Making the best of uncertainty

Mr Xavier Lee of Flourcrafts sells caneles, cakes, marshmallows and scones. PHOTO: FLOURCRAFTS

It was 5am and baker Xavier Lee was 20 minutes into making his first batch of caneles for the day.

His oven blew a fuse.

The 31-year-old turned to YouTube and Reddit for help, since there was no one he could call at that hour.

"I swopped the fuse from my Nespresso machine with the one in my oven," he says. "Voila, it worked like magic. That felt like the longest five minutes of my life."

His coffee machine, you will be pleased to know, is working again.

Mr Lee, who started Flourcrafts in April, sells pastries such as caneles, scones and cakes packed in elegant boxes that could have come from a smart pastry shop. There is a card in the box, with a QR code that customers can scan to find out how best to enjoy the pastries.

His story is one of making lemonade out of lemons, and of pursuing his dream with courage.

He was not always a baker. He trained in accountancy and spent a year working as an auditor before deciding that was not something he wanted to do for the rest of his life. Baking was a hobby and his colleagues used to call him "Baker Boy" because he would take his cookies to work.

He enrolled in an 18-month pastry course at Le Cordon Bleu in Sydney. In fact, he was due to return there, as he had been offered a job as a pastry chef.

"Due to Covid-19, these plans did not work out. While I sent countless resumes everywhere, it is hard to land a job when most food businesses are scaling back on hiring," he says. "I could not sit around knowing I was not contributing to my family, so I had to do something about it."

He settled on selling caneles, a vanilla and rum-flavoured French pastry from Bordeaux, because he wanted to sell "something that is not our staple". Lots of people were selling cookies, chiffon cakes and the like.

Mr Xavier Lee of Flourcrafts sells caneles, cakes, marshmallows and scones. PHOTO: FLOURCRAFTS

To make something unfamiliar more familiar, he made the little pastries with Asian flavours such as matcha, houjicha and Mao Shan Wang, using copper moulds he ordered from France.

People responded enthusiastically, and he sells 25 to 30 pastry tasting boxes a day.

He is working to expand his offerings and has a few ideas for National Day-themed caneles.

"The best reward is when someone texts me saying I touched his heart," he says.

"Covid-19 has taught me one thing. Things can be uncertain, but you can't just sit back and do nothing. Everyone is saying that this is a bad year. But you just have to tackle the uncertainty, make the best of it."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on July 26, 2020, with the headline Making the best of uncertainty. Subscribe