#TheWomen

Layla AlSharif

Cake designer of your dreams

Layla AlSharif

Leading cake designer in Bahrain

“I always liked baking as a child. I would bake for school or my younger sister’s birthday. Often it was just a cake mix, but I loved doing it. I came up with interesting ways of decorating the cakes I made. I just had fun with it, that’s what I remember.

I never considered baking as a career when I was younger. I studied Communication and Human Relations in Canada and then got married and moved to Bahrain (I grew up in Dubai, but Bahrain was where our family was originally from). Here I worked in advertising and marketing roles, which I initially enjoyed, but after having two children, achieving a good work/life was challenging and I again turned to baking as my outlet for stress relief.

In 2011, a prominent baking store in Bahrain ran an introductory class for cake decoration. I jumped at the chance and enrolled in two of their four courses. After the first two courses, I used my new-found skills to make my children’s birthday cakes. Now when I look back at those creations, I can see that my designs weren’t particularly sophisticated, but I was so impressed with myself for creating them! When the cake store was looking at training new instructors, I put my name forward and showed them photos of the cakes I had made for my kids. They liked my work and I was thrilled when they sent me to Dubai for a weekend training course. I subsequently spent my weekends teaching basic cake decoration classes in Bahrain.

One of Layla’s extraordinary creations; the hanging cake

Designing cakes made me so happy at a time when work did not. Within a month of teaching cake decoration, I made the decision to leave my job and study confectionery art more seriously. Leaving a stable job and financial security was not a decision I took lightly. It wasn’t that I was going from one stable job to another; I was going from a stable job to the unknown. It took a lot of guts to do it. It was the most nerve-wracking move, but also a very freeing one! Lots of people thought I was crazy, but I knew what was true in my heart, so whatever anyone else said, it didn’t make a difference. Just the fact that my husband was on board was enough. I couldn’t have done it without his support.

That summer, I attended an intensive confectionery arts course in Canada. The course focused primarily on cake design and I learned so much from teachers who were experts in the field. When I was starting out, all my role models in cake design were outside of the Gulf. In fact, there were no Arabs making the kinds of cakes that I aspired to create. I came back to Bahrain and began working on the cakes of my dreams under the label ‘Sugar & Lace’. Due to the wide reach of Instagram, my profile grew, and I began getting positive feedback from within the Middle East for my fresh and elegant designs.

Another one of Layla’s exquisite creations; a hand painted cake

I think we can’t underestimate the way social media has allowed women in this region to break barriers. In relation to cake design, for the first time we could see firsthand what people were doing all over the world and bring those techniques to Bahrain. I got into cake design at a time when very few Bahraini women were doing it. As I had no role models, I aimed to set an example for other Bahraini girls. Before I began doing cake decorating professionally, the concept of ‘A’aib’ (shame) was often mentioned to me. That I shouldn’t let people know that I went from a prestigious role as a manager to working in a kitchen. For me, it was important to show that there is nothing embarrassing or shameful about the transition that I made to follow my dreams. I think I’ve opened doors for young people. I think that has been one of the biggest gifts from my journey.

For many years sugar was my passion and livelihood, but after quitting sugar for health reasons a couple of years ago, I decided I had to re-evaluate whether I could still wholeheartedly operate a business which revolved entirely around sugar. I was torn as I’ve always aimed to be true to myself. I still loved cake decoration and the passion for design was there, but my views on sugar were changing. As humans, we are always evolving, and I think it’s ok to change. It’s a natural part of life.

Rawk Me cake, decorated by Layla

A few months ago, I began trying out sugar-free desserts created by a business called Rawk Me. I fell in love with the taste of these desserts and knowing that they were made without sugar and with fresh, dairy-free and gluten-free ingredients was amazing. As delicious as they were, I thought the desserts could look prettier, so I reached out to the lady who owned Rawk Me (Yusra) and said, “I love your products, and they taste amazing, but maybe I could teach you how to decorate them better.” Fortunately, she accepted my feedback and rather than me teaching her, we decided to collaborate. Since January we have been working together in our own kitchen space. Yusra creates beautiful, sugar-free, healthy desserts and I decorate them. I’m really excited about our partnership as the products are something I genuinely believe in and I still get to express myself as a cake artist.

My advice to any young person today is to follow your passion, stay true to what you believe in and be confident and prepared to try new things – even if no one else is doing it! Also, be at peace with re-evaluation, change and growth; it’s all a part of being true to yourself.”

Rawk Me Unicorn cake, designed by Layla
Layla AlSharif and Yusra Rifai of Rawk Me

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