Lifestyle

Pandemic baking craze catches on

Pandemic baking craze catches on

It is the latest fad in town. Young people on social media have taken to baking for fun and business, triggering an explosion of bakers online. A quick search for pastries on Instagram returns tens of business pages offering the services – some within my locality.

Just two years ago, it was such a daunting task trying to get a birthday cake online, and one would be forced to get them from a physical cake house.

But since the onset of Covid-19, that forced people all over the world to stay home, social media has been flooded with photos, videos and challenges of people making their own bread and cakes.

In the wake of the pandemic, stress levels rose, rather than just seeking a sugar rush and a tasty afternoon snack, experts say that learning these skills and taking part in the bake challenges is a form of taking solace from the world’s troubles. Thus, the term ‘comfort food’ which is the sentimental and nostalgic feelings associated with food.

The part of human brain, which is responsible for processing smell, science researchers say, is directly connected to the part of the brain that is responsible for memory. However, it’s not the case for any of the other senses, which means smell has this direct route to the memory system.

An article from Bond University explains: “Any kind of odour has a much more profound effect than any of the other stimuli, that’s why baking the cake is so much more effective than buying it. Having that smell in the house is the bigger factor, more so than even eating it.”

While it was a creative way to earn an income in tough times – especially for those who were laid off because of the pandemic, for others, it was a chance to home in on a newly found purpose.

Re-invention they call it. Had the pandemic not happened, Philip Kombo, a singer, songwriter and guitarist, only cooked and baked as a pastime.

Cooking and baking had always been activities he only pursued during his fun time. During the lockdown, when he had to stay home most of the time, he says, he decided to “refine” his skills. Again, during his free time.

Philip Kombo

Philip Kombo, singer, songwriter and guitarist turned baker.

Photo credit: Pool

“At first, I would do it for my family and close friends. They would be my taste-tests. I would post step-by-step processes and the final product on my social media as well. Everyone kept insisting that I should do it commercially,” says Philip.

Pastry business

After much persuasion, the 27-year-old decided to put up a coffee and cream cake he had made on sale. It was bought in a couple of minutes. He was in disbelief, he recalled.

“I just never thought people were interested in buying food, baked goods in particular. Aside from the cakes, I make everything from scratch – pasta, the bread and bagels used on sandwiches, as well as the candies that go on my cookies. I take time with my craft,” he says.

In August last year, just five months into the lockdown, Philip started his pastry business – Oka, a Swahili word for bake. His menu ranges from buttercream cakes to macarons, bagels, bread, donuts, tiramisus, cookies, burgers and sandwiches.

For other baking business owners like Rose Nthiga, also a self-taught baker, the pandemic has been a blessing, despite the challenges that have come with it.

“We are so lucky. I’ve made some of our best cakes, increased my personal best efficiency, and have such a high customer satisfaction rate. All whilst working under so much pressure.

But Rose has had to make some adjustments in the business for obvious reasons – to survive the tumultuous typhoon of uncertainty that gripped the globe.

“We have had to reassess the price of every cake, in every size. It has taken some time because it’s a complex formula but I think we’re there now. Not only have our ingredients costs gone up, so have other costs like driving. We also realised that our bigger cakes were massively under-priced and that we were actually making a loss on them.”

She only bakes on order and has limited capacity. She considers someone booking one of her cakes online as booking her time in making the cake. She also incurs costs right from the moment the order is placed. These costs include transaction and admin fees, followed by procurement of ingredients.

She adds, “If we are given enough notice for cancellation, we would at least have the opportunity to sell the slot to another customer. This is why we have a sliding scale on cancellation fees depending on notice period.”

“With all the usual distractions paused during this time, we have been able to get into the bowels of the business and understand how we need to adapt. Difficult decisions needed to be made, but ultimately, it’s all for making it a better business, and one that we enjoy. Through this pandemic, and hopefully long after,” concludes Rose.