Penk Ching and the ‘blooming’ of BulaklakanBy Kirstin Bernabe
Philippine Daily Inquirer
Anita Ayado lives in a brightly colored neighborhood named Bulaklakan and makes paper flowers for extra income. You can say her life is constantly in bloom.
But the 27-year-old decided to add more flowers to her life. Under the guidance of pastry chef Penk Ching, whose cakes take center stage at different celebrity and high-profile gatherings in and out of the country, Ayado learned to make more flowers, this time sugar confections for decorating cakes and pastries.
Ching visited recently the Gawad Kalinga (GK) village of Bulaklakan in Quezon City to teach women the basics of cake decorating in a two-day class she organized with GKonomics, GK’s livelihood arm.
The activity was cosponsored by nongovernment organization (NGO) Inner Wheel Club, led by its vice president Tessie Rodrigo, and baking products providers Peotraco, Gourdos and Wilton.
Ayado was one of 11 women who attended Ching’s cake decorating workshop, which she said could blossom (pun intended) into another income-generating project for her.
“I am always on the lookout for additional sources of income, like making and selling fashion accessories,” said Ayado, a mother of two, whose husband is a family driver. “I also make artificial flowers, selling three pieces for a hundred pesos.”
Ching has been squeezing outreach baking classes into her packed schedule for more than a decade, believing that helping and inspiring the needy, and those who dream to bake but never got the chance to attend a class, is fulfillment like no other.
“Just seeing one or two attend my classes because they really want to learn baking, and not just because they have nothing to do at home, already [makes me] happy,” Ching said, as she went around checking each student’s icing kisses.
“Oops, there’s something wrong with that one,” she pointed out, spotting a glitch from where she was sitting.
Piping perfect flowers and curves are fun and yummy to the eyes, but Ching warns it is no piece of cake.
The arm should be at the correct angle and the pressure on the pastry bag just enough to release the correct amount of icing. Clearly, as the students found out, cake decorating is a science as much as it is an art.
“It’s quite hard,” said an older student, who would lick tiny drops of icing on her finger every so often like a giddy kid. “Tastes good.”
“It’s not very easy but I enjoy doing it,” Ayado said as she piped some flowers and cake borders.
Ching and her team whipped up some basic royal icing, which came in several tubs.
“Don’t leave the tubs open and don’t forget to wrap your piping bag and tip in a wet towel,” she constantly reminded her students, “because the icing dries up and sets in very quickly.”
She stressed that the icing’s good consistency should be maintained to ensure that flowers and borders would have the right curves. Piping tips should always be checked and cleared of dried-up sugar so as not to distort shapes.
But everyone was excited to pipe away so that, initially, they forgot the proper placement of the arms and hands, resulting in odd icing dots.
Ching observed how her students squeezed the bags and formed basic icing designs, from dots to borders to flowers and messages. Occasionally, she would show the right way to do things, much like a mother grabbing a pencil to show her child the right strokes to form a letter.
Ching let the women practice a particular design before moving on to the next. Each student got a design guide that she prepared. She printed different icing designs on laminated cardboard.
Following the designs, the students could easily wipe away their mistakes and repeat the process until they earned Ching’s nod.
Mercy Azada, 15, could not get right the icing dots at first. But after a few minutes of practice, she aced it, even producing perfect curves and flowers in the next exercise.
Azada was one of three teenagers who skipped their regular classes to attend Ching’s decorating session. “We have a lot more to learn here,” said Azada who came with sister Faith, 16.
Azada said she really wanted to be a flight attendant but she took every opportunity to help her family of nine. Her father is a mechanic and her mother a homemaker.
“Baking and decorating a cake could be a hobby that can add extra income for the family,” she said.
While providing livelihood was the main goal of the decorating class, Ching said money did not come easily with baking.
“I told them that attending the class doesn’t mean they could earn money from baking cakes and cupcakes right away,” she said. “It takes a lot of practice.”
Imelda Bongat cited another requirement. “Of course we need money to buy the ingredients and the equipment,” said Bongat, 43, a homemaker and a mother of three. Her husband is currently between jobs while her eldest child, 18, works as a janitor in a shopping mall.
Bongat said she had attended all sorts of free training and seminars, from curing meat to making accessories, but the certificates were not enough to start a business without the money for capital.
She said: “Even if I already know how to make tapa or tocino or puto, I don’t have the money to sustain a business.”
But she remained optimistic. “Who knows? One day, I might have the capital I need so all these skills would come in handy,” she said.
She attends all free how-to seminars conducted by local governments and various NGOs, but she is more inclined to go into cooking and baking.
“I really enjoy cooking. I have already tried selling puto pao, and I already know the basics of baking a cake,” she said.
“With this decorating class, I can finally put icing on my cake,” she added.