Welcome to Young Ambition, a column in which young adults share their passions, grand plans and pipe dreams with Wildchild. At the tender age of seven, Beatrice stumbled upon an old recipe book and into the world of baking when she made cookies for the first time. During college, she started Baked Beans on Instagram to share her musings about baking. Today, it has blossomed into a business that offers collaborative, customized bakes. We speak to Beatrice to find out more about how she turned her passion into a job as well as the inner-workings of running an online business.
How would you explain your love for baking?
I’ve always derived comfort from being in the kitchen. I love making things with my hands and baking provides me with an outlet for creative expression and experimentation. Baking is really dynamic; there are so many dishes, methods and designs out there to attempt, I don’t think I could ever get bored of it. And I also love eating bakes!
Tell us more about Baked Beans and what spurred you to start it.
I was always baking but I never really put in the effort to photograph or make notes about my bakes. At its inception, Baked Beans was just a place for me to share, archive my experiments and geek out about baking, really. After some time, I started getting messages from people asking if I took orders. Everything started from there!
A key reason why I launched Baked Beans is accountability. As someone who dabbles in many projects, I often spread myself too thin and end up quickly abandoning them. Baking consistently and improving my skills matter to me, so starting a business and announcing it to the world really keeps me dedicated to my passion.
I currently work on Baked Beans on the side as I have a day job in international trade. The bulk of my orders are customized cakes and cupcakes. They are collaborative projects with my customers; I invite them into the entire ideation process. There is usually a lot of prior discussion about the cake itself, the person it is for, the event, etc. Then, a blank canvas is filled and I try to bring their vision into reality!
Why did you choose to pursue baking on top of your day job?
I did consider pursuing it full-time when I was in my teens but my parents made subtle comments alluding to me wasting my education. That was a bit disappointing because my family is really big on food, so I thought they would empathize. They are generally supportive of my baking though, just not the idea of me doing it as a career. But I would have definitely gone ahead and pursued baking full-time if I had wanted to, can’t let a little parental expectation stop me! I studied Global Studies and English Literature at university, and I decided to pursue something relevant in my day job since I am equally passionate about world issues.
Beyond baking, what are the operations involved?
#1. Getting Inspired & Learning New Skills
I spend a lot of time on Instagram, Pinterest, and Facebook just to keep up with new baking trends and ideas. The baking community is very willing to share their knowledge online and it’s always helpful to pick up tips and tricks.
#2. Recipe Testing & Menu Development
I am always looking to add more flavours and items onto my menu, and the process usually involves researching and testing different recipes over and over again until I land on the best one. This takes the most time compared to everything else!
#3. Sourcing, Purchasing & Stocktaking
While most ingredients can be found in supermarkets or baking supply stores, there are still some items I have to go out of my way to procure. What I struggle with the most is timing— I really have to be on top of my inventory. Some items are hard to come by or take a while to ship. There are also time-sensitive items such as flowers and fresh fruit, which I have to purchase a day or two before the order is due.
#4. Pricing & Accounts
For starters, it’s difficult to have exact accounts as a home-based business, simply because I bake for personal consumption as well. I use the same ingredients I would use for orders too. I do have a pricing model as a guide, which usually gives me a range since prices can vary a lot for customized cakes.
#5. Instagram Content
When I first started Baked Beans, it was an experimental baking page, a place for me to share my thoughts and attempts. I have been pretty terrible at regular updates and I definitely throw this on the back burner when I’m busy. I have, however, been trying to devote more time to it recently!
What is your main way of advertising?
Definitely through word of mouth. My Instagram feed functions more like a portfolio or a sampler of what I do, so it’s still word of mouth that brings in the orders. I am so thankful to the supportive people around me who are always eager to promote Baked Beans and to hype me up!
Is this a one-man show?
Yes and frankly, it often gets too much, especially since I do this as a side gig! I manage by planning a lot and being really strict with my order quotas. I think people often underestimate the amount of time and effort that goes into a customized cake. It’s not just the actual baking and decorating but the time and effort spent on sourcing and procuring things, establishing procedures, and just waiting.
What is it like turning your hobby into a job?
Doing what you love for work can really diminish the joy and experience sometimes. People look at me incredulously when I say that working on orders isn’t fun at times because, “Isn’t that your passion?” Well, it is but when I bake for a customer, my expectations and stress levels are insane, so I feel more satisfied baking for my own consumption. I think I am getting better at dealing with this though— I know I am my harshest critic and most people don’t notice the imperfections most of the time. They just see a cake they really want to eat!
Tell us about the struggles that you faced so far.
The biggest struggle is dealing with impostor syndrome. When I first started getting order requests, I doubted my abilities and wondered, “why would people pay this amount for a cake made by me?” I get extra perfectionistic when it comes to orders, focusing on all the little flaws and thinking that what I’ve made isn’t good enough to be delivered, or that this cake isn’t the best version I can produce. So I’m grateful to have such supportive and understanding customers who always show me so much love! It has really helped me see the value of what I do.
I’ve also faced some of the usual baking struggles, of course— accidentally injuring a perfectly-iced cake, over-whipping mixtures, breaking things. Once, I ruined a gorgeous cake that I was really happy with during delivery. I managed to salvage it in the end but that was hands down the most horrifying baking-related experience in my life ever!
Do you have a role-model in the business that you aspire towards?
Probably Bernadette “Bets” Gee, the founder of Magnolia Kitchen. Funnily enough, she was part of the reason why I created this Instagram account in the first place! Many baking influencers come across as exceedingly soft, positive, and patient but Bets doesn’t shy away from publicly expressing the (super relatable) frustrations that come with baking. She makes me feel like I’m seeing myself— we both get things wrong, get impatient and curse too much. It awakened the realisation that there’s room for me to truly be myself in the Instagram baking world. I also admire Cherish Finden a lot. She is a decorated Singapore-born London-based pastry chef, probably one of the most prominent in her field. I find her technical and creative abilities astounding!
At the beginning, Baked Beans was far from perfect. It still isn’t and probably will never be. Nevertheless, it has been such a tumultuous yet rewarding learning journey.
All images by Beatrice Chen