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Tongan cakemaker satiating the Kingdom’s sweet-tooths

PHOTOS: My Cake House by L&H

Pillowy moist cakes lovingly adorned with tapa patterns, stretching web-like over fondant canvases; pineapple pies smothered in velvety blankets of custard and cream; tastebuds set alight by clouds of sweet, buttery swirls atop sumptuous bite-sized cupcakes…

These saccharine confectionaries are what you can expect to find when you visit My Cake House by L&H online, one of the few independently owned cake companies operating in Tonga.

A self-taught pastry chef, Lola Liava’a Tonga embarked on her cake journey together with her husband, Howard, in 2013.

“While job hunting, I had time to experiment with baking, and because it was the easiest thing for me to take to family functions. I started devouring many cooking shows on Food Network TV, [searching] the internet and social media for inspiration.”

With a background in Environmental Resource Management, Lola has worked at the Department of Environment in Tonga, and for both the Auckland and Wellington City Councils. But with a talented family of cooks and bakers, she couldn’t resist the culinary call.

“My Mum is an old school baker who never really used recipes. She would measure ingredients with normal coffee mugs. She would add or remove things according to how it looks and feels, and I have certainly picked up on that too.”

“My favourite recipes are the ones passed down from family – my Grandma, my Mum, my sister (who is also a food blogger) and Aunties.”

Satiating sweet-tooths around Aotearoa and the Kingdom, My Cake House has become the go-to for all occasions, even gracing the tables of Pacific royalty. In 2016, the couple were given the ominous task of baking for the late Queen Mother HM Queen Halaevalu Mata’aho’s 90th birthday.

Lola and Howard created 150 of these vintage-style mini fruit cakes for the late Queen Mother’s 90th Birthday.

Lola remembers, “We were asked to make 150 mini traditional fruit cakes decorated with a vintage theme. We made them in Wellington, then they travelled to Hamilton, then to Auckland and finally to Tonga.”

“We were also very honoured to create the birthday cake which was a mini cake tower for His Majesty King Tupou VI’s birthday celebration at Ha’apai in 2018.”

While they’ve received their fair share of tricky orders, Lola says Tonga’s limited cake supplies and decorations presents its own set of challenges.

“If you do find [supplies] here, they’re very expensive. The quality of ingredients are also very costly. Hence, the reason why quality cakes cost a lot.”

That hasn’t stopped her clientele from placing orders, especially during these times of Covid-19. However, the pandemic has stalled some of the bigger plans for their business.

“We are currently building a shop and we were planning to open around July this year,” says Lola.

“Unfortunately, it has been put on hold because my husband Howard is stranded in NZ due to the Covid-19 situation… I still work a full-time job, and Howard helps with most of the prepping, so that has been a major setback.”

Howard has been stranded in NZ since the lockdown, a major setback for the couples business plans.

It’s not certain when the borders will open, but Lola and Howard are optimistic things will work out for the best. “We trust that God always has a plan, his timing is already perfect. We want to bring quality cakes to Tonga and most importantly to help our families and give back to our community.”

On a positive note, the couple recently received the news they were selected to enter the ‘World’s Award-Winning Cake Specialist’ competition. Handpicked by the team at Amazing Cake Ideas, Lola was thrilled to be chosen.

“We were very surprised when they messaged us on Facebook that they have picked one of our wedding cakes to be on it. I shared the link on my personal Facebook page, and I didn’t think it would get a reaction,” Lola says.

“But our Tongan community has been amazing, supporting our work. We wouldn’t be able to do what we do if it wasn’t for our people supporting and ordering our cakes. We were very humbled and all I could think about was putting Tonga on the world map with the cakes.”

by Alice Lolohea

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