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Sunday, June 20, 2021

Between an oven and a hot place: My baking journey

Confronted with a hefty price for her daughter's birthday cake, this self-taught baker decided to have a go herself.

Reading Time: 4 minutes 

The warm smell of chocolate and vanilla wafted through our home as I sat licking the leftover cake batter. At 8 years old, I already had a keen love for baking – inspired by my mum.

Mum’s recipes were simple. She taught me to bake using a teacup as a measure and a spoon to mix the batter. Her methods were as unconventional as her stove-top oven and her cakes as soft as clouds laced with butter.

As if my mum wasn’t inspiration enough, my cousin Natasha would regularly allow me the honor of separating eggs/assisting her in churning out her signature Cashew Biscuits and Chocolate-Walnut loaf. Nat was a stickler for rules and taught me to ALWAYS sift the sugar, flour and cocoa – a lesson that has held me in good stead.

I was a keen student in the company of keen bakers!

Putting some finishing touches on a wedding cake where each tier was a different flavour!

Over the years, my love of baking was dethroned by guitars, rock and music festivals. However, when motherhood came knocking, I quickly became that over-excited mother who celebrates the baby’s birthday each month. For the first year of my daughter Shannon’s life, my family gathered every month to celebrate her birthday.

Knowing my love for baking, art and the element of surprise, there was an unspoken expectation from my guests – one that I willingly strived to meet as I baked cakes in different flavours and shapes each month. I never imagined those little parties were but a training ground for the journey ahead.

We moved to Sydney in early 2012 with a three-year-old Shannon in our arms and our lives tightly packed into 6 pieces of luggage. Life was suddenly a blank page in the best and worst ways. Shannon’s birthday rolled around amidst our chaos of starting afresh both socially and practically. I found myself processing a local cakemaker’s $250 quote for Shannon’s dream cake that year. Spending that much on a cake would force me to compromise on other aspects of her birthday party – a compromise that I wasn’t willing to make.

I decided to have a go at the cake myself. Voila! A 3D Peppa Pig cake – oohed and aahed over and approvingly devoured by the little guests in 5 minutes flat.

Shannon is a creative child. Her imagination has no boundaries and therefore she assumes the same of mine. Over the years, her cake requests only grew in complexity and eccentricity – from ice castles to giant 3D Cadbury bars and a Disco ball cake that spun and lit up. Always eager to surpass the expectation, I harnessed my creative gifting and my Engineering background to create cakes that wowed Shannon and now, my son Jaden.

Friends began to notice my cake skills and I soon became the designated baker within my circle. I was quite content making cakes for fun and giving them away for free. However, my sweet friends Junne Duquilla and Amanda Regler repeatedly encouraged me to turn it into a business. Junne, forcibly, even became my first paying customer. An ABN number and a Facebook page later, ‘Baker Mum’ was born.

 

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A post shared by Baker Mum Cakes (@bakermumcakes)

Out of my tiny home kitchen, I have baked countless cakes for countless people from all over Sydney. I’ve made simple cakes, complex cakes – regular, eggless, GF and vegan too! Elegant Wedding Cakes, Supercar cakes that move, cakes that hang upside down/light up, cakes convincingly disguised as a pot of Biryani, a Wok of Noodles, bucket of Coronas or a bottle of wine – fully edible -I’ve made them all. Fondant rarely appears on my cakes – it’s all chocolate and buttercream for me!

Baking continues to bring me joy and challenge me. It’s not unusual for me to camp at my local Bunnings as I come up with design intricacies – my version of baking often involves power tools! I use my Electrical Engineering degree to steadily redefine people’s approach to cake – while still slaving over creating multiple moist, delicate layers of cake and icing. With cakes, as it is with people, what’s a good illusion without substance?

I’d love to say that I threw out the figurative ‘Baking Rule Book’. However, in truth, I’ve never read the rule book nor attended a baking class in my life. I happily enjoy a level of freedom limited only by my imagination, founded on practical experience and spurred by people’s ever-growing loyalty to Baker Mum cakes.

Looking back, I am thankful that once-upon-a-time I couldn’t spend $250 on my daughter’s dream cake. Choosing to make it myself set me upon the most delightful journey. I can’t offer steadfast wisdom on how to choose when life puts one between ‘a rock and a hard place’. However, there’s one choice I can advise with confidence. If life ever places you between ‘an oven and a hot place’, choose the oven!

READ ALSO: MasterChef Australia’s Depinder: From pharmacy to food


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Melissa Domingo
Melissa is an Electrical & Electronics Engineer who much prefers to Engineer words, music & cake - always searching for gold in the mundane.

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