09/05/2024 12:22 PM
From Muhammad Basir Roslan

When homemaker Norela Abdul Rahim embarked on expanding her bahulu gulung business, she made it a point to hire only mothers to assist her in making the delicacy.

Why mothers? “Not only are mothers hardworking but they can also perform difficult and challenging tasks efficiently,” she replied, adding, “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 Norela, 49, a mother-of-four and now a successful entrepreneur, wanted in her workers as the preparation of bahulu gulung – a traditional treat with sweet fillings resembling the Swiss roll – can be rather exacting 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 things) swiftly pour the cake mixture into copper trays, which have to be transferred to a hot oven immediately (to ensure they are baked to perfection),” she said.

Norela’s strategy is paying off and 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 introduced by the local Javanese community, has the texture of a sponge cake, with its basic ingredients being flour and eggs and a dash of vanilla essence and orange flavouring.

Operating her business in Kampung Sungai Haji Dorani in Sungai Besar, Selangor – about 100 kilometres from the capital city – Norela now has six women, all of them mothers and residing 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, this year’s Hari Raya Aidilfitri celebration saw her receiving a whopping 1,200 orders which she and her team had to prepare within a day.

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



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 was working 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.

The annual sales value continues to increase every year and in 2023, Norela managed to achieve approximately RM700,000.

She told Bernama her initial investment was about RM10,000 which she used to buy an electric oven, cake mixer and the ingredients she needed.

As her business progressed, 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 any hike in the business volume especially during festive periods.

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

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

Online sales account for 80 percent of her business, with the remaining 20 percent comprising purchases by walk-in customers, she said, adding she has seven other employees to help her 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 hot ovens 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 may faint due to the heat.”

She said although each oven can accommodate eight trays of cake mixture at any one time, they are not put into the oven 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 (of cake mixture). This is something we have to do diligently.”

She added she is grateful all her employees are resilient and work efficiently even though they often develop blisters on their skin from enduring high temperatures.



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 as 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 are using fillings that tend to be acidic like pineapple jam… this is to prevent mold from forming quickly.”  

The process of rolling bahulu is not easy because it needs to be done carefully.

Norela’s La House Bahulu products currently offer 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), with the customers choosing the fillings they want. There is no delivery fee for purchases of any of these sets.  

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 van 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 the 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 used to be very sweet, but we took the approach of reducing the sugar content in the cake mixture so that the resulting product is fluffier and can last longer.

“We’ve also made improvements to our jam fillings in terms of taste; for example, pineapple jam is high in acidity, so we modified it slightly to make it sweeter and less acidic," he added.


Translated by Rema Nambiar

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