Baking: A taste of Malaysia from The Baking Jin
In the final instalment of our baking special, we meet Jin Yee Chung, aka The Baking Jin. He won the Cambridge Bake Off, our city’s answer to the TV show, back in 2015, wowing judges with his light-as-air chiffon sponges and one-of-a-kind Malaysian flavours. Now Jin has quit his engineering job to bake full time, as he tells Alice Ryan
"I bought myself a stand mixer in the 2013 Boxing Day sales. I decided I really ought to make use of it, so in 2014 I set myself a challenge tobake a recipe at least every fortnight, and I did! The more I baked, the more I loved it.
I enjoyed every moment of my Cambridge Bake Off experience. I think the live final was definitely the highlight, though I still remember very vividly my hands shaking all the way through. To me, the Bake Off was like the ultimate exam. We were asked to do so many things: sweet, savoury, tarts, choux, ganache, design your own tier cakes. . .
I started The Baking Jin soon after winning, but have only now decided to do it full time. I’d been turning away a lot of cake orders in the second half of 2019 because of my day job. Eventually you have to do what makes you happy, and the day job had to go.
I got a degree and PhD in Engineering, then a Cambridge-based company offered me a job working on consumer audio products. If you now own a DAB radio, there is a 70% chance that I wrote some of the software.
Though I didn’t discover it till a little later in life, I think I’ve always had a baker within me. I grew up in a foodie environment: back home our daily activities always revolved around food and I suppose I took it for granted until I moved to the UK. I missed my mum’s baking and home cuisine so much. Mum is my biggest influence: she is a very good baker and cook, which gave me a really good foundation.
Aside from observing Mama Jin, I’m mostly self taught. I wish I had a mentor who would at least guide me along the way instead of having to learn from my mistakes. You won’t believe how much cake my bin has eaten!
There was a point when I missed the flavours from home so much and I couldn’t find them here, so I started to imagine, recreate, experiment. . .
I am actually doing the whole oriental-inspired thing from a consumer point of view now, not a baker’s point of view, if you know what I mean? I want to bring people the flavours from my childhood, as simple as that.
If you tasted a chiffon cake in Bridges, Hot Numbers, The Moringa Tree or Provenance Kitchen in the last few years, chances are they were The Baking Jin’s. I would like to take this opportunity to thank them for putting up with my unusual flavours and the superlight cake textures, which need extra care and storage methods. And also to the adventurous customers who have bought my cakes, thanks a million!
Right from the start, I wanted The Baking Jin’s brand to be slightly out of the ordinary, so I am always working on the textures and flavours, sweet-come-savoury. I like to bring my scientific approach into how I create my food. Just a few examples of flavours I’ve featured in my pop-ups: black sesame in cream, cheddar cheese in cake, and shrimp in biscuits.
At the moment, the main service remains private cake orders for celebrations. And, with the events and afternoon tea pop-ups all paused due to Covid, I’ve also created the dessert box.
It was originally designed as a giveaway for Malaysian students stuck in halls during the first few weeks of lockdown: containing at least five portions of my assorted cake, patisserie and kuih, all familiar Malaysian bakes, it was designed to cure their homesickness. Then I thought I could offer this new product line to a wider audience, so started to do the dessert box biweekly, changing the menu each time and taking orders in advance and delivering to the doorstep. I am now working on a “special box” service, something a little more lavish than the dessert box, maybe once every two months. So stay tuned.
I know going full time in the midst of a global pandemic isn’t exactly ideal, but really, there is no right time. I wanted to bake for a living right after winning the Bake Off, but quitting the day job back then seemed financially impossible, so I spent the past five years “sharpening my knife”.
Most people think running a baking business is just creating a cake. No, you are wrong. There are so many other things: dealing with customers, marketing, packaging, sourcing. . . All these need to be in place. It takes time to build up, and I am still learning.
I am always up for challenges. Last year, we did a collaborative pop up, The Tasting Table, which I think was the first ever meal in Cambridge consisting entirely of dessert courses. It went incredibly well. I hope to do more collaborative pop-ups in the future, so if you are reading this and are also interested, ring me!
I am also going to introduce a new range, kuih. It’s hard to explain what kuih is; if you know, you know. It’s bite-sized, mostly sticky-textured, colourful and can come in sweet or savoury. Most people have kuih for breakfast or afternoon snacks.
The house special is always something involving pandan (screw pine leaf). Pandan layer cake has become very popular lately. A crossover between cake and patisserie, it has a light chiffon sponge infused with delicate pandan flavour, layered inside creamy coconut and pandan set custard, served chilled. It’s really refreshing and reminds me very much of home; it tastes of holidays on the beach."
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More by this authorAlice Ryan