She was a graphic designer by training and only baked for fun. But when her friends and family kept telling her how much they loved her cakes and encouraged her to make a career out of it, Aishah Nordin made the decision to add artisanal baker to her name.
She started by promoting her cakes via Facebook and selling mainly to friends but things picked up very quickly and she eventually quit her graphic design job to open a cake business called That Last Slice. That was in 2009. She hasn’t looked back since.
Aishah talks to SAVVY about the importance of cake design, her new interest in pastries and her plans for the future of her company.
Did you ever formally study baking?
No, I didn’t. I studied graphic design and baked just for fun. That’s why I call myself an accidental baker. It was just a hobby for me but I was able to make a really nice chocolate cake that impressed everybody. My chocolate cake was so popular that whenever we had family gatherings, I was asked to make it. One day my aunt told me to start a brand and bake professionally.
Was your chocolate cake your first breakthrough product?
Actually no, it was the Red Velvet cake. Do you recall about eight years ago there was this Red Velvet craze in Malaysia? I just got a recipe off the Internet, modified it a bit to suit the local palate and it became a hit.
You’re a self-taught baker. Do you think classes aren’t necessary?
I do think classes are necessary for certain things. I never took baking classes because I could figure things out myself when it came to baking. But I have been taking classes for Macarons and French Pastries. Cakes are pretty easy to learn how to do. You can watch a YouTube video and learn from there. But pastries are far more technical and complex. They require proper training to do well. You’ve got to get the technique right.
Do you also like cooking?
You may be surprised to hear this but actually I don’t have any passion for cooking. Of course I cook for my kids and I do actually enjoy watching some cooking shows like MasterChef, but I don’t have a strong desire to cook professionally.
Why is that?
I’m not sure. Perhaps it’s because I have a husband who’s a good cook and my mother is a good cook too. So, I don’t really have a need to cook well!
How important is cake design?
It’s very important. It’s not enough for the cake to taste good. It’s got to look good too so it can appeal to customers.
Would you say the taste-design ration is 50:50?
No, perhaps more like 40:60. That’s not to say I think that’s how it should be. But that’s how it is. Consumers care a lot about looks. People do judge a book by its cover. And they judge a cake by its design. I put a lot of effort into my cake designs. I don’t like doing super complex or fancy designs though. I prefer the clean and elegant look that’s pleasing to the eye. That’s not so easy to do though.
Does your background in graphic design help in any way?
As a graphic designer, you’re trained to look at aesthetics, to have a good balance of colours and forms. I guess I subconsciously apply that to my cake designs as well.
Do you use social media to promote your cakes?
I do. It’s mainly on Instagram. I’ve got more followers on that than on Facebook. I guess cakes are more visual and people like looking at pretty cakes.
Do you go online a lot?
Yes, I follow a few famous bakers who share their recipes and techniques. It’s always important to continue learning new things.
Do you have a lot of regular customers?
I do and they’re extremely important to me because they’re very loyal. They’ll try whatever new things I introduce. Because I care about them and want to do my best for them, in a way it helps to push me towards becoming a better and more creative baker.
Do you supply cakes to any F&B outlets?
Not many but I do supply to two cafes who buy regularly from me.
Would you ever consider opening your own cake shop?
No. If I were to open a cake shop, I’d have to think about offering savouries too. You can’t just offer dessert. That involves operating a hot kitchen. And I don’t particularly fancy cooking anyway. So, this isn’t something I want to get into.
Are you considered a home baker?
I started out as one but am not one anymore these days. I have a proper baking studio where I do my work and it’s also there that I conduct my baking classes.
Do you enjoy teaching?
I do. In fact one of the reasons I got a studio set up was so I could teach in a professional setting. But at the same time, I wanted the studio to have a very casual, home feel so I didn’t go for a shop lot. I also didn’t want an office-like environment. I made it up to look almost like a home.
What are your students like?
I have a whole mix: stay-at-home-mums, hobbyists, home bakers — mostly women but some men too.
Are there trends in baking?
Yes. There was the Red Velvet trend which I mentioned. Then there was the cupcake trend, the macaron trend, the crepes trend and so on. Now, what’s popular is something called the Unicorn Cake. I don’t do that though. It’s too cartoony for me!
Where do you see your business heading?
I want to make a name for myself in teaching. Not just cakes but pastries too. I also like the idea of providing consultancy services to restaurants and cafes that wish to revamp their dessert menus. It’d be a good challenge. And there are not many people doing that.