Interview: Susanne Ng on making chiffon cakes her passion

Image credits: Susanne Ng

In Mumpreneur Series, we speak to mum entrepreneurs to find out the trials and tribulations of juggling family while running a business.

You might have seen her cakes being featured on The Straits Times and Mothership, or even ordered them to taste for yourself. Shaped like adorable characters such as Gudetama and Pusheen, as well as animals and fruit, these colourful and whimsical cakes are butter-free and made entirely from chiffon.

The elaborate creations are by home baker Susanne Ng, who documents tha baking process on her blog and uploads pictures of her cakes to Instagram. Her unusual cakes went viral around the world after they caught the eye of US publication Mashable. The mother-of-three talks to us about how she got her start and what it’s like running a home baking business.

What inspired you to bake chiffon cakes?
I fell in love with chiffon cakes because they are very soft, fluffy, moist and light. Also, they are lower in sugar and have less than one-third of the sugar of regular cakes. And most importantly, my kids really love eating chiffon cakes.

Where do you get ideas for cake designs from?
The first deco chiffon cake I baked four years ago was actually inspired by a dream. It sounds funny but I’ve previously shared it in other interviews. I dreamt about how to incorporate patterns onto the chiffon cake, and dreamt that I could pipe flowers onto the pan. The next day I tried it on my own birthday cake and it was successful. I got encouragement from friends who were very keen on these techniques. I started experimenting with designs, and eventually I started to bake 3D cube chiffon pops of Christmas trees and animals for my kids, and for my friends’ kids.

Your cakes look too adorable to eat. How long does it take you to bake a 3D cake on average?
On average, I take half a day to bake the cake and half a day to assemble it.

What are some of your most popular designs?
I get lots of requests for cute animals. Chinese New Year is coming, so I get a lot of requests for cute dogs, cats, whales and bears. [Ed’s note: this interview was conducted just before Chinese New Year.]

What are some challenges you face in baking?
I don’t decorate using fondant and cream, so shaping the cakes requires a lot of creativity with the moulds. I bake in paper cones to get conical shapes, egg shells to get round shapes. The shaping is a challenge, and assembling small details is quite tricky for chiffon cakes.

You recently released a Chinese edition of your book Creative Baking: Deco Chiffon Cake Basics. Are you planning to write more cookbooks?
Maybe. We’ve only briefly talked about it [with my publisher] but there’s nothing concrete yet.

How do you balance your home baking business with taking care of three kids?
I usually work around my kids’ schedules. The bulk of my working time is when they are in school and after they go to sleep. It’s quite challenging because it’s kind of 24 hours and round the clock. But I enjoy it, it’s my passion.

What is your family life like?
My family is close-knit. Weekends are always family time. We like to bring the kids out to cycle, to the playground and to skate.

Enjoying the outdoors

As a stay-at-home mum, are there times when you miss working outside?
Definitely. I used to work in a research lab and I really liked the challenges I had, like solving problems. That’s something I miss as a stay-at-home mum. Now the problems I encounter are more mundane. Of course there’s a lot of joy being with my children, but sometimes I miss the intellectual stimulation. That’s why I sometimes conduct baking experiments in my kitchen, just to get excited about something, [to make it feel] like I’m still discovering something new. So I hope that when my kids are bigger, I’ll have the opportunity to return to research.

Do your kids help you bake?
Usually, I let them play with the extra dough. Sometimes I let them design the no-bake cakes and let them get their hands dirty.

Describe your kids in one sentence.
They are all different. My first child is very serious, my second child is cheeky and my third child is cute, I guess.

What advice do you have for someone who is thinking of starting their own home baking business?
I think you definitely need passion because home baking is not very profitable. You do it because you really love and enjoy what you do. It’s also challenging being at home with your kids and managing the baking and orders. You also need to deal with enquires from customers. Sometimes their requests are very last minute, so it’s how you manage these and other things.

 

Inspired to bake your own chiffon cakes? Pick up a copy of Susanne’s books here.

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