From banker to baker

A baker will never have a dull moment in their life knowing that whatever they make will put a smile on someone else’s face.

For Maryna Gouws; she could not be happier with her life, it seems the art of baking is engraved on her soul.

Having worked for the Bank of Namibia (BoN) for 16 years and then moved to the International University of Management (IUM) where she worked for three years, somehow, she felt her calling was somewhere else.

Two years ago, with no experience whatsoever, Gouws took her mother’s cooking wisdom that she had bestowed upon her, went into her kitchen and brought flour and eggs to life.

Teaching herself from scratch, she made use of various recipe books and followed the instructions to the letter.

She started off very small by baking cupcakes for her daughter’s Share Day at school and then continued to sell them. Realising that her cupcakes were becoming popular at her daughter’s school, she decided to go big. Now she bakes cakes for weddings, birthdays and Christmas.

Although she also bakes other cakes like muffins, birthday cakes and the like, she enjoys baking wedding cakes more. To date, the bubbly mother of three makes about 10 wedding cakes every month from which she makes around N$300 000 a year!

“The process involved in coming up with a cake is not really that complicated, it is what comes after that that really needs concentration and patience to produce good results at the end of the day,” she clarifies.

Every wedding order has a different design, which has to be done to perfection; meaning, she has to bake the cake a month in advance in order to have time to decorate the cake according to the people (usually the bride)’s specifications.

While others are in dreamland around 3am, a month before a wedding, Gouws slaves away to perfect the wedding cake (usually fruit cakes, preferred by most couples).

She starts by making the dough (where she mixes the flour, sugar, eggs and milk together in a bowl until it’s fluffy) while cooking the raising fruits (puts them on medium heat till they are slightly dark) then adds the cooked fruits into the dough before putting it into a pre-heated oven where it has to cook for about five hours before setting it down to cool.

The real work starts after the cake has cooled down. To preserve it, a bottle top-full of brandy has to be sprinkled on the cake at intervals every day for a month; a process that enables it to stay fresh for about a year before going bad.

One would think that because Gouws does not have a permanent clientele base, getting customers must be difficult but surprisingly, her cakes have been ‘selling themselves’.

Most of her customers are people whom at some point never knew anything about her but after tasting her cakes, say at their friends’ weddings, requested for her number and the business link began.

“I have had people who call me very late at night requesting to place their orders. The attention has really motivated me to want to even better myself further,” she says.

Recently, she took part in a baking competition in Windhoek and she came out tops.

To keep abreast with the changing environment in the kind of business she is in, Gouws has made the internet her best friend for extensive research. She has even started collecting wedding magazines to inspire her designs.

Some of the cake designs she has done so far range from suitcases to bibles; design that look so surreal through the naked eye. Her artistic background has also been of help to her.

“I used to be a painter, some of my paintings have been sold in Singapore and around Namibia, so I now use that talent in my cake designs as I am very good with mixing colours,” she beams.

“My best pastry so far has been a wonky cake that a lady from Owambo land had requested for. I was supposed to make different shapes and arrange them in a skew shape one after the other. It was not easy but I passed with flying colours,” she adds.

Even though getting some of the utensils to use has not been easy, luckily, some of her staunch clients help her out when need be.

Her cakes have graced all four corners of Namibia and the popularity seems to be growing even outside the borders to neighbouring countries like Zambia and Botswana.

“I cater for many people - from doctors, lawyers (Mr Sanderson from Sanderson and Associates) to Government officials’ relatives (deputy minister of Education, Dr Namwandi’s son) within and out of Namibia - most of them have supported me in my work. My daughter helps me decorate the cakes whenever she is around, otherwise, I always work alone,” she says.

It is evident that Gouws is flourishing in a field that requires talent and one’s magic touch. Her future goals include opening up a shop at a central place where people would have full access of her pastries.

Her wish is to make fabulous cakes and be able to compete with the Martha Stewarts’ of the world. PF