THE world is full of stories that inspire, move, and touch your heart. For one home baker, her de ella's inspiring story is how she was able to turn her de ella's lifelong passion for baking into a growing business, spreading joy to customers with her artfully-decorated cakes.
Nicole Tan, the owner and founder of AN Fraiche, started the business in 2015. The name – AN Fraiche – is made from the initials of Nicole's name and that of her boyfriend and business partner Alex, and the French word for “fresh”.
Nicole studied for an Advanced Diploma in Patisserie & Gastronomic Cuisine at Taylor's University, where she was told that she would be awarded a scholarship and sent to France if she did well in her exams. And guess what? She did.
She traveled to France for her internship and continued her degree in Culinary Arts on a scholarship, graduating with first class honours.
We wondered how the business first began. Nicole explained: “It all started with a Christmas bake sale while I was studying at Taylor's University. It began as a side hustle to supplement my income because I did not have a steady wage, and was on a strict spending budget set by my mother.
“This business then followed me back to Penang once I finished my studies, and I decided to make it a full-time endeavor.”
She had always been interested in baking ever since she was a child growing up in a single-parent home. Her mother de ella was the sole breadwinner, and Nicole developed a passion for baking after watching her mother de ella bake breads, kuih-muih and other pastries as a treat for her family de ella.
Nicole particularly enjoys baking as it is less stressful than cooking in a hot kitchen. Baking needs greater attention to detail; Even minor changes in the recipe might impact the end product's texture, determining whether it would be dense or fluffy.
AN Fraiche's specialty lies in the ability to customize cake designs based on what customers want. Some of the most popular requests are cartoon animal designs, or even portrait drawings based on photographs.
Nicole said: “The sketching of people's portraits on the cake was initially a Korean birthday trend. I saw that it would be something unique that would draw people's attention, so I gradually learned the techniques from social media and [by observing] other famous bakers' social media pages.”
She also follows various home bakers on social media to stay up-to-date with current trends.
“I'm also always active on XiaoHongShu, a platform similar to Pinterest but with a more Asian community and information. This site would inspire me by showing me what other bakers are working on, and what market demands are,” she continued.
While almost all AN Fraiche's customers are satisfied by the end results, we inquired as to how Nicole handles dissatisfied or rude customers.
She recalled: “Last November, I mixed the wrong color of cake for the customer. The customer requested a more greyish-blue cake, but I delivered a turquoise blue tone cake. The customer provided feedback, and I apologized for my mistake and sent a refund to her. What made me even more devastated was when she posted about the incident online and received negative comments. I was so outraged that I had to write a post on my page about her to clarify [the situation], and publicly apologize to her.
“Some customers send offensive messages if they do not get a reply. Some will text me in the middle of the night and expect a cake by the next day. I would text them saying that I am busy fulfilling orders at the moment and would reply to them as soon as possible.
“There are times that I would get customers who are angry because the date that they require the cake is fully booked. Because of this, I update a schedule of availability on our social media every day, to avoid any customers being upset.”
Alex, her partner and a culinary lecturer at MAHSA University's Faculty of Business, is her staunchest supporter at AN Fraiche. The two have been together for eight years, and Nicole runs her business from Alex's kitchen.
Alex said: “Over these eight years I realize that, she not that type of person who will put herself out there. If she wants something, she will be quiet and do it on her own. Whatever she posts on Facebook, Instagram, or any other pages, I will [be the one to] share with everyone [because] I want everyone to know.”
He added: “I spotted her ability in baking, so I compelled her to come over to Selangor to complete her education.
“She began to come out of her shell after that, but I still had to push her. It's good to have someone there to support you; sometimes all a person needs is a push, so I was there to push her.”
Nicole also does pet-friendly cakes for her customers' furkids. For these special cakes, she will remove or replace ingredients based on a pet's dietary needs. For example, she removes chocolate from the recipe if the cake is for dogs, as it is harmful to them.
All her cakes for pets contain reduced amounts of sugar and no nuts. She also tries her best to keep the ingredients natural. For example she uses beetroot for the red color in her red velvet cake, instead of food colouring. Beetroot also offers numerous nutritional benefits and functions as a healthy treat.
Nicole's goal is to open her own home baking studio or cafe, where she can accept walk-in customers. Her dream of Ella is to have a place that she can call her own De Ella, and to be able to see people enjoy her creations De Ella.
Check out @an.fraiche on Instagram for more updates.