Check Out These Jaw-Dropping Cakes by Naleni Amarnath

Cake maker Naleni Amarnath is servicing Indiana’s Desi community with Instagrammable henna cakes, paisley creations, and more.
A photo of Naleni Amarnath and two cakes she has made

Naleni Amarnath
Naleni Amarnath

It’s hour 10, and Naleni Amarnath is hard at work. Her hand moving with finesse, she ices her three-tiered, orange-vanilla cake meticulously, scrolls and Indian mangos interplaying with each other, bringing this picturesque delight to fruition.

She’s not close to done, though. She still has to create figurines of the bride and groom for yet another wedding cake order she’s received from the Indian community. It’s this community that has made her into the cakemaker she is today.

“I learned how to decorate in 1990. I had just moved to Indianapolis and wanted to pursue my childhood interest of cake decorating,” she tells us. Attending classes at an institution called “Cake Create,” Naleni learned how to produce stars, dots, and intricate roses out of buttercream frosting and translated her love into personal favors — cakes for family and friends.

Years passed, and in 2009, a school bake sale helped reignite Naleni’s passion for decorating.

Naleni Amarnath with some of her cupcakes
Naleni Amarnath with some of her cupcakes

“At the school my daughter was attending, they had a PTA stall. One day, my daughter brought home a dozen cupcakes that someone gave her in school — suddenly, my passion for decorating was sparked yet again.”

Naleni saw this as an opportunity to begin decorating once more, creating batches and batches of frosting to frost her first batch of cupcakes for the school’s bake sale. It took her eight hours to make a dozen cupcakes, unlocking a meticulousness that she still practices today.

“They all got sold, so I made more, and those got sold too. Pretty soon, I was creating cakes and cupcakes for everyone we knew. It was my meditation,” she shares.

In 2013, the sudden passing of her father had Naleni going back to her home country of Malaysia for a bit, throwing a wrench in her plans. Upon returning to Indiana, she picked up her icing bag once again, embracing decorating as a sort of catharsis. For her, baking and decorating became therapy — it was her art.

“Suddenly, a friend of mine asked me to make her son’s birthday cake. He was an avid tennis fan, so I channeled all my creative interests into creating a tennis-themed sheet cake. I had no idea what I was doing; I’m not a fan of fondant, so everything was buttercream, a much more difficult decorative medium to work with.”

A cake made by Naleni Amarnath
A cake made by Naleni Amarnath

The cake was a hit, so much so that orders began pouring in, from corporate celebration cakes to treats for family festivals. Word spread, and so did the demand.

“I’m a one-man show; it’s always been that way. So, each cake takes about 12-14 hours to put together, from buying the ingredients to putting the finishing touches on the cake,” Naleni says.

She’s picky, and proud to be so. From only the best quality ingredients, sourced from specific stores, to a nimble hand that moves with precision to adorn cakes with intricate designs, Naleni’s cakes are unfailingly unique. Catering often to Indianapolis’ large and growing Indian population, she uses motifs that resonate with the community. Henna designs, paisley prints, and mandala artwork have featured as prime decorations, and Naleni also creates complex cakes that are built to resemble gorgeous Indian saris and jewelry.

“I charge based on the amount of work, not the number of hours it will take me, because baking cakes is my passion. With each cake I create, I have one singular motivation: If I were to order a cake from somewhere, how would I like it to look?” she explains.

Her design talent is not the only draw. All of Naleni’s cakes are eggless — a request often made by many Indians who follow a primarily lacto-vegetarian diet. Using a recipe given to her by a friend years ago, she’s tweaked her recipe to create a cake that is moist yet fluffy and unbelievably delicious.

Ask her many customers, and they’ll direct you to her signature, orange-vanilla flavor that marries a white cake with pure orange zest, juice, extract, and a pure, non-imitation vanilla extract. It’s her bestseller, especially when topped with her buttercream that coats your mouth with delight. Over the years, though, she’s expanded her offerings.

“Now, I also make an orange chocolate cake, a vegan red velvet cake, and an Indian-inspired mango cake that is flavored using mango pulp. I’ve also developed a marble flavor,” Naleni says.

Ordering from her is a two-week process, she says, as she needs about 10-14 days to ideate, confer with the client, buy and source ingredients, and create the perfect showstopper of a cake.

While she has begun to dabble in the world of fondant, creating figurines, cake toppers, or small decorative elements, she says there are certain things she’ll keep consistent as her business grows.

A cake by Naleni Amarnath
A cake by Naleni Amarnath

“I’ll never cover a cake in fondant — I’m not a fan of the taste or texture. I still prefer sticking to pure buttercream to ensure that at least 95% of the cake is edible and is a taste that lingers, making people want more,” Naleni smiles.

In fact, that’s how she chose her own flavors, settling on blends that kept her coming back for more. But her true passion, she says, lies in design.

“When people have a function or celebration, they give me the colors to work with, then I freehand my designs. The moment someone places an order for a cake, my brain begins moving and thinking; I draw designs, check out designs, and jump on Google for inspiration. Ever since I began cake decorating, when I turn around, whatever I see, I see with a designer’s eye. I started noticing designs on clothes, saris, fabrics, and even paper towels! It’s made me aware of the creative potential that lies in the world around us,” she says.

Naleni holds herself to high standards, and it shows, with her cakes often garnering gasps as they are unveiled.

“Personally, I believe that my cakes should taste and look good. People should be ready to come back again, and most people are returning clients. At the end of the day, my cakes are a reflection of my passion. That passion is real, and that’s all that matters.”

To order from Naleni, message her on her Facebook page, Naleni’s Cakes, or on Instagram @cakesbynaleni.


Lavanya Narayanan is an Indianapolis-based journalist who’s always on the lookout for the next best bite. When she’s not out restaurant-hopping, she loves experimenting with friends in the kitchen and has a special affinity in her heart for Starbucks, Twizzlers, and Diet Coke.

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