How Toronto cake business Kwento blossomed online

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Shannon Nocos never set out to start a cake business.

In fact, in her first semester of culinary school she remembers distinctly saying she would never enroll in pastry classes.

“The pastry program was on the other side of the hall and I would say I’d never do it because it’s super tedious, there’s too much measuring involved, everything has to be super precise,” she says. “And here I am: [baking] is my entire life.”

Now she runs up and down the stairs between her kitchen and her basement studio 50 times a day, bringing her baked creations to life for her business, Kwento.

The fridge in her living room is filled with tarts and cakes (her family members know it’s off limits). Business is going so well she had to close orders for both January and February because she was receiving so many requests.

The cakes are striking and artful. They make you stop your mindless Instagram scrolling to take a second look.

She ices the cakes as if the piping bag were a paintbrush, creating checkered designs that mimic pointillism or 3D fringe designs that look like an explosion. She adorns her tarts and cakes with edible flowers from her garden. She puts her graphic design background to use, implementing design principles like colour theory and composition when creating.

Beneath her canvases are cake flavours like ube macapuno, mango float, vanilla cardamom and more. When she started Kwento she wanted to focus on Filipino flavours and her original cakes were all ube macapuno.

“I’m always trying to explore new things with Filipino desserts.”

Nocos wanted to pay homage to a traditional cake that uses ube sweet potatoes and macapuno coconuts. She uses ube halaya (jam) in her cake batter and layers macapuno strings over it. Macapuno is used for its distinct taste and texture. It’s genetically different from other coconuts and is filled with a gelatinous substance instead of coconut water.

After making that flavour consistently she branched out to more western flavours like vanilla and chocolate, but also added mango float, inspired by a treat she ate on the hot days in Manila. Graham crackers are layered with condensed milk and fresh mango, and it’s refrigerated so the milk congeals.

She started Kwento originally as a meal delivery service but like many pandemic side projects, it took on a life of its own. 

“It’s been very overwhelming, but at the end of the day, I wouldn’t want to do anything else.”

Before going to culinary school in 2019, Nocos worked in retail for 10 years. Then the pandemic hit halfway through her French culinary program in Manila and she had to return to Toronto. Kwento was supposed to be an interim project while she waited to complete her classes later in the year.

“I didn’t want to start work again coming from Asia because I didn’t know when I was going back. I didn’t want to start a job and then leave two months later.”

By September she came to terms with the fact that things were only getting worse and it was unlikely she could go back. She enrolled in a virtual food and media program at George Brown College and devoted the rest of her time to Kwento and freelance design and styling work.