desserts, in the spirit of experience. We asked Alexandra Szakács, the owner of Zaandra Cake and the founders of Elevate, Paris Noble and Zoltán Horváth.
Creation and a creative milieu have always been a part of Alexandra Szakács’s life. She set out to be a fashion designer initially, but finally she found her true calling in the world of desserts. Even though it may seem like these two lines of work are very different from each other, Szandra has found the creative freedom and workflow that really allows her to fulfill her dreams in both areas, by keeping the delicate balance between flavor and aesthetics.
She made her first cake five years ago, and it has been one of her main goals since the very beginning to bring a change into people’s dessert consumption habits.
“Eating a piece of cake should not only be a sugary, sweet whim: it should rather be a ritual that we experience with our entire being. We should cherish the moment of every bite, while we concentrate on nothing but the flavors in our mouth, and on how they make us feel. Thus, the piece of dessert will not only be a mandatory sweet ending to our meals, but a true experience,” Szandra said.
Szandra develops each of her recipes on her own: she likes to create freely, in her own style. Even though Szandra herself is not vegan, she has plenty of vegan cakes in her repertoire—she likes to experiment with flavors and new ingredients. Her latest favorites are black sesame, blonde chocolate and passion fruit, and she uses pistachio perhaps the most frequently—many customers have fallen in love with her pistachio-white chocolate cheesecake and vegan pistachio brownie.
“I wish to prove that vegan desserts do not necessarily come with a compromise or a regret. I keep working on my recipes until I arrive at the perfect combination of ingredients that will result in a version that is eerily similar to the classic cake containing ingredients of animal origin—I am very proud of that,” Szandra told us.
„The stars aligned”
Owing to the experiences of the past years and her clientele, Zaandra Cake reached a new phase: Szandra plans to open her own cake studio in the near future, and, of course, a well-functioning brand identity and a proper concept are indispensable for this to succeed. She reached out to childhood friends of hers, Paris Noble and Zoltán Horváth, the founders of Elevate engaged in strategy-focused branding and graphic design, and asked them to design a logo for her, which ultimately resulted in a long-term partnership.
“Szandra and Zoli were classmates in Kovács Margit Art School in Győr: skaters used to meet up in front of its building, it was a very popular spot—this is where I came into the picture. First I got friends with Szandra, we hung out a lot, then she moved to Budapest. Then Zoli and I became friends, and later on, colleagues—first in Dank Skate, then under the aegis of Elevate. When Szandi contacted us to design a logo for Zaandra in exchange for a lifetime supply of cakes, we said yes of course, but as we progressed with the work, we felt that this could be something more—the stars aligned somehow. And so we teamed up: Zoli and I enjoy it very much that for once we are giving a framework system and a smart brand and business strategy to a tangible and, on top, palatable product and service instead of a digital project,” Paris commented.
They hold meetings once a week, where they determine the tasks of the upcoming period and set the new goals. One of the first steps was reducing the selection. They limited the initial fifty types of cakes to twelve by now, in two price categories. Paris brings up Netflix as a counter-example here: you keep browsing through all the great movies and finally you end up watching none of them. In her opinion, MANU+ pizzeria does it right: this is the strategy they decided to adopt in Zaandra’s case as well. They think the palette should consist of less, but more high-quality items, which also promotes the formation of a coherent product selection.
Their collaboration is based on the approach Szandra has been following since the very beginning: to give people an experience through cakes. They plan to transform Zaandra Cake into a human-centered and customer-oriented company, offering gastronomic products of unique flavors and designs. Their long-term goals include building a chain of stores in Budapest and Győr, but they would also like to bring their services to neighboring countries.
Photos: Nikolett Schreiber