by Dzenita Mehic Saracevic
When Dijana Zaric of DG Cakes (DG stands for delicious and gorgeous) arrived at one of the sites of the Forest Hills Art Walk in May, she brought an abundance of her small tasty sweets but also her equipment: white cake stands with lace-like trims, serving utensil, latex gloves and facial masks.
When she is in her kitchen with her cakes, no one is allowed to enter and do much there without a hat, gloves and even a mask, and her cooking surfaces are always cleaned and sanitized thoroughly. When she talks about this, she laughs: “I know I am not normal in that way! My husband says I am a freak, but feeding people is a serious business and cleanliness is extremely important to me.”
Zaric applies the same intensity to the process of creating a cake. When she bakes and decorates, she is completely immersed in the process, oblivious to any other movements or sounds, making sure that every single detail is executed to perfection.
“Every new cake is different than the previous one,” Zaric says, “just as every person and every celebration is special and unique. I do not copy my old cakes or somebody else’s. My imagination is too full for that. I also get inspired by other things I enjoy doing such as making jewelry, sewing and doing decoupage.” Reading and helping others are among her other favorite activities, and these also intertwine with her work.
When I saw some of her cakes for the first time I was almost sure that her background was in fine arts or sculpture. I’d look at photos of her creations trying to find the cake, my eyes so perfectly deceived by a bottle of an extravagant drink, a merry-go-round, a monster, designer purse or a perfume – all 100 percent edible.
Once she even made a table-size World Bank building for a special celebration organized for an outgoing manager.
Whatever she creates, even something relatively ordinary like a winter, Bible or Disney theme or a flowery cake, it is always an exceptionally beautiful work. But there’s more to Zaric’s cakes than beauty.
“Often,” she says, “you admire the cake’s design and decoration, but you get disappointed with its taste and ingredients.”
Not so with Zaric’s cakes, which are usually a revelation for her customers. They have at least three layers of cake and three layers of filling. The ingredients are organic and fresh. She uses mascarpone instead of butter, very little or no flour, and not very much sugar.
“I have been influenced by Austrian ways of making sweets,” she says. Her home country Bosnia and Herzegovina used to be under the Austro-Hungarian rule. “The recipes originally came from my mother, who was a lawyer and a professor at a school, but every morning, before going to work, she would make a cake for us as we could not imagine having lunch without a dessert!”
When Zaric arrived in the US in the aftermath of the Bosnian war she did not have any idea of what the future would hold. Her background was in social work (she received her diploma at the University of Sarajevo) and management (after obtaining a European Quality Manager diploma in Austria, she became the youngest manager of this kind in the region at the time).
Her husband had a World Bank job, so she had some time to figure out what she wanted to do. She brought her mother’s recipe book and started making sweets for friends’ special celebrations.
Eventually, the friends pushed her to start taking the cake-making business seriously and insisted on paying for her delicious creations. More and more friends, and friends of the friends, wanted her goods. “My only marketing strategy so far,” says Zaric, “has been a word of mouth.”
However, now, after about eight years in the business, she feels the time is ripe to take it to a new level. Her dream is to create a neighborhood boutique cake shop where those who enjoy sweets would feel cozy and unhurried.
“To me, quality is much more important than quantity,” Zaric says. “I would want my customers to take their time to enjoy the experience.”
Her social work side still shows in her support for many community and humanitarian causes. She is especially passionate about the organization Icing Smiles, which provides cakes for very ill children.
“As much as I enjoy and take pride in providing sweets and ‘following’ my customers through their most important occasions, it is usually a highlight of my day to see a smile on the face of a sick child who is happy to receive my cake for his birthday,” says Zaric. This “perfectionist” is, in fact, a really sweet lady, just like her sweets.