Dallia Abdelmoniem, a one time contributor to Insight Magazine, moved back to her home country Sudan after 23 years of being a Cairo resident, and set up a home-based baking business. She tells us what motivated her to take the business plunge and if it was all worth it.
Q/ Did you ever think you’d be your own boss one day?
A/ It’s funny you say that, I used to say I’ll grow up and be a businesswoman just like my dad and uncles, but then got sucked into the 9-5 and thought that was it, I’ll be in it for life. But circumstances, situations and fate all play a part in mucking up one’s plans and you find yourself turning 180 degrees and doing something completely different to what you’ve trained in and did for so long. But it’s great being my own boss, though it does have its downside of course, yet I still find it hard to say ‘I’m a business owner’ or ‘I’m a baker/cake maker’.
Q/ What are the downsides to running your own business?
A/ Where do I start? I have very, very little me time; I stopped going to social events and I see friends maybe once a month – if I’m lucky. It got to the point where my sister and mother one day frog marched me out of the house to go see family. My hands and arms are scarred for life from all the oven burns and scaldings I keep inflicting on myself. The worry that what I made won’t meet the expectations of the customer or they’ll call and say “That was shit. You’re a fraud.” It’s these little niggles that keep me up at night. Even though I’ve been doing this line of work for nearly 3 years now I’m never 100% satisfied. And one shouldn’t be though, we should always strive for better – well that’s what I keep telling myself!
Q/What are the upsides then?
A/ Customer feedback. When they thank you and rave about the cake you made for them, it makes it all worthwhile. I’m my own boss – I set my own schedule, I set my own timeframe and make sure it works best for me. Sure I can make much more money taking on more orders but that will negatively affect the quality of my product and if what you’re selling isn’t up to par, those orders will dry up. And finally and most importantly, I love what I do. Sure I complain and b*tch, but at the end of the day I go to sleep and I’m content, I’m happy and I’m not dreading waking up the next day and commuting to work or facing the irritations that come from the daily job grind.
Q/Who are your baking heroes or idols?
A/ There are so many! Home bakers first and most important of all. I grew up seeing my mum, aunts and their friends all baking amazing things. Eclairs, swiss rolls, sable biscuits, date cakes and cookies, bread rolls; you name it ,they made it and made it amazingly well. I’m actually now more into learning the classics, especially the things I grew up with like gargoush or Sudanese biscotti like we call it at home. My mum’s kahk made with dried rose petals was just to die for. I made my first basbousa a few weeks back and it was demolished, so I won’t be doing that again for a while as I’d like people to remember that one fondly.
Q/You’re a home based business has that been detrimental in any way?
A/Well, yes and no. Not having a store and relying on both social media and word of mouth to get your name known can be tricky but it’s worked well for me. At the same time, I am losing out on the customers who are craving a slice of something sweet right then and there and will turn to another place to satisfy that craving. So it’s a question of balance and finding what works best for you, business wise. But a positive is that I can take a nap whenever I’m in need of one. Yay for naps!
Q/Last question: What do you want for Christmas?
A/ A tropical island holiday. That’s all. Somewhere close as I hate flying so, Zanzibar; please holiday gods, make me go to Zanzibar! Or the Seychelles. I’m not fussy.
Sugar Cookies recipe:
These cookies are perfect to give as gifts, for baby showers, birthdays – any occasion really. You can cut them up in any shape you like and they can be covered in royal icing, decorated with fondant or left plain. I’ve tried so many sugar cookie recipes but this has been the best one, given to me by a baking tutor.
Baking note: I now avoid all sugar cookie recipes that call for baking powder – the cookie spreads no matter what.
Makes 24 medium size or 12 large cookies
200gms soft unsalted butter
200gms super fine sugar
1 egg, lightly beaten
400gms plain flour
dry flavouring (vanilla seeds, zests etc.) – I sometimes use Vanilla or Lemon extract
– Cream the butter and sugar and any flavouring together until it’s well combined and just becoming
-Beat in egg until well combined and then add the flour and mix on a low speed so as not to ‘overwork’ the dough. Stop the mixer when the dough comes together in a ball. Gather it all
together in the bowl and then wrap in clingfilm and chill/rest in the fridge for at least an hour.
-When you are ready to cut your cookies, briefly roll out onto a lightly floured surface and aim to achieve an even thickness. Use cookie cutters that are all similar in size or they will
require different baking times. Chill your cookies for 30m before baking. If you want different
sizes, separate the cookies into two batches according to size and keep one chilling whilst you bake
the other. Bake on a baking sheet lined with baking parchment.
-Bake at 180 or 170 fan assisted for around 10 minutues (or more depending on size). They are ready when they are starting to turn golden brown at the edges. Cool the cookies for 10 minutes in the tray and then carefully transfer to a cooling rack to cool completely before decorating.
-Store correctly, in a biscuit tin for example, and the cookies will stay fresh for a month or so.