Photography by Tali Parnes

When you picture cake pops, you probably think of simple-looking, bite-sized balls of icing-covered cake. These treats have certainly grown in popularity, and they can be found in many bakeries across the United States. Baker Tali Parnes has built her business on taking the traditional idea of a cake pop and turning it on its head. Her California-based shop, Talipop, is producing some of the most incredible designs that are almost too cute to eat … almost.

Have you always had a passion for baking?
Ever since I was young, I have been crafty and artistic. The owner of the day care I attended used to tell my mother that I would be up, wanting to draw and paint, while the rest of the kids were sleeping. I never really had a passion for baking—although I did love to create edible art from food my mother cooked. Every Friday we would have a big family dinner, and I was in charge of decorating the plates and the whole table setup.

When did you decide to pursue a culinary career?
I remember watching the television show Cake Boss and being immediately hooked. The first time I saw it, I excitedly yelled, “This is what I want to do!” I had never been as passionate about anything as I was about sculpted cakes. I wanted to know everything about the field, so I took classes, bought numerous books, and worked and volunteered in as many bakeries as I could to gain experience. I did everything possible to pursue my dream.

How did you make the transition from traditional cakes to cake pops? Was it a hard process to learn?
When I was building sculpted cakes, I would always end up with scraps. Being conscious of what was going to waste, I wanted to try to find a use for them. Serendipitously, I stumbled upon a book about cake pops, and I fell in love with them because they are such an interesting dessert. It took me about a year to study how to make cake pops, and it was definitely difficult. But I’m glad I didn’t give up because now I get to share them with so many people who adore them just as much as I do.

Some of your cake pops are nontraditional and very intricate in their shapes. How did you start creating these more complicated designs?
The more challenging cake pops require dexterity and a lot of patience. For particularly tough designs, it’s crucial to plan ahead and go over all of the steps required. This is all a part of the initial creative process before any of the baking even begins.

You’ve created so many fun cake pop designs, such as cars, teacups, dinosaurs, and even television characters. How do you come up with new ideas?
I am inspired by everything: childhood memories, people I meet, items I have in my house, and things I see while walking down the street. The teacup cake pops, for example, were inspired by my grandmother’s tea set. As a child, I spent a lot of time in her beautiful kitchen, and I remembered a teacup that sat on top of a shelf in her pantry. I couldn’t think of a design to do other than the one on that teacup.

What kind of flavors and fillings do you use? How do you come up with new varieties?
My background is Eastern European and Middle Eastern, so my kitchen is full of unique spices and flavors that I like to incorporate into my cake pops.

I once made a mango-cardamom pop, and it was a huge hit. I have learned, though, that most of my clients prefer basic flavors like chocolate and vanilla, so I typically stick with those, but I make them pop with secret ingredients. I also like to come up with the design first and then think about the flavor. I recommend pairing certain designs with flavors depending on the client’s theme, the colors of the event they are having, etc.

What are some of the most popular cake pops you make? What designs have been your favorite?
The most popular cake pops are, without a doubt, the unicorn pops and baby dinosaur pops. I’ve made them so many times I can actually do it with my eyes closed. As far as my favorite design, I would say the pops I made of Van Gogh’s Starry Night. I made them for a wedding, and I was so honored the bride and groom trusted me to turn one of the most well-known paintings of all time into a cake pop. Their reaction was the best part, and that’s why I do what I do.

Do you consider your cake pop creations to be a form of art?
Absolutely! My designs require special skills like drawing and sculpting. Anyone can make basic cake pops, but I really wanted to take it to a whole new level. I usually present myself as an artist rather than a baker. It’s so important to me that my clients enjoy the way the cake pops look as well as how they taste.

You discussed your concern for sustainability and how it prompted you to start making cake pops. In what ways do you maintain that practice through your business?
We definitely care about the environment at Talipop. We always use boxes made from recycled materials for packaging. When creating the cake pops, we only use reusable tools to cut back on the amount of trash we’re producing. When people ask why I love cake pops so much, I say that part of the reason is because it saves on forks, plates, and napkins!

What has been most rewarding about running your own bake shop? What has been most challenging?
The most rewarding part is getting to make people of all ages feel special. I’ve seen so many smiles and happy tears, and I’ve heard so much laughter and the oohs and ahhs upon first sight. The most challenging aspect was that I had to wear so many different hats when I first started—artist and designer, manager and customer service representative, digital marketing director and photographer, driver and dishwasher. Sometimes
I get overwhelmed thinking about everything I had to do on my own.

Where can people buy your cake pops?
Although we don’t have a storefront, we are working on an online shop so that people across the country can enjoy these treats. Currently, orders can be placed via our website, for pickup or delivery within Southern California. But it’s my dream to open a few different locations throughout the US.

*Disclaimer: Talipop has temporarily closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. For business updates, follow Talipop on Instagram @talipopsart