METICULOUSLY made desserts and sweet treats can prove to be quite a showstopper, regardless if they are seen in an enticingly-arranged cafe window display, or a simple teatime Instagram post.
Multi-layered cakes, intricate fruit tarts, chocolate bars, and a laundry list of decadent cream fillings – baking and assembling these cute creations can be just as fun as sinking a dessert fork into them.
For some, it may be an occasional hobby, but for 25-year-old pastry chef Lau Hwei Min, it’s a sweet career to be proud of.
The local pâtissière is one half of a duo – the other being pâtissier Yap Kean Chuan – who took the silver medal for Malaysia at the Mondial des Arts Sucres 2018, a prestigious international confectionary arts competition held in France, losing to the winning French team by a mere six points.
Lau had also won a silver medal in the same competition two years earlier, then paired with teammate Chong Ko Wai.
For the last five years, she has been making delightful little creations at the baking college Harold’s Academy in Puchong, Selangor, after realising she preferred baking and decorating cakes and sweets, straying from her initial culinary arts path.
The humble baker explained: “For some desserts, you really take a long time to make it, but when you see the outcome that is really nice and clean, you’ll feel so satisfied and happy.”
How did the competition make you a better baker?
“When I went for the first time in 2016, it was really a blur, because [I had] no experience and [I didn’t] know what to prepare, and how the actual condition was.
The second time, I knew what I had to prepare first.
“You have to think of ways to make your work better and fast.
[The competition lasts] 19 hours.
The first day [is] 10 hours, second day it’s nine hours. For two [people] in a team, you have to finish a chocolate showpiece, one sugar showpiece, [and] a smaller showpiece that is made with chocolate and sugar.
“That means three showpieces, and also four entremets – the big cake with the glaze – 20 ice cream cakes, 60 (if I’m not wrong) chocolate bars, and 20 plated desserts.
“That’s quite a lot, so you have to really practice a lot until you [are able to make] the time to finish everything.”
How do you usually come up with your creations?
“I actually like to go to craft shops, then from there, I can get some inspiration.
“Do you know paper folding, like origami, and things like that? I like to look at those kinds of pictures [to] get ideas. I really like origami [and] paper sculptures.”
Do you have to be a perfectionist to create fine pastries?
“Not really, because when we try to do something, and when we fail, from there you can get experience. It doesn’t have to be really perfect. You can slowly practice.
“[Everything] looks really clean and nice [when] it’s for the photo [laughs]. If you really ask me to do nice perfect things in a short time, it’s also hard for me.
So for me, I think I really need to practice to be faster; at the same time, the dessert has to come out looking nice and clean.”
Do you have a signature or favourite dessert that you like to bake?
“My favourite is probably a Mont Blanc. It’s a dessert with chestnut cream, meringue, and some Chantilly cream inside.
Some people here, they will feel like it’s too sweet. But for me, I like the flavour of chestnut.
“We invite chefs from France and Japan to come here for masterclasses, and in the masterclass, they will teach us some of their signature recipes.
From there I found the taste really nice.
“That’s one of the desserts I like to bake, and also I like to make chocolate bars, and chocolate bonbons with the shiny surface.”
What is the maximum time that you spend making one dessert?
“Sometimes I can spend one day just for one type of dessert (laughs).
Let’s say we want to make a little [chocolate] board, with some papers, some words on top ... you have to cut the stencil yourself.
If you need some special stencils, then that will take some time ... and you have to make the chocolate really thin and clean, and then you have to spray some colour.
“Sometimes you have four layers inside ... you have to cook [each layer] one by one and assemble [them] together, and after that glaze. It will really take the whole day.
You have to practice.”
What is the biggest misconception that people have about being a pastry chef?
“People feel like being a pastry chef is boring, because they feel like every day, you’re just doing the same thing.
“In production, maybe it’s a reality, but for me, in here, I’m quite lucky because my boss gives me a lot of opportunities to create some new ideas [with] new moulds, new ingredients.
“It’s quite challenging. It’s not really boring.”
Where do home bakers usually go wrong when a recipe doesn’t come out right?
“For example, chocolate cake. There’s a lot of methods to make a chocolate cake, and usually, when you find the recipe online, [they may come from] different regions.
“For example, if you [find] a recipe [originating from] America, then the ingredients may be different. The flavours that local people [from that region] prefer are also different.
“Maybe try cookbooks by Asian people, or more famous chefs, because their recipes will be more stable.”
For pastry chef Lau Hwei Min, it’s a sweet career to be proud of. –Asyraf Rasid/theSun