Mums' the word: A businesswoman hires mothers for their deft kitchen skills

  • Family
  • Wednesday, 15 May 2024

Norela (right) and her staff are making bahulu gulung, a type of rolled cake with fruit preserve, at her home in Kampung Sungai Haji Dorani, Sungai Besar. — Photos: Bernama --fotoBERNAMA (2024) HAK CIPTA TERPELIHARA

WHEN homemaker Norela Abdul Rahim wanted to expand her bahulu gulung business, she made it a point to hire only mothers to assist her in making the popular roll cake.

Why mothers? “Not only are mothers hardworking but they can also perform difficult and challenging tasks efficiently,” she replied, adding that, “If we observe our mothers cooking in the kitchen, we can see how quickly and effectively they go about their work.”

These were the very qualities that Norela, 49, mother-of-four and now a successful entrepreneur, wanted in her workers as the preparation of bahulu gulung – a traditional treat with sweet filling, resembling the Swiss roll – can be rather demanding and requires the experience and patience of a mother to bring out its irresistible flavour and texture.

“We need (the hands of a mother) to (among other tasks) swiftly pour the cake mixture into copper trays, which have to be placed into a hot oven immediately (to ensure the cakes are baked to perfection),” she said.

Norela’s strategy is paying off and her business is booming, with orders for her La House Bahulu brand coming from all over the country.

Bahulu gulung, which is popular in Johor and was first introduced by the local Javanese community, has the texture of a sponge cake, with its basic ingredients being flour and eggs, with a dash of vanilla essence and orange flavouring.

Operating her business in Kampung Sungai Haji Dorani in Sungai Besar, Selangor – about 100km from the capital city of Kuala Lumpur – Norela now employs six women, all mothers who reside in the same village, working in her makeshift bakery situated just beside her house.

Currently, she receives up to 300 orders a day for her bahulu gulung, compared to only 60 to 80 orders when she first ventured into the business four years ago.

In fact, the recent Hari Raya Aidilfitri celebration saw her receiving a whopping 1,200 orders which she and her team had to complete within a day.

Her annual sales revenue has also been impressive, climbing from about RM100,000 in 2020 to RM700,000 last year.

Business has been brisk, with online orders making up 80% of the company's sales.Business has been brisk, with online orders making up 80% of the company's sales.

Slow start

Norela said she first started making bahulu gulung for fun in 2020 when she found herself stuck at home during the Movement Control Order (MCO) period. Before the Covid-19 pandemic, she worked in a bakery near her house.

“I am the type who can’t sit around doing nothing. So during the MCO, I tried making my own bahulu gulung and then decided to market it online, with the help of my eldest son (Muhammad Syukri Hassan, 25) and husband (Hassan Ibrahim, 48),” she said.

She told Bernama her initial investment was about RM10,000 with which she bought an electric oven, a cake mixer and the ingredients required.

As her business grew, she spent nearly RM100,000 to build an additional structure beside her house to serve as a central kitchen and also to purchase a few more ovens and mixers to cope with increased orders, especially during festive periods.

She said in the beginning, business was slow as her bahulu gulung was relatively unknown.

“We then carried out campaigns through promotions and advertisements on social media and online marketing platforms. Then, in 2022, business started picking up and we’ve been busy ever since,” she said.

Online sales account for 80% of her business, with the remaining 20% made up of walk-in customers, she said, adding she also has seven other employees to help manage her orders and promote her brand on social media.

Norela also said the most challenging part of making bahulu gulung is having to deal with high temperatures (from the oven) all day.

“The oven has to be set at around 220 to 240 degrees Celsius,” she said, adding, “If we don’t switch on all the fans in our kitchen, I think some of us might faint due to the heat.”

She said although each oven can accommodate eight trays of cake mixture at any one time, they are not placed into the oven all at the same time.

“This is why we have to stand in front of the (hot) oven all the time to check which trays are ready to be removed and replaced with new trays. This is something we have to do diligently.”

Norela's bahulu gulung comes in several flavours.Norela's bahulu gulung comes in several flavours.

Eight types of fillings

Norela also said to get the perfect bahulu gulung, it is important to roll the cake as soon as it is baked.

“This is also a challenge for us; it is not easy to do this,” she said, adding the cake should not be rolled too tightly due to the risk of rapid spoilage from inadequate ventilation.

“We also have to get the compactness (of the rolled cake) right if we use fillings that tend to be acidic like pineapple jam... this helps to prevent mold from forming quickly.”

Norela’s La House Bahulu currently offers eight types of fillings, the most popular ones being pineapple, strawberry and blueberry followed by chocolate and peanut.

Each bahulu gulung is priced at RM9. They are also sold in sets of five (RM45), 10 (RM85) and 15 (RM125), and customers can choose the fillings they want. There is no delivery fee for the purchase of any set.

Norela said currently, they deliver to customers all over Malaysia, with most of the orders coming from the Klang Valley and some from Singapore.

To ensure the freshness of the bahulu gulung, they are prepared and packed in the morning and picked up by the delivery service the same evening.

“Our product has a shelf life of about a week, so our customers are encouraged to keep it in the fridge so that it can last longer,” she added.

In view of the good demand for her bahulu gulung, Norlela and her husband are planning to expand their business. Her son Muhammad Syukri said they will continue to conduct research and development on the recipe to ensure its appeal to a broader segment of society.

“In the past, bahulu gulung used to be very sweet, but we have reduced the sugar in the cake mixture so that the cake is fluffier and can last longer.

“We’ve also made adjustments to our fillings in terms of taste; for example, pineapple jam is acidic, so we modified it slightly to make it sweeter and less sour,” he added. – Bernama

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