Whether they’re nipping in for a quick, fudgy treat or ordering a stacked-up tower of chocolatey goodness for a special occasion, chocolate lovers in the Klang Valley – and beyond, as it turns out – have been rather bowled over by the city’s first-ever brownie bar.
“It actually grew out of the response we kept getting at markets and bazaars, where we had pop-up stalls” said Ee-Lyn Tan, one half of the oven maestros who keep the Brownies Bar by The Accidental Bakers stocked in toothsome cake blocks. People kept asking where they could buy the brownies especially – so Tan and her baking partner, Hazwan Yazit, decided to create that sought-after space, opening in December of last year.
The Brownies Bar is also in keeping with the ongoing global trend of single dish dining, eateries with pared down menus serving only one kind of food, or focusing on a single ingredient – think London Soho’s Melt Room, dedicated solely to cheese toasties, or New York’s Avocaderia, where the creamy green fruit finds itself turned into tartare, toast topping and smoothies as well as guacamole (and that’s hot on the heels of The Avocado Show in Amsterdam, where avocados become burger “buns”).
It’s a tall, narrow shop – with just one table for the occasional dine-in customer duo – tucked into Pavilion’s new extension, Pavilion Elite.
The Accidental Bakers themselves were born in 2011, of Tan and Hazwan’s after-work baking sessions. Both were in the corporate line, but met at Boot Camp and bonded over baking. They found that firing up their ovens after hours stoked creative fires that couldn’t be quenched.
At the same time, their reputations as home bakers with a formidable creative bent grew steadily, spread by word of mouth.
“Our orders were increasing to the point that our corporate jobs were getting in the way!” says Tan. “Baking just made us very happy.”
In 2014, they each left their corporate jobs to enter the baking world full-time. They started out still baking out of their home kitchens; about six months after they took the plunge, they acquired a space for a central kitchen in Desa Sri Hartamas.
“It was still just the two of us doing everything at that point, but today we have a team of six working with us – two in the Brownies Bar and four in the kitchen,” says Tan.
“We’ve reached the point where there is an intuitive sort of partnership between us, and we share the same values of not giving up, managing our time properly and motivating the other when it’s necessary. You need that in a business partner,” says Hazwan. “We’re constantly brain-storming throughout the day.”
While the two initially toyed with the idea of opening a cafe, they ultimately felt that there was a down-trend on the scene.
“We supplied cakes to a lot of cafes, and felt that quite a few were closing,” said Tan.
And with the enthusiastic response to their brownies, a speciality store seemed to be the way to go; The Accidental Bakers remain focused on supplying bespoke cakes and catering to events, while the Brownies Bar focuses on the retail market.
“A brownie is so much more than a square of chocolate,” says Tan. “It’s affordable luxury, and people are still wanting their little indulgences.” The brownies retail at RM8 each, with a box of six for RM40.
“They’re fuss-free, easy to transport – we see a lot of our brownies picked up and packed for overseas trips, and people don’t have to be terribly careful transporting them.”
All the brownies at the Brownies Bar are made with dark chocolate, and Hazwan and Tan say they don’t pump a lot of sugar into their batter – the dark chocolate is flavourful enough, and they’re after decadent but balanced desserts.
While they started off with the kind of brownies they personally like – “moist, fudgy, deep, dark brownies” – they’ve since branched out into the more cake-like kind as well, since they received requests for those. “The dark chocolate brownies have a fudgy, gooey centre, and when we got people asking for cakier brownies, we came up with the Oreo and Gula Melaka Cheese flavours.”
At the top of the sweetness scales, the Salted Caramel and Nutella brownies hold court. The clean-tasting Matcha, with the astringent bitterness of green tea, ying yang Sea Salt Almond and the Peanut Butter – made with the artisan Joey’s Sugarless Peanut Butter – are all at the opposite end, for those who want just a touch of sugar. The Pistachio Cranberry is what grown-ups who love Fruit & Nut will hanker for, and the Dark Chocolate are effortless classics.
“Don’t like (dark or milk) chocolate? Then blondies might be your thing!” says Tan. “They have a texture like butter cake, although they’re made with white chocolate.”
There are about 16 flavours to choose from, but a new flavour comes out every month, like the Milo, fashioned after the iconic Milo dinosaur, or the Rainbow Blondie.
“We had a Pineapple Tart Blondie and a Chocolate Orange brownie for Chinese New Year too,” says Tan.
The duo is experimental and open in the kitchen, with very similar palates. “For instance, we both love chai, and we did have a Chai Brownie, but we knew that our customers are not really chai people. Malaysians especially tend to like the classics more,” says Tan.
Proving quite a towering (heh) success has been the Brownies Tower (RM150). A stack of 15 brownies, this is piled high for special occasions, and can be dressed up with toppings like salted caramel or gula Melaka sauce, hundreds and thousands, hazelnuts or crushed Oreos. It’s like the birthday cake that requires no cutting, since everyone can just pick out a brownie.
“We also have people who want theirs topped with fresh fruit or flower petals, and that is a bit extra,” says Tan.
They would advocate not mixing and matching too many different brownie flavours for the tower though, so you don’t end up with a flavour confusion on your hands.
If you’d like to dress up your brownies in more modest proportions, you can also order one with vanilla ice cream, plus one topping for RM13. Additional sauces are RM1 each, extra toppings at RM2 each.
While the Brownies Bar is on the tip of the tongue of many chocolate-lovers, Tan and Hazwan are always pleasantly surprised by their ever-burgeoning reputation.
“We get so caught up in our little brownie bubble, it’s always a nice surprise that people know us!” says Tan.
“It’s great to have this thing that is ours, to watch it grow,” says Hazwan. “There’s such a sense of fulfilment.”
The pair hope to open another outlet this year, albeit a small one, as they want to expand slowly.
And they definitely get brownie points for their sensible notions, devotion to their craft and simple wishes to provide sweet, soul-soothing morsels for the masses.