Sarawak home-based kek lapis bakers grappling with Raya orders

Desmond Davidson

Demand for Sarawak's famous kek lapis is at an all-time high during Hari Raya. – Facebook pic, April 2, 2023.

SARAWAK’S well-loved kek lapis (layer cake) had not only been a financial saviour to many small-time producers operating from home during the Covid-19 pandemic. It is now making these producers that extra ringgit for the coming Hari Raya.

Many of those who into the business to eke out a living during the pandemic are now happy that it provided them an avenue into a venture they never thought of being involved in.

One such producer is Faridah Maon who before the pandemic was a sales staff at a photocopier shop.

The mother of six from Kampung Kudei Baru was left without a job and more importantly, an income, when the movement-control order (MCO) was imposed in an effort to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

Before the pandemic, Faridah made kek lapis on the side upon request by friends and family.

She began receiving unexpected requests from people craving for the cake while she was languishing at home, thinking about how to make money to feed herself and her family.

“They got to know about me by word of mouth. Soon more people knew where to go to fulfil their kek lapis craving.

“The orders just grew,” she said.

And Faridah has not looked back since.

“Some people prefer kek lapis from home-based producers because they know we bake the cakes with tender, loving care. We put more effort into producing quality cakes.”

Her orders for Raya are near to the point where she could safely deliver her orders on time – 40-50 trays.

She said by next week, she has to stop taking orders.

Unlike most home-based bakers who have started fulfilling their orders, Faridah will only start making her cakes two weeks before Raya.

“Some cakes don’t not last long.

“If I were to make them early, I would only be inviting complaints and have a bad reputation,” she said.

She also set the 40-50 tray cap due to production limitations.

Faridah has to work from one small oven and one oil-fired stove.

The stove is for steaming the cakes.

She also has a storage space challenges in her cramped home.

With proceeds from the projected sale, Faridah said this Raya would definitely be better than last year’s.

“I didn’t make much because there was an egg shortage last year. I could only fulfil 20 orders.”

She had to reject many orders.

Another home-based baker who survived the lockdown on her kek lapis business is Nur Shafiqah Aqilah of Kampung Pulo Ulu in Petra Jaya.

Unlike Faridah, Nur Shafiqah, who has been in the trade since 2018, runs a far larger operation.

While kek lapis tops her orders every Raya, she makes birthday and wedding cakes, desserts and a variety of other confectionery at other times.

This year, Nur Shafiqah, better known to her friends and regulars as Piqah, would only take orders for 100 trays of “fresh kek lapis”.

Nur Shafiqah Aqilah, who runs Piqah Patisserie, could take no more than 100 orders for her fresh kek lapis. She stopped taking orders even before the fasting month began. – The Malaysian Insight pic, April 2, 2023.

She allows a much higher volume of bookings as she is supplanting it with ready stock.

“I stopped taking orders even before the fasting month began,” said the 27-year-old newlywed, who started her business when she was still in school.

She trades under the name Piqah Patisserie.

“During the school holidays, I would fill my time baking cakes. After I finished schooling in 2018, I went straight into setting up a cake-making business.”

Her best-selling kek lapis for this Raya?

“All. My customers find all my kek lapis irresistible. They have a hard time picking a bad one,” she said with a laugh.

Piqah Patisserie survived the economic downturn brought on by the pandemic with the Sarawak Sayangku financial assistance.

“That kept my head above water. Now I’m completely out of the water and am optimistic of the future if the orders I am receiving now could be used as a yardstick.”

Orders for her kek lapis are not only confined to Kuching city folk.

“I do get orders from the peninsula and other parts of Sarawak. I deliver them by post.

“They must have got my contact number from their friends who had come here on holiday and bought my cakes to take home to share with their family and friends.”

Sharifah Haniffah, who operates out of her home in Petra Jaya, is also kept busy with kek lapis orders this Raya.

In business since 2014 under the trade name Melur Kitchen, this internet-savvy 20-something is selling her bakes online.

The kek lapis she makes come with a variety of curious names – Rainbow cheese, Sabok Tun Razak, Holiday Inn, Selipar Jepun and Lapis Bumi.

To create a niche for herself, Sharifah only sells steamed kek lapis.

“All steamed. Steamed ones are the hot sellers,” she said.

Like everything, the price of the kek lapis had also risen.

“Unavoidable, since the cost of the basic ingredients have all gone up,” Faridah said.

“The price of eggs has gone up, so has butter, sugar and flour.”

Sarawak kek lapis is normally made with creamy butter, which is imported.

“The price of one loaf now starts at RM20 and could reach RM30 for the premium ones,” Faridah said.

The price last year was between RM15 and RM18 a loaf.

Premium cakes are heavy on imported ingredients such as cheese or chocolate. – April 2, 2023.

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