KUALA LUMPUR, November 24 — They look like miniature cakes, with a crispy, egg-washed exterior. Baked to perfection, you could tell. But what’s inside?
Take a bite and you will discover a subtle sweet filling, its texture between lumpy and creamy. And the color! That vibrant purple shade!
These are purple sweet potato cakes from Doughappy Bakery, Taman Desa’s hottest secret bakery. The purple sweet potato filling without preservatives is called zǐ shǔ xiàn and is also used for their purple sweet potato sourdough donuts.
Doughappy Bakery is run by Mia Lee and Sam Chuah, a couple in their early thirties.
Lee hails from Bidor, Perak, where her parents sold their homemade breads in front of the city’s bus station. So she’s always had an affinity for baking.
When Lee met the Penang-born Chuah while studying at UTAR, they decided to pursue their dream of expanding their parents’ business and sharing the traditional taste of homemade bread with others, particularly in big cities like KL.
Zǐ shǔ xiàn’ or purple sweet potato filling (left) is used for their purple sweet potato sourdough donuts (left).
They started by selling their baked goods: Malaysian classics like sliced bread spread with Kaya and vegetable margarine, red bean buns and coconut buns, from a food truck in Taman Desa.
Residents soon learned to drop by early in the afternoon to get their favorite items for tea time or breakfast the next morning.
It was a good start for a fledgling business run by two hard-working young men. Then came the Covid-19 pandemic.
Lee recalls: “We lost a lot of customers during that period due to insufficient time to collect contacts when the lockdown was implemented. Fortunately, we managed to get some customers of our own taman — supported us every week for the rest of 2020.”
During the first shutdown, the duo decided to put their business on hiatus while they regrouped and strategized.
With a database of regular customers, they went on to receive WhatsApp orders for their baked goods.
Doughappy Bakery is run by couple Mia Lee (left) and Sam Chuah (right).
Even with this steady, albeit small, clientele, Doughappy’s sales plummeted by as much as 80 percent. They were hopeful that business would pick up as soon as the lockdown was lifted.
However, the reality was much harsher. Lee shares, “Even after much preparation at the food truck and new menu items, we noticed that the usual crowd was no longer there.
“Many of the stores and restaurants along the same stretch also suffered and we realized we had to focus on our online sales.”
The couple had started using Facebook to market their product even before the pandemic, but they soon realized that this was not enough and decided to try the Instagram platform as well.
Says Lee, “Amazingly, we got more engagement and response from Instagram compared to Facebook. So we now set our weekly menu to post every Monday night on our Instagram and Facebook stories for our customers to make their orders”.
This means a new sales process for Doughappy where the couple will first collect and confirm orders from their social media accounts before delivery on set dates.
Fluffy matcha buns are best enjoyed with some thick red bean paste and cold butter.
Lee adds, “Customers can also pick up from our location or arrange their own delivery. To date, we can see that our revenue has exceeded our sales when we were operating out of our food truck.”
This pre-order approach means the online bakery can save time and have less waste of unsold products.
However, Lee notes that her work hours have increased as “we now have to register orders, pack and arrange delivery compared to our food truck days when customers shop at the truck.”
Regulars now keep a close eye on their menu launch dates (every Monday night at 8:00pm) to keep an eye out for new items, like the fluffy matcha scones, best enjoyed with a some thick red bean paste and cold butter.
The aromatic focaccia, sprinkled with black olives, herbs and sun-dried tomatoes, enticingly beckons.
Slicing breads is a breeze now after purchasing your new bread slicer.
Even something deceptively simple, like his new chocolate cream puffs, has been a huge hit, straddling the classic and the contemporary.
Lee explains, “We got the idea for our Chocolate Custard Scones when we tried bombolone for the first time. It tastes amazing, however it is fried and too oily for us.
“So we created this version where we use our own chocolate flan made with high quality Belgian dark chocolate pumped into our soft mini pillow buns.”
The aforementioned purple sweet potato pies and sourdough donuts are the latest best sellers. Says Lee, “Everyone loves donuts! We were looking for a healthier alternative that was sugar free and used natural yeast.
“To our surprise, the texture and flavor were acceptable, although it took a while for our customers to appreciate it.”
New products include focaccia (left) and chocolate cream puffs (right).
In addition to new products, there have been other changes. A seemingly small addition, that of a bread slicer, changed the life of Lee, who risked repetitive task injuries cutting so many loaves of bread by hand.
She adds: “We are also looking for space to expand our operation as our demand increases. Many customers were disappointed when their orders couldn’t arrive as our production capacity is now limited.”
As a small business owner, one of the biggest issues you are currently facing is rising ingredient costs. Lee explains: “Most of our wheat to make flour in Malaysia is imported from the Ukraine and Russia, while alternative sources from China and India are affected by massive droughts and floods.”
The prices of other crucial imported goods for cooking such as butter, cheese, nuts, etc. they have also gone up.
Lee shares, “Overall, ingredient prices have increased four times in 2022 alone. We cope with the increased costs without burdening our customers by spreading the difference to other areas.”
Who knew there is so much going on behind the scenes to make your beloved artisan donut or fluffy pillow buns?
Packaging of freshly baked buns for customers.
All the more reason to be thankful for our bakers, especially the small business owners who need our support to continue their good work and make more delicious and healthy snacks.
Happy Doug Bakery
Operating days: Friday to Monday, with menu release every Monday night at 8pm on their IG and FB story.
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