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Home bakers

No cakewalk: How I started a Kolkata home bakery at 21

How Whisk and Frost came about from a single baking tin and lots of passion. Plus some pro tips on starting your own baking venture

Aatreyee Mohanta | Published 15.01.22, 05:31 PM
A bundt birthday cake by Whisk and Frost (L); cupcake-making in progress

A bundt birthday cake by Whisk and Frost (L); cupcake-making in progress

I can’t quite remember where I acquired the knack for baking, but if memory serves right, I’ve always been my happiest in the kitchen. I started out with simple amateur bakes like chocolate chip cookies and tea cakes. But before I knew it, I was making red velvet cakes and shortbread cookies. 

I used to save up my pocket money to buy baking supplies — ingredients, tools and the works. When I was around 12, friends and relatives stopped giving me clothes or jewellery and started giving me money to buy kitchen equipment!

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My single, round baking tin quickly turned into an expansive set of 12 differently shaped baking tins. Then came the electric whisks, spatulas and offset spatulas. By the time I was 21, I had hoarded quite a bit of baking equipment. When the pandemic hit, I already had enough material in my kitchen to contribute to the baking boom, and professionally no less. 

Get the ball rolling…

One evening, I attempted to make the much-dreaded chocolate eclairs (my eclairs would sneakily lead me to my independent business. Sweet epiphany, amirite?). Even if you’re a total rookie, you might know that this delicate French pastry isn’t easy to whip up at home. 

The Internet confirmed that making an eclair needed precision of technique and quite a bit of troubleshooting (the wrong piping tip could spell disaster, the eclairs could come out uneven, they could crack, or worse, they could be too flat to actually be filled with cream).

After multiple YouTube tutorials, I mustered up the courage to pursue a recipe I liked. To my surprise, the eclairs turned out perfect! I had never been prouder of myself and my friends and family absolutely loved them.

Last year in July, I had planned a sleepover with a friend. We had planned to bake eclairs, of course! After we put the eclairs in the oven and chatted over the whipped cream, we realised we both harboured dreams of starting a home bakery. 

A fun conversation soon transformed into a business pitch to my parents, who vehemently cheered us on. The sugar rush from the eclairs also helped. “If we don’t try starting this home bakery now, we never will,” we figured. That was how our home label Whisk and Frost was born. 

New beginnings

A few months back, however, my friend and co-baker had to move to Delhi to pursue a Master’s degree. I was left to handle things on the home front. 

When we were starting out, we were baking, keeping accounts, curating social media, taking orders and handling deliveries all by ourselves. From the logo, the menu and the recipes, it was all a labour of love. Since the kitchen at my home was the base for our bakery, I found myself putting in all my time into it.

I was then, and still am, working a full-time job, which my family jokingly calls my ‘day job.’ I usually bake in the evenings and sometimes work rolls into the night, when I have to get orders ready in time. Time management was becoming a key ingredient. 

My work as a food writer does help and keeps me on my toes constantly. My 40-hour workweeks also include reviewing new menus, culinary research and talking to experts about trends or food history. In a way, my day job helps me cultivate my side-hustle! I have been baking as a teen, which steered me towards lifestyle journalism, specifically food writing. But I never thought my passions would seamlessly coalesce.

Adulting and how!

My mother is one of my biggest cheerleaders. “How did you start your home bakery and how do you manage it?” someone asked me once.

“With lots of courage and a supportive (but pushy) mom,” I replied. 

It sounds easy and maybe it was. Not in terms of physical effort or groundwork, or even the time and planning I had to put in. But the fact that it isn’t too difficult to do what your heart desires. If you know what you are doing is making you happy, it’s probably the first and only indication you need that it’s a good decision. 

As orders started rolling in every day, it started to feel like a totally grown-up business venture as opposed to something silly that we had decided to start in school.  It seems unreal that I have repeat customers who order tea cakes every other week.

Whenever I smell vanilla mix and pour batter or even add the sticker of my brand on packed boxes, I feel at peace with myself. 

Take your pick

Initially, my menu featured the basics — cookies, cupcakes, brownies and eclairs. In the last eight months, it has expanded to include tea cakes, birthday and anniversary cakes, and an array of my signature flavoured brownies (our salted caramel is the showstopper).

Of course, my eclairs have earned the best praises. Not only are they crisp on the outside, but also filled to the brim with cream. Unlike most commercial bakeries, I do not cut the eclairs open and then pipe the cream, I use a nozzle to fill them. As you bite into them, they ooze vanilla cream, which is exactly how I like to eat my eclairs!

Creating layer cakes is my favourite, though. Slicing the cake, filling it and frosting it has to be one of the unsung joys of my life. Every time I get a custom cake order, it gives me the opportunity to play around with colours and designs, which is happy work for me because my creative thirst for edible art is never quenched. 

Tips to consider for your own baking venture

Kolkata is steadily placing its trust in home bakers, as more people realise the merits of artisanal production. If you too are considering taking a leap of faith, here are some things to keep in mind:

  • Do something different: If you are planning your own bakery, it’s important to create your own niche. While the line-up could be classic or familiar, the flavours and finish can be your own. Try to do something that makes your product unique.  
  • Prioritise cutting costs: A home bakery does not need a huge amount of investment if you are already an avid baker. You don’t need every possible piece of equipment under the sun, you can start off with the tins you already have. Big investments constitute buying premium ingredients and packaging material. After your initial investment is recovered, try to reinvest a small part of that back into your business.
  • Social media is your saviour: Marketing your product is crucial. Always make high-resolution content for Instagram — reels, videos, pictures. Customers always eat with their eyes first, so if your product looks enticing, you will get orders.
  • Be a pro at delivery: In my experience, while cab apps might be cheaper, it is better to use a food delivery app like Swiggy Genie for delivery. They use skilled delivery personnel who know how to handle fragile food products and deliver responsibly without any hitches.
  • No freebies forever: Learn how to say no to people asking for freebies. While it is okay to send a few freebies out to friends and family initially, they must understand that you run a business. Be polite but firm when you need to be to squeeze your way out of awkward conversations. If they ask, “When can we taste more of your desserts?” always reply with “I’ll bake them fresh the minute you order them!”
  • Shop smart: Use your local store for ingredients, it will always be fresher and more economical. Order your tools online from sites like Amazon, or you can contact wholesalers in the city to get your tools delivered to you. With adequate research on the Internet, you can find almost any tool you want!
Last updated on 15.01.22, 05:31 PM
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