The Beautiful Memories Of The Storytelling Baker
In the spirit of love, there are few better ways to express the heartfelt sentiments of love than with a handmade creation that elicits utter multi-sensory pleasure.
Even if you’re not a fan of sweets, there’s no denying the symbolism behind cake and celebration. With the rise of Instagram comes the unveiling of talented bakers and the results of their out-of-this-world imagination.
At the tender age of 25 with a handful of years of baking experience under her belt, Ng Li Tying (@nglitying), the founder and magic hands behind The Spatula and The Pen, has kneaded her way to a loyal following with her breathtaking creations.
Visualised from the stories shared by her customers, Li Tying’s customised cakes typically take her an entire day to conceptualise, which includes sourcing for ingredients and decorative elements. The newly engaged partnerships and buying manager at lifestyle brand Naiise shares with TFCS how her journey started, and the places it’s taken her to.
Images: Ng Li Tying
TFCS: How did your passion for baking begin?
Li Tying: I started baking in junior college, when I was thinking of handmade gifts to gift friends with. Back then, I dabbled mostly in brownies and cookies. I then ventured into more complicated bakes like cakes and pies in 2013.
TFCS: How does a typical week for you look like?
Li Tying: I’m working at Naiise on weekdays handling marketing and buying. At the end of the week, I bake for customised orders by those who have emailed me. As long as my bakes can make a difference to someone, I’m happy to be baking for them.
TFCS: Your creations are beautiful and organic. Where do you get your inspiration from?
Li Tying: Thank you. It’s really hard to say; inspiration comes from everywhere.
Sometimes I imagine it in my head, sometimes it’s a spin-off from a drink or a meal I’ve had. There are times I cannot explain how I get a certain idea or image, and it just works. The ideas or concepts just pop into my head.
TFCS: Please share with us a little on your creative process, from the point a client approaches you with a request to the final result.
Li Tying: Most people send me a story, and some will include specific requests of what they want and don’t want.
For those who write a story, I gather what I can about the recipient’s preferences and personality, and conceptualise a cake from there. The texture, flavour combination, type of cake, cake appearance can take as fast as one day or as long as one month to finalise – depending on when inspiration strikes.
These days, having had a little more experience with cake decor, most times the final look of the cake is decided when I assemble it. It’s somewhat like art – like a blank canvas – I know what I want to put in and on the cake, but the exact look and feel of it is decided right at the time when I put out all the different components required, and assemble them together.
TFCS: What are some of the highlights of your journey as a baker, as well as challenges?
Li Tying: I love creating, and it brings me great joy to create something new each time.
At the same time, there is also that unspoken expectation to make each creation better than the previous and to continually improve and outdo my previous bakes. But when I look back, I do appreciate each one of them for their details, and most definitely for the stories behind them.
I think in particular for me, because I customise bakes according to stories people share with me, the stories are the reason for me to continue this. Each cake is defined by a story. When I look back at the pictures, I get reminded of how the stories made me feel.
Plenty of challenges in this journey, that’s for sure – from carving out time to plan and execute a cake (including buying ingredients, baking, etc), on top of the responsibilities of having a day job. It really isn’t easy. It’s very time-consuming to just conceptualise a cake, then to travel around to different places to ensure I get the best and most appropriate ingredients or components for the cake in accordance to the story/client’s preferences, then finally putting them together. It’s tiring but rewarding, if done well.
TFCS: As a solo entrepreneur, how do you keep yourself going through tough times?
Li Tying: As a Christian, I do pray and trust God to steer me in the right direction.
Most times, I give myself pep talks. When you’re in the middle of it and stuff happens or when you’re just really stressed out, you just have to keep going anyway. I just keep pushing myself through it.
Sometimes it calls for a time-out. When I really need it, I take one to prevent further burn-out and to try and get fresh ideas. Exercise gives me time to clear my head too, when I’m stuck with old ideas and can’t get past that block.
I do find that sometimes I run into creative slumps too, and that bothers me a lot. I try my best to keep being inspired and keep having new fresh ideas. After all, each cake is meant to be customised and should be very different from any other cake, whether it’s baked or bought.
TFCS: If you could turn back time, is there anything you would do differently about your business?
Li Tying: Not really. I’m contented with my journey thus far and I’m definitely grateful. I never expected myself to have come this far, let alone bake some of the things I’ve baked in the last few years, and I’m thankful for the experience.
Each experience – good or bad, happy or sad – has shaped me and made me better at what I do, so each tear and sweat shed was worthwhile (as cheesy as that sounds, it’s really true). So, no, I don’t think I would have wanted to change anything. Rather, I just work hard each day to make sure that I’m doing my best each time and onwards in the future.
TFCS: Any words of experience for someone who’s looking to pursue their own path?
Li Tying: It isn’t always about passion.
I think that passion or love can only drive you so far, but it won’t sustain you or bring you through to the finish line. It takes discipline, and a strong anchor to the reason behind everything you do to really continue on with this journey. So when times get tough and you start having doubts, you always, always try to remind yourself of why you began this – that keeps you going.
Practice makes perfect too, and you need discipline to keep practising, keep improving, and keep outdoing yourself. Pursue excellence and improvement, and not just passion.