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Up until recently, and even currently, most of my interaction with the culinary arts has been through TV. It’s not just a ‘me’ thing, it’s a family thing. We love cooking shows, even more than we love cooking probably. I get so engrossed and emotionally invested in them. Watching cooking shows while I was away from home made me feel nostalgic. I  would cry when anyone got eliminated and cry when they won the shows – its quite bitter sweet.  I think the most tears I cried was when Nadia won the Great British Bake off and she said : I’m never gonna put boundaries on myself ever again. I’m never gonna say I can’t do it. I’m never gonna say ‘maybe’. I’m never gonna say, I don’t think i can. I can and i will. You can watch it here :




                                                       


One thing I never dared to imagine or dream about was standing in a Professional Kitchen but last year in October, there I was at the Callebaut Chocolate Academy in Dubai with my work bench right next to Martin Chiffers’, an ARTIST. He is also an International Pastry Consultant. He has  worked at some of the World’s most prestigious locations including London, Dubai, Singapore and Korea .

Chef Chiffers is also a consultant for Bake Off : Crème de le Crème. He wrote a book with Emma Marseden, Bake Off Creme de la Crème. It is the perfect patisserie guide for the home cook. He is the only Pastry Chef in the World to win the European Pastry Cup twice in 2012 & 2014, amongst other things. Chef trains people for competitions, like the World Chocolate Masters Competition. World Chocolate Masters is the only competition in the world that is dedicated to pushing the boundaries of chocolate creativity. It is a platform for upcoming chefs to showcase their skills. I had no idea anything like this ever existed before this class.

My friend, Ma’u was travelling for a work-related trip and I decided to tag along


Since she’d be busy most of the time, I decided to find something to do that would help improve my skills in baking or anything confectionary related. I started searching for short courses, something that would work with my travel dates until I came across Chef Chiffers’ Concept Showpiece Class at the Chocolate Academy.

The course looked bizzare at first glance – making sculptures with chocolate, I could not even comprehend it.
How can chocolate do all that? What did i even know about chocolate? All I knew about chocolate at the time was limited to my brownies. I just started learning how to “temper” chocolate! (Oh this was another term i learned from all these years of watching tv ). I discussed with my family and friends- like ‘hey, i saw this course and i think it would be super cool, what do you think?‘  While they all agreed it was cool, a few people thought it was not very practical for me at the time. 


After a few days, i got the clarity i needed. I decided that if there was anything I was going to spend my time and money on, it would be something that I would be able to talk about for the rest of my life, something I couldn’t learn on my own. I love doing things that would push me out of my comfort zone (Maybe that’s why we went zip-lining on our first day in Dubai, jet-lagged and running on zero hours of sleep). 

So, on the 21st of October 2019, I found myself at the Academy. 
The course would last 3 days, 21-23 of October 2019.

Day 1
On the first day I walked in, I remember feeling extremely intimidated especially when I realised the other  people in my class were experienced chefs / bakers. Some of them had their chefs jacket on (adds to wish list) . I was given an apron so I wouldn’t ruin my ‘not-so-fancy’ clothes. I think i wore an Abaya the first day with my neon pink Nike trainers. Oh I wore these trainers for all three days!



The Academy was always cool – probably because creating chocolate desserts in a warm kitchen might be a disaster. There’s this automated sliding door that opened into the kitchen. I just enjoyed walking through those doors for some weird reason. Maybe it was the feeling of walking into the kitchen. Maybe it made me feel like i was a part of something important. Maybe it made me feel as if i was right where i needed to be. Whatever it was, it made my heart beat a little faster.

The kitchen was super clean and it just had everything. Chocolate tempering machines, massive refrigerators and freezers, marble table tops, professional mixers and a million utensils. It’s an absolute dream. The one thing i couldn’t get over was all the chocolate – i mean i knew it was the Chocolate Academy but i did not expect that the Calleabaut Chocolate i was buying in small quantities, often times from The Pantry NG was what was just sitting all over the room. Helloo  – it’s premium chocolate! I thought it was bonkers probably because i was a small home baker but either way I was stoked! I had to try so hard to contain my surprise and excitement. Everyone else seemed oblivious to it.

I came across Calleabaut Chocolate, pronounced ‘Call-e-beau’  when i started working on my Brownie Recipe and learned that the two most important things in baking a great brownie are good chocolate and good butter. I called it call-e-but until i went to the Academy (LOL).

The class started and Chef told us we were going to make a Pavone (Peacock). He had sketched it -I told you he was an artist.

 

We started out by making sketches on  paper – I am somewhat artistically challenged. Fine art was definitely NOT my favourite subject in school.  After our sketches were done,  we started creating the individual components. We did not have to temper the chocolate because there was a machine running constantly with all the tempered chocolate we would need – kind of like a chocolate fountain. Then we proceeded to make all the individual components that would make up this magnificent showpiece.


Somewhere in between, we took a break and had lunch. Chef Panos (Panagiotis Samaras) knows where to get all the good food in Dubai. He also made us Fudge and Ice Cream the other days. He is a teacher at the Academy and he helped the course run smoothly. You can tell he is really passionate about what he does – it would be nice to attend his class some day.

Lunch : Day 1


At the end of day 1, this was what we had:

We created the base that the whole structure (peacock) was going to stand on. I realised that there’s probably some math and physics that goes into this because you have to understand all your components and their weights, understand how the structure would balance, else, well, it would probably fall and break quite easily. (In summary, it will end in tears). We also made the bark, moulded the leaves, the egg and the peacock.

Day 1 was an eye opener. I found it challenging (i heard it’s better than saying difficult).  I felt like I was back in Further Math class in secondary school. My structures didn’t look half as clean as chef’s (well duh Aiko! What were you expecting?) Everything was new and it required a lot of brain power for me to follow what was going on, understand what we were doing and why. Chef was really patient and helpful especially since he knew i did not have any experience whatsoever. 

I could not write a script for the rest of the day. Everything went downhill from the moment i stepped out of the Academy. I was supposed to meet up with my friend after my class but i could not reach her. I had mysteriously lost all connection on my phone that morning and could not contact anyone.

I borrowed a phone from Chef Philippe at the Academy, a stranger at the metro station and  even a taxi driver so i would find her but we kept missing each other. I gave up after a while and decided to head back to the hotel – but  i got lost. None of taxis would stop and I questioned my cab hailing skills. So I decided to get food (yes i was still lost but i was hungry). I grabbed a meal at KFC (which i ended up not eating – but that’s another story entirely).
 


I was feeling pretty hopeless until i met someone who showed me my way back, walked me halfway – it was such a kind gesture, probably the first positive thing that happened that evening. Everything just felt like a disaster before that point. I was exhausted – between standing in class all day and walking around for 2 hours trying to find Ma’u, i was just done. 

When i finally got back to the hotel, I sent my mum voice notes on WhatsApp (since you can’t really Facetime in Dubai) saying i would not go back. Mama wasn’t having it. I told her my legs hurt from standing all day. blah blah blah.

Don’t say you can’t continue’ she said. ‘Get some paracetamol and go back there tomorrow. You can’t spend all that money for nothing, you MUST- i know you can.’  She convinced me that I was a Chef (LOL ).  Mama sold the story and I bought it. She said “You’ll be fine. It won’t be hard tomorrow because you know what to expect’.

After i unpacked my emotions, I realised that the day was actually not that bad, I had learned so much. I only had a rough evening. I met a fantastic Chef, I Was in a Professional Kitchen and I was taking a course at the Chocolate Academy. I told myself that it was okay not to know everything. Everyone has to start somewhere. 

So after all that, i went back. With no expectations and an open mind. 

DAY 2 
I went to the Academy again, only this time i walked because i knew where it was. Greeted by the quote on the wall,Chocolate doesn’t ask silly questions chocolate understands. I started feeling a bit more positive. I was ready to go again. 



Looking forward to the rest of the story next week? Leave a comment below!
Thanks for reading.

xoxo,
Aiko

Links:
1. Martin Chiffers
2. Bake Off Crème De La Crème 
3. World Chocolate Masters
4. Ziplining – XLine Dubai



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I underestimated just how difficult Baking Up The Perfect Name for our Brownie Business would be.

Your name is probably the first thing anyone will interact with when they hear about you for the first time. It sums up what you are about.  


What makes up a good name?  Why is it so important ? How do i not sound lame??
 

I started digging to find out the most “appropriate” way to name a business.

A lot of the things i discovered actually made sense and i tried to apply them while i was brainstorming. So I would come up with a name, check if it aligned with the ‘naming rules’ and then try again.  Here are some of the things i looked out for :

Heres A List Of Some Of The Things I Looked Out For :

  1. The name should be able to communicate what the business is about – when it is able to do that, you won’t have to put in a lot of effort explaining the business. 

  2. It should be simple and not too vague.

  3. It should be easy to spell and easy to remember

  4. It should be available – this is very important. A quick CAC search will show you what is available and what you should avoid. 

  5. The domain name should be available because everyone will assume your website will be your business name + suffix (.com/ .ng /.org)

  6. Try not to use names that may limit you by using things like geo-location  

Finding a name i loved that would also check all those boxes was mentally exhausting i should’ve had a naming ceremony when we finally found it. I had even succumbed to using online name generators for help but nothing worked. I thought about using colours, names of  birds, fruits, nuts, everything. I made a list and i ended up not using anything on the list :

  1. Macadamia – I still love the sound of that actually but it does not sound like a Brownie Business

  2. Meraki  – This is a greek word which translates to putting something of yourself in everything you do – passion/ devotion/ undivided attention. This one actually resonated with me for a while but it was not going to work. It’s also a bit too vague for our purpose.

  3. Caramel – Because who doesn’t love caramel right? That stuff is so good

  4. Pecan – More nuts? No and it doesn’t say anything about the brownies! It could pass off as a restaurant or an advertising agency 

  5. Fudge – hmmm…quite close but no.

I changed my handle a million times to see what each name would look like as a handle. My brain was a soupy mess – kind of like when you try making Swiss meringue buttercream with margarine instead of actual butter. 

I was on the verge of losing it when Mr.M said,

“why don’t you just call it Brownies? You’re baking brownies after all.”



Huh? Excusez-moi Monsieur?



Brownies?

That was definitely not the name i was searching the world for. But after a few days, it just stuck ! It literally grew on me. I loved how simple it was. I also needed people to know I was baking brownies. 



I loved it – but i still wanted something quite ‘me’ in it. I kept bouncing ideas off my girls – Amina and Andrea and eventually Amina said “Aiko”.  Aiko is a short form of my first name and last name  and the fact that it ended up sounding somewhat Japanese was just perfect. *sprays confetti*





 I created an instagram handle, brownies.ng, purchased a brownies.ng domain from Whogohost  and i registered a Business name with the CAC. 

Fudgy, Yummy, Indulgent – For the tagline, I needed  three words that would sum up the Ultimate Brownie Experience

And that’s it! Have you ever experienced this? Please share in the comments below.

xoxo,
aiko



Resources:

  1. https://businessnamegenerator.com/

  2. https://fortune.com/2011/12/15/10-rules-for-picking-a-company-name/

  3. https://www.thebalancesmb.com/choosing-a-great-small-business-name-2951803

  4. https://www.forbes.com/sites/allbusiness/2016/10/23/12-tips-for-naming-your-startup-business/#2747740e904e

    5.  https://wellsfargoworks.com/planning/article/finding-the-right-name-for-your-business
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Hey There,  Aiko Here!

I thought it would be interesting to add a blog to the site so i can share some of the things that go on behind the scenes with Brownies By Aiko and carry you along with me as i continue to learn throughout this journey (#MyBakingJourney).  You can read how I started baking here: Aiko: My Baking Journey

They say it takes a village to raise a child. It probably takes a village to start a small business too. It did for me.  After i finished my Masters Program in 2015, I would bake for my family – especially on Sundays for some reason.  Other times i would bake just for the sake of it with my friend Amina.

My mum had always encouraged me to start baking for people but i always had excuses because I was afraid. I loved the idea of it but I didn’t feel like I was where I needed to be.
I’m not sure how the conversation started but it was probably after watching Katherine Sabbath’s Birthday Cake on Masterchef Australia; all the inspiration and “ginger” i needed kicked in. It’s the most delightful looking cake that I’ve never eaten. 


I was home with Mr.M (I still struggle with saying the word ‘husband’ 😂)  when we started discussing the possibilities of starting a cake business. Just the mere thought of it was overwhelmingly exciting and sometimes when you say things out and write them down on paper, they just start to happen. We started writing out menus, drawing out plans, working out cost analysis and making sketches of cake boxes / packaging.  

I decided to start out by baking a graduation cake for my cousin.  The cake was going to be a few inches tall and it wouldn’t fit in a normal cake box so we decided to make our box.

We went out one evening to a shopping complex in Zone 5 to get cardboard and supplies to make this one box. We already had other baking supplies from Mr. Sunny’s shop opposite Jabi Motor Park – That man had almost everything.  We also got other things like a turn table, palette knife, all these baking essentials from someone we had found on jiji.ng – I’m not sure how we found the shop and I can’t remember where it was but I know it was in a market somewhere in Abuja.

 

Anyway, with M’s craftsmanship and my cheerleading skills, we created a cake box with a window using cardboard and laminate paper. We never made another box again because it took ages to make the first one. It was a fun project but it’s not time or cost effective. In hindsight, if you’re making tall cakes and you don’t have a box, you can use the base of a normal box, get rid of the top and cover the cake using cellophane and a ribbon . Something like this :

 

 

The next evening at the graduation dinner at Nkoyo, we had my Chocolate and Vanilla Cake, covered in Whipped Cream and topped with nuts. Looking back, the frosting looks like garri – it could probably just be the camera quality but the cake tasted decent. (yay!)


A few weeks later, my sister called me to bake a cake for her friend from work – it was a bit very scary and out of my comfort zone. It was scary because like a lot of people, I’m afraid of failure plus I was not good at digesting constructive criticism – it used to terrify me. I mean, baking for someone and putting everything into it and them not liking it can feel like a personal attack 😂 but i I baked the Cake – I was trying to start a cake business anyway right?  I didn’t feel ‘ready’ but I figured I had to start at some point.   

 


After I had baked for my sister’s friend, I baked a few more times for a few more people and started getting more comfortable with baking for other people. Everyone’s favourite back then was the Tres Leches Cake (Three Milk Cake) – It’s also M’s favourite. Cries in lactose intolerance

A couple of months in, I stopped baking. I had a bun in the oven and had an aversion to the smell of egg whites and you can’t bake Tres Leches without egg whites. I spent the rest of the year creating websites, searching for jobs and watching cooking shows like Masterchef Australia My Kitchen Rules, Hell’s Kitchen and The Great British Bake Off. 

I did not bake again until 2019 when my daughter turned one. I wanted to be the person that would bake her first birthday cake. I did not want to lose out on the experience. I felt it would be more special if i did it myself and it truly felt like it was. Her dad and i baked a 6 layer 6″ Vanilla and Chocolate Cake for ourselves her . We didn’t have a party, we just wanted cake for photos to mark the milestone, besides a cake is a party on its own right ?

 

After the 1st year of being a mom, things started being normal again. I started settling into myself and i wanted to do something new, fun even and that’s when M said “why don’t you bake brownies?’ and it made sense. The smell of brownies in the oven makes my heart warm on the inside, they taste like home. I believe that brownies are versatile. You can have lots of different add-ins.  You can give them to anyone, even when you want to look like ‘you’re not trying too hard’.  You could have them as party favours or to say ‘I’m sorry’ or ‘everything is going to be okay’. You can have them with milk or tea or coffee or even ice cream. You can eat them hot or eat them cold.  They’re hearty & happy.

 

Brownies are Fudgy Yummy goeey squares of deliciousness and everyone loves chocolate – well except Amina who’s kind of allergic to chocolate. I think that’s why she’s #TeamBlondies. We got to work, developing our Brownie recipe, giving my friends and family to review them, heading back to the drawing board , till we created what we believed was the Perfect Brownie  


Recipe ready it was time to start planning if this was going to be a real thing not just another idea that would be swept under the rug. We worked on the colours, branding, name, packaging, pricing, delivery etc. And that’s how the dream became a plan and eventually it manifested itself into a 2″ (inch) chocolate square. 

We* – My family, friends that were close and those that were far… The whole village. I can’t thank them enough for never getting tired of listening and giving suggestions and if they ever got tired, they never showed it.

To everyone who’s ever bought a brownie, shared a post, gave suggestions, given feedback, recommended these brownies to anyone, thank you thank you thank you.  This journey would not be the same without you 🤎

While I was writing this, I discovered a picture of the first brownie i ever baked in 2016 and noticed the most peculiar thing. I baked my first ever brownie on the 27th of April 2016 and started Brownies By Aiko exactly 3 years later on the 27th of April 2019. 



 How did we come up with the name Brownies By Aiko? You can read that soon in the next blog – Baking Up A Name. Subscribe and turn on your Instagram post notifications.

Thanks for reading!
Aiko 

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In life, there are two types of people : those who can bake and those who cannot – I could NOT. 

The first dessert i ever tried to make was Banana Mousse. It was a total disaster in every sense of the word – a soupy mess. I found the recipe in a cookbook my mum had lying around – I didn’t even know what a mousse was. It sounded fancy so i wanted to make it. The highlight of that day was my mum forced everyone to eat the “mousse”  because i was so upset (I didn’t have to eat it cos HELLOO – i was the sad one – LOL). I remember how defeated i felt that day and honestly i would have never imagined at that point, 15 years ago that i would ever bake and sell dessert to ANYONE.

I don’t come from a family of bakers but my mum would cook a whole lot of things when we were younger. I remember she would bake meatpies and we would eat them when we went out for picnics at Bar Beach or Badagry Beach in Lagos. 

My earliest memories of baking were from the time my Uncle’s wife came visiting us for the first time from Europe – i was about 10 -11 years old at the time. We baked cupcakes – i remember being so confused when she put fruit juice in the cake batter.  Half an hour later, they became cupcakes and they were delicious! I tried baking a few times after that but it was never anything worthy of conversation

FAST FORWARD TO 2014 : ANDREA & ANDREIA(NAYR)

In 2014, My final year in University / Beginning of My Masters Program, I became friends with Andrea & Andreia (@nayr_s_cakes on instagram). They both loved to bake. Around September 2014, i moved in with Nayr (Andreia). She would cook and bake ALL the time and she loved doing it. She brought people together through food. Her cakes are just the best and my absolute favourite was her orange cake (yum!)
Nayr INSPIRED me to bake and Andrea FORCED me to bake. That was her favourite pastime and eventually it became mine too. 

My first successful bake was a Madeira Cake I had baked in December 2014 and that was when i learnt my first and most important lesson in baking :


KNOW YOUR OVEN :

You can read a million recipes, measure your ingredients with a digital scale, make batter that looks so good you can use it as a face mask and  all that hard work will amount to nothing because of your oven. You need to become one with your oven LOL (not a joke). For instance, i know that the right side of my oven gets hotter than the left even though i don’t know why. If you have an electric oven, you do not need to worry as much but if you have a gas oven, you have your work cut out for you .
Until you understand what you are working with, you may end up being an angry, charred overbaked cupcake and while Baking is therapeutic when it works out, baking disasters will have the opposite effect if you’re anything like me.


After my Madeira success, baking stopped seeming impossible. I started baking for my friends, i baked my brother’s 19th birthday cake, a red velvet cake for my dad over the summer and that was it . I started baking for people. 

I believe i started baking for the same reason i ran a half marathon in 2015 – to prove to myself that i could do it, to know that with a little determination, tons of practice  and a sprinkle of luck, you can do almost anything you set your mind to do.

The reason why i bake now is because of the need to make people happy. It makes me happy knowing that for a few minutes, i can bring some sunshine into someone else’s cloud and that is what makes it worthwhile.

You can read up on the rest of the story soon:
Baking Journey Continued: Brownies By Aiko  – How Did We Get Here?

Do you bake? How did you start? What do you love about it?  I’d love to hear it!
#MyBakingJourney

xoxo,
Aiko

 

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