Baker behind the bakes: Ex-accountant finds her calling in cream chiffon cakes

Valynn Tan's previous job left her in tears, but mastering fresh cream chiffon cakes has brought her — and her customers — nothing but joy.
PHOTO: Instagram/Vanillynbakery (left) and Instagram/Cakesbyvb (right)

Her Vanillyn Bakery blog and Instagram accounts are impressive displays of expertly made and beautifully photographed desserts. But it is her gorgeous fresh cream chiffon cakes that people can't get enough of.

In flavours like Matcha-Yuzu, Raspberry Rose and Earl Grey Apple, Valynn Tan's chiffon cakes are a study in flawless fresh cream frosting that is a skill most bakers would trade their best stand mixers for.

We talked to the former accountant about how she started her home-based baking business and asked for tips on how to produce the best fresh cream frosting (of course!).

When and why did you start your baking business?

I've always loved baking. Two years ago, at the start of Covid-19, my accounting job started getting very demanding. 

It was so bad that I sometimes hid inside the room and cried. I told my partner and he said, "Why don't you start a home baking business since you have the skills?" So I decided to give it a try.

Where did you learn to bake?

I'm mostly self-taught. I started off baking butter-based cakes, cookies and brownies… very basic things, and then moved on to trying buttercream, but I didn't fancy it, so I started doing fresh cream on my own.

But it was so difficult. Three years ago, I attended a Korean cake decorating class and started making fresh cream cakes after that.

PHOTO: Screengrab/Vanillyn Bakery

Tell us about your blog.

Ten years ago, I was already baking a lot and around that time, blogging was quite a trend. I read a lot of food blogs, which were very inspiring, so I started baking from them and documenting my own baking experiences. So, I thought, 'why not start a food blog?'.

That's how I started. Two years ago, I took an online food photography course by Foodtography School run by a US-based blogger who runs a blog called Broma. I update my blog twice or three times a week. Sometimes I post things that I've tried, just to share.

Where do you glean inspiration from?

I read a lot of cookbooks, scroll through Instagram and Pinterest. I also get a lot of inspiration from my travels. For example, there's this pastry shop called Wine & Sweets Tsumons in Fukuoka, run by pastry chef Yuki, that I cannot forget.

Her shop is very minimalistic, with only bar seats. She does dessert and wine pairings, and focuses on souffles. So you order and she will make the souffle right in front of you. She actually hand-whips the meringue.

She will tell you that it takes 20 mins for it to be prepared, so meanwhile, there are some pre-desserts that you can have while waiting. It was so nice to watch her in action and the pairings were really good.

I'd never experienced those tastes before. It's something I hope to do if I have the chance: offer dessert and wine or tea pairing.

Does that mean you have plans to open a bakery or cafe?

Yes, but not right now. I would love to do a workshop kind of thing because I get a lot of enquiries from people who want to learn about fresh cream frosting. So, it would a workshop that also sells bakes.

How long does it take to produce one chiffon cream cake?

I would say it takes a whole day. Sometimes, I bake the cake the night before, let it cool and then store in the fridge so it will be sturdier. At room temperature, the cakes are too soft and difficult to frost.

In the morning, I would do the cream. I need the cream to be super cold and sometimes I need to move the cake in and out of the fridge while I'm frosting so it doesn't melt. This can take an hour or. After frosting, I let the cake set in the fridge for at least two to four hours before transportation.

Fresh cream is notoriously difficult to use for frosting. How do you produce such beautiful, neat frosting with it?

It takes a lot of practice. To get cream like that, everything must be very cold. I don't use any stabilisers. The consistency of the cream for filling, frosting and piping are all different.

Every time a cake goes out the door and out of my sight, I get anxiety. Customers have to understand that delivery is not cheap because it has to be door to door, within the hour.

I always tell the driver: "You have to deliver this right away." Sometimes when I see customers post the cake and it's a bit not right (like, sometimes, the cream bulges out from the layers), my heart aches.

What's your favourite part about baking?

I enjoy decorating the most. I like to make cakes, but baking is just baking, the product comes out of the oven and that's it. But decorating is the next level.

It gives me the space to think about how to make the whole thing nice, which I really enjoy. It allows me to express my creativity. I'm lucky enough to have customers who are very open, and who give me room to decorate their cakes (in my own way). I get a lot of joy from that.

What advice do you have for people who want to bake chiffon and fresh cream cakes?

You cannot be afraid of failure. Chiffons can sink easily and I've encountered a lot of problems with them. People have shown me their cake disasters, like sunken cakes or cakes that are concave or have holes. These are all common problems with chiffon cakes.

Don't give up. I experienced all those things before, but I kept trying and trying, and asking people [for advice]. Eventually you'll be able to do it.

As for the cream, nothing beats the taste of freshly whipped cream, so you also have to keep practicing. When I first started out, my cakes were pretty rough-looking.

ALSO READ: We try Fann Wong's sold-out $75 yuzu cake to see if it's worth the hype

This article was first published in Wonderwall.sg.