Many of us begin our journey, go through the tick boxes of life one after the other and settle into the comfort of having achieved the materialistic check list of life. We suppress our desires and many dreams that we may have envisioned for our personal growth. However, there are some who have crossed their t’s and dotted their i’s and then forayed into a journey – a personal journey of fulfilment of all the dreams they have conjured, and proceed to give it life. Meet Kiran Padsala Amin, a home maker who over the last few years began her journey into the world of professional baking, with Cherry on the Top, her baking enterprise, with much gusto, learning the tricks of the trade, especially with a keen eye to the needs of the market, especially mindful of those with allergies; something that was an issue with her own daughter. With a quiet confidence Kiran is going from strength to strength.
Kiran recently spoke to Sid Khullar about her experiences with commercial baking and how she has earned a name for herself in her home city of Ahmedabad.
Sid Khullar (SK): You’re a baker and going by those lovely banana muffins I tried, a fine one too! How long have you been baking and how did it all begin?
Kiran Padsala Amin (KPA): Thank you! I am glad you enjoyed the muffins. Yes, I’m a home baker and I have been so for nearly three years now, although the first steps of my baking journey began when I was in college. To cut a long story short, my recent foray into baking would be what most people would call as second innings. The journey began with my joining CaL FB group, observing various posts, nuances of the ingredients, graduating to interacting, asking questions and learning from several members and finally jumping in with my first batch of banana cupcakes and posting on CaL.
The words of encouragement from members, especially learning interesting new tricks, getting my queries answered by Blessy Bless, enhanced my confidence and I was well and truly entrenched into the world of baking for good! Another crucial reason for me to become a home baker was my daughter is allergic to dairy. This meant that for her to enjoy her treats safely, I had to experiment with several ingredients. This gave me the freedom and confidence that I could do something for my daughter to enjoy baked foods without having to worry about the medical repercussions.
SK: With baking for friends and family. You chose to take the next step and become an entrepreneur. Why?
KPA: A couple of years ago, on my husband’s birthday we invited his friends and their families for dinner. Whilst they had sampled my cooking in the past they commented on the huge improvement in the presentation and variety that evening. This built my confidence and the constant encouragement from friends and family made me take the leap into baking professionally. I have always enjoyed making rustic, fuss-free, no-frills cakes and with ideas pouring in especially from my daughter, Nitika, I began experimenting with various ingredients and also, began cake decoration, using ganache which was hugely appreciated.
I have always wanted to do something of my own. Wondering whether to open a nursery or a boutique or some such, I finally gave in to my passion for baking and Cherry on the Top was born! To quote the Instagram account, Millenial Entrepreneurs, “Doing what you are afraid of, getting out of your comfort zone, taking risks like that – that is what life is” became my motto.
SK: Did you have to change anything about your methods, recipe or style once you began baking professionally?
KPA: My learning continued, as the orders poured in! So I evolved as a home baker, using new skills and methods on my orders. I had the concept that a cake is a cake only if it is made with eggs, and of course, butter. I began replacing butter with light flavoured cooking oil, making egg-less cakes was like cheating on the whole idea of baking. However, my clients are mostly Jain, so eggs were out of the question. I used coconut milk, Hersheys cocoa powder, organic all purpose flour, vanilla extract and sometimes olive oil too. This caused costs to rise and commercially it was not very viable.
Never one to give up, I made further changes, went with the bulk Malaysian cocoa powder instead of coconut milk and began using milk for my regular clients whose needs were contrasting to my own children’s needs (no eggs,but dairy inclusive). Eventually, I became more versatile in baking with different mediums, and went ahead to bake without eggs, without dairy, without sugar, and could replace all purpose flour with whole wheat flour, mix and match almond milk, and create healthier bakes. I’ve never ever used a pre-mix and my motto is “Keep baking from scratch and with Love”.
SK: Can you share two things about baking for customers – one that you love and one that you absolutely dislike?
KPA: I absolutely adore those customers who trust me and allow me the creative freedom once the basic premise, the idea and their preference has been provided. I am not so fond of clients who bargain regarding costing and relate home baking charges to bakery goods price. Also, those clients who do not pick the deliveries on time do irritate me!
SK:There’s a trend towards egg-less baked products visible these days, with even non-vegetarians preferring egg-less versions. Why do you think this is happening and what do you feel about it?
KPA: There is a rise in food allergies these days, also being vegan is here to stay! Besides, I live in Gujarat, where mostly people follow a vegetarian diet. Even non-vegetarians prefer egg-less versions as they can freely share with vegetarian friends. For me, as a professional baker, it is safer to use less allergens in my cakes, an example being not using peanut butter for those who have peanut allergy. Moreover, egg less cakes do taste good and are pretty cost effective too.
SK: When you made the move towards professional baking, what extra stuff did you need to purchase and what sort of additional expenditure was involved?
KPA: I already had one 35 Litre OTG oven, and bought a new and bigger one almost instantly when I realised I could not bake 300 cupcakes in a single oven. I purchased my extra stuff as and when needed, and I did shop impulsively too. Of course, there was additional expenditure and sometimes I used to wonder if I was on the right track!
I took part in a Women’s Entrepreneur fair, after 3 months of baking professionally. I had a fair amount of investment in creating a website, logo, visiting cards, brochures, the stall, and lots of other things like packing material, gift bags, etc. I am not a marketing or finance person at all which meant I had to learn everything from scratch and considered all the cost as a soft launch investment. However, it did help me to get a brand name very early. The pride I felt in holding my visiting card, I can never forget that feeling. It was huge learning experience and a deeply satisfying one at that!
SK: Home makers usually have much higher standards than commercial enterprises. Did your customers pay the higher prices or did you have to bring down your personal standards to public levels?
KPA: I believe in quality first, and can never compromise on the taste, or look of the product, which does translate into not compromising on the pricing front. Yes, my customers have paid the higher prices when I have made them aware of what they are getting in comparison to outside products. It is a different story of baking from scratch with love, with the best of ingredients and utmost importance given to hygiene, all of which shows in the end product and the taste and the smile on the clients face.
SK: What do you produce mostly – sweets or savouries?
KPA: I produce sweets only, but will be doing savouries too in future. I plan to cater for a few salons and offices in near future.
SK: There’s a wide range of artificial flavours available for baked products. Do your customers prefer fresh, local and natural flavours or exotic, artificial flavours?
KPA: Personally, I prefer not to use artificial flavours and essence. Keeping that in mind, I guide my clients to use more fresh, local and natural flavours. I use Ameri colours if a client is particularly insistent. However, by and large my clients are on the same page as me, which makes life easy!
SK: If there was one piece of advice you’d give home bakers aspiring towards entrepreneurship, what would it be?
KPA: Never ever give up. It does not matter how slowly you go, as long as you do not stop.
Sid Khullar in conversation with Kiran Padsala Amin.