Interview conducted by Haseena Noor Mahomed

Faaiza Omar, a multitalented skincare therapist with a passion for pastry, runs an online pastry supply store and offers training at The Stylish Baker¹, an online store that comprises difficult-to-find, internationally-sourced ingredients and tools required for making delicious cakes and desserts. Her social media presence has a distinctly French aesthetic, from fashion to pastry, and is a source of the most luscious and precise recipes which have been painstakingly developed and perfected by herself. A favourite amongst her followers include the Tres Leches cake flavoured with either saffron, pistachio, or rose. She has recently launched her début recipe book titled, My Sweet Life – A Simple Masterclass in Home Baking, which is a collection of recipes inspired by her travels. Expect to find French-inspired treats like buttery brioches and dainty petit-fours as well as sections devoted to cheesecakes, ice-creams, sorbets, desserts and celebration cakes.

I caught up to Faaiza the weekend after she launched sales of her book, My Sweet Life.

Tell us, what ignited your passion for baking?

I was never one of those kids that took on baking without encouragement. My Granny loved to bake and I lived with her for a few years. I’d help her and my aunt bake biscuits and treats for Eid, but still, I wasn’t crazy about it. After I got married, I started experimenting with making fondant birthday cakes for my sisters – after which I started experimenting with macarons. That’s when I became obsessed with trying to perfect the macaron. I was baking batches and batches until I succeeded. It was so technical and very rewarding once I perfected it. The art of macaron making, that’s what really started my passion for baking.

(A pro-tip from Faaiza for perfecting macarons: use the Italian method, you can’t go wrong)

Do you have a favourite treat to bake, and to eat?

I love baking macarons but I don’t love eating them (laughs). It’s so satisfying when they turn out perfectly. But I love eating brioche- anything made with brioche dough. It’s a magic, potent thing.

Everything you make looks flawless. Is there a particular area of baking that you struggle with or find to be challenging?

I enjoy developing new recipes, and this is where my natural creativity comes through, but when it comes to actually executing the recipe like I imagined, it takes a few tries at least. For instance, In my mind I’ll imagine using a certain cake pan, but when it comes to the physical baking process, I realize the cake pan isn’t the right size. So, developing a recipe is one part, the next is executing that recipe to perfection, which can be a challenge. It takes patience, time and effort to get it perfect and it has to be a hundred percent perfect before I share it with my followers.

Your delectable treats contain flavours from many of the countries you have visited. Which city or country has been most influential with regards to your baking?

Naturally, Paris, the capital of ‘all things pastry’. For me, it is the city where it all began. I often go to Paris for training and to attend masterclasses by pastry chefs. Japan too. They adore French culture, pastry and food and they elevate it to a different level. They are so precise in how they recreate French patisserie using Japanese ingredients, like matcha and yuzu. I was really impressed with their packaging too. For instance, in Paris if you purchase pastries while walking, by the time you get back to your hotel you’ll find your pastry is flat and somewhat squashed. In Japan, the patisserie uses ice and tape to secure it, so that when you get back to your hotel after a day out, your pastry is still perfect. Then of course there is the Middle East, I think there is so much you can do with flavours like orange blossom water, rose and cardamom.

What do you consider to be your greatest culinary achievement so far?

Winning the Lancewood Cake-Off challenge in 2018 with my Rose, Pistachio and Raspberry gateau². It put me on the map. Many people recognize me from the competition- there were over a thousand entries.

What inspired you to create My Sweet Life – A simple Masterclass in Home Baking in book form? How has the entire writing process been, from inception to editing, and finally to being published with Human & Rousseau?

It was always something I thought of doing, something I often talked about – compiling a recipe book. My husband prodded me with questions about what I’d need to do in order to start and I decided to begin working on it last year. It took a while, but thankfully everything was complete before lockdown began. We shot all the photos by February of this year.

The writing itself was quite a process as each recipe, that is all 75 of them, needed an introduction and while I can express myself well enough, I found it a bit difficult to do a write-up for each recipe. On Instagram, I simply edit the caption for a short description and then get to the point immediately, so this was different to the approach I was accustomed to.

When it came to getting published, I contacted both local and overseas publishing houses. Along with my manuscript, I sent my book proposal and layout so that the concept I wanted would be easy to see by potential publishers. I looked at both getting published by a traditional publishing house, as well as self-publishing. I even considered getting an agent at one point. I tried publishing houses in Singapore and the UK. Many were not interested as they were more focused on publishing fiction, not lifestyle titles. During all this, I had also submitted my manuscript to Human & Rousseau and when I heard back from them, they were keen and interested in publishing my book.

 

Your book will have a host of treats to look forward to, and I know this will be a difficult decision to make – which of the included recipes is your favourite and why?

There is this delicious slice you need to look out for, with caramel, banana and chocolate, but it’s difficult to choose one. If I had to really choose something, I’d go with the rose, pistachio and cardamom tart. I love the flavour combination and use it often.

You are always poised and confident. Do you have advice for novice bakers and entrepreneurs about how to gain confidence, level up and keep improving in a saturated industry on social media and in real life?

Keep practicing and don’t give up. When it came to macarons, I wouldn’t stop until I conquered it. Also, have many interests and skills. I did a flower course which comes in use. I regularly go for training, and continue to learn and update my knowledge. Often in home-industries people tend to stagnate. As the market changes, you should expand, progress and evolve.

As with anything in life, you have to persevere. If you experience failure or rejection, know that it’s part of a bigger plan and you have to keep going. Don’t become despondent. You won’t always be winning, sometimes you will lose but you will get to your destination and achieve your goal. Even though it sounds cliché; don’t give up. When I submitted my manuscript and received feedback from publishing houses that said, sorry, we don’t do lifestyle – I could have taken that as a personal rejection and thought, maybe they just don’t like my proposal – then I would have stopped trying. Keep at it and don’t take no for an answer. If you’re trying to get published, submit your manuscript to every single publishing house – it’s a lot of work and you won’t hear back from many but don’t let that, or anything, discourage you.

Faaiza has added a touch of whimsy to her recipe book and readers familiar with Charlie and the Chocolate Factory will be excited to hear that any of the books purchased on her website before the end of October could include a Golden Ticket for one lucky person to redeem. The ticket entitles the finder to a KitchenAid Artisan mixer, and a one-on-one Zoom masterclass with the author who will send over the ingredients and tools required for the class.

Footnotes:

¹ http://thestylishbaker.co.za.

² https://lancewood.co.za/blogs/faaiza-omar-wins-a-trip-of-a-lifetime