Self-taught and self-trained, these enterprising online bakers are delighting the sweet-toothed with visually stunning treats. They share their stories with TAN MIN YAN.
FEBY CHANDRA, 34, co-owner of Febspantry (www.instagram.com/febspantry) with Fendy Kawi, 35.
If I’m not happy with how the finished product looks, I restart the decorating process from scratch. On average, it takes me 10 to 15 minutes to pipe a cupcake with flower frosting, and about four hours for a cake. I was very hard on myself at the beginning. I once redid the icing of a cake four times, working overnight. There were days when I’d wake up with one side of my body completely numb. I cried a lot at first! Thankfully, my then-boss [I’m now working on the business full-time] was very understanding, and would let me take leave to finish my cake orders.
Being in this business keeps me happy. You’re part of someone’s celebration – a birthday or an anniversary – how can you be unhappy? If I’m in a bad mood, my cakes won’t turn out well, and which customer would accept that? To get into the right state of mind and relax, I listen to Christian hymns or Jay Chou songs, hang out with my husband, or watch my favourite Mediacorp Channel 5 drama Tanglin!
If I could make a cake for anyone, it’d be for our Prime Minister. I’m inspired by the way he carries himself, and I’d bake him a Zen garden cake to help him relax. Otherwise, it’d be our signature black glutinous rice cake, which is layered with coconut mousse – it’s my favourite and I’d love to share that with him.
“YOU’RE PART OF SOMEONE’S CELEBRATION – A BIRTHDAY OR ANNIVERSARY – HOW CAN YOU BE UNHAPPY?” – FEBSPANTRY
ESTHER LIM, 27, co-owner of My Sister Bakes (www.mysisterbakes.com) with Isaac Koh, 27.
I was a bored student while overseas, and liked to stay home and bake. While studying in Melbourne, I baked even more [than in Singapore] because of the lack of late-night activities there. I distributed my bakes to friends and other students. When I returned to Singapore, I got more orders through word of mouth. After obtaining a proper space and a food licence, [Isaac and I] set up My Sister Bakes with a shopfront in 2015. We started as a dine-in cafe, but gave that up after the volume of orders for our customised cakes got too huge. Now, the space is just for takeaway slices and consultation.
Educating customers on the types of cakes we do is tough. We don’t do fondant, sculpted or cartoon-themed cakes, and have to explain this to some customers. We make it a point to respect the works of other cake artists and not replicate their designs, which means sometimes having to tell customers that we have our own designs, and can come up with something new for them. If we agree to replicate, we’re making the original less special.
I had nightmares over our first three-tiered cake order! The design wasn’t difficult to execute, but because it was our first order, we were terrified of things going wrong. We had to assemble the topmost tier at the venue and I still remember my hands trembling. Thankfully, things went smoothly. It was the same week we worked till 2am every day because we were also juggling a corporate order of almost 1,000 Chinese New Year-themed cupcakes!
“WE MAKE IT A POINT TO RESPECT THE WORKS OF OTHER CAKE ARTISTS AND NOT REPLICATE THEIR DESIGNS.” – MY SISTER BAKES
REGINA ENG, 30something, owner of Spiffycakes (www.instagram.com/spiffycakes).
A few years ago, I didn’t even own an oven. I stopped working as a public relations (PR) professional in 2010 when my twins were born. When they started nursery school, I needed a hobby to occupy my mornings. I learnt baking from blogs, Youtube, and my mother, who’s an avid baker. The first thing I made – blueberry walnut muffins – turned out well and I was hooked.
I’m a one-woman show. Some weeks are chock-a-block with orders; other times, I have just one all week. Ideally, I’d like to handle one cake a day as I also have to cook and go through schoolwork [with my children]. Fortunately, my husband is very supportive. Sometimes, the business reminds me of my previous PR jobs – time management and planning are of utmost importance, as is the ability to think on your feet and adapt.
Anyone can bake. But you can’t teach taste or style. I love the creative-thinking process. I usually have an idea the moment I take an order, and develop it further by sketching it on paper. Baking has given me a fantastic outlet to fiesh out my ideas and I’m grateful to have discovered this second career.
HENG LI JIN and WONG ZI JIE, both 23, co-owners of Zee & Elle (www.zeellebakery.com).
We were baking rookies. We took the Culinary and Catering Management course in Temasek Polytechnic, where we spent only three weeks in pastry [because the course rotated us to other areas]. Nevertheless, we loved it so much, we started our Instagram account (@zeexelle) to document our bakes. When orders started coming in, we had to selflearn a lot of things, which we did by reading recipe books, watching videos and running trials. Though we didn’t have much handson time at school, what we learnt were necessary soft skills – discipline and perseverance.
We tend towards a contemporary-rustic style, like combining plain or flower cakes with a drip design… but it took us a while to find it. When we first started out, we blindly followed trends like making piped rosette cakes, and recreated a lot of cakes that were already on the market. We weren’t satisfied as they didn’t reflect our personality. Right now, our guiding philosophy is that if we’re not 100 per cent excited about something, we don’t say yes.
“OUR GUIDING PHILOSOPHY IS THAT IF WE’RE NOT 100 PER CENT EXCITED ABOUT SOMETHING, WE DON’T SAY YES.” – ZEE & ELLE