Touching lives with her creations: The icing on the cake for popular Instagram baker
by Geraldine Tan // September 21, 2019, 3:25 pm
Jenny Lie, the sought-after cake artist behind Ten Butter Fingers, is not even a full-time baker. To her, the delightful creations are are more than just cake. All photos courtesy of Jenny Lie.
“I didn’t even want to be a baker! I baked because my family asked me to,” confessed Jenny Lie, the person behind Ten Butter Fingers – possibly one of Singapore’s most popular online cake shops.
She went viral after prominent food blogger Aun Koh of Chubby Hubby and his wife, Su-Lyn, raved about her yuzu chiffon cake almost two years back.
“That kind of opened the floodgates. And I asked God, ‘What is happening? I don’t understand,’” recalled Jenny, 43, who is a corporate trainer and coach by day and baker by night.
Her husband, Raymond Teo, encouraged her: “As He opens the door, you just respond.”
It all started in early 2018, when Jenny launched sales for her yuzu chiffon cake. It turned out to be so popular with customers that she and her husband had to find a supplier to bring in more yuzus as they couldn’t buy enough in the supermarkets.
“Even if you have a talent, you still need to go through the process and the hard work.”
Raymond finally found one. However, when the fruits arrived, the supplier let on that they made a loss as the yuzus cost more than the price both of them had agreed on as it was the tail-end of the season.
Out of gratitude, Jenny baked a yuzu chiffon and gifted it to the supplier.
They loved it so much that they asked her if she could bake another one for them as they would like to give it to friends to celebrate the birth of their baby.
She got the details and sent the cake on its way via third-party couriers.
That very night, her Instagram was flooded with requests and her friends started texting her, telling her she has gone viral. Perplexed, she asked her friends what happened. As it turned out, the fruit supplier had given her cake to the Kohs.
Jenny had no clue who they were until friends enlightened her, she recalled with an embarrassed laugh.
Jenny had never envisioned her life to pan out the way it did. She had harboured ambitions to become a doctor when she was younger but ended up reading accountancy at university. After a successful stint in corporate branding and communications, she felt a longing to step out of her full-time role to spend more time with her two children, Cheryl and Caleb.
It was not an easy decision. In fact, it took her three years before she finally took the plunge in 2013.
“When God gives you time, it isn’t always a bad thing.”
When she did, God opened the door for her to enter corporate training. But it took time for her to build her clientele as she was new to the line. It was during this time that she stumbled into baking.
All because of an innocent request.
“Mum, I want to bake a strawberry shortcake,” declared her daughter, Cheryl. Then just nine years old, she had been following Cake Boss, an American reality television series starring a bakery famed for their edible art cakes.
Jenny gamely agreed. And to her surprise, her young child had much to teach her – from picking the right baking utensils to crumb-coating a cake.
“She would be the one teaching me what I needed to do to improve. So, she was the teacher and I was the student,” said Jenny with a chuckle.
From someone who used to rely on instant mixes to meet her children’s demand for home-baked goodies, Jenny’s bakes are now all made from scratch, free of artificial flavourings and, as far as she can help it, artificial colouring. Many reviews point out how her cakes were not only aesthetically beautiful, but they were also light as air, and intensely flavourful.
But it did not start out that way.
“Boredom isn’t always bad”
“One cake after another, as I took them out of the oven, I was like, ‘Oh, that’s lousy,’” revealed Jenny. And because her workload was lighter, she had the time to hone her skills.
“When God gives you time, it isn’t always a bad thing,” she explained. “Boredom isn’t always bad. It’s in boredom that we learn to explore a little bit more of our God-given talent, and who He’s made us to be.”
“My children are the ones that give me ideas and challenge me.”
“So, I explored,” shared Jenny. She recalled once when Caleb, who was just six years old then, requested for a strawberry jelly cheesecake. She succeeded but to her dismay, he said: “Let’s change the flavour.”
“Caleb’s the one who started the genesis of me baking a passionfruit cheesecake and the one who made me try my hand at making a fondant Minion cake. I’ve discovered that fondant and I aren’t friends but at least I tried,” said Jenny with a laugh.
“My children are the ones that give me ideas and challenge me. Both of them played a really integral role in how Ten Butter Fingers got started.
“One cake after another, baking for the family, then the extended family. And friends of family members started asking, ‘Can you bake for us?’”
The requests were so frequent that, at the egging of Raymond, the family helped her start a Facebook page in 2015 and an Instagram account in 2016 to hawk her wares.
The 10,000-hour rule
Browsing through her Instagram, one will be struck by the artistry in her cake designs.
Yet, Jenny is quick to admit the creativity she now possesses was cultivated over time: “I can’t draw, I can’t paint. I really can’t do all that and I would say it’s almost like a 10,000-hour rule. Even if you have a talent, you still need to go through the process and the hard work.”
There were times when she sacrificed sleep as she struggled to figure out how to recreate her customers’ visions for their customised cakes.
“It was frustrating …. And God doesn’t spare us from these learning lessons. He may give you an order, He may put a door before you but you need to do the hard work of walking, of training up your muscles, of going through that journey in life.
“It makes us realise that life is lived here on earth. But really where does our strength come from?” pondered Jenny, who knew the clear answer as written in Psalm 121:1-3.
And those were not the only times that God stretched her mustard seed-sized faith.
A whale of a surprise
Last November, during a lull period, she was inspired to create two cakes with encouraging Bible verses on them, one of which had a whale design.
“I wanted to give it away because I’ve never done an encouragement cake before; it was my first. I told God, ‘If somebody wants it, let them have it. If nobody wants it, I’ll just have cake with some friends!” Jenny smiled as she remembered that child-like prayer.
“The way God works has become very real.”
She then ran what could possibly be Singapore’s first cake blessing campaign. Participants didn’t need to follow or like her social media accounts, all she asked was for them to tell her who they hoped to bless the cake with and a bit of information about the recipient.
The responses she received floored her. She showed them to her children and, together, they decided who to give the cakes to.
Little did she know the impact the whale cake would have.
The winner, Sharmaine Loh, wanted to gift it to a friend who was the sole caretaker of his young son diagnosed with a fatal congenital disease. The whale design reminded her of the whale soft toy that doctors had given to the child.
“Jenny, you don’t know how much this cake means to me. Sharmaine always has a knack of hearing God at the time when I most need the encouragement,” wrote the father, who shared a photo of the whale soft toy and the cake.
She got goose bumps as she read that message. “God, is this You? Is this even possible that You can do this? This is just cake, right? How on earth do You even connect the dots in such an amazing way?” she said, her voice breaking with emotion.
Jenny has since gone on to hold another cake blessing in March, after a prompting from God in church one morning to run the campaign entitled, “Don’t Quit”. She felt led to bless two inspiring and selfless women who were going through a rough patch in life and could do with an encouragement.
It finally dawned on her why God led her down this unconventional path.
“This is your ministry”
Jenny realised that encouragement cakes can help draw people together to celebrate life, no matter the season they may be going through.
“My husband says this often, ‘This is your ministry.’ And indeed it is; this is a ministry opened by God. I never knew it would come this far,” she admitted. “And it’s been an amazing journey.”
Although she did not end up in medical school, Ten Butter Fingers allowed her to fulfil a childhood dream: To bring healing and encouragement to people.
“The way God works has become very real … seeing how God brings people together or uses the cake to minister to someone,” said Jenny, reflecting on the many stories that her customers have shared with her and the friendships that have formed over time. These testimonies have not only strengthened her faith, but those of her family as well.
“As long as your heart is open, God can use you.”
“That is why I didn’t want the business to be purely transactional. I really wanted the cake to be a gift from my customers to others or even for themselves,” she added. This is also the reason business growth is not a priority – unusual by the world’s standards. “I will bake as much as God shows me to bake and leads me to create.
“So never ever say ‘no’ to where God can use you. Church ministry is not defined by going to church on weeknights. There are always people that you meet, people that you encourage, people that you just minister to – that is really what ministry is all about.
“As long as your heart is open and you create that space, God can use you. And He does!”
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