Hi, I’m Wetalu Obi, the 22-year-old co-owner of W’s Bakeshop. I never wanted to work. I always wanted to be a hippie, but here I am. I’m obsessed with smelling like food, so if anything is vanilla, mango or cocoa scented, that’s my shit. Want to hear something wild? I baked my first cake when I was eight.
You were eight? What made you interested in baking?
I loved watching Nigella Lawson bake on BBC’s food network. She’d mix up a bunch of stuff, put it into the oven, and it always looked delicious. That’s my earliest memory of wanting to bake.
I was obsessed with how it looked and unaware of the actual work behind it. But I was already in too deep by the time my eyes opened.
Tell me about that first cake you baked
Also, I was eight when I baked my first cake, so it was awful. It was supposed to be a basic vanilla butter cake, but it came out as one big, dense pancake. It was still special to me, but it was pretty horrific.
This sounds like you have supportive parents. Has that helped?
I do and it helped initially because they didn’t have gendered expectations for my sisters as kids and me. So if I wanted to bake, cook, sew or knit — and I did all that — they didn’t make a fuss about it and that opened my mind. I felt like I could do or be anything I wanted. They were pretty supportive until I got into university. From then on, they wanted me to focus more on my studies than on my “hobby”, and that’s when we clashed. They are pleased because I’m out of school and went straight to managing a bakery with my sister after graduation. I think they are happy.
Did they have a specific reason to worry?
They did. I studied chemical engineering. It was very demanding, and my parents feared I’d spread myself too thin. They wanted me to just focus on school and get a good GPA. I told them I wouldn’t do that because time wasted is hard to get back. I knew if I started working after school, I would never get back to baking, so I didn’t listen, and they didn’t like that.
I graduated from uni this year and co-own a bakery, so these problems are a thing of the past.
What does it mean to co-own a bakery?
Yes, I do. The bakery is co-owned by my sister, Ella, and we get help from our sister Buogo. We are a close-knit family of seven. Running the bakery together is a family love effort. For instance, whenever I was in school or things were too much for me, Ella would just step in to run day-to-day operations until I was back.
Nobody is fighting about running it because we both share the sentiment that we can’t do it alone. So we show up every day.
As for the day-to-day operations, we have a manager and ten employees, so things would be okay without us, but we still show up every day. But managing a business in Nigeria is tough. There are always power issues and spike in market prices, but that’s life as we know it.
What’s your favourite thing about baking?
I think my favourite thing about baking is how whimsical it can get. I love the feeling of putting my AirPods in and getting lost in my world for hours. I worked for eight hours straight when I made my sister’s wedding cake. I was so happy and relaxed that I could cry. I could never get sick of cakes. They’re so soft and texturally enjoyable.
Have you ever been in a baking slump? How did you get out of it?
When I was in year three, required to take courses from other engineering departments and had like a million units. I was so uninspired and heavy, so I didn’t bake for a whole semester.
One day, I went to a cafe, ordered four desserts to-go, went to a park and sat on a bench to eat them and people-watch. It was such a good day, so I took a sky picture. I returned to the bakery and tried to recreate that colour palette on a cake, and that was it. I can’t find a picture of the exact cake I made, but I have a version of it we modified for the bakery’s cake design catalogue.
I’m weirdly glad about that slump; it’s a beautiful cake. Do you remember your first positive review?
I was invited to a birthday party and asked to bake the cake. It was a double chocolate fudge cake. People would take a bite, and I’d watch them open their eyes in disbelief and smile. It was amazing to witness. I think that’s my favourite thing about baking; sharing the finished product with people and watching them act like happy children.
What’s the weirdest ingredient you’ve baked/wanted to bake with?
I’ve baked with mayonnaise. It’s a moisture/flavour enhancer, so it’s an excellent substitute for fat/eggs in most recipes. I only experiment with our personal recipes because I can’t experiment with other people’s food.
I want to bake with chilli pepper one day. I still haven’t wrapped my head around the sweet/spicy combination, so it’ll take a while.
This is a safe space. What are the worst cake flavours, and why is it chocolate and/or funfetti cake?
Right?? Chocolate is not my favourite. I love a good vanilla cake, maybe a red velvet, but I can’t eat chocolate. It’s ironic because it’s our most requested cake flavour, so it’s our most done recipe.
But funfetti? No, please. I love a good funfetti! Especially with creamy white buttercream frosting. Such a classic!
I’m judging you, but go off. Would you be willing to share an easy cake recipe with your fans?
I don’t have “fans”, please, but I have a recipe I learnt from our grandmother’s Betty Crocker book that’s burned in my brain.
It’s the 1-2-3-4 vanilla butter cake recipe:
1 cup butter
2 cups sugar
3 cups flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup milk
Knock everything into a mixer and whip for six minutes. Batter into a pan and bake for 30/45 minutes.
You make the type of cakes I see on Pinterest. Do Nigerians appreciate them? E.g., your mini cakes and the strange planet cakes?
When we started on those cakes, this was our initial worry. Did it seem too minimal/quirky to catch anybody’s attention? But surprisingly (and fortunately), people like them. And we made the snack cakes with a very special set of people in mind. People who wish they had a whole birthday cake to themselves. I love the idea of a single-serving birthday cake. It’s so practical.
In all of this, how fulfilled do you feel?
Baking is my life. I always knew I would do something pastry related, so ending up where I am now is something I expected. The bakery is where I love to work. I love the relationship my sisters and I have with each other. It’s our safe space. Yes, I feel fulfilled.
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