Cookie Decorating and Marketing Workshop

August 27th, 2014

Last weekend, SweetAmbs and Baking Fix held a cookie decorating and marketing workshop for 12 students. The morning was spent learning flooding, wet-on-wet technique, and  brush embroidery. In the afternoon we talked about marketing our business and selling our cookies.

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Amber demonstrated each new technique before students began practicing.

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Finished cookies were left to dry on half sheet trays

and the trays were loaded into a cooling rack.

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We took a break and ate lunch provided by SweetAmbs. In the afternoon we talked about the marketing aspect of running a cookie business. It’s important to organize your thoughts to begin a marketing plan that fits into your overall business plan. This includes developing a concept and structuring a brand, then identifying your target market while enjoying the market research.

Keep an eye on Amber’s website for more upcoming classes. Baking Fix classes are posted here.

And the latest news: Amber is working on a book! More information after the contract is signed!!

Home-Based Baking at its Best!

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Iggy’s Bread – Bakery Tour & Market Research

August 20th, 2014

Checking out the display cases and asking questions.

If you’re in the food business, bakery tours are a pleasant way to do market research. There’s a lot to be learned from seeing what new products are being sold, how products are displayed, and tours are a great tool for staying up with current trends.

For bakery owners, these tours are a necessity.  If you like food, it’s fun exploration and gastronomic entertainment. Visiting bakeries is one of my favorite activities.

Everywhere I go, I make a point of visiting at least one bakery. On a recent Sunday morning in Boston MA, we went to Iggy’s Bread,  a large wholesale facility with a retail area in front.

Entrance to the retail area for Iggy's Bread.

We found cookies, pastries, tarts, sandwiches, pizza, buns, and granola. So much more than bread!

Everyone gets to choose.

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Iggy's sticky buns - the best breakfast pastry, ever!

We bought one each of everything that looked enticing.

Hungry now! We stopped outside to open boxes and dig in.

"Should we go back and get daddy a sticky bun, too?"

Suggestions for an easy and enjoyable bakery tour:
1. Buy one each of everything that looks interesting or different. Ask questions but be considerate of the clerk and other customers.
2. After you get home examine your purchases before digging in. (If you’re too hungry or have kids along, dig in immediately!)
3. Don’t plan on eating your regular lunch or dinner. Sometimes we must sacrifice a meal for market research.
4. You don’t have to eat an entire pastry. Just take a bite or nibble to savor the flavor and texture. Take notes.
5. If you have a lot of treats, wrap up any long shelf-life items. Eat them another day.

Home-Based Baking at its Best! Save your receipts! Bakery tours are a legitimate business necessity.

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Customer Service With a Smile

August 13th, 2014

Customers can always count on excellent service from the Wright folks.

Summers are for farmers’ markets with local and seasonal produce. Many farms also sell value added products such as pies, cookies, and sweetbreads. For the past few years I’ve been purchasing  from Wright’s Farm. And I’ve always been impressed with three things – wonderful customer service, simple yet beautiful displays, and their hand-decorated pie boxes.

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Hand-decorated pie boxes.

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Last week we visited their farm market.

The market is quite large

and multi-level.

I was privileged to see how they create hand-painted boxes.

I’ve always wondered about the Wright Farm pie boxes. It’s a beautiful touch and surely too time consuming. But as I picked out a triple berry pie, I had a chance to see their streamlined method. With black marker, someone writes in pie names on the flaps and leaves a stack of assorted boxes at the front counter. Then whoever is working colors them in. She did one for me as I watched and in a flash, a stack of boxes were finished.

We bought a still-hot triple berry pie, jar of pickles, and a couple of little zucchini breads for my fall classes.

Home-Based Baking at its Best!

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Seasonal Fruit Pies, FAQ

August 6th, 2014

Two crust pie ready for the oven.

Every summer I receive several pie-related emails similar to this one:

Help! For the third week in a row, my farmers’ market customers are asking when I’ll have pies for sale. I know pies are popular, especially fresh fruit pies, but I can’t seem to make a nice looking pie no matter how much I practice. What can I do?

I know it’s frustrating. Rolling out pie dough can be tricky. My usual answer is to practice, practice, practice! Some bakers are naturals, but it can take other bakers years to make passable looking pies. My next suggestion: make a rustic-style pie.

Blueberry filling shows through the center of a rustic seasonal pie.

Rustic means it’s a sort-of two-crust pie, but instead of a top and bottom crust it’s one large circle which folds over the filling. In the blueberry pie above, the filling shows. In the apple pie below, dough completely covers the filling.

The crust is egg washed and sprinkled with sugar.

Mini-blueberry pies are especially easy to make as rustic pies.

There are some baked goods using fresh fruit that can be a substitute for pie, such as crisps, cobblers, and shortcakes. But honestly, there is no good substitute for pie.

Home-Based Baking at its Best! No factory made fillings here! Customers are counting on the small home-based business to make authentic seasonal fresh fruit pies. Pie dough recipe here.

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Florentine Cookies

July 30th, 2014

Lace-like appearance with chocolate spread over one side.

The classic name for the above cookie is Florentine, but they are also known as Lace Cookies, Brown Buttercrunch Cookies, French Lace Cookies, Tuille, and Oat Laces. The recipe yields a buttery, crisp-tender, flavorful cookie that can be made plain or fancy. These were a regular offering in my bakery. During the holidays I added chopped glaceed red and green cherries.

One teaspoon dough spreads to 4 or 5 inches.

Drizzled with chocolate.

Sprinkled with almonds.

Florentines
Yield: 2-3 dozen
½ cup butter
½ cup light corn syrup
⅔ cup brown sugar, packed
1 cup old fashioned oats
¾ cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup finely chopped walnuts (may use almonds or pecans)
½ cup chopped (candied) cherries, optional, for holiday cookies
1 ¼ cups semi-sweet chocolate chips, melted

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees, line cookie sheets with parchment paper.
2. In medium saucepan, boil butter, corn syrup and brown sugar. Remove from heat, stir in oats, flour, and vanilla. Add fruits, if using.
3. Drop by teaspoon, three inches apart, on prepared cookie sheets. Do not place too close, they will spread. Bake for 6-8 minutes or until mixture spreads flat, turns golden brown, and bubbles around edge. For a chewier cookie bake one minute less.
4. After cookies cool, spread bottoms with melted chocolate.
5. Store in air-tight container with parchment or waxed paper between layers.

Note: these cookies can be used for Cannoli (form cookies with tube and place seam side down) or bowls (drape over upside down muffin tin or custard cups).

Home-Based Baking at its Best! Customers love these special cookies which can be easily adapted to gluten-free.

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Standard of Identity: Naming Your Product

July 23rd, 2014

In the U.S. there are federal requirements that determine what a food product must contain in order to be marketed under a certain name. Mandatory standards protect the consumer by ensuring that a label accurately reflects the product; for example, that mayonnaise is not an imitation spread, or that ice cream is not a similar, but different, frozen product. These standards are issued by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency also issues standards of identity. Standards of Identity

But only some food categories are regulated by the government. Meat, dairy products (milk, cheeses, etc), pasta, peanut butter, even white chocolate, all have definitions. The baked goods category, however, has no regulations and no restrictions. That’s why we see faux products such as Blueberry Donuts with no real blueberries (flavoring comes from imitation gum bits) or banana bread made with imitation flavor and no real bananas. No standard of identity also means we can bake cakes and label them breads.

How many of us bake banana cake (high fat, high sugar content) in loaf form so that cake appears as (lower fat, lower sugar) bread?

Is there too much government interference?

Setting federal standards may sound like a lot of over-regulation, but these standards benefit consumers and small businesses by protecting against adulteration and misbranding.

Recently, the honey industry has been in turmoil over this issue. Foreign companies have been selling a sweet golden liquid that has the appearance of honey but is a substandard imitation. The market has been flooded with a misbranded product and domestic honey producers are threatened with unfair competition. Two U.S. senators are working toward the implementation of a national standard of identity for honey.

“New York has some of the nation’s finest honey and hardest working producers,” Senator Gillibrand (NY) said. “To protect consumers and safeguard the integrity of honey products, we must adopt a national standard of identity for honey to prevent unscrupulous importers from flooding the market with misbranded honey products. The lack of regulation is a food safety concern and a bane to our honey producers.”

For more information click here and here.

Home-Based Baking at its Best! No regulation means we must use our own common sense. As small home-based businesses we can handle that, right?

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Cookie Decorating and Marketing Workshop

July 16th, 2014

 

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Visit SweetAmbs for more information and to register

Home-Based Baking at its Best!

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Holiday Weekend, Bakery Tour

July 9th, 2014

I love bakeries and visit as often as possible. I love trying new treats! But mostly I love the market research aspect. Regardless of what kind of a baking business you have, there’s a lot to learn from going to a retail bakery. I encourage everyone to do bakery tours. Look at the products on the shelf, how they are displayed, watch what customers are buying, and think about the visual aspects that encourage purchases.

We visited family for the July Fourth weekend and headed to Boston. It was late in the afternoon on July 3rd when we stopped at Lyndell’s Bakery. The shelves were mostly empty, which meant they’d had a very busy day. From their website:

Lyndell’s Bakery has served freshly baked cakes, pastries, pies, and breads daily since 1887. Located in historic Ball Square, Lyndell’s is one of the oldest retail “scratch” bakeries in the country. Pies, breads, specialty cookies, and half moons are chosen as Boston’s Best every year and families have enjoyed our custom made cakes forever!

(Great info, I just don’t understand why the word SCRATCH is in quotes.)

Lyndell's Bakery

Eye-catching and enticing window displays.

Great customer service, always important!

We made our selections.

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We bought bread, brownies, cupcakes, and several varieties of Half Moon cookies (Black & Whites).

On our way home to the Hudson Valley, we stopped at sugar me sweet bakers,  the most darling microbakery I’ve ever seen. Owner Ginny Farris began as a home-based baker, selling her wholesale products to area retail stores. In New York, the cottage food law allows Home Processors to sell wholesale.

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We bought (clockwise from top) Ultimate Chocolate Chip cookies, Cinnamon Roll Bars, vanilla cupcake, mocha cupcake, Banana Walnut muffin,

and a chocolate naked cake.

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Ginny’s secrets to success? Fresh products that are exceptionally unique and tasty, and phenomenal customer service.

Home-Based Baking at its Best! Visit bakeries, enjoy new taste treats, and consider your time a valuable step in market research. For more bakery tours…

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Repackaged: Granola on the Go!

July 2nd, 2014

When I started in business granola was one of my first products. I made three varieties (peanut butter, basic, and maple nut) and they all sold well from the bulk bins in my local food coop. The biggest advantage for me was the incredibly long shelf life. I could make this product in large batches and keep in tubs until sold.

Granola is still a favorite breakfast food in my house.

Use a pan spray and clean up is fast 'n easy.

When I began teaching people how to start a home-based food business, I always recommended they include a product with a long shelf life, such as granola or biscotti. But over the years as the entrepreneurial trend grew, those categories became saturated.

But as the convenience foods category continues to grow, breakfast cereals are now repackaged and cleverly marketed in a new category.

Granola on the go! Two ounce bag net weight (1/2 cup volume) marketed as a snack.

Kellogg's on the go! Many breakfast cereals are being repackaged as convenience and snack foods.

Home-Based Baking at its Best! Do you make granola? Is it delicious and different? Think about repackaging into smaller, snack sized bags.

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The Healthy Eating Trend

June 25th, 2014

Peach pie made with fresh peaches.

Cherry pie made with a whole wheat crust.

Organic blueberries!

Are these products healthy?

Now that the trend for healthy eating has become mainstream, has this impacted your baking business? Have you switched fat-laden, high sugar products for lite versions? Or use more whole grains or produce in your recipes? Or rely on organic ingredients to satisfy customers who are looking for healthy foods?

Squash, cooked and added to

a pumpkin/squash sweetbread.

Or is your customer base more interested in traditional sweets – cookies, cakes, pies, brownies – which are baked from classic recipes?

Fruit, which is naturally sweet, is a great idea and a good addition to your products. It’s possible to reduce the amount of sweetener in the recipe by using a higher proportion of fruit. But be careful of using too much fresh fruit which has a high water content; dried fruits, however, work quite well.

Apple pear coffeecake

cut and plated for a Sunday brunch.

The April 2014 issue of Bake Magazine had an interesting view on this subject. The editor wrote about “the fresh fruit factor” (p3), which mentioned the needs of some customers who regularly cycle through the diet then splurge eating plan.

This editorial addressed how bakers have struggled with the “dilemma of presenting health and indulgence to customers who may be dieting one day and splurging the next.” In our culture it’s a very real issue for bakeries or any eatery selling baked goods. He continued, “Quite simply, you can create the perception of health by adding fresh fruit to the top of your dessert.” Ah, visual appeal as the perception of health. One baker interviewed for the article stated that, “A fruit tart might have the same calories as a chocolate cake, but it’s perceived as a healthier, more natural product.” Yes, sadly, it fools many customers into believing they are eating healthier, less fattening foods.

Home-Based Baking at its Best! As businesses, we need to offer products that customers will buy. Depending upon your target market, health might not be a current issue. But with the healthy eating trend becoming more entrenched in our culture, it may be a good idea to include at least one or two items to your product line.

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