Carrot cake, also known as turnip cake, is sometimes eaten during the Chinese New Year as a symbol of good luck, and to mark the beginning of an even better year.
While 2020 has been quite the year, 30-year-old Amelia Teh didn't think making carrot cakes would lead her to the beginning of something great.
Spoiler alert: it did.
Teh is the main chef behind Amelia's Carrot Cake, an up-and-coming home-based business that specialises in Hong Kong-style carrot cakes.
The amiable mother-of-two told me that she didn't use to make carrot cakes on the regular.
In fact, this was something that she would prepare only once a year.
It is a family tradition for Teh and her sister to prepare a large batch of carrot cake to feast on during the season, as well as to gift them to their close friends and relatives.
As an avid cook, she began making them more often this year after many requests from her sons.
We were home most of the time this year so the kids would get to request what they wanted to eat. They would always ask for carrot cake," she said.
But Teh wasn't just feeding her immediate family — she would also prepare carrot cake for her friends during gatherings.
They would leave positive passing remarks, saying they would pay for her carrot cake.
At that point, Teh and her husband, Elger Kua, didn't think much of their friends' compliments.
They only seriously considered selling carrot cakes when the circuit breaker was announced back in April.
Here's the funny thing: It was at a gathering just two days before the circuit breaker was announced that more friends urged them to start selling their carrot cakes.
Printing business down due to Covid-19
The couple runs a design and printing company together which caters mostly to events.
Since events were canceled due to the circuit breaker, they were forced to cancel all their gigs as well.
Kua said: "It hit us tremendously. There were no events, no jobs at all. It was a whole new experience for us."
At that point, both of them knew that they had to do something to supplement their income during this period.
And that's how Amelia's Carrot Cake started.
Long and tedious process
While she runs the kitchen at home, he was handling the logistics, taking in orders, and handling their Facebook and Instagram pages.
Being in the kitchen is no easy task, as the preparation alone takes up to five hours.
- Peeling, shredding, and boiling the vegetables
- Mincing and frying the mushrooms, Chinese sausages, and dried shrimps
- Mixing the ingredients evenly to form the batter.
The mixed batter then has to be steamed for at least an hour before it is ready to be delivered to their customers.
For all the effort, Amelia's Carrot Cake charges between S$10 to S$14 for 700 grams of their different cakes.
While it may be tedious, Teh, who has had experience working in the F&B industry, enjoys the process.
"Although the hours are really long, I still enjoy it every single time. Also, it not only supplements our income, but it supplements my passion as well!"
Power of word of mouth
After more than half a year of hard work, the small family-run business currently has close to 3,000 followers on Instagram and recently gained 5,000 followers on Facebook.
So what's the secret to the growing following?
Turns out, the couple didn't really have an answer to that at first, seemingly awestruck by this achievement.
Eventually, Teh shared that there are two key factors to their respectable following: The power of word of mouth and the business's personal touch.
"We always follow up after every order and ask for feedback to improve our craft. We want our customers to feel valued and hope that they share their personal experience with everyone else. With that, word of mouth is very powerful."
Carrot cakes and dumplings
Amelia's Carrot Cake boasts a five-star rating on their Facebook page.
Curious to know if the reviews are true, we tried some of their offerings.
We panfried the different types of cakes, though it can also be served steamed.
Classic carrot cake (S$10)
It's easy to see why this is the best seller.
There were a lot of "mmm" sounds when the colleagues tried the classic carrot cake.
The carrot cake was generously filled with a variety of ingredients including carrots, radish, mushrooms, dried shrimps and Chinese sausages.
One colleague mentioned that it had a nice stringy texture thanks to the shredded radish and isn't as doughy as the carrot cakes one would often find at coffee shops.
Pumpkin carrot cake (S$13)
The pumpkin carrot cake was the next popular option.
An otherwise savoury dish, the pumpkin provided a touch of sweetness to the dish that wasn't too overpowering.
Overall, the ingredients blended well together without fighting for your tastebuds.
Pure pumpkin cake (S$14)
This was the first pumpkin cake that most of my colleagues encountered.
The pumpkin cake had a softer texture than the other cakes.
We'd reckon this will be more popular among children or those who prefer sweeter things.
Traditional yam cake (S$14)
The yam flavour is not as strong as one would expect from a yam cake, though overall, it did hit all the right notes.
Some of us preferred this over the pumpkin cake.
Hokkien and nonya dumplings (S$5.50 each)
They also have two types of dumplings: Hokkien dumplings and Nonya dumplings.
Both were generously filled with fillings like pork belly, chestnuts, and salted egg yolk.
Overall, we'd recommend going for the classic carrot cake and the pumpkin carrot cake.
Keeping it in the family
Seven months into their venture, the husband and wife team has been approached to sell their carrot cakes in various shops.
However, they have rejected such offers because to them, the essence of Amelia's Carrot Cake is being a home-based business.
"The beauty of having a home-based business is I still get to be with my kids at home. If I were to do it on a larger scale, I'd have to move everything out," Teh explained.
Running a home-based business together has also proven how solid they are as a couple.
Kua, who is also more camera-shy, gave full credit to his wife, calling her the most important person in the business.
He jokingly said: "It's all her, I just help her to take orders."
Teh, however, chimed in in his defence: "But that's the tedious part! You're constantly chatting with the customers."
It's perfectly clear that they both form the heart of Amelia's Carrot Cake.
Top image by Fasiha Nazren.