Sweet Nothings - Pooja Sugla - talks with You & I

This soft-spoken former dentist turned her passion for baking into a career. Pooja’s warmth is infectious, and her desserts are decidedly sinful! This week she talks to You & I about the mouth-watering delights that she makes right in her own home.

Tell us a bit about yourself.
I am a dentist by profession. However, after my son was born I gave up dentistry, and baking happened by chance. I had done a basic beginner’s course in baking last year and would often try my newfound skills and bake for my friends. I established my brand ‘Sweet Nothings’ in December 2015 with cookies. I made a batch for my friend and he really liked them and encouraged me to pursue it professionally. That’s how I landed my first order. It was from a corporate firm and I made thousands of cookies from home in that one week with no help at all. I still bake from home because it gives me the flexibility to work and manage being a mother to a seven-year-old.

I’ve made a lot of brownies and cookies for corporate firms that were looking for gifting. My friends had a lot of faith in me; for instance, a friend wanted me to bake her daughter’s birthday cake and that was my first cake – a ‘Frozen’ theme cake. Ever since then I have been undertaking a lot more orders for themed cakes. I had no professional training. I used to learn new things by watching YouTube videos and experimenting with things on my own; with every cake I learnt something new. It was all self-taught. All my cakes are eggless since I come from a family of total vegetarians.

What’s it like to transition from dentistry to baking?
I gave up dentistry quite a long time ago. I’ve always been a creative person, so baking gives me the chance to satisfy my creative urge.
I enjoy mixing work with pleasure; there’s nothing like earning money from of your passion.

What are some of the most popular baking trends today?
For kids between the ages of two and eight, cakes with themes are most popular, hands-down. My clients give me a theme and I improvise and work on it. Since my friends were my first few clients and all of them have kids that age, what I did most was these theme cakes.

What about the older crowd? What do they gravitate towards?
You’d be surprised at how popular theme cakes are even with the adults. Before I got into baking I wasn’t sure how well themes would do with cakes. However, once I started I realised that the cake-cutting is the highlight of any party, and since all the attention is drawn towards the cake for that moment, people like having cakes that not only taste delicious but also look amazing. Recently I did a fitness cake, where the wife wanted to get a cake for her fitness buff husband. I made a cake with a treadmill and dumbbells. So it is not always about the kids; even adults like to have fun with theme cakes.

How often do you take orders?
My cakes are not factory-produced and I do it all on special order, so they do take time. But since I restrict myself to doing two cakes a week, I make sure each one gets the attention it deserves and I do justice to each of them. However, theme cakes usually take much longer because of the fondant work.

What’s next for you and your brand?
I’m looking at opening a proper studio in due course and hiring staff to help out. I am a difficult and hard person to please (laughs). The baking part is rather straight-forward, so staff can easily be taught that. But for the fondant bit I go into a lot of detail, so I don’t think I would be pleased if someone else did it for me. Also, I really enjoy doing it since it takes me away to a fantasy world of animations and cartoons which are quite fascinating (laughs).

What changes have you seen over the years in terms of how people consume cakes and desserts?
Undoubtedly it’s the fact that people are ready to splurge big bucks on cakes for their parties. Parents throw lavish birthday parties for their children and spend a lot on their clothes and other elements of the party. So they don’t compromise on the cake, either.                                   – as told to Suneela