In my family, we always baked our own birthday cakes. My mom was talented in making our cakes look amazing every single year. So when I adopted Piper Cub [her four-year-old Labrador], I started baking for his birthday as well….” says Erika Kleinmann, talking about what led to her founding Piper’s Pet Bakery and how baking has been passed down in her family.
Pet care, like in Kleinmann’s case, is now family tradition. Through the years, as I’ve seen people go from adopting pets for safety and security to seeking a greater bond of friendship and emotional companionship from them — the pet food care industry has also undergone an apparent gradual change. From earlier providing only kitchen leftovers, then later varieties of packaged foods, we now see pet parents ordering mindfully-baked customised treats. And, as many veterinarians would attest, there are a lot more resources in the market. Most animal owners will also tell you that their pets are like friends or family, and that their well-being and nutritional requirements are as important to them as those of the humans they live with.
Kleinmann met her Indian husband while they were both working with Jet Airways a couple of years ago, and moved from Belgium to Mumbai after tying the knot with him soon after. Now comfortably settled here, she conceptualised and started Piper’s Pet Bakery around two years ago, owing largely to the many requests from people around her to bake for their puppies. While she uses ingredients that are safe for both humans and pets, the careful baker makes sure everything is salt, sugar and gluten-free. “I wanted everything to be healthy and nutritious for the pups and have the cakes look different from the ones in other bakeries. So, I stuck to round cakes instead of paw/bone-shaped ones, and I developed my own recipes incorporating coconut oil and homemade peanut butter,” she shares.
“Over the last 10 years, there’s been a lot of change in the availability of processed and packaged pet foods, what with a rise in disposable incomes and a decrease in the availability of domestic help. This is what has led to a shift from homemade to packaged foods,” claims Dr Leena Dalal, founder and head surgeon at PetZone (a group of veterinary clinics), who recommends a balanced combination of home-cooked meals with good quality packaged food, or a diet consisting completely of kibble (pellets made of ground-up ingredients), especially if the family is vegetarian. “Dogs are primarily carnivores, and vegetarian diets are usually deficient in protein. Since it’s hard to provide a well-balanced vegetarian diet to dogs, good quality commercial dog food becomes easier for vegetarian households to access, particularly when cooking meat is not possible,” she adds. Further, she suggests that people should avoid feeding their pets with “foods that contain chocolate and caffeine, grapes and raisins, nuts, foods containing alcohol, too much salt, chicken bones and splintering bones — besides onion and garlic, which even in small quantities can prove toxic”.
At Piper’s Pet Bakery, I realised for the second time in three months (the first being Stirring Up Conversations in Verve’s December 2019–January 2020 issue, where I watched Abhineet Mishra make aloo pitika), how enjoyable and useful it could be to have some real culinary skills. And in this case, while I could list a dozen great Mumbai bakeries to order pet food from, identifying even half of the ingredients used, let alone cooking with them, could very well become a challenge. So, as someone who is neither a baker nor a pet owner and always ready for tips in the kitchen, I’m eager to learn more about what goes into these vibrant, freshly-baked dog and cat desserts. Meeting me at the home bakery is graphic designer Ashna Mistry with her cheerful Shih Tzu, Zoie Mistry, whom Kleinmann is going to treat with a pumpkin peanut butter cake.
“We have to start with using rice flour, then add some honey, coconut oil, pumpkin, peanut butter and an egg to it, and then we have to just mix everything up and place it in the oven for around 25 minutes.
Any doggie or cat in the city can consume these products. When a pet has an allergy or intolerance to something, I make sure the cake or treat is safe for them, so that they can enjoy it as well. I myself have celiac disease, so I know how it is to be excluded from eating delicious things. That’s why I want to make sure that everyone can have a bite of my products.”
“Then we take it out, let it cool down and put the first layer of dahi (yoghurt) around the cake and in the middle. We leave that to rest for a while in the fridge. We then take it out again and put a second layer of dahi in order to make it perfect. That’s the finishing layer.
The baking process takes around 40 minutes, after which we put it in the fridge. And then we just have to let it cool down a little. If the dahi is ready, we can start immediately once the cake has cooled down. Usually I keep it all in the fridge overnight, so we can smoothen the layer of the dahi very easily in the morning. Then it looks absolutely perfect, and I am a little bit of a perfectionist.”
The customised diet
EK: All my products can be adapted to a pet’s specific dietary restrictions, so any of my offerings can be given to them. An item can be made without dahi, egg, chicken, peanut butter, or whatever it is that may make a pet sick. And everything is 100 per cent gluten-free, which is a question I get asked a lot.
AM: From my personal experience, I would recommend dog food only. By dog food, I don’t mean just processed food. One meal should be home-cooked too. I give Zoie curd rice, moong paneer, boiled vegetables, bananas, watermelon, and papaya, apart from other processed foods, such as Cerelac, which she already eats. I know a lot of people who end up feeding their pets what they eat, but that’s not good for the pet. Pet food needs to be cooked strictly without any salt, sugar or spice, in order to ensure they remain healthy.
The perfect menu
EK: There is gluten-free flour in all of my products. Coconut oil is an ingredient I love using, as it has so many health benefits for pets. Homemade peanut butter is everyone’s favourite. I make it myself to ensure that everything in my cakes and treats is safe for them.
AM: Zoie’s lunch is always home-cooked. It includes meals like curd rice, boiled vegetables and cheese, moong paneer or Cerelac, and once in a while, a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Her meals are prepared fresh every day. For dinner, she eats processed dog food from Royal Canin, in order to balance out the missing nutrients from her otherwise vegetarian diet.
The nutrition factor
EK: This is very important, so from the beginning, I started making my own recipes until I found the perfect one that even the pickiest doggies liked. Every ingredient I use has health benefits to it — be it pumpkin, coconut oil, or egg. Like most doggies, my dog too loves carrots and bananas. A big no-no includes chocolate — which I’ve seen given multiple times to dogs. The same goes for nuts, grapes, pits and seeds too. Sweet potatoes, apples, carrots, bananas and pumpkin are healthy.
“Meanwhile, we also make the cookies. The cookies are made with banana rice flour and peanut butter. The flour is gluten-free.
If you pick the easiest cake, I can make it in two and a half or three hours. I think I once even made a cake within in an hour-and-a-half. Don’t ask me how I managed to do that! Usually, when you want to draw on top of the cake, the dahi should be completely dry first….”
AM: You need to be aware of what your pet is allergic to, so you can avoid those ingredients while cooking or ordering food. I don’t order any of Zoie’s meals from outside; the only thing I order once in a while is a muffin.
When you’re making food for yourself, all you have to do is keep a small bowl of rice or veggies aside for them before you add salt and cook it. And, it’s best if your pet gets to eat fresh meals every day, like you do. Going by Zoie’s diet, the only foods that we have in common with her include curd, rice, selected veggies, paneer, cheese and moong. Where fruits are concerned, there are bananas, apples, and watermelons, and dry fruits/nuts like almonds, walnuts and raisins. Sugar, spice and everything nice isn’t really nice for pets.
The taste test
EK: Piper Cub is a Labrador, so he craves everything that is food! Like I said, he loves veggies and fruits. And he goes mad over chicken. Dogs are like children, and every dog, like every child, craves something different. They will always let you know what food they like the most.
AM: If your pet finishes an entire meal, that means they’ve really liked it. When she doesn’t like something, Zoie goes into hiding under the sofa or table and then I have to feed her something else. The one thing Zoie really craves for is banana. She knows where the fruit basket is kept at home, so every time she wants a banana, she’ll stand below the fruit basket, look at it, and bark.
The special treatment
EK: For me, cake has always been an important part of the celebration. So it was natural for me to bake cakes for Piper’s birthdays as well. It’s lovely how people see pets as one of their own children or sisters or brothers, making them feel special when it’s their birthday. Just show them lots of love by giving them something nice to eat like cake or treats, do their favourite activities like going to the beach or any other place where they can go mad and be free, give them a belly rub, kisses… do anything that makes them happy.
AM: I’m really happy to see people celebrating their pets’ birthdays. They deserve that extra love and treats on their birthday. Ever since I came across Piper’s Pet Bakery, I’ve been ordering Zoie’s cakes from them. It’s very hard to get your pet to try something new when it comes to food, but the pumpkin peanut butter cake is the only cake that Zoie eats and loves. As for what we could do to make their day special, I’d say just let loose and let your pet indulge in whatever they enjoy the most. For Zoie, that enjoyment usually comes from an extra piece of her favourite cake.
The main event
EK: With an increasing number of new pet owners every year, events like PetFed (a festival for pets and pet lovers) help us to reach out to many new pet parents who have little clue about what is available in the market for their pets. And it’s lovely to meet their little ones as well.
AM: I think it’s really helpful as there are so many new brands coming up for pet food, toys and clothes, which we don’t really get to see easily. It’s because of events like these that I’m aware of these brands.
The learning curve
EK: Make sure you read up on the foods that are good or bad for your pet. Go to the vet for advice on what to feed them for breakfast, dinner, and snacks. I see too many obese dogs in the city — so don’t over-feed them, and make them exercise enough instead, by making them walk and run too.
AM: It is fine if you want to eat something stale yourself, but please prepare fresh meals for your pet; you don’t want your pet to fall ill because of your laziness. Make sure you feed them on time, and not as per your own convenience and availability. Salt, spice, sour food and sugar are all a big NO in their diet. Doing so will keep your pets healthy and prevent their fur from shedding.
The travel protocol
EK: Almost every city has its own pet food stores. But in case your pet has specific food requirements, make sure you pack some food along too, as dietary changes can also make them sick. Wherever we go, I always keep Piper’s food with me, along with treats that I make myself too.
AM: I haven’t travelled with Zoie nationally or internationally yet; I’ve just taken her outside the city for a road trip. It’s rather difficult to manage her meals sometimes, as she might not eat in a new surrounding, and often gets distracted. Make sure you always carry your pet’s favourite food along. It’s easy to carry processed food, but remember that ingredients like rice, veggies, and curd are also easily available at most places if you want to prepare home-cooked meals.
The zero-waste method
EK: Since I bake only on an order-basis, we usually aren’t left with any extras. In case we have some extra cookies or muffins left, Piper and I go down and distribute it among the cute street dogs around our building.
AM: With dry food, it’s not a problem, as it can go back into the pack. When it comes to home-cooked meals, I make sure I cook just enough that will fill her stomach. As a new pet owner, keeping track of how much your pet eats will eventually help you to understand their appetite better. This is why there’s rarely any leftover food with me now. But in case there is, you should feed it off to strays on the same day. Whether it’s your own pet or a stray, never feed them any stale food.
“We then bake the banana cookies, which takes around 20 minutes. Sometimes, you have to custom cut-out the cookies. Once everything is ready, you just have to decorate the cake.
So, this one is a vegetarian cake. We can make it with chicken too. For that, we would have to add boneless breast pieces of chicken, and then mix them and put them into the cake. What makes this cake special is that it takes a lot more time to make, especially because of all of the detailing it needs.”