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Felicia Ong’s friends have learnt not to contact her on Saturday and Sunday – the only time she has to test, tinker and make and bake new things for her home-based bakery, Pare. Images courtesy of Felicia Ong

Baker Behind The Bakes: On Weekends, This Advertising Strategist Is A Baker Supreme

The name Pare says it all. It conveys the stripping of any fluff or flounce to lay bare the complexity of creating seemingly simple bakes. But fans of this Instagram home-based bakery know and appreciate the craft and skill it takes to turn simple into special. They wait patiently between each four- to six-week drop to order what 30-year-old baker Felicia Ong has in store for them.

Sometimes, it is comfortingly milky Bebe Cookies (imagine Nestum in wholesome cookie form) or elegant Shiroi Miso Dark Chocolate Caramel Tarts. Other times, it’s irresistibly creamy Genmaicha Miso Cheesecake or luscious Green Cassis Dacquoise Rolls.

One might think that dreaming up these creations, refining them, photographing them, managing orders and deliveries would count as a full-time job. But Felicia has a full-time job as a strategist in an advertising agency, which means her weekends are dedicated to running Pare. How does she do it, and why? She tells us.

Image courtesy of Felicia Ong

How did Pare get started?

About six years ago, I felt some sort of career burnout although I had barely started working. I guess sometimes when you’re junior, you feel like you are barely heard and there’s no space to play. One day, I got tired of the restrictions of my day job and wanted to have something else where I could have more creative control.

Growing up, I always wanted to have something to call my own. I knew I wanted to start a little Instagram bakery where I could experiment with concepts and flavours. So I started Pare with my best friend Geraldine. We did it for four years and it was a lot of fun. I took care of the creative side and she took care of admin and finance. You can’t trust me with money or numbers! Geraldine has since become a mum to a very adorable baby, so now I’m doing it on my own.

Where did you learn to bake?

I learned through lots of recipe books and YouTube videos when baking tutorials became a thing. There was a lot of experimenting on my part, asking, “Why can’t we do this?” And things kind of rolled off from there.

Why the name “Pare”?

Six years ago, when you thought about home-based baking businesses, you would think big, beautiful fondant cakes. My talent is not in making beautiful cakes. I always found it a bit sian when you go to a birthday party and you see this beautiful cake and your expectations of it immediately go down slightly ’cos it seldom tastes as good as it looks. So I decided to do something completely different. It would not be polished or beautiful or artistic. Everything is pared down. We remove the colourings and the frills. We just focus on the flavour or concept of the cake.

What were some of the earliest things you made for Pare?

The earliest things were more like sponge cakes, butter cakes or scones. We focused a lot more on flavours. As time progressed, we started experimenting with textures as well. So we started adding mochi and molten gula melaka, and started getting a lot more experimental like making cheesecake that looks like the ice cream sandwich that the uncle on the motorbike sells.

Were there things that didn’t work?

This year, we pushed out ruby pineapple tarts for (Chinese New Year). Unfortunately, I'm someone who hates overly sweet desserts. So, I reduced the sugar in the pineapple jam and added fresh pink guava and raspberries. That didn’t turn out so well because they started getting mouldy quickly. We had to do a recall and refund, and that was heart-breaking. Thankfully, everyone was super nice about it.

Where do you get your inspiration from?

Through YouTube. You can watch a long bakery video on YouTube and see them making all sorts of stuff. That really gets my brain going. I love buying ingredients when I travel or when I have friends who are experimenting with things. Like, I have a friend who is making homemade umeshu and I'm wondering if I can do something with that.

I have another friend who’s making Singapore's first sustainable non-bean brewed coffee, so that would be an interesting collab too. Or when I travel and think, “Oh, this is a fruit I haven’t seen before or dessert I've never tasted before”. I try to bring some of that inspiration back too.

What are you working on now?

Right now, I'm planning to launch cream puffs (in flavours like) gula melaka with sago, kaya butter, and a coconut one as well. Alternatively, if I get massively inspired when I'm in Korea (where I’ll be heading to for a holiday soon), then it’ll be something Korean.

How often do you schedule menu drops for Pare?

Realistically, I do a drop every four to six weeks. For the customers, it feels like a long time between drops, but for me, every weekend it’s non-stop R&D, making sure the product looks right, shooting it, uploading it to the website… I take only 10 to 15 orders each time cos that’s how many I can make in a day without losing my sanity.

How do you find time to balance your day job and Pare?

Monday to Friday I focus on my day job. I don’t have access to my baking studio on weekdays. I only go there on Saturday and Sunday. Every single weekend, if I can – without any additional work or life commitments – I'll just be there testing, tinkering and making new things. My friends have learnt not to contact me on weekends.

Thankfully, everyone is super supportive. My boyfriend makes the time to drive me down. If I really need an extra pair of hands, he will sit there and wait for me to get things done. It’s a bit ke lian (poor thing), but he’s really nice and supportive about it. Everything else, I try to have on a weekday or after my baking. So, if we want to do dinner, I’ll be like, “Let’s do 7.30pm” and I will do my best to wrap up extra early.

Tell us about your baking studio.

It’s essentially a vacant three-room flat in Jurong East, which belongs to my uncle. Doing Pare requires space and equipment. I have three ovens, two fridges and so much equipment which bakers acquire when they start baking. I even had to get a wine fridge, so this space really helps.

What would you say is your biggest challenge with Pare?

I think it’s discipline. It’s just going at it non-stop and not being afraid of failure. When everything is a new recipe, anything can happen. Maybe you spill the cream or the cream is too hot, or some flavours are not as popular as you’d hoped… so it requires emotional resilience. You have to keep going and asking, “Why? How do we remedy this? How can I make sure the cake goes from my door to a customer’s door intact?”

What does your baking dream look like?

If I didn’t live in Singapore, I would love to set up a cafe. But with friends in the business, I also know what it really takes. So I see Pare going on for a while longer, but I do see this moving towards a content-based business if I can pick up video editing. So, it’s more about experimenting and showing people that these are the things you can do and you can bake.

If nothing else, this would be a beautiful retirement plan for me. When the day comes when I don't have to worry about my expenses, I would love something like one of those small cafes in a Taiwanese village where people can come, have some tea and just try the 10 things I've made that day.

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