Want to treat your best friend to a fancy dog cake or one-of-a-kind healthy treat?
In a previous life, Andrea was a German pastry chef, until she fell in love with her rescue dog, Willow, and started creating all sorts of fun and healthy treats for her.
The Willow’s Pantry range includes dog cookies in 14 different flavours, dehydrated treats, birthday hampers, Christmas specials, pupcakes, celebration cakes, and more!
In the interview, we talk about how to create beautiful dog-friendly cakes, where Andrea draws her inspiration from, and a few nasties you should avoid if you’re planning to DIY your own dog cake.
Find out more about Willow’s Pantry here:
Will: This episode of “The Dog Show” features Andrea Lincke. Andrea is the founder of Willow’s Pantry, a healthy treats and custom dog cake business based in Melbourne, Australia. In a previous life, Andrea was a German pastry chef until she fell in love with her rescue dog Willow and started creating all sorts of fun and healthy treats for her. The Willow’s Pantry range includes dog cookies in 14 different flavors, dehydrated treats, birthday hampers, Christmas specials, pupcakes, celebration cakes, and much more.
We talk about how to create beautiful dog-friendly cakes, where Andrea draws her inspiration from, and a few nasties you should avoid if you plan to DIY your own dog cake.
Andrea, welcome to the Dog Show today. Thank you so much for coming on.
Andrea: Yeah, thanks for having me and Willow of course.
Will: Of course, of course. Willow’s not with you at this very moment, but I’m keen to hear a little bit more about Willow. So Willow is your rescue dog, which is the inspiration behind your dog treat brand and everything. So could you tell me more about Willow?
Andrea: Yes, of course. I really talk about Willow all the time. So, yeah, Willow is about 6 and a half years old. She’s a Bull Terrier cross. Probably Kelpie, probably Staffy. We are not too sure about it but, yeah, she’s kind of very sweet.
And I adopted her about 3 and a half years ago when she was a scared, little potato and she was just hiding under the kitchen bench and just wasn’t too sure about everything, about life. And that inspired me to bake some treats for her.
Will: That’s interesting. Before we talk more about all of that, like your profession, I guess, your career, I’m interested to hear more about Willow as a dog because it sounds like a very interesting mixture of breeds. There’s the Bull Terrier. I think you mentioned Border Collie or something in there as well. But what type of personality does she have?
Andrea: Yeah. Willow is…she can be quite stubborn. So she’s a really happy and spanky girl, and she has her friends, and she loves to sniff around. Yeah, she has lots of friends she likes to play with. She can be also very…for example, when it rains, she doesn’t like to go outside. You can call her and she just simply ignores you. And, yeah, so she can be quite cheeky.
She’s an experienced food stealer as we always have to make sure before we leave the house that we put everything away because she goes around. As soon as she knows that we are leaving, she just sniffs everything, old jackets, bags, and she finds everything that we forgot. So she can be very cheeky.
Will: Well, I’m sure she’s getting lots of nice treats anyway because she’s your testing animal for all of your beautiful new treats and everything.
Andrea: Yeah, she’s quality controller and taste tester of course, but we keep it moderate with the treats. Of course, treats are nice, but she should also stay healthy. So it’s not that she eats five bags of treats every day. She would like if she has the chance.
Will: Of course. All dogs would like that, I think, but they may not last very long.
Andrea: Yeah, I think people always think that she’s really lucky because she has all the treats here, but I think sometimes it can be a curse because she sees all the dog cakes getting out of the door and all the treats getting packed. And then she’s like, “Hey, and where’s mine?”
Will: That’s true. I can imagine that. I imagine as well, like, you were mentioning leaving food around the house. You must have so many dog-friendly ingredients sitting around that you really need to be aware of, right?
Andrea: Yeah. Yeah, yeah. Definitely. So the kitchen is closed off anyway for her, but it just happens that sometimes I forget something in my handbag, and then she’s just like, “Oh, you just forgot that.”
Will: Yeah. So you’re from Germany originally, and you’re a pastry chef. Apart from obviously your beautiful dog, Willow, and loving her and wanting to kind of create treats for her, what got you into the dog treat industry and create dog cakes and all this kind of stuff?
Andrea: Yeah, I think it just purely happened by accident. So it was really that Willow… So, her foster family actually said, “You know, food is the way to her heart,” and I said, “All right, let’s bake you some cookies.” And I made her this little cake for International Dog Day that was on the 26th of August, and I thought, “Oh, you know what? I’ll just make you a cake because you look so sad.”
Yeah, and then it somewhat escalated and I made her a couple of flavors. Then our neighbor saw it, “Oh, what’s this?” Somewhat it just became… First, it was more like a side hustle next to working as a pastry cook. And when my work shutdown, I thought, “Oh, maybe I should give it a try.” And since then, it’s pretty much my work daily.
Will: Yeah. So how does it compare like creating pastries for humans and cakes for dogs? Obviously, there’s some differences in ingredients and things like that, but are your processes a bit similar?
Andrea: Yeah, definitely. Of course, the ingredients are different. I would make for humans like sugary, buttercream, and of course don’t do this for dogs. So the ingredients are different and of course because my cakes are made without preservatives. And all these good chemical things that keep our human cakes together and let them last for ages, it’s not happening with dog cakes. And so, of course, the processes are a bit different, and they last up to 2 days. And then, yeah.
Will: Okay, so they’ll last two days. So what are some of those ingredients that you’ve got to avoid putting into dog cakes that people might not be aware of?
Andrea: So there are lots of ingredients which are actually toxic to dogs and grapes. You need to be aware of that. For example, artificial sweeteners. So that’s why I always check with my vet because I come up with some crazy ingredients sometimes, and then I’m like, “Hey, what’s this?” and the vet is like, “Oh, my God, Andrea,” because I don’t use artificial colors. I more use turmeric, and green spirulina, blue spirulina. And then I think, “Oh, there’s another plant which gives a beautiful blue color,” which was I think the pea butterfly plant or something, and that’s where I call the vet. And in the end, nobody knew about this plant and so, of course, I’m not stupid. I don’t put it in the cakes. It takes a lot of research, and it’s always good to double-check definitely before just putting…
Will: That’s so interesting just because, looking at your cakes on Instagram, which are all amazing, they’re visually beautiful and the dogs look so happy sitting next to them. But all of the colors are so vibrant. I just assumed there was some sort of artificial colors, right? I mean that’s cool using natural ingredients to create that effect as well.
Andrea: Yeah. For example, I will cook with turmeric and you got it on your fingers. And also like natural colors can stain, and they can be very bright. There are some colors like a neon red or something that’s not possible, but customers are mostly happy to work around it. I can say, “It may look more orange or more pinkish,” but in the end, we can always work a bit around to get different colors.
Will: So what’s kind of the base ingredients of your cakes? And we spoke about what’s not going in them. So you’re talking about turmeric and things to color them, but what’s the main ingredient of the cake?
Andrea: So I have different cake bases. For example, a standard one can be with wholemeal flour and eggs, and then you can add carrots and pumpkin or peanut butter. Carrot is an excellent substitute for chocolate. It has a similar flavor but it’s safe for dogs or you can also work for special dietary requirements that I can make grain-free cakes out of coconut flour. I can make raw beef cakes. Yeah, so that’s a standard base. And then the [inaudible 00:08:54] cream around it made of meat products and peanut butter. And this is mainly it. It’s so good.
Will: Yeah, that’s interesting because I know that our dog has a range of different food allergies and/or sensitivities as well, so it’s good to know that there’s some personalized options in there. It would be challenging, I think, to make a cake for our dog because there’s not much that she can eat except for kangaroo and vegetables but I mean…
Andrea: I can make a kangaroo cake.
Will: Yes, like I said.
Andrea: Yeah. Of course, sometimes there are requests where I say, “Well, are you sure that your dog should really eat a cake?” Because it’s quite rich and it should be an on-off treat. I always recommend not to… Like you have a little puppy or something. I don’t think you should give a whole cake or something to…
Will: Especially some of the sizes of the cakes that I’ve seen in your photos as well, that shouldn’t be a one meal kind of cake kind of thing.
Andrea: Definitely not. So x big ones are for puppy parties, and they get cut out. And everybody gets a little on a plate. Other people just cut them up and freeze them for later for other parties but definitely it’s an on-off treat, and it’s more like a novelty thing than part of a regular diet.
Will: So what type of occasions are people getting cakes for? I guess you mentioned like doggie parties, but is it predominantly birthdays and things like that?
Andrea: Yeah, mostly of course birthdays, but the parties, we have adoption days… There are some sad occasions when it’s like a farewell cake when a dog has to be put to sleep and people have a bucket list. And it’s the ones where I start crying a bit over the cake. They [inaudible 00:10:37] a bit on the heart.
There’s also [inaudible 00:10:42] which becomes an event catering. So on the last weekend actually, I got with a frozen yogurt chain in Melbourne, a collaboration where we gave out 500 pupcakes for free. So for every frozen yogurt being bought or dog movie screenings that people get pupcakes, because [inaudible 00:11:03] before COVID, there were many events where, for example, you could take your dog to the movies and watch a dog movie, and then they got a little popcorn bags for dehydrated treats or pupcakes. So that’s an occasion for a dog party or a dog cake, I think.
Will: Yeah, there’s a restaurant here in Sydney where my wife and I took our dog. I think it’s called The Gantry. I can’t be 100% sure on that. They have, like, a dog station as well so, like, while you’re eating your meal, the dog gets like three or four different meals as well. It’s quite fun.
Andrea: Yeah, I think that dogs have become more part of the family and our lives. So I think it moved a bit from a dog just being on the side, because we had always a wide bunch of different animals as kids. We had retired racehorses, and dogs, and cats, but you would never have thought, “Oh, I’ll make you a cake.” So it’s changing and I think it’s quite nice to see that dogs are getting valued a bit more and become more part of the family.
Will: Where do you get your inspiration from? You mentioned you’re regularly researching. I imagine you’re testing different things out, but are you also kind of working directly with the host of the party or the owners to feel their inspiration out?
Andrea: Yeah, so some people come with a very particular theme they want to have, and some others just let me do whatever I want, which is nice as well. I think my inspiration is mostly people give me a theme.
So I have a very broad knowledge of pop culture, and music, and movies. And so when somebody… For example, for the local cinema, I made a Stanley Kubrick themed cake, which had elements from “Dr. Strangelove,” and “Shining,” and “Clockwork Orange.” And these are things where it’s like, “Oh, okay,” but it takes us a lot of internet research when somebody gives me a topic. I had a Norwegian black metal forest cake, so they’re like [inaudible 00:13:10], which are actually my favorite cakes.
Will: That sounds like a lot of fun, I guess, the creation process as well as much as there’s a bit of research involved. I’m sure once you see the end outcome, that must be so, I guess, rewarding as well every time you do that.
Andrea: Yeah, I have a good laugh in the kitchen definitely.
Will: So as well as the dog cakes, what you do is kind of like standalone events or, as you mentioned, just all sorts of different occasions you’re doing that. You’ve got a whole bunch of dog treats as well, so you’ve got 14 different flavors of dehydrated dog treats. Could you tell me a bit more about them? Because they’re shipped to Australia-wide, aren’t they, for a flat fee.
Andrea: Yeah, I have mostly…so my main business are the dog cookies, which have 14 different flavors. They come with, for example, peanut butter cookie, [inaudible 00:14:01], which is lamb with carrot… which is more like an Australian treat which I learned to love well immigrating.
And, yeah, also more quirky ones like cocktail-themed cookies like piña colada and strawberry daiquiri. And they all are made out of natural ingredients as well. I prefer to use certified organic ingredients and free-range. Yeah, so it’s all handmade. I sit there with my mixer and with my rolling pin, and every little cookie is hand-rolled and capped. Yeah, so I have Christmas cookies coming up as well, all sorts of seasonal. Yeah, Easter cookies.
Will: How long do those treats last? Because you mentioned the cakes lasted only a couple of days. I imagine the treats last a bit longer or…
Andrea: Yeah, treats have a shelf life for the cookies for about four months.
Will: Okay, cool. I mean, that’s good to know because… I can see the packs in the background of your camera actually. I love the branding, and it looks like you’re getting a really nice packaged treat, you know, packed when you get that delivered as well.
Andrea: Yeah, so actually teal is my favorite color. So I thought, “Why not? I’m going with that.” And there’s Willow’s little face on the labels as well. So that’s pretty much the logo, her face, and I think it’s quite good to see her face because I had a lot of [inaudible 00:15:29] from Canada and from China. And it’s quite heartwarming for me to see that her face goes around the world.
Will: That’s nice. Yeah.
Will: So you also ship the treats internationally as well. That’s good to know.
Andrea: Yeah, we are a pet store for now, but I plan maybe after COVID has set a bit and international shipping has gotten a bit easier, then, yes, definitely.
Will: Yeah, there’s definitely some challenges at the moment with shipping internationally but let’s find another time where we can discuss that. So what would you recommend if I was thinking about baking my own cake at home for my dog or, you know, any of the listeners out there? Would you say don’t do it or would you say just…? Where would I start?
Andrea: Of course, I prefer when people buy my cakes. So there’s quite a variety of recipes on the internet where you can have a look. I think there are some fabulous, super creating, most stunning cakes for humans at home, so I think definitely it’s possible that you can do a dog cake at home as well.
Look at the ingredients, and try a bit, and don’t be desperate if it doesn’t work out at the first time. I had lots of trials and errors in the first month.
Will: I think if you’re going for something visual… Me personally I know that I wouldn’t be able to recreate something as beautiful as what you do.
Andrea: Thank you.
Will: For those big occasions, maybe it’s best to go with the professional.
Andrea: Yeah, that’s true. I think we all have our strengths on different…
Will: Exactly. Yeah, that’s right.
Andrea: …occasions really.
Will: I’ve really enjoyed chatting about dog cakes with you. I love the visual aspect of your social media feeds especially on Instagram. That’s where I found you initially, and I highly recommend that people go and check that out. And maybe try the treats and look into the cakes as well at some point. But is Instagram and your website willowspantry.com.au…are they the best places for people to find out more?
Andrea: Yes, definitely. So we take bookings via the webpage, so just chat me an email, and there’s a little contact form, and then I make the magic happen.
Will: Perfect. I’ll definitely direct everyone there, and I think I’m probably due to buy some treats myself as well so maybe we’ll get some delivered very soon. But thanks, Andrea, so much for coming on “The Dog Show” today. I’ve really had a good time, and I hope you have as well.
Andrea: Yes, definitely. Thank you so much for having me and Willow.
Will: Of course, yeah.
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