PETALING JAYA: Premilah Balakrishnan stumbled upon baking by accident when she joined a class on cake-piping in 2019. She said it was actually a class her daughter had signed-up for. But falling ill all of a sudden, her daughter talked her into taking her place instead.
As it turned out, it was a career-changing moment for the 50-year-old as after just one class, a few piping bags, and some butter cream, Premilah was hooked.
Having always been fascinated with floral arrangements, she found that cake decoration gave her the chance to further explore this skill but through a different medium this time.
Two years on, and she is still supremely grateful for the chance she had to collaborate with famous baker Komathi Mahalingam to design a nine-tiered wedding cake covered in fondant.
Although extremely excited about the task, she admitted that it was a tall order, pun intended! It required an eye for detail, meticulous workmanship and loads of stamina because of the long hours it took.
“I remember having to scrutinise the ingredients and make sure the cake was sturdy – measuring the right amount of ingredients for its size and shape. And having to work around the clock to make sure everything was in order before the cake was sent out.
“Both Komathi and I worked day and night perfecting the cake. Our aim was to get the consistency and texture of the cake right as I had never done a layered cake before,” she told FMT.
The wedding cake was a big hit and photos of it went viral on TikTok, with her social media followers and friends praising the duo for their creativity.
Mastering the art of cake decorating
Although Premilah’s list of baking achievements is awe-inspiring, her secret to success is rather basic – it’s called “plain hard work”.
Having studied under renowned cook Zaidah Ibrahim who owns ‘Simply Sugar Baking Studio’, Premilah spent nearly every weekend attending classes to learn the intricacies of cake decorating.
At the time, Premilah had just retired from her teaching job so she could look after her 78-year-old mother.
“I was hungry to learn – to see how bakers used their hands to adorn a plain cake with buttercream flowers, or simply observe how fondant was rolled and draped over a cake.
“From joining group classes, I paid for one-to-one lessons so that I could get a closer look and have an expert guide me on the dos and don’ts of making the right cake.”
When the Covid-19 lockdowns left her with time to kill, Premilah researched the ingredients used in cake decorating and how they could affect the taste and texture of the cakes. Then she experimented. While some were monumental failures, others were sweet successes.
And she didn’t stop there. She worked late into the night learning different ways to craft peonies and other intricate flowers, and joined online classes to refine her skills.
Bolstered by her progress, she signed-up for saree-themed art classes and Korean buttercream classes as well. She even learned how to create her own silicone moulds so her saree-themed cakes would stand out from the crowd.
“Why buy the ready-made moulds when I can make customised cakes? Plus, I had no issues learning from bakers who were younger than me, as long as they were good at something and I could hone the craft from them,” she said.
From learning to teaching
Since she felt she still needed more practise, she began decorating elaborate cakes for others. “If friends and family had birthday parties or anniversaries, I would volunteer to bake their cakes at cost price as long as my work was out there. Eventually, through word of mouth, people knew about me.”
Her next big venture was starting her own cake decorating classes. She was surprised at just how eager people were to learn from her after seeing her cakes online, including members of Facebook group WIEN (Winner Innovative Entrepreneurial Network).
Premilah now splits her time between teaching and decorating cakes. To date, she has baked 54 wedding cakes, 89 saree-themed cakes, and 79 cakes of other designs.
She loves taking on tough orders. In fact, the tougher, the better. Her favourites are wedding cakes and those with complex designs.
She said she hopes to inspire more people to bake through her classes, and to find time from her hectic schedule to just relax.