Have you ever had something strike you, then stay put in that nook you reserve for warm, hearty things? On the balmy morning that we find ourselves basking in some very delectable sights, smells and tastes at Puffs and Peaks, I watch Jing Ting carefully flat lay some ang ku kueh and a tiramisu cake for the shoot. As her mum Linda, also fellow co-owner and baker, gazes close by the window quietly — but with a beam brighter than the sunlit porch. A delight that is as articulate as it is wordless, invariable and giving, but asks for nothing in return.
Jing Ting and her mum, Linda, are the owners, innovators and hands behind their cosy online-based bakery, Puffs and Peaks. From a solo passion project, Jing Ting now helms the fort with mum, churning out a steady stream of homey bakes; from mum’s ang ku kueh and sausage rolls, to decadent donuts and Jing Ting’s cakes. In this special Mother’s Day edition of career features, we sat down with the dynamic mother-daughter team for a heartfelt reflection on their Puffs and Peaks journey, the drive that got them here, the road less travelled and what it’s really like running a business with your mum (and vice-versa)!
*This interview was conducted and filmed pre-Circuit Breaker period.
1. Tell us about Puffs and Peaks! What do you do and what’s its backstory?
Puffs and Peaks started about 5 years ago as a passion project. I was a business student back then and Puffs and Peaks was a platform to express my creativity, because I’ve always had an interest in baking. Back then my mum was still working full-time, so she wasn’t part of it yet. [My parents] just allowed me to claim the kitchen as my spot! I started to invest a lot of my savings in baking equipment, baking pans, all the cake decorating materials. I think in the beginning of my bakery, I was actually doing a lot of decorative cakes; like buttercream cakes with a lot of colouring. It made me happy helping people to have a really good celebration with themed cakes, but along the way I realised I didn’t want to include so much colouring inside my bakes. So this progressed from being a very customised bakery to something that is more of what we want to provide, what we want to bake.
We specialise in a lot of rustic bakes such as puff pastry — my mum does a lot of sausage rolls — while I do mostly the cakes. And we don’t do any fanciful colourings on top of [our bakes], or use preservatives. We just want to keep it as wholesome as possible, that’s what our bakery is about!
2. How did you start baking? When and how did you realise that baking was your passion?
I think I started pretty young. I think…when I was 15 years old, so like Secondary 3, I chanced upon YouTube videos on how to do macarons. Back then when I started doing macarons it was a little of a stretch, because it’s a really, really difficult thing to bake. I think I had like 7 tries before I actually got a successful batch! But because of that whole process, the whole learning curve, I think I just fell in love with baking at that point in time. Since then, I started to pursue my interest in [baking]. But back then it wasn’t very viable to do a baking course, or a culinary course. So I ended up being a business student first at Ngee Ann Polytechnic, before I decided to change my career and just do baking (or culinary).
4. Tell us more about what a typical work day looks like for you! How many hours do you reckon you spend a day baking?
It starts at around 8 a.m.! My mum and I wake up and start off by doing all the admin stuff first. We take a look at our orders, if there are any new orders, or any enquiries on our email. Then around midday we start doing our prep list, which is doing the things we need to bake. So each day we do about 3 types of pastries — they can range from ang ku kuehs to whole cakes, to sausage rolls, loaf cakes and such.
Baking wise, we probably spend about 6 hours or so. But I don’t think we ever stop working on the brand; we’re always looking online for inspiration, or how we can improve our website and stuff like that.
5. How often do you come up with a new recipe and how long does it take to perfect it?
To be honest, sometimes when we go out to eat for example, when we get inspired we’ll be like, hey let’s go experiment on this. It happens quite often I would say, maybe once every week we would be like okay we should experiment on this, how can we make this different? Normally it can take us anywhere from one try, or even up to like 10 tries [to perfect a bake]. For our cookies, we spend quite a long time on them to get a perfect texture. I think I’ve baked them more than 20 times now! But during the whole process, I let my customers try [the bakes] throughout it all. We always tell them that we’re still in the process of making it better, we don’t hide that this isn’t the perfect version. We just share that process with everyone.
6. Tell us more about your culinary arts journey! Where and how did you begin?
Jing Ting: After I finished polytechnic, that was a business diploma. Then I realised that this is the time when I can actually pick what I want to pursue. So I printed out a whole list of options and showed it to my parents, like hey I want to go to this culinary school in France, or this other place…but of course, those were all a stretch. So finally, they allowed me to go to culinary school in Singapore (laughs). At that point in time there was this school called the Culinary School Of America. They didn’t offer any baking courses then, but I thought — and my parents thought — it would be good for me to take something general. Not just about baking, but I learnt a lot about cooking and learnt a lot about discipline as well throughout the process.
Linda: All the while I’ve supported her ideas, we never thought of anything [else] but to just let her try!
7. What was it like choosing to study in culinary school instead of a more “mainstream” education?
It was definitely difficult because a lot of peers who went to the culinary school I was in had prior knowledge in culinary. For me, I was just a business student, so I had zero knowledge about for example, the flow in the kitchen, certain procedures and disciplinary things that you have to do with different products. It was a very difficult learning curve for me, I was very demoralised in the beginning. But I met a few good peers who really encouraged me along the way — that’s how I became who I am today.
I think culinary school benefitted me in being a better cook at home, that’s one for sure! I learnt way more than I can imagine. But with regards to baking, I wouldn’t say I got as much knowledge as I thought I would. So I’d still call myself a self-taught baker. Because what I learnt in culinary school was more relevant to cooking. I did, however, manage to learn the whole kitchen flow and discipline.
8. Where did you get your hands-on baking experience from?
Some of them include my mum, sometimes we’d attend classes on how to bake layered cakes and such. All these classes build up and we always source for different classes from Phoon Huat, or Baker’s Brew Studio and online tutorials.
Then last year, I decided that I should take a one year working holiday visa in Australia. In the first 4 or 5 months I was working as a chef in one of the restaurants at Byron Bay, where I did mostly desserts. After 5 months I decided to move to a more city-like place, so I moved to Melbourne and decided that I really wanted to bake. But for the restaurants and bakeries out there, they don’t recognise me as a baker because I have a culinary degree. So I literally begged my way into one of the bakeries in Melbourne, called Tivoli Road Bakery. The head baker, Monique, decided to accept me as a baker with no experience and she really groomed me in the 6 months. That was the best experience I could ask for. I’ve always wanted to learn how to bake bread in a bakery itself, at high volume; not just regular yeasted bread but sourdough bread, which requires a lot more effort and care.
9. Describe your relationship with your mum! What are your respective roles in running Puffs and Peaks?
I would say it can be very dynamic. We’re still best friends — on our off-days we go out to have coffee and we talk about our feelings (laugh). We love to sit at Starbucks, have a slice of cake and coffee, that’s something we would do. We would spend hours just sitting and talking to each other. Then when it comes to work, we’re just very serious. It’s like hey, you got to do this today. So it’s very dynamic, we can switch between both.
My mum does the financial side of things, she also does a lot of the baked goods that are more traditional. So our roles are split according to the things that we bake. She bakes the banana cakes, the loaf cakes, ang ku kuehs — she can also make kueh lapis! For me, it’s more of the layered cakes, the ones people order for their birthdays. And when we have new projects we’d do it together.
10. How did you mum come onboard Puffs and Peaks?
Linda: I can’t remember (laughs)!
Jing Ting: You always liked baking right?
Linda: That was more than 30 years ago! But because last year, I was retrenched by my company so I had nothing to do, so I just joined her.
Jing Ting: I think one of the things I was really touched by, was when my mum told me that 30 years ago she used to bake like, mooncakes, which are really difficult things to bake. She always had this passion for baking, but didn’t have the chance to explore it. So now — maybe it’s a good thing that happened — her being retrenched and finally joining me.
11. Has running a business together changed the dynamics of your relationship though?
Jing Ting: Definitely. I think I’ve never really seen the serious side of my mum, because all the while she’s just a mother, she’s loving, caring. But when we started doing this together, of course I had to see different sides of her and vice-versa. And we have to accept that together.
Linda: She’s very hardworking. She wants everything to be perfect! It’s quite tough (laughs)!
11. What are some of the biggest challenges you have faced in your career thus far and how did you overcome/are you overcoming them?
I think one of the things is space constraints. So this year especially, we’ve got a little bit more volume than last year. Also because we have two of us now, we started accepting more orders. But then we realised that our home kitchen is a little bit small for us, we need more storage. I remember one bake sale when we had a lot of orders and we didn’t have enough space. We had to get a new fridge all of a sudden, delivered in one week!
12. And what has been the most rewarding?
Linda: When the customer feedbacks!
Jing Ting: Everytime I say, Mummy this person says your ang ku kueh is very nice! She’s never had this outside before! Then I can see her face light up, I think that’s the most fulfilling part.
13. Do you have any advice for aspiring bakers?
I would say if you have the thought of even doing it, you should just go for it. I always believe everything happens for a reason. If this thought even ends up in your head, you need to pursue it. You don’t have to be the best baker in the world, you don’t have to be comparing yourself to everybody else. But as soon as you have the thought, pursue it. That’s where it all starts.
14. What’s next for Puffs and Peaks?
We’re very excited to say that we’re opening a store! Finally, a break and mortar store at a very humble community centre — at Tampines Central Community Complex. We’ll be opening probably around June 2020! (Stay tuned for updates!)
Ahead of opening their first brick and mortar bakery, Puffs & Peaks will be operating by bake sales only from 12 May 2020. Follow them on Instagram and subscribe to their Telegram channel for the latest updates, bake sales and treats in the making.
This Mother’s Day, we celebrate all mothers and empowering mother figures alike in a series of dedicated content. From our stories to yours; memories, dreams and fears — join us in the occasion. Happy Mother’s Day!
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