Another year, another new baker comes along to a take a slice of the online cake industry. Once upon a time, this business was a niche thing where only a brave and talented few dared venture into. Nowadays, almost everyone is an online baker. Question is, are they good enough to get a little piece of that cake and eat it too?
Pastry Union is one of these new kids on the block. Set up by the friendly-faced pastry chef, Yin Wong, who has long dreamed of doing something just like this all her life. Apparently, she tells me, she has started making dark “chocolate” cookies out of mud since the age of 5. But along the way, under the pressure of a typical Chinese upbringing, she was conditioned to pursue a more realistic career. Her studies brought her to Australia, Canada and eventually China, where she ventured into a cafe business with her husband in Shanghai. She sold cakes, pastries, sandwiches, and mugs upon mugs of coffee to happy regular customers and thought that life couldn’t get any better. Her mum – always the practical one – jested during one of her visits, “With all the education you have, you ended up jual roti (selling breads) in China?”
However 6-months later, as fate would cruelly have it, that jual roti lifestyle came to a halt and the cafe had to closed under unfortunate circumstances.
Not one to really give up, she put that sad episode behind her and quickly enrolled herself into the esteemed culinary school, Le Cordon Bleu in London. Her skills were highly prized and she was later invited to work at the 5-star Connaught Hotel prior her graduation. Of course she took that chance. She then found herself leading the pastry section at the award-winning Sage restaurant upon her return to Kuala Lumpur. And in the last 2 years, she also has a hand in educating and cultivating the creative minds first year students at one of the city’s best culinary schools.
Her back-story may be expansive and impressive, but it was her artistry that really caught my eyes. I couldn’t stop lusting over the simplicity and exquisiteness of her carefully crafted cakes, which were featured on the media profile booklet she had sent out as part of a self-marketing effort. They looked almost too pretty, and being a sucker for these things, I quickly wrote back to her so I get to see them for myself.
Sitting across the cozy table from her at a local Starbucks one Saturday morning, this chocolate lover revealed to me that she develops her cakes by concept and sketch before anything else. Her imagination takes her through layers and textures before finally experimenting with its taste. Perhaps this is what one would call drawing inspiration and flavours. I certainly found all of these quite intriguing and fascinating.
She tells me how she would fuss over the smallest details and takes her an average of 2-3 months to develop each of her creation. The Devil is her interpretation of the tempting ingredient, while Moo is a tongue in cheek way of visually interpreting her love for two desserts – cheese and chocolate. Now, one doesn’t need to choose between two separate desserts when it’s fused together. The Garden is perhaps her most romantic and abstract concept which showcases the freshness of a garden in bloom right after a heavenly shower. She has also previously designed cakes for weddings and smaller projects with florists.
Now, the true test of baker is of course the taste of the cakes. And this is where my experience started rolling down a slippery slope. With the exception of the Garden (thanks to the underlying cranberries), I felt that the flavours in the other two were not interesting. They lack of real dimensions and the flavours didn’t evolve further. How unfortunate as I was expecting to be blown away after all that hype and build up.
To say that my expectations were thwarted would be mildly understating it. I could see everyone on the table thinking the same after a spoonful. It’s not that they tasted horrible but we felt shortchanged like the kid who unwrapped the biggest present under Christmas tree only to find a penny inside. Which was a pity, these beautiful works of art could have easily won many over with a little bit more effort paid on taste rather than form.
This has left me thinking if she should have adopted the conventional way of baking a cake instead – flavours from scratch, rather than from sketch. But for now, it’s back to the drawing board. I really hope Chef Yin continues developing and tweaking her recipe to make them perfect for the palate as they are to the eyes. Each of her creation is beautifully designed and her level of finesse is indeed undoubted. A great craftsman doesn’t come along everyday and I would really like to see her succeed.
A special thanks to Yin for sparing her time to speak to me and openly sharing her cake creations.
For all orders and enquiries, please refer to their website www.pastryunion.com