● By Mel Sim
Turning a passion for bread into a small home business.
Here’s something interesting to know about our editor Siew Ching: When not writing or editing stories for our website, she’s elbow deep in huge bags of flour. “I normally have up to 100kg flour at home and these can go quite quickly, depending on how often I bake!” she shares.
What is it that she bakes? Sourdough bread. For those who don’t know this food trend, sourdough bread is a type of bread that uses wild natural yeast instead of the usual instant yeast when it comes to breadmaking. “Wild yeast is all around us and this can be cultivated for fermentation in sourdough bread,” explains Siew Ching. “You have what is known as a starter that you first make from just two ingredients – flour and water. Then you leave it to cultivate in that it will ‘collect’ wild yeast and slowly grow to a culture that you can then use to leaven bread, ie make bread rise.”
Unlike instant yeast that takes three hours max to make bread, using wild yeast in sourdough can be a two-day process. First, the wild yeast is cultivated and when it is ready to be used, it is then included in the mixture of flour, salt and water to slowly ferment the dough to give the loaf a special tang in flavour (hence the name sourdough!). This can take up to six hours (depending on the weather) and the bread is either baked immediately or kept cold inside the fridge to further enhance its flavour.
“It’s an extremely satisfying process that is all about being in the moment, doing nothing but making bread. Which is much needed with what’s happening around us now!” says Siew Ching.
It must be extremely satisfying for our colleague that she’s decided to make it her side hustle! Since March 2021, Siew Ching started selling sourdough under her brand cheekily named Bread Winner. Aside from sourdough bread, she also sells focaccia and bagels, all of which is made using wild yeast too. To offer a variety, she has different flavours available from the original country loaf to those that veer on the more exotic side like roasted red pepper with cheese, butter corn and seaweed.
Like all who embark on a new business, the first few months were an uphill battle for Siew Ching. “To begin with, I had to get used to a new oven and figure out how to work around my baking schedule. Anxiety about whether it was the right thing to do or not also took over where I made a few mistakes and the loaves didn’t turn out great! Thankfully, my customers were forgiving and I slowly improved my technique from there,” shares Siew Ching.
Using Instagram mostly to market her loaves, Siew Ching slowly grew the brand. “During my first month, I was so excited that I sold 40 loaves! These days, I sell 40 to 50 loaves a week, averaging 200 loaves a month,” says Siew Ching, who not only sells bread to her regulars as well as new customers but also supplies to a supermarket and sometimes bulk orders like gifts and corporate sales.
What made her decide to sell bread? “It was my father who gave me the nudge to do it, who is also my biggest bread fan. I was talking to him one day about a friend offering me a corporate job but he said this: ‘If I were you, I wouldn’t bother with a 9-to-5 because you are a creator and you are good with your hands. You could sell bread and do really well!’ I took that and just ran with it, and here I am today,” shares Siew Ching.
Her biggest challenge to date being a home baker? “I remember one customer telling me that my bread isn’t to her expectation which really got me down. But funnily enough, an hour later, a different customer texted to tell me that he absolutely loved my bread, which he said was the best he’s had! This taught me that you can’t please everyone, which is OK because if 90% of your customers think your bread is good, then you’re doing OK! Most of my customers are repeat customers so I figured I must be doing something right,” says Siew Ching.
“All you need to do is focus on your product, do your best, figure out the best way to deliver it and stick to that gold standard! Having that negative review kept me humble though and honestly, even till today it serves as a good reminder that whatever you bake today needs to be better than your last bake.”
Her most exciting experience so far? “Oh definitely that one time I received an order for 120 loaves! A regular customer works for an embassy and she recommended my bread to her colleague who then proceeded to put in that huge order. At first, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to do it – it’s just me and my trusty oven! But a little voice said that I needed to do it to prove to myself that it was something I could accomplish. I worked out the logistics and a foolproof schedule, and just went with it! I baked 150 loaves that week because of another order. When everything was done and dusted, I was exhausted but extremely proud of myself for doing it,” says Siew Ching.
Check out Bread Winner on Instagram @breadwinner_my and drop a comment for Siew Ching on her artisanal loaves!