One afternoon just right before I started my home bakery business (with a cottage food license) in Athens, GA., my great friend, Eric, helped me develop my business plan. His first question was what would be the concept of my business? An Asian infused bakery was my first idea. Athens is one of those the hip cool university towns that allow people to be different and do their own thing. I thought my bakery business actually had a chance in Athens.
Growing up with my mom and grandmother who were excellent cooks help me learn the art of Thai style cooking with an outdoor kitchen...cooking with gas on a stove top without an oven. There were a variety of spices and ingredients that I experienced when cooking Thai food.
I remembered when I was a little girl, my grandma owned a neighborhood "Boat noodle"or KuaiTiao Ruea shop in Bangkok. The aromatic smell from spices, garlic, radish and soy sauce she put in her soup pot still makes me hungry today.
I used to try to hind from my mom every time when she started cooking. This is because I was always called to help with the boring jobs of pealing garlic, grinding the toasted rice by using a pestle and mortar, cutting the morning glory into noodle liked shapes, etc. She started teaching me how to mix-and match all kinds of ingredients and spices into each dish. She cooked without using any measuring instruments, measuring cups, teaspoon, tablespoon, or scales. All she used was her instinct and personal taste buds.
Growing up, I discovered that by combining certain spices and ingredients, I could create magic in the kitchen! I grew up to be a pretty good cook. Today, I can create good meals for my family, but I found that I didn't want to do it everyday. I can't see myself getting up, drinking my first cup of coffee, and then marching into the kitchen and to cook for three or four hours.
What I did find was my interest in baking. That all started when I was about twelve or thirteen years old. My mom bought a "Baking Pot" which was a pretty big pot that can fit four 1/8 size sheet pans stacked on top of each other with a heating element on top. She purchased this very strange item from a door to door salesman that walked around the neighborhood. I remember the small cookie cook book that came with it. We baked the cookie almost every week. And remember we did all of this without using an oven! Growing up in Thailand, no one I knew had an oven in their home!
One day I asked my mom if I could bake a cake. "No", she said. "Cakes are really hard to make." We can't make a cake" was her final answer to me. That kind of stopped my dreams of baking my first cake. I just thought it would be to difficult. You have to remember that back then you couldn't simply look it up on YOUTUBE, GOOGLE or PINTEREST.
|My first apple pie baked in a small oven, Bangkok THAILAND|
In 2005, I had a chance to come to the USA for my Ph.D research at The University of Georgia in Athens, GA. That was the first time that I learned how to use a real oven. I baked an easy recipe that I found on a box of ready-to-bake brownies that I bought from Walmart. After I had some practice with a real oven, I had a chance to improve my baking skills to the next level. Rick Rose, my husband's dear friend, is always mentioned in my life history as my first baking teacher and my official taster. He taught me how to bake an apple pie.
After finishing a year in the states, I brought my American husband, Speedy Arnold, with me to Bangkok. After we settled down a little, he bought me a small oven one Christmas. The oven was just a bit bigger than a toaster oven.
My baking career started right then and there, I quickly discovered that I was very passionate when it came to baking and decorating my baked goods. During the day, I was a university professor who taught undergraduate and graduate students how to become Science teachers. When I got back home from work, I started my baking right away. I baked pies, cookies, cupcakes and then cakes. I never felt tired when baking and usually stayed in my fancy work clothes with an apron on until late almost every single night.
My artist's soul was deep down inside my "teacher's body",
I always enjoyed decorating my baked goods after they came out of the oven, Actually, the art of decorating was as important if not more than the actual baking process. From a hobby, it became a side business after I took my baked goods to my coworkers. They started putting in their cake orders for parties, seminars, or any other occasions that they could use desserts.
I remembered one year, during the Chinese New Year celebration, my household refrigerator was completely full of cakes that I made for my customers!!!
With the Asian palate that I have, I found American cakes and frosting were way too sweet for me. I remembered one time, my American friend brought her homemade carrot cake to the party, and I fell in love with everything except the sweetness of it. I started tweeting the flavors of basic American recipes by cutting down the level of sugar until they satisfied my Asian taste buds. Asian cakes are less sweet, lighter, and have a sponge like texture. We use a lot of fruits or glaze more than thick and heavy sweet frosting.
Soon I started researching good recipes for my cakes from the internet, cook books, other sources. After repeating experiments with a variety of cake/cheesecake recipes, I came up with my first recipe for one of the most popular menus at the bakery. The Japanese cheesecake, or cotton like or sponge like cheesecake, is usually served plain with a sprinkle of powdered sugar or marmalade spread on top. This plain "naked' cheesecake goes very well with a cup of hot green tea or Jasmine tea, which is similar to having a piece of pound cake with a cup of hot coffee in American society.
|A Japanese cheesecake with chocolate ganache and fresh fruits|
My version of the Japanese cheesecake has less sweet whipped cream frosting. We usually serve it by the slice or sell it as a whole cake with fresh fruits on top. The creation goes even further and fancier when adding chocolate ganache and a variety of fresh fruits on top. For me, a piece of our Japanese cheesecake allows all of the wonderful flavors without the heavy, dense, full body of New York style cheesecake. A cold semi-sweet whipped cream frosting and tangy flavor of fruits combined with chocolate is perfect for an after dinner dessert.
Before I started my Cottage Food License baking business, I had to come up with a set cake menu. I invited a bunch of friends to come and enjoy a cake tasting at our house. They didn't get paid, but they got to try my cakes with complimentary adult beverages! We all had a lot of fun that night! And I learned a lot!
My first Asian-infused cakes on the bakery menu included Japanese Cheesecakes, Pineapple Sunrise Cakes, Young Coconut Cakes, and my Orange Cream Dream cake (or OCD
named by my husband). Also I had basic American/European cakes where I cut down the level of sweetness in the recipe which included Lemon Meringue, Chocolate Tiramisu, and Red & Black for our beloved hometown of the University of Georgia Bulldogs' colors!
My staff at the bakery always thinks that I am crazy! I always come up with some ideas that surprise them. They know that I have a science background, so they aren't surprised if one day they walk into the kitchen and see me in a "scientist lab coat" doing some experiments by adding exotic ingredients to my recipes.
Being from the "Far East" or "The Orient" seems to make us exotic or at least very different. I feel like we have a ton of Asian ingredients that I grew up with that the western world would never think about putting into their baked goods. I always encourage my people to think outside of the box, and try new things by using Asian items to our recipes.
With one of my first cakes, my Young Coconut Cake, I used a basic angel food like coconut cake, and then added a
homemade young coconut custard filling (we use a lot of young coconuts freshly cracked open in Thai desserts), then frosted with coconut Italian buttercream.
Our customers have told me that our coconut cakes have very unique flavors and textures. One thing that they like the most is that it isn't so sweet that it hurts your teeth!
Our Taro Purple Velvet Cake is another cake that I came up with, because of my fond memories of Taro cake rolls and Taro smoothies that I always enjoyed when I was an undergraduate student at my university.
Taro is an Asian root and I have discovered that when I add taro to cakes or other baked goods that I can come up with wonderfully different desserts!
Our Taro Purple Velvet cake is very moist. The cake has small pieces of Taro mixed into cream cheese frosting and topped with pecans, one of the most go-to nut in the South.
For croissants, when we put Taro puree into the filling, it adds a very creamy texture. By the looks of this odd Asian root, you would never guess how wonderful it can be in sweet treats!
After being open for over a year, we learned that most of our customers not only love sweet baked goods, but they also look for savory flavor in their baked goods as well. One of our best selling cookies has a sweet and salty flavor. I call it our "Teriyaki Temptation". Yes, you heard it right, we put Teriyaki sauce in our cookies! I remembered I thought about Teriyaki sauce, because of my favorite Japanese lunch spot, Innoko, which is located less than a mile from our bakery. The first time I mentioned the idea of putting Teriyaki into our cookies, my staff said "What?! Teriyaki?!" And our customers have the same reaction!
It wan't anything magical... I just let my imagination take the lead. We actually tried out many ways of putting Teriyaki flavor into our cookies. Finally, we found that serving them with oatmeal and brown sugar with a bit of sea salt on top is the best way. We have a customer from Atlanta, whose son lives close near by, come in every week to get these cookies to take back home.
Over the last few years, I have experimented and come up with our very successful Asian enhanced recipes.
So far, I have created turmeric ginger snap cookies, peanut butter & shallot cookies,
|Peanut butter & Shallot cookies|
cheddar shallot scones, Tsunami scones (wasabi-bacon), Asian harvest bread (Dicon Radish-coconut with ginger and lemongrass icing), Thai tea muffins and cookies, taro croissants, green tea croissants, red bean croissants, green curry quiche, galangal quiche, and panang quiche.
As long as we think outside of the box, we hope to come up with many more delightful treats for our customers!