Photos by Elizabeth Gelineau
If you’ve seen a cake created by Nour Hasan at a wedding, birthday or other celebration, chances are it is ingrained in your memory for not only being strikingly beautiful but also for being unlike any confection you’ve ever seen. Her business, Sukar Bakes, named for the Arabic noun meaning sugar, is notable for breathtaking hand-painted floral buttercream cakes and stunning French macarons. “I typically avoid getting my inspiration from another cake artist and challenge myself to be creative and unique” says Hasan. The innovative baker sat down with MB to talk all things behind the craft of cake and, as a special treat, shared her signature buttercream for readers to recreate in their own kitchens.
When did you begin baking?
I’ve always had a passion for baking and food, and I have a degree in nutrition. I especially enjoy baking and decorating, and I began experimenting more when I had my firstborn 13 years ago. I recall a video of my little one recording me in the kitchen with his tiny hands, shouting, “Mommy is the greatest baker in the world!” while I was decorating his birthday cake. It never occurred to me at that moment that it was the first step toward where I am today.
During the COVID-19 lockdown, a friend asked me to make her daughter a cake. I hesitated, but decided to take her offer, which was my first-ever order. A few months later, I was drowning in requests.
What continues to inspire you?
I feel a great joy in combining art and sweets. Every cake I create brings me unique satisfaction, knowing I am a part of the happiness or celebration of my customers. With every cake, I felt like I was unlocking a piece of me, a piece of who
I am as a baker, an artist and a mother.
I have been referred to as “Sukar” several times as my first name. With no doubt at all, I adore it and never correct it. “Sukar” is “sugar” in English, and can be used in some Arabic dialects to mean “sweetheart.” This simple ingredient name represents my cultural fusion in every aspect of my baking and artistry.
Where do your design ideas originate?
Inspiration comes from anywhere. Ceramic art, paintings and textiles. I experiment with many techniques – edible decorating mediums from rice paper to fondant. Recently,
I have enjoyed working with wafer paper. It’s edible with potato starch as its main ingredient. This wafer paper can be treated like regular paper, and you can sculpt and fold it to create three-dimensional art.
What is your favorite sweets to eat?
Cake scraps! Who doesn’t like cake scraps? They are every baker’s snack, lunch and
What’s your best cake?
That’s yet to come. I know it sounds very cliche, but I believe with practice and more knowledge, I will be setting the bar higher and higher with every order. My favorite is every single one I create until the next one.
How did you discover the palette knife technique that wins such accolades?
I am the youngest child of two artists in two different fields. Growing up, I witnessed and absorbed their craftsmanship, techniques and talent. I remember sitting from afar, watching them doing their magic, and always wondering what my gift would be.
The first time I recall playing with a palette knife was a few months after I started taking orders. I had an “aha” moment when I began to feel comfortable using it. This tool has become my friend, and I hope to create my own palette knife one day, with unique shapes that allow you to create beautiful floral and greenery finishes.
Any last words of wisdom?
Adore what you do and always be positive when something goes wrong. My favorite floral buttercream cake, my most-liked cake on social media, is a product of many failures.
To help kick-start your success, try decorating your next cake with Hasan’s buttercream recipe, which she uses for all palette knife cakes. “This recipe is the foundation of all palette knife buttercream,” she says. “It has the best texture and consistency you need.” You, too, can become a master caker with a little help and a lot of practice!
Sukar Bakes Swiss Meringue Buttercream
YIELDS 6 CUPS
300 grams fresh egg whites (from approximately 10 eggs)
500 grams granulated sugar (approximately 2 ½ cups)
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
600 grams unsalted butter, softened at room temperature (approximately 5 1/4 sticks
1. Using vinegar, clean the bowl of a stand mixer, a whisk and stand mixer whisk. This will help remove traces of fat to achieve the proper meringue consistency without deflating.
2. Place egg whites in the cleaned bowl, then add sugar and salt.
3. Place the bowl over a pot
of simmering water and whisk ingredients to combine. Whisk constantly until the mixture reaches 160 degrees on a candy thermometer. This temperature will pasteurize the eggs, making them safe to consume in the buttercream.
4. Remove the bowl from the heat and place on the base of a stand mixer fitted with the cleaned whisk attachment. Whip on high for 15 minutes. The mixture should have a fluffy consistency, and the bowl should be cool to the touch.
5. With the mixer running, gradually add butter in small pieces to avoid deflating the meringue.
6. Switch to a paddle attachment and continue beating buttercream on low speed for another 15 minutes, until smooth and silky. Patience is the secret to a smooth consistency perfect for palette knife decorating. Keep the paddle attachment beating on low for at least the full 15 minutes for optimal results.