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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Food Safety and the New Food Entrepreneur

March 11th, 2015

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This photo was taken on a hot summer day at the farmers’ market. Food was not covered, flies and yellow jackets were feasting on the pizzas, and the vendor was eating while handling food.

The issue of food safety scares me. I’m always amazed that more people don’t get sick from eating prepared foods purchased outside the home, whether from a supermarket, restaurant, or farmers’ market. (I’ve written many times about violations at farmers’ markets).

I’ve been in the food industry for more than thirty years and I’ve seen first-hand how food is handled by people working in commercial kitchens. Throughout my book, The (Faux) Pastry Chef: How I Found My Baking Fix, I write about many of the repulsive things I’ve seen. From the introduction, page 3:

For foodies interested in a look behind the scenes
I’m sorry if this book spoils your appetite. When I purchase items in a bakery or eat in a restaurant, I often think back to what I observed in the kitchens where I worked. I have to not think about what might be happening when my food is being prepared.

New food entrepreneurs with no food/business background are some of the worst offenders. Folks who are new to the business world are often so excited about a dream come true, but so overwhelmed with responsibility, food safety often ends up at the bottom of their to-do list. Food Safety News has a salmonella story which does not surprise me. Expert: Boston Restaurants Closed for Salmonella Had ‘Pitiful’ Food Safety Program. If you are a food entrepreneur, please remember that food safety belongs at the top of your priority list. A healthy customer is a repeat customer.

For more about this subject: Food Safety News has updated information about food borne illness outbreaks and food recalls. More about food recalls from the U.S Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Home-Based Baking at its Best! My best advice to everyone who wants to contribute to good public health: Never sell any food you wouldn’t eat yourself.

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Is Co-Packing Right for You?

March 4th, 2015

Many people have a favorite family recipe they would like to sell on store shelves across the country. New food entrepreneurs unfamiliar with the food industry, imagine the cheapest and easiest way to accomplish this (while making a profit) is to find a food manufacturing business that can produce and sell their product.

They are thinking about using a “co-packer” – a business that has the ability to produce a recipe, getting it ready for the marketplace. If this is the route you want to go, we need to remove the idea of “cheap” and “easy.”

You will need to work with this business on converting your home kitchen recipe into a commercially produced product. This includes multiple testing for initial conversion, scale-up, packaging, labeling, shelf life, and storage. And unless you pick up and deliver products yourself, you’ll need to find salespeople and a distribution method. This process is not inexpensive. Be prepared to spend well over $100,000 for start-up; plus on-going expenses.

That’s a lot to think about! For more details about this process, read about finding a co-packer; and from the Institute of Food TechnologistsAn Insider’s Guide to Co-manufacturing.

For anyone interested in becoming a food entrepreneur, I always suggest that the simplest way to start is to do small scale production. It is the cheapest and easiest method. Check your cottage food laws to see if it’s possible to begin in your home kitchen. Or look into renting a commercial kitchen so that you can develop, market, and sell the product yourself.

Sampling is important. These entrepreneurs attend food shows to give out samples and create PR for their products.

How else would shoppers distinguish their products from the many competing products on a shelf?

Home-Based Baking at its Best! Aim big, start small!

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Holy Buckets of Brownies, Batman: Recipe Alert!

February 25th, 2015

Chocolate brownies are a classic treat and one of the top selling bakery sweets.

Brownies!

After my Valentine’s Day post a couple of weeks ago, a few people commented about finding the “perfect” brownie recipe. In my opinion, the “perfect” brownie recipe is one that’s easy, fast, and creates repeat sales.

Brownie guidance from Baking Fix: 1. One pot recipes are the easiest and fastest. 2. Additions to the batter (nuts, chocolate chips, etc) are nice but not necessary. 3. Frosting is okay, but a soft frosting may be a problem with packaging. 4. The kinds of brownies you offer depends upon your customers and their particular preferences.

Brownie bites!

Chocolate Brownie Overdose This recipe makes an over-the-top chocolate experience for true chocolate addicts.

Yield: (2) pans, 9x13x2
15 ounces unsweetened chocolate
6 ounces semi-sweet chocolate
3 cups (6 sticks) butter
2-pound bag brown sugar
3 cups granulated sugar
12 large eggs
¼ cup vanilla extract
4 ½ cups all-purpose flour (1 lb. 4 oz.)
1 tablespoon baking powder
2 teaspoons salt
approximately 2 pounds of your favorite chocolate bars

1. Preheat oven to 350º F and line (2) 9×13 pans with parchment or foil.
2. Melt chocolates and butter in a large stockpot.
3. Cool for ten minutes, then mix in both sugars. Beat in eggs and vanilla; stir in flour, baking powder, and salt.
4. Scoop about ¼ of the batter into the bottom of each lined pan, and spread to cover. Then cover the batter with your choice of candy bars. Carefully scoop the remaining batter over the chocolate and again spread to cover, smoothing the tops of each pan.
5. Bake for 45 minutes, then reduce the heat to 325º and bake 15 minutes. If the brownies still seem soft and wet when a toothpick is inserted near the center, turn heat down to 300º and bake for another 15 minutes. This should be enough time to thoroughly bake the brownies.
6. Cool and cut into large pieces. These are impressive wrapped individually and stacked on a platter.

Top brownie has caramel, middle brownie has a chocolate bar, and bottom brownies have wafer candy/cookies.

My book Home Baking for Profit has a chapter with fourteen brownie recipes along with variations, and several tips for baking and handling.

Home-Based Baking at its Best!

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Almond Pastries

February 18th, 2015

Almond Pastries! Golden and flaky!

Almond Pastries are simple, tasty products that are easy to produce.  These adapt well to any size and (depending upon filling) do not need refrigeration and have a relatively long shelf life. Use any pie or pastry dough, but I prefer using the recipe below.

Use a lot of flour and these are easy to roll out.

Flaky Cream Cheese Dough
1 cup (8 ounces) butter, softened
1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, softened
2 tablespoons water
2 cups (8.5 ounces) all-purpose flour
Purchased almond filling; may also use fruit pie filling

Cream butter and cream cheese. Mix in water. Add flour and combine until dough forms a clean ball. Wrap and refrigerate. Use approx 2 ounces dough per pastry, but size varies depending upon product needs.

Roll out dough on well-floured surface, place filling in center and spread. Fold sides in and roll up as you would a jelly roll. Place seam side down on baking sheet. Can egg wash and sprinkle with almonds or coarse sanding sugar.

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

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Home-Based Baking at its Best!

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