Jie Li, a postdoctoral researcher in immersive media, has a passion for baking cakes. In addition to her day job, the self-titled Cake Researcher runs a café in Delft, where she creates unique desserts that blend eastern and western techniques.
“My interest in cakes started around 2007 and at that time, the western types of cakes were not so popular in China. I first tried a New York style cheesecake when I was in Hong Kong. I thought it was so different, very dense and you could just have a small bite and it was perfect with coffee. I liked it, but it was quite pricey and at that time I was a student. You couldn’t eat it on a regular basis, so I decided to try making it myself. I got my first oven which was a big investment for me at that time. I tried to get all of the ingredients but cream cheese is very difficult to find in China. But I could order everything I needed online.
Chinese sweets are more rice or bean based so they are very light. In the southern part of China, it’s almost in the form of a soup, like mango, red bean, or black sesame soup. The western desserts are very dense, and you can really taste the creamy butter and milk. With cream cheese so difficult to find, I decided to try making my own at home. I wanted to mimic the texture of the cheesecake. I made a yogurt at home and then I used a cloth to drain all of the water out and it became very dense. I used that and it turned out really nice. It’s very much like quark here and using this makes it lighter and healthier than New York cheesecake. That was my first trial to create my own recipe.
‘Finding the balance is the tough part’
When I came here in 2009 to study, I could afford a second-hand oven so I continued baking. I could also find most of the milk products very easily so that’s when my skills improved a lot. I have been selling cakes for five years now and last year in December I opened the café. I open every Saturday and people can have coffee, tea and cakes. It’s usually filled with customers so I’m very happy about that. I enjoy it, but it can also be physically very tiring. That’s the tough part, finding the balance. Right now, I have a lot of work writing papers so it’s busy. This phase is difficult because as a postdoc you have to produce a lot. But I think in about two years when I become more independent, I can find more balance.
I’m settled here in Delft. I have my home and my shop here and I feel a part of the community. I buy milk from a local farm and my coffee beans from Miss Morrison’s here in Delft. Supporting local business is more expensive, but it’s worth it to support each other. It’s my 10th year here and it really feels like home.”
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