A veteran baker shares her art through classes at her home in Sanlitun, and Xu Lin follows the aroma to the fresh breads and cakes.
Stay-at-home mom Hu Beiyue, who formerly made pastry in a five-star hotel in Singapore, never expected that she would resume her old career by opening a baking class at her new home in Beijing.
It has given her a great sense of accomplishment.
"If I can teach others how to bake, they can make delicious and safe pastries for their kids whenever they want. We all need good pastries," says the Shanghai native, who went to Singapore in 2002 and moved to Beijing a decade later because of her husband's job transfer.
She started teaching classes in the spring of 2013, and has about 40 students. More than half are stay-at-home moms who have time to bake for their kids and care about food safety.
When Hu first arrived in the capital, she bought some cakes and breads but found them less than authentic. She made some on her own, and her friends enjoyed them so much that she was inspired to teach baking to others.
"Whether in China or abroad, food safety remains a hotly debated issue. We can have the best food at home," she says. "It's good for one's health, too."
Hu says her students think their own homemade cakes are more delicious than those in the bakery. Hu attributes that to the good and fresh ingredients she always emphasizes.
"The correct way is to teach them how to choose the best ingredients and avoid food additives," Hu says, noting that the use of such additives is a hard habit to break once begun.
She says homemade pastries not only use better ingredients but are fresher than pastries served in a bakery. For example, cakes for sale are sometimes frozen to preserve them. They taste similar to fresh ones after thawing, but lose some nutritional value.
She has prepared dozens of recipes for class such as tiramisu, chiffon cake and butter biscuits.
The recipes Hu hands out in classes come from baking books she bought abroad. After translating a recipe into Chinese, she will experiment and adjust it so the procedure also works well in a domestic electric oven, which is different from a big commercial oven in a bakery or hotel.
She says many baking classes fall into a do-it-yourself pattern.
Students just follow step-by-step while the teacher demonstrates how to bake, and all go home happily with pastries they've made themselves.
"You will miss something the teacher says if you do that because you're not concentrating. You may not remember the steps the next time you want to make the same pastry," she says.
Hu uses the teaching method she received when she was studying for her two-year diploma of pastry and bakery at the Singapore Hotel and Tourism Education Center. Students have to observe carefully how she bakes and make their own pastry when they go home. She shares her successes and failures and answers their questions in class.
"Hu teaches very well," says one of her students Lin Yuan, 40, another stay-at-home mom in Beijing.
"My pastries are very popular among my family and friends. Now I often bring a homemade cake to my friend's house as a gift."
Baking not only helps Hu share the same hobby with many friends. It's an important way for her to interact with her 4-year-old son Zhang Junxi Ryan. He often helps her do simple work such as sieving flour and whipping dough, and watches her bake with interest.
"It's a lot of fun! My favorite is chocolate cake made by mom," says the boy, with chocolate smears around his mouth and a slice of cake in his hand.
When he comes back from kindergarten at 3:30 pm, he can instantly judge what kind of cake or bread his mom has prepared by its aroma.
"Moms should bake at home as much as possible," Hu says, "not only because of food security, but also that the joys you share with your kid is priceless. This kind of coziness at home is very good for the kid's growth."
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Hu Beiyue translates her experiences as a professional baker into a homemade pastry class for stay-at-home moms. Photos by Xu Lin / China Daily
Hu's popular recipes include chestnut cake. She believes homemade pastries not only taste more delicious but are also good for growing children's health. Photos by Xu Lin / China Daily
(China Daily 02/21/2014 page22)