For novices and first-timers, baking can be very hit or miss: it either goes very right (rarely) or very, very wrong (more likely).
Help is at hand. Gregory Ong is the founder of Bakestarters, a Singaporean company that creates baking kits complete with step-by-step instruction cards and video tutorials. His aim is to make it possible for anyone to get baking right the first time around. This can be those new to baking, but also old hands who are attempting a new recipe for the first time.
But why can baking be so frustratingly difficult? Ong says many horror stories are the result of recipes that are either difficult to follow or simply not very good.
Often there are just too many variables involved. A recipe might call for a cup of flour: but how many grams is that? Ingredients can also be an issue. For example, you might not end up with the best chocolate cake if you rely on baking chocolate bought from the nearest supermarket.
Ong established Bakestarters in 2016 to avoid such mishaps. “To be completely honest, before I decided to start Bakestarters, I’d only baked a couple of times. One of which was a banana cake recipe I found online that turned out to be terrible, but that might have just been me,” the 26-year-old entrepreneur laughs.
The company’s in-house pastry chef curates each recipe so it’s not only easy for beginners but also tailored to Singaporean tastebuds. Each recipe is then tested three to five times by Bakestarters’ team.
Ingredients in the kit have been specially selected and measured for the recipe.
“You don’t need to spend SG$30 or SG$40 on big bags of flour and sugar, only for them to be used just once or twice,” says Ong. “And whatever we are putting in the kits are the same ingredients we have worked with, so it is highly unlikely that you will fail.”
Baking to impress
Of course, some do fail. Ong says that about 5 per cent of the time – just one out of every 20 baking attempts – a customer using a Bakestarters kit will be left disappointed by the final outcome. It’s a figure that Ong says he is determined to get even lower.
“We have had a multitude of reasons for the failures, such as users misreading instructions. To avoid that, we have also included pictures in our new recipe cards,” he explains.
Bakestarters currently offer four ranges of kits: classics; starter kits, which cater to first-timers; the limited edition, which is a range of recipes that differ monthly; and a monthly baking subscription.
Its kits comprise a wide selection, such as brownies, cheesecakes, cookies, loaf cakes, puff pastries and sweet breads. Kits include not only ingredients and instructions but also loaf pans perfectly proportioned for that particular recipe.
While each kit is assigned difficulty level, Ong maintains that most are suited to bakers of all abilities. The recipes are also designed to work without kitchen mixers.
Beginners can try their hand at baking with the mocha marbled loaf starter kit, a basic cake that is a favourite with both young and old. Those looking for something truly addictive should try the Earl Grey cream puffs.
Bakestarters also has season offerings; in August and September, it sold mooncake kits, while kits for gingerbread cookies, yule log cakes and tiramisu are now available for pre-order for Christmas
Above all, Ong wants to show people that baking can be fun.
“People think we are just packing ingredients but one thing that we want to do is empower them,” he says. “For example, a lot of customers have purchased our bread kits – one reason why is that we have shown that bread is possible to make [at home], and it is not as hard as people think it is.
“We also have very good support service – we guide our customers through emails and through our posts on social media.”
But what about baking equipment? While ingredients and measurements can be standardised, not all ovens are created equal. Some emit more heat than others.
To address this, the Bakestarters team includes visual cues in the recipe cards so that customers don’t just refer to baking time and end up burning their creations.
Bakestarters’ limited edition series was created to test new recipes and flavours. Some of the recipes in the series have become mainstays as a result of their popularity.
An entrepreneur at heart
Ong hates the idea of being a full-time employee; he would much rather be his own boss.
His first real job out of university was in marketing at an electronics retailer. He lasted just one day. The bureaucracy and hierarchy of a large organisation was too much to bear, he says.
While he was still an undergraduate, Ong established theartbounty, an art startup that matches the works of budding artists with buyers. Although he closed it two years ago, it helped him realise he wanted to run his own business and led to the establishment of Bakestarters.
“I actually wasn’t very interested in art. It was hard to find the motivation to keep going,” says Ong. “As for baking, I like to eat, that’s an important part of the job. I do enjoy baking from time to time and I enjoy it enough to provide it as a service.”
Ong set up Bakestarters with savings he accumulated from theartbounty. The initial journey was not without challenges, particularly baking kits were a relatively new idea.
“We had to introduce the concept of using them slowly. Now, we have regular users who bake with our kits on a monthly or fortnightly basis,” he adds.
Now Bakestarters fans stash their recipe cards away among their collection of cookbooks.
“These are tried and tested so they keep it. Next time they have a party they can bake the same thing because they know it works.
“They have also been gracious enough to spread the word among their friends, so we’re very thankful.”
Bakestarters takes one to two months to come up with a new recipe and is always on the lookout for food developments that will stick.
Ong tries to avoid anything too gimmicky that may look good for social media but doesn’t necessarily taste good. Rainbow cakes are one example.
“We usually look at the flavours and ingredients people love, and then we look at how to make these desserts accessible with our baking kits,” he says.
Ong wants to take Bakestarters to the next level. He intends to introduce same-day deliveries for those who want to bake on impulse.
Live online classes are also on the cards. Ong notes that classes can be costly and casual bakers are probably too lazy to turn up in person just to learn how to make a basic sponge cake.
“We don’t want to hold classes where people just watch us at home. We want to hold classes where customers who have received our kits bake with us in real time. They can pick a time slot,” he says. “And if you have problems, there is live chat to help.”