Pie Class Practice

May 20th, 2015

It was another excellent pie class! We made fillings and pie dough, then rolled out our crust. Making great pies is a matter of practice, practice, practice…

We rolled out the dough

then added the filling.

A few important points: 1. Have fillings made before rolling out the pie crust. 2. Rolling cold pie dough is easier, but you can also make the dough and roll it immediately. 3. Use a light touch and lots of flour when rolling out dough.

Everyone took home two pies - a double crust apple and an open-faced walnut chocolate chip. Plus a few bonus strudels.

We had extra dough and filling, so while waiting for the pies to bake we rolled out strudels filled with either apple, cherry, or a raisin/date/apricot mixture.

Everyone kept calling the apple strudel "Apple Burritos."

For extra pointers with step by step photos, read Perfect Pie Crust Tips and Tricks for the Beginner, a blog post by Pam Harris.

Home-Based Baking at its Best! Customers love fresh fruit pies. If you don’t already have pies in your product line-up, please consider adding them during the summer season.

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Revisiting Granola

May 13th, 2015

Maple Walnut Granola

Healthier eating is a strong current trend. So although supermarket shelves and gourmet stores are saturated with granola products, for some baking businesses it’s worth pursuing.

Bake magazine had an article last month, “Grow business with granola” that addressed the strong trend of healthier eating:

“Snacking is a normal occurrence in many people’s daily lives. But while some people choose to reach for greasy potato chips when the snack craving strikes, more and more people are opting for healthier snack options. According to a Statista survey of approximately 24,000 American adults from January 2013 to March 2014, some 56.5 percent of American households eat nutritional snacks. Additionally, approximately 16.8 percent of American households eat chewy granola snacks more often than other nutritional snacks, such as fruit.

“This data points to a potentially new market to which your retail bakery could appeal: granola. By adding granola to your existing product line, you can easily reach this healthy snacking crowd. Doing so has already paid off for Heather Hardcastle, chef and owner of Flour Craft Bakery in San Anselmo, CA.”

The article continues, with some very excellent sales and marketing ideas. But ends with a clear message to those interested in introducing this product. “If you are thinking about launching a granola line, Hardcastle offers this advice: “Cereal/granola is a competitive category. Make sure your product stands out in a fundamental way or that your process yields a unique result, as shelf space is limited.

Artisan food is another strong trend now.  If granola is something you can sell locally, you have an excellent chance of success. But if you envision your product sold outside your region, think it through. Just remember that there are many great products catching dust on gourmet food shelves.

Maple Nut Granola
1 ½ cups oil
1 ½ cups maple syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla
½ teaspoon maple extract, optional
10 cups regular rolled oats
½ teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons cinnamon
4 cups any combination of nuts (walnuts, pecans, filberts, etc.)

1.Preheat oven to 325° and lightly grease (2) 9×13 pans
2.In a large bowl or stockpot, combine oil, maple syrup, vanilla, maple extract if using, and salt.
3.Add oats and cinnamon and mix thoroughly. Mix in nuts.
4.Divide mixture between two pans and bake 20 minutes, then stir contents and bake another 15 minutes. Lower temperature to 300° and bake 10-15 minutes longer. Check mixture at 5 minute intervals. When it’s a deep golden brown, it’s done. Do not overbake or it will taste burned.
5.When granola is fully baked, remove from oven to cool. If you like large pieces, press the mixture down with a spatula before cooling. Break up any chunks that are too large and store in an airtight container or plastic bag. Keeps several months.

Home-Based Baking at its Best! Consider packaging granola in snack-sized bags. It’s viewed as a healthier impulse purchase, especially at farmers’ markets and convenience stores.

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Handmade Cones, New Product Idea

May 6th, 2015

Several years ago when I worked in corporate R&D, I tested an interesting cone-shaped product from a large bakery manufacturing company. It was dark brown, made from pretzel dough, sprinkled with large salt crystals, and shaped like an ice cream waffle cone but with the texture of a sturdy cracker.

The brochure said it was a new product for ice cream shops. But I kept picturing it as the perfect vehicle for savory foods and salads. This was the mid-1990′s when fairs and festivals were expanding their visitor base and the fast food industry was promoting hand-held meals. Since then I’ve occasionally seen small pretzel cones advertised by the Joy Ice Cream Cone Company, but it’s never caught on. Sadly, the salty waffle pretzel cone didn’t gain momentum. I was heartbroken.

That was a new product developed long before it’s time. Now, however, with the advent of healthy, handmade, artisan style everything, the time might be right! If anyone was interested in handmade cones, you could make healthier ice cream waffle cones using whole grain flour, organic ingredients, and/or flavored with herbs or spices.

Or make salad cups! Excellent for hand held on the go eating.

Last week on Facebook I posted a video from America’s Test Kitchen that featured how to make ice cream cones.

The video features how to make artisan ice cream cones.

Learn the complete how-to by watching the video.

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Home-Based Baking at its Best! If you decide to try pretzel cones and need help (but preferably, you need testers) you know where to find me…

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Business Class at SweetAmbs

April 29th, 2015

How To Start A Home-Based Baking Business And Cookie Decorating Workshop

This class will be held at SweetAmbs studio in Beacon, New York. The day will be split up into two parts. In the morning, Amber of SweetAmbs will teach you some of her favorite cookie decorating techniques including flooding with royal icing, the wet-on-wet technique, and brush embroidery.

In the afternoon, guest instructor Mimi Fix of BakingFix will hold a lecture on The Home-Based Baking BusinessMore than forty states have a cottage food law that permits individuals to run a home-based baking business. This class is an introduction and overview of the necessary steps to running a profitable business; students will leave class with a checklist for getting started. For anyone interested in learning about the business of home baking, this class is for you.

The decorating portion of the class is suitable for beginners as well as those with some experience in cookie decorating. We will provide all materials as well as lunch and refreshments. You don’t need to bring anything with you to class.

Register at SweetAmbs

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Home-Based Baking at its Best!

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Pastry Squares Using Summer’s Fresh Fruits

April 22nd, 2015

Blueberry Pastry Square

Fresh fruit products sell very well during the summer months. Fruit squares – pies that are baked in slabs and cut into pieces for individual sale – are excellent sellers at farmers’ markets, coffee shops, and convenience stores.

For these types of fruit bars I like using a flaky pie crust recipe, but any favorite dough will work. Roll out a piece of dough large enough to cover the bottom of your pan, spread fruit filling over the dough, then top with another piece of dough. For experienced bakers, a lattice top looks nice but weaving the strips can be hard. Or use a streusel topping, which is easy and quite attractive.

If making a large sheet seems daunting, start practicing with smaller pans. Below, a loaf pan is quite manageable.

Peach filling over dough, in an 8x4 loaf pan.

The peach bars are sliced and sold with a heavy dusting of confectioners' sugar.

Bake until the top crust is brown and the filling has started to bubble. Cool completely before cutting, or the filling will not hold up.

If using local and seasonal produce, make sure your signs and labels reflect this. Adding the farm’s name is a good marketing strategy and is appreciated by your friendly neighborhood farmers.

Home-Based Baking at its Best! Seasonal and local are key words.

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Sadly, Not the Best Bakery Tour

April 15th, 2015

I rarely pass up an opportunity to visit bakeries. We can learn a lot from watching how others prepare food and how they deal with the public.

A few days after St. Patrick’s Day last month, we visited two bakeries. Both are multi-unit retail/wholesale businesses in the Boston MA area. Our first stop was Swiss Bakers.

I love their mascot on top of the building!

This outside window was a nice touch for customers to view the production area.

There were numerous products to choose from. We ordered lunch and treats, plus a box for home.

As we ate lunch, we saw a steady stream of customers.

I bought a mini-swirl bun filled with hazelnut paste. It looked beautiful, but it was dry, hard, and inedible. Unfortunately, of the six purchases, half were long past their shelf life. I owned a bakery and café for many years and understand the difficulties in keeping products fresh. But selling old products is not a good way to capture new customers or keep current ones.

On our way home we stopped at The Danish Pastry House, another well-known Boston bakery. We’ve visited before and had enjoyed our purchases.

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This visit, we looked through the cases while a very quiet, sour-looking clerk came out from the back room and ignored us. We saw several St. Patrick’s Day cookies. Uh, oh, St. Patrick’s Day had been celebrated the previous week. When we saw the old pastries, we automatically looked at other items in the case, wondering how old those were, too. We left without making any purchases.

Home-Based Baking at its Best! It surprised me that we found more than day-old products in two well-known local bakeries. It’s important to know the shelf life of all your products. Selling old or stale products is not the reputation that a bakery strives to be known for.

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The Custom Cake Business, FAQ (Redux)

April 8th, 2015

Recently, I wrote about the outlook for home-based baking businesses which remains strong for selling products such as breads, cookies, brownies, pies, etc. Baked goods are always in demand. These products are consumable – people are always looking to purchase delicious homemade goods that are eaten and then replaced with more delicious goods! With this kind of repeat business, it’s very possible to have a profitable home baking business.

But I had words of warning about the custom cake business. The market in some regions is already saturated with custom cake decorators. This includes sculpted cakes, wedding cakes, and finely decorated all-occasion cakes. If you are thinking about selling custom cakes, consider the skill-level necessary and the competition in your area.

I received many responses from people who are experiencing this current trend. If you are still considering a home-based custom cake business, you may want to read another piece, A Buyer’s Market Will Crush Your Fabulous Ad Campaign by the very talented Kara Buntin who owns A Cake to Remember, a custom wedding cake business in Richmond VA.

Wedding cakes by Kara Buntin

Sculpted cakes by Kara Buntin

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As I stated before, please remember the importance of writing a business plan. The time you spend doing this will force you to think through the details. The process will save you money and time that can be invested elsewhere.

Home-Based Baking at its Best! Remember to do your market research.

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Biscotti Class

April 1st, 2015

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Biscotti are twice-baked cookies which become dry and firm after extended time in the oven. With excess moisture removed through the twice-baked process, they can be stored for long periods of time without tasting stale. This classic coffee shop treat is a wonderful go-together with any preferred drink – coffee, tea, hot cocoa, wine, milk, or juice.

In last weeks class we made two kinds of biscotti – almond, and a cherry walnut. Biscotti is one of the easiest cookies to make. Dough is formed into logs and baked until firm and medium golden brown. An important key is to measure flour correctly – don’t add too much or the dough will crumble.

Before forming our logs we took some of the dough, rolled it into equal-sized balls, rolled the balls in colored sugar, and baked them once. We now had a tasty snack while waiting for the logs to bake.

After the almond biscotti was baked, sliced, and toasted, we drizzled them with chocolate.

Almond Biscotti
½  cup butter
1 cup granulated sugar
3 large eggs
1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract
1 ½ teaspoons almond extract
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
optional, sliced almonds, 1/2 cup
optional, chocolate for melting

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line cookie sheets with parchment or foil.
2. In medium bowl, beat together butter and sugar; then beat in eggs and extracts.
3. Add flour, baking powder, and salt until thoroughly combined. Mix in almonds, if using. This should be a soft, but firm dough.
4. Separate dough into two pieces. On prepared cookie sheet, form each half into a log.
5. Bake for approximately 25 minutes, or until no imprint remains when gently touched.
6. Cool until you can handle logs, then gently slice into ½-inch pieces. A serrated knife works best. Turn onto their cut sides.
7. With the oven still at 350 degrees toast for 15 minutes, or until lightly browned.
8. When cool, store airtight. Cookies keep well for several weeks.
9. Optional, drizzle with chocolate.

Home-Based Baking at its Best! Remember, biscotti is a long shelf life product!

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Value-Added Products in the Local Economy

March 25th, 2015

Fo bakers, pies are a great example of value-added products.

Value-added food products are foods that use ingredients that are enhanced or changed to increase their value. The term is usually applied to farmers who take raw produce and turn it into products which can be sold at a higher price. Typically this refers to produce which has been transformed into specialty foods such as jams, preserves, and jellies; salsas; sauces; vegetables; and of course baked goods such as fruit pies, crisps, cobblers, muffins, etc.

Small peach pies are excellent market sellers.

For bakers it means taking raw ingredients to create baked goods. Fruit pies seem to be the most appealing, but other produce can enhance your basic recipes to create a seasonal and healthful allure.

Clockwise from top left: Onion stuffed breads, plum frangipane tarts, corn muffins, peach strudel, blueberry muffins, apple pear coffeecake.

Using local ingredients increases your sales appeal. An article in Bake magazine explains, “Over the past 10 years, there has been a surge in consumer demand for locally produced foods, along with widening availability… More than half of consumers seek out locally produced foods… and almost half are willing to pay up to 10% more for such items. One in three would pay up to 25% more, and a third of consumers also claimed to consciously purchase local foods at least once a week.”

Home-Based Baking at its Best! If you are using local ingredients such as produce, dairy, or eggs, proudly market yourself to shoppers in your area.

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The New Entrepreneurial Spirit

March 18th, 2015

Food entrepreneurs are reaching out and a new movement is gaining strength: creating the socially conscious business.

As society changes and people become more aware of the world around them, some folks are spurred to action, either with their initial business concept or at some point along the way.

Business News Daily has an interesting article, Small Business Owners See Value of Social Responsibility. “Small and medium-size business owners have a number of reasons for starting a business, but new research has found that making a difference in the community is the top reason.”

The next big growth driver: social consciousness? “The next big growth driver for food companies may not be an ingredient or flavor, but rather a social cause” is another article found in Food Business News.

Socially conscious businesses now exist everywhere. These businesses can start with the intention of doing good, or just fall into it as a natural course of dealing with the public. In this video we learn about Rosa’s, a pizza shop started by Wall Street dropout Mason Wartman.

Wartman took a customer's suggestion and created an interesting concept.

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Customers can pre-purchase dollar slices for those in need.

Home-Based Baking at its Best! This concept may be called “paying it forward” or “giving back.” However it’s phrased, you have something interesting to think about.

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