My family has always loved to bake. And I always wanted to travel around the world and taste new cuisines, particularly the desserts, which is why I was thrilled to join Air India as a flight attendant at the age of 18 in 2001 after completing a BMS degree from St Andrew’s College, Bandra. I flew international routes for six years – including destinations in the Middle East, south east Asia, the United States and Europe. Everything about being a flight attendant was an eye opener, and I loved every bit of the job.
Sometimes, colleagues would try to duck out of serving first and business class passengers because you have to maintain a high level of service, but I was game for anything, even making table napkins into swans! Even the meals were a revelation. I got to taste so many desserts since we got the same food as the passengers. And when abroad, I would spend all my salary on eating the local cuisines.
The great bake-off
But after six years, I’d had enough of missing family and friends – I always seemed to be spending Christmas and New Year in Jeddah, for example! So I joined Kingfisher as a staff trainer. Even then, I realised that this is not what I wanted to do. So when I got married in 2008, I decided to quit and start a home baking business.
The Baking Tray got its start in Easter 2009, when we got so many orders for marzipan eggs that I was still making them a week after Easter! And since I wanted this to be a legitimate career, I wrote down 15 names and asked family members to choose the most professional-sounding one, which is how we ended up with ‘The Baking Tray’. I gave myself a year to see whether this would be viable, and my family and friends were really supportive – they helped me buy the equipment I needed.
Apart from the Easter eggs, I also offer clients a baked marzipan Christmas cake, brownies, cupcakes, and other desserts like a salted caramel-and-chocolate tart, a hazelnut meringue, a tarte tartin and a German torte that is my mother-in-law’s recipe. In fact, a lot of my recipes are tried-and-tested family ones from my mom, mom-in-law and sister-in-law. I also make customised cakes, including some pretty bizarre concepts – one time I made a carrot cake for a couple, who had a stuffed bunny toy and were celebrating its birthday! I also make cakes with alcohol bottles on them, and conceal a shot of the liquor in an enclosed capsule. This is a very popular order!
A new beginning
I didn’t really set aside any money to start my business – I went out and bought equipment whenever I needed it. After a few months, I was overworked; and after a futile hunt for staff, roped in my mom to help me out. Within two years, we were already doing four theme cakes every day, and I began to dream of opening my own store. I had actually booked a place in Bandra when I was diagnosed with second-stage cancer in November 2011.
As you can imagine, it was quite a shock. I had to cancel all my wedding cake and Christmas orders, though for one mad moment, I actually contemplated juggling chemotherapy and the business. I finally went into remission in August 2012, and since then, I’ve just focused on getting things back on track. I did keep in touch with clients all through, saying I would definitely restart The Baking Tray, and ever since I opened my new kitchen near Carter Road in Bandra on March 15 this year, I’ve had a fantastic response. People have called to congratulate me, and place orders, and I’m feeling optimistic again. Now, my new goal is to open an outlet by the end of the year somewhere in the city and develop a range of eggless products as well. Most eggless cakes turn out very dry, so I’m still trying to achieve a gooey, moist texture.
There’s been no downside to opening my own business; even the crazy hours are worth it. The way I look at it is, I still have a desk, but at least I chose this one!
Sugared Plums with Custard
This is a real simple dessert that I have made on multiple occasions when I have had guests over or when I have had leftover teacake. It is made with Instant Custard, yes! It is quick, pure vegetarian and still tastes great.
I feel it is better to have an impressive dessert laid out on the dinner table than rummaging through the fridge for leftover chocolates and ice cream; which by the way I have a great recipe for…. But lets leave that for another time.
Cut a readymade sponge cake or leftover teacake into cubes
The Sugared Plums recipe is adapted from the Goddess Nigella Lawson's sugared plums with French toast recipe, which you must try some time. If you have some plum sauce left over, you can have it with French toast in the morning. Perfect!
This recipe has three elements: custard, sugared plums and the sponge. Better to have them prepared in that order so it allows the first two to cool down before the assembly.
For the custard
500ml milk (pour half into a saucepan and the other half into a bowl)
3 tbsp custard powder
3 tbsp sugar
I use Brown & Polson Custard, which is easily available at any grocery store near you. Dissolve the custard powder into the milk in the bowl to make a smooth pasty liquid.
Boil the remaining milk in the saucepan along with the sugar.
Remove from the heat and add in the pasty custard mix, put it back on the heat on low, and cook for another 2-3 minutes. Stir continuously till it begins to thicken.
Remove from the heat and allow it to cool slightly
For the sugared plums
1 cup cranberry juice
1/2 cup sugar
500 gm plums
1" cinnamon stick
Rinse the plums, cut them in half, remove the pits and then quarter the rest.
In a saucepan, dissolve the sugar into the juice on low heat, stirring occasionally.
Once the sugar has dissolved, add the cinnamon stick. Turn up the heat and let the pan bubble till the mixture gets syrupy. Do not stir!
Add the plums and turn the heat to simmer for about 10 minutes.
The plums will leave some of their natural juices. Once the plums are tender, but definitely not mushy (check by pricking it with a fork), remove from the heat and allow it to cool a bit before assembly.
For the sponge
Buy an off-the-shelf sponge cake, or use a teacake you may have as a leftover. Don't worry if when you open the pack it seems a bit dry; the plums will juice it up. Cut the cake into cubes.
For a nice serving twist, layer this dessert in martini glasses
Place a few sponge cubes into your dessert bowls or martini glasses.
Pour a spoonful of the sugared plums on top.
Top with a generous serving of custard.
Cover with cling film and refrigerate for a minimum of 30 minutes or till you are ready to serve. This allows the custard to set a bit.
You could use this assembly for most seasonal fruit e.g. strawberries/ gooseberries/ mangoes (they should be added freshly cut on top of the custard).
How to do the same
Be willing to invest your time and money, without expecting profits immediately, and have a support system to provide backup for you at this time.
Starting our own business is always a gamble, but if you don’t try it, you’ll never know. So take the plunge.
You need to get out there and publicise your business, so use social media extensively. Remember, the people on Twitter and Facebook are also your target group.
Most businesses grow by word of mouth, so your products have to speak for yourself.
(This series has now ended)
From HT Brunch, May 5
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