It all started with the desire to make cakes that contained pure ingredients and less sugar for her family. Sylvia Lee Pek Fun, 49, began baking in 2002 when her children were toddlers, and she wanted healthier cakes for them.

Before baking really took off in a big way for her, she was a lecturer for over 20 years.

“I was a pre-university Mathematics lecturer in a full-time position for 16-and-a-half years in a private college, then in a part-time position for a further seven years at another educational institution,” she said.

When she was in secondary school, she studied Domestic Science. “I loved the cooking part but was quite weak in the sewing module,” she recalled.

In her teenage years, she used to observe her mother cooking. “Subsequently, I helped to prepare the ingredients for the meals she cooked. She could whip up the most delicious dishes with the simplest of ingredients.”

When we dropped by Lee’s home in Petaling Jaya, Selangor recently, she had already finished making one cake and was in the process of icing another cake using the basket-weave pattern.

Icing

Lee decorating her home-baked cake. Both her mother and mother-in-law were an inspiration to her when she first started baking.

Reminiscing about her early days in baking, she said: “As I had already learnt to bake back in school, it was a matter of remembering the techniques taught then.

“My mother-in-law also gave me many useful tips, as she used to take orders for cakes when she was younger. And my own mum’s chocolate frosting was to die for!” she quipped.

“I remember my first cake back in 2002 was baked in a tabletop oven. I was so excited to get it into the oven that I didn’t wait for the butter to reach room temperature but went ahead and beat it up while it was cold. Needless to say, the cake was a failure!”

As time went on and she improved, Lee began to experiment with different styles and decorating techniques. Friends started asking her to make cakes for them, and that led her to start a small home cake business called Simple Delights by Sylvia.

Lee finds baking quite therapeutic, and she always looks forward to the end result.

In the baking process, she also learns a lot. “Whenever a customer requests for an unusual design, I do a lot of research on the Internet relating to the theme. Through this, I have learnt a lot about a huge variety of topics – from superheroes to flowers to animals and manga!

“With a sample image given, I use fondant or cream or royal icing to recreate it on a cake but I modify it slightly to suit my interpretation of the theme. That’s why I like to find out more about the person for whom the cake is intended, so that I can make the design more personalised. I always try to ensure that the cake tastes as good as it looks.”

Lee finds it extremely rewarding when her customers are happy with their cakes.

A carrot-walnut cake with cream cheese frosting, its edges decorated with a basket-weave pattern. Photo: SYLVIA LEE

Cakes aren’t the only things she makes. The other delicious sweet treats that come from her kitchen are: apple pies, fruit tarts, jellies, shortbread cookies, coconut candy and lemon curd.

Her favourites, though, are tiramisu, Oreo cheesecake, banana cake and carrot cake with cream cheese frosting. As for savoury items, she makes chicken pies, tuna dip, garlic butter and basil pesto.

“Presently, I work from home, taking orders for cakes and bakes, and giving a little private Math tuition. My current lifestyle is very fulfilling as I am able to spend a lot of time with my family and help out in my church,” Lee said.

When she isn’t baking, she enjoys reading fiction as well as watching action movies.

“Believe it or not, YouTube is my baking school these days! When I am given an order for a new flavour, I do my research by watching many YouTube videos and then modifying the techniques or recipes given. Often, I have to recalculate the portions or measurements to suit the size and shape that the customer requires,” said Lee.

“My friends sometimes say that baking and Maths seem to be worlds apart but I feel that they complement each other perfectly.”