Take a heart-shape chocolate cake, mix it with heaps of passion, blend it with the power of social media: Jana Cake is born, on a Valentine’s Day, likely not by coincidence. Beirut-based Lebanese pastry chef Jana Doumani had always harbored a passion for baking, but, until less than two years ago, only her friends and family were aware of her secret talent for exquisite desserts. With a background in marketing and advertising, Doumani long toyed with the idea of opening a pastry business. Fate took matters into its own hands, when her husband, popular Lebanese TV host Pierre Rabbat, shared one of her creations with his hundreds of thousands of Instagram followers. “You’ve got an order,” he said. In fact, she had 300 ones within three days, which she fulfilled from her own kitchen’s single oven. A logo was created and boxes ordered. In less than twenty-four hours, Jana Cake was up and running.
Lebanon’s latest pastry sensation quickly distinguished herself on a market where conventionality reigns. By contrast, the self-taught chef insists on infusing her desserts with the tastes and textures she discovers while traveling around the world. “I want to bring inspirations from everywhere and create something different, original, and new,” she says. “And, unlike most pastry shops here, I pay close attention to cake design – everything has to be ‘Instagrammable,’” she adds with a wink.
The young chef follows international pastry trends closely, but is especially proud of her seasonal baking and of showcasing local ingredients: she’s been using rose water, pistachio, and lukum, in macarons and cakes, paying homage to her Oriental roots. In the summer, she launched a mango and a strawberry tart, which recently made way for an autumnal chocolate-hazelnut pavlova. Whatever the flavor, Doumani only uses ingredients that are natural and preservative-free. Freshness is paramount, and everything is calculated down to the minute so that the cake is enjoyed at the optimal moment.
Nothing seems to stop Doumani – not even the COVID-19 pandemic. “Lockdown was a shock at the beginning. But instead of remaining idle and waiting for the nightmare to end, I thought, let’s get motivated and try new things to bake,” she says. Throughout confinement, demand for her cakes even increased, as most traditional pastry shops were closed and dessert lovers feared for their health. “Everything is homemade, prepared according to all the health and safety precautions, and I use the best ingredients,” Doumani says. Today, orders go through Instagram direct messaging, sometimes even popping up in the middle of the night on @janacake.beirut. Her carefully curated page is a mouth-watering scroll of masterful cake designs as well as a friendly glimpse into her creative process.
Nowadays, Doumani bakes around 20 cakes a day, Monday to Sunday, assisted by her husband, mother, stepmother and one employee. Undeterred by the economic crisis plaguing the country, Doumani has plans for expansion. An e-commerce platform is in the works and she moved her operations to a bigger kitchen. She plans to grow her family business by recruiting young, motivated people – ones passionate about baking rather than professionals. Doumani, who candidly admits she learned her craft on websites and YouTube, believes in nurturing Jana Cake’s spirit of authenticity and enthusiasm, and its can-do, determined attitude. “It took me 15 tries to master the Japanese cheesecake; some recipes take a lot of time, effort, and precision,” she says. “But I succeeded.” The young, optimistic chef will stop at nothing to conquer Beirut’s taste buds, and, she hopes, the world’s.