Maple Walnut Bars, New Product Idea

July 29th, 2015

Maple Walnut Bar recipe

is very similar to a recipe for Pecan Pie.

One of the most versatile and easiest recipes for transformimg into a new product, is a recipe for Pecan Pie. The filling can be tweaked into different flavors by substituting various sweeteners and extracts. It can be further transformed into bars, by using a cookie crust instead of a rolled pie crust.

Maple Walnut Bars
yield: 9×13 pan

Crust:
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
½ cup sugar
2 ½ cups all-purpose flour

Filling:
4 large eggs
1 ½ cups maple syrup
1 cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons melted butter
2 teaspoons vanilla
¼ teaspoon salt
3-4 cups shelled walnuts

1. Preheat oven to 350° F and lightly grease 9×13 pan.
2. In a medium bowl, cream butter and sugar. Blend in flour until crumbly, press into prepared pan. Bake approximately 20-25 minutes, until edges are medium brown.
3. While crust is baking, mix eggs, syrup, sugar, and melted butter. Stir in vanilla, salt, and nuts.
4. When crust is done, remove pan from oven and cool for a few minutes. Pour mixture on crust and spread evenly. Bake 30-40 minutes. Bars are ready when center of pan appears set.
5. While still warm, run knife around perimeter edge. Cool thoroughly and chill for easier cutting. Store covered in fridge; keeps up to one week.

Home-Based Baking at its Best! These bars are especially nice if you have access to local maple syrup.

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Taking Customer Checks

July 22nd, 2015

Depending upon your type of business and your payment policy, you may sometimes find yourself in the position of taking a customer’s questionable check. It’s important to have a policy in place before an issue arrises. Otherwise, it could happen that accepting a check results in the customer receiving a free product.

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Be suspicious of :
- Starter checks, sometimes called counter checks
- Checks with very low numbers, such as 107
- Checks with no pre-printed address or an address crossed out with a new one hand-written in
- Temporary, expired, or out-of-state driver’s license
- Anyone who cannot produce a driver’s license
- Any variation between the pre-printed info, the ID produced, and/or the check writer

Remember, if you have a “gut feeling” that something is wrong, you do not need to accept a check. If a customer tries to bully you (or manipulate you in any way) this is a sign that their check may indeed be a problem.

More info from the US Small Business Administration (SBA).

Home-Based Baking at its Best!

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‘Tis the Season for Blueberry Pie

July 15th, 2015

Blueberry pie for my family

and

our neighbors.

Are you a pie maker? Or are you afraid of this sometimes fussy pastry category? I wasn’t always fond of baking pies, but I loved making seasonal pies for my family. Rolling out one pie wasn’t too bad.

But when I opened my bakery and café, mass producing these beautiful seasonal baked goods was unnerving. Thankfully, my bakers rolled out most of the pies. It wasn’t until years later, after I sold my shops, worked in corporate R&D, then as the sole pastry chef in a restaurant hotel kitchen, that my love for pie-making developed.

From The (Faux) Pastry Chef: How I Found My Baking Fix, page 98:

When I first learned that pies were on the menu twice each week, I was rather distraught. I was not an ace pie-maker. I started my Hotel Gold career making one-crust pies, but after practice I was soon making them with two crusts.

I was quite impressed with myself. It didn’t take as long as I thought; all that swearing made the time go faster. I made twenty-three pies each time they were on the menu – nineteen with sugar and four sugar-free. I always made pies first, before breakfast. I could take off my jacket and get them done before the kitchen was too unbearably hot, when both the dough and pastry chef would get soft and sticky.

When I realized I could do a dessert night of pies in less than three hours, as opposed to a cake dessert that involved several long hours of mixing, baking, and icing, pies became my friend.

The following recipe makes two 9″ double crust pies, or multiple small and handheld pies. When I don’t feel like rolling a top and bottom crust, I often make rustic pies – one large bottom crust that folds over the top of the pie.

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Blueberry Pie!

Filling
8 cups blueberries
1 ½ cups sugar, or more
6 tablespoons cornstarch
2 tablespoons lemon juice
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon cinnamon or nutmeg, optional

Crust
5 cups all-purpose flour (approx. 1¼ #)
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup butter (2 sticks)
1 cup vegetable shortening (½ #)
¾ cup cold water
extra flour for rolling out dough

1. Mix all filling ingredients and set aside.
2. Pan spray baking tins and preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
3. In a large bowl, lightly mix flour and salt, then cut in shortening and butter. When mixture looks fine-grained, drizzle in cold water and mix into a ball. Knead lightly, then separate into four pieces, two slightly larger. Use at once or wrap and chill one hour or up to five days.
4. Don’t worry about working fast – take the time you need. Roll out larger pieces of dough and place in lightly greased pie pans. Trim any dough hanging more than ¼” over the edge. Add filling, roll out the top crust, and place on top of pie. Gently roll edge of the top and bottom crust together (I prefer to tuck the top crust under the bottom) and press down to seal. Flute edges, or not, in any way you want. Vent top of each pie. If you wish, pie tops can be brushed with water, milk, butter, or beaten egg. You can also sprinkle on sugar. Or just leave plain.
5. Place pie pans on a cookie sheet with a large piece of parchment or aluminum foil under each pan. Bake in preheated 375° oven 45-60 minutes. Pies are done when juice has bubbled out for a few minutes.
6. Let pies cool at least two hours before cutting. To freeze, cool to room temperature then wrap well and place in freezer.

Home-Based Baking at its Best! If you have a home-based food business and do not make pies, consider adding this product line to your offerings. With the trend toward home-made, seasonal, and local, your customers would appreciate purchasing fresh pies during the summer months.

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Pecan Pastry Sticks, New Product Idea

July 8th, 2015

Back row made from one ounce pieces of dough. Front row made with 2 ounces dough.

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These Pecan Pastry Sticks are made from my original recipe for Rugelach using a cream cheese based dough.

Rolling out Rugelach was messy, tedious work. Eventually we stopped this time-consuming, annoying process that used more labor than necessary. We began making larger logs, as above. My mom called these pastries the “lazy man’s Rugelach.”

This adaptable recipe is easy to fit into your production schedule. You can roll them out and refrigerate until ready to bake.

Thinner sticks in the back row made from one ounce pieces of dough. Front row made with 2 ounces dough.

This product is shelf stable with a long shelf life.

Scale dough into 1 or 2 ounce pieces.

Roll out on heavily floured surface.

For thinner sticks, cut each piece in half

and sprinkle with filling.

Refrigerate or bake immediately.

Baked, cooled, and ready to store in an airtight container.

Ready to eat!

Pastry Dough
1 pound butter
1 pound cream cheese
2 teaspoons vanilla
¼ cup water
17 ounces (4 cups) flour

Filling
Cinnamon sugar
Finely chopped pecans
Optional, egg wash

Cream butter and cream cheese. Mix in vanilla and water. Add flour and combine until dough forms a clean ball. Wrap and refrigerate.

Use 1 or 2 oz dough per individual pastry stick; size varies depending upon product needs. Roll out dough on well-floured surface, sprinkle with cinnamon sugar and pecans. Fold sides in and roll up as you would a jelly roll. Place seam side down on baking sheet. Can be refrigerated unbaked up to one week. Before baking cut across the tops, egg wash, and sprinkle with more cinnamon sugar.

375-400° for 15-20 minutes, until a golden brown. Cool thoroughly before storing in air-tight container.

Home-Based Baking at its Best!

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The Price of Eggs, Oh No!

July 1st, 2015

Dense and tender, egg-free brownies.

Have you seen the price of eggs recently? A virulent bird flu has forced the killing of millions of chickens. Fewer chickens has created a large drop in egg production and a short supply means higher prices.

The Wall Street Journal reported in a story, Egg Prices Jump as Bird Flu Spreads, that “Avian influenza has resulted in the deaths or extermination of at least 38.9 million birds, more than double the previous major U.S. outbreak in the 1980s. Of that total, more than 32 million are egg-laying hens, accounting for about 10% of the U.S. egg-laying flock.”

Now might be a good time to review your products and think about ingredient changes. If any of your recipes call for large amounts of eggs, try reducing the number of eggs (start with no more than 25% and substitute ¼ cup of liquid per egg). I’ve seen lists of ingredients that are supposedly good substitutes for eggs.  But some of those impart flavors you may not want in your baked goods, such as bananas. Consider using a shelf-stable egg substitute such as EnerG, a natural powdered product which costs less than eggs.

BROWNIES, VEGAN STYLE

Brownies and Blondies

Best Egg-Free Chocolate Brownies
Yield: 8×8-inch pan
½ cup oil
½ cup soy yogurt
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup sugar
1 cup all-purpose flour
6 tablespoons cocoa
1 ½ teaspoons coffee powder
¼ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt

1. In a medium bowl stir together oil, yogurt, and vanilla.
2. In a separate small bowl stir together sugar, flour, cocoa, coffee powder, baking soda, and salt. Mix dry ingredients into the wet until combined.
3. Pour/scoop batter into a well-greased pan and bake in a preheated 350 degree F. oven for 25-30 minutes, until the top feels firm when gently pressed.

Best Egg-Free Blondies
Yield: 8×8-inch pan
½ cup oil
½ cup applesauce
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup sugar
1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt

1. In a medium bowl stir together oil, applesauce, and vanilla.
2. In a separate small bowl stir together sugar, flour, baking powder, and salt. Mix dry ingredients into the wet until combined.
3. Pour/scoop batter into a well-greased pan and bake in a preheated 350 degree F. oven for 25-30 minutes, until the top feels firm when gently pressed.

Home-Based Baking at its Best! Homemade brownies are always excellent sellers. Consider adding an egg-free vegan product to your line of baked goods. (Vegans would appreciate it!)

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Tiered Pricing

June 24th, 2015

An article in the June 1st issue of Bake Magazine discusses Tiered Pricing, which normally refers to volume pricing. This strategy encourages shoppers to buy larger quantities of a product by applying discounts based on the quantity ordered.  The article stretches the definition to a somewhat different idea, but still, it discusses how to increase your business’ revenue.

“Tiered pricing is a mechanism that allows a retail bakery to set levels of prices based on different categories — or lifestyles — of shoppers. It is becoming more common to see bakeries take advantage of tiered pricing. You can start by setting one price for the top end of a bakery category, a slightly lower price for the middle, and the lowest price for the bargain hunters. Or make it simpler for the consumer by offering two tiers of prices.

“Bakery owners agree that given the choice, the majority of shoppers will migrate to the middle. But by having a top tier, you can capture dollars that you ordinarily miss. And having a bottom level ensures your bakery will reach those looking exclusively for the best deal and build more customer traffic.”

The article also discusses other pricing tactics. It offers several ideas on how to increase sales, and talks about the importance of avoiding low-price strategies that work for large businesses but does not help the smaller business.

Another approach to increase sales: bake your products in a smaller size that may appeal to different sized families and different income levels. By making small versions, such as mini pies instead of the 9″-10” size, you may reap more sales while still having a healthy mark-up. Your signage can reflect that you also bake these products in several sizes.

You can make larger sized pies

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or mini pies.

Home-Based Baking at its Best! Bake Magazine is a good resource for all small home-based bakeries.

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Strawberries, Local and Seasonal

June 17th, 2015

Strawberries for sale at our local farmers' market.

It’s strawberry season! Photo below shows a tasty, unusual idea, from sugar me sweet bakers. Owner Ginny Farris used swiss meringue butter cream on top of fresh strawberry cupcakes to mimic the appearance of ice cream scoops.

Strawberry cupcakes from sugar me sweet bakers.

Other berry good product ideas: stir small pieces of strawberries into muffin, cake, or cupcake batters. Or make strawberry pies –  everything from two crust to hand held pies and poptarts. And then of course there’s the beloved classic strawberry shortcake.

Remember that product size impacts the consumer – medium and individual-sized portions are less expensive and easier to sell. Plus, it’s a way for customers to purchase their own small samples. Post a sign that you take orders for other sizes.

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Home-Based Baking at its Best! Homemade products using local and seasonal produce are sure winners in area farmers’ markets.

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The Trend Toward “Clean” Labels

June 10th, 2015

As the health food and organic foods categories gain momentum, new and existing food businesses are re-discovering the power of menu items that have fewer artificial ingredients. I suspect their motivation is increased sales (as opposed to consumer health) but I applaud the move.

A story this week in Syracuse.com talks about Panera Bread:

“By the end of 2016, Panera Bread customers will no longer have to worry about their meal having hints of Azodicarbonamide or Sodium Erythorbate.

“The popular restaurant chain is moving toward a more natural menu as consumers look for food like what’s available at farmers markets, Today Food reports.

CNN Money says Panera is the first national chain to publish a list of artificial ingredients that will be removed from their food. The ‘No No List’ details what preservatives, sweeteners, colors and flavors the company plans to stop using.

“Founder and CEO Ron Shaich says the chain is moving forward with these changes because they ‘are not scientists.’ He says, ‘We are people who know and love food, and who believe that the journey to better food starts with simpler ingredients.’ ”

Food Navigator also discusses this issue in What do ‘natural’ and ‘clean label’ mean anyway? By Caroline Scott-Thomas+, 18-Jun-2013 “Market researchers tell us that consumers are seeking ‘natural’ products more than ever – and ingredient suppliers have responded by providing ways to ‘clean up’ product labels – but what do these terms really mean?”

This ingredient list for granola includes only "natural" foods.

Currently there is no standard for a clean label. Most consumers want to avoid artificial or overly processed foods, so food manufacturers and eateries are working towards removing those types of ingredients from their products.

Spicy Maple Almonds

with a simple ingredient list.

“Clean label is difficult to define since consumers have different interpretations,” says Cathy Miller, technical applications director, Danisco USA, New Century, KS. “These interpretations differ among demographics, regions and products. Some consumers believe that if a product is natural or organic, then it is a clean label. Others feel that different products are already considered to be more natural or healthier, such as whole-grain bread, yogurt, etc., and they are not as concerned about the label.”

Food Business News has a category: Clean Label, with currently 30 articles that discuss the issue from both perspectives – that of food companies and consumers. “The trend of simplifying ingredient lists has challenged many food and beverage manufacturers. As the clean label trend has evolved, so have efforts to reduce the number of ingredients in many products.”

Note the last ingredient listed above: "unconditional love."

Home-Based Baking at its Best! The good news for home-based bakers: if you’re a scratch home baker, you are probably ahead of this trend!

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Teaching with SweetAmbs

June 3rd, 2015

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Last Saturday, Amber and I spent the day with a lovely group of talented cookie artists. It’s always a pleasure to teach with Amber Spiegel. In the morning, Amber taught decorating; and in the afternoon students learned the steps to starting a home-based food business.

As part of Amber's style, there were periodic demos throughout the morning.

In between, students were back at their seats practicing while Amber walked around answering questions and helping with technique.

Initial practice was done on paper

and then on the cookies.

Finished cookies were set on trays to dry. At the end of the day, everyone took home their decorated cookies.

We spent the afternoon reviewing steps for starting a home-based food business. Students came from New York, New Jersey, Florida, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Ohio.

For more info about SweetAmbs and her classes.

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Home-Based Baking at its Best!

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Renting a Commercial Kitchen

May 27th, 2015

Cottage food laws across the U.S. allow people to operate a food business from their home kitchen. This is always the easiest and cheapest way to start a business. But for those folks who cannot use their own kitchen, or want to make products that are not permissible under their cottage food law, consider renting (or bartering) to use a commercial kitchen.

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Culinary incubators (shared use kitchens) were originally created to help small food businesses become viable operations. Because these shared use kitchens were subsidized by non-profit organizations or state-funded programs, their fees were very low. This made for affordable entry into new business ownership.

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However, now there are private businesses that operate for-profit shared use kitchens. These rental kitchens can be cost-prohibitive for a small business. For a new food entrepreneur with limited capital and little business experience, it gives their business a rocky start.

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Think about this aspect when writing your business plan. If you need to find a commercial kitchen space, do the math. Think realistically about how much time is needed to start and finish your product, then multiply the number of production hours by the hourly rate, and add in the surcharges. How much product must be sold to cover the cost of ingredients, packaging, insurance, and rent. Is there any left to pay for your time?

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If you need to rent a commercial kitchen, take a look around your community. There are many commercial kitchens in every community: churches, social service organizations such as VFW or Knights of Columbus, fire stations, schools, pizza shops, restaurant and bakeries in their off hours. Renting these kitchens can be as little as $8 per hour and many of these organizations or businesses will consider a trade – you leave them cakes or brownies, and you get to use their kitchen. Sounds like a fair trade to me.

Home-Based Baking at its Best!

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