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.

Visit sugar me sweet bakers on Facebook

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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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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