Archive for June, 2013

When Pie Became My Friend

Sunday, June 30th, 2013

Yesterday's blueberry pie!

Yesterday I made a blueberry pie. I love making pies! During the winter I use whatever fruits I’d frozen during the summer’s bounty. But in fresh fruit season there’s special joy in rolling out a crust and filling it with seasonal and local produce.

Yesterday I also made a few mini-pies.

There was extra dough and leftover mashed potatoes so for dinner we ate potato chive strudel.

I wasn’t always fond of pie-making. It takes practice and more practice. And a good recipe helps.  When I had my bakery and café, my bakers rolled out most of the pies so I didn’t get much practice. It wasn’t until years later when I was 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.

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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Summer School!

Wednesday, June 26th, 2013

I recently attended a workshop with Annie, from blueribbonhearth. No, we were not at a baking workshop, which is the fun version of learning about this business. Rather, it was to learn more about food safety and the regulatory aspects of running a food business.

Guest speaker from NYS Department of Agriculture and Markets.

The program was sponsored by our local cooperative extension, with guest speaker John Luker, Assistant Director, Division of Food Safety and Inspection from New York’s Department of Agriculture and Markets.

Mr Luker spoke about regulated activities which include: Baking, Preparing, Cooking/Heating, Slicing/Cutting, Grinding, Freezing, Bottling, Packing/Repacking, Smoking/Pickling/Brining, Dehydrating, Reduced Oxygen/Vacuum Packaging. In addition to discussing aspects of the article 20-C commercial baking license, we also learned about licensing for Retail Food Stores, Food Warehouse Space Rental, and Food Storage or Distribution Facilities.

When someone is granted a commercial license, there are necessary steps to producing foods in a hazard-free environment. We learned about safe food practices, sterility in a controlled environment, pH and water activity levels, heat processing, and proper packaging. And more.

The guest speaker also answered questions about the Home Processor permit, which is not a license – it is an exemption to the commercial license. Therefore, since home processors are exempt from having a licensed and properly outfitted kitchen, (for health and safety issues) the allowed foods for a home processor are restricted to non-potentially hazardous products: foods that are shelf-stable and do not need refrigeration. Foods that are less likely to cause health and safety issues for consumers.

After that session, we moved to talking about brand identity and how to differentiate your products from the competition.

Discussion about Brand Identity.

Annie, taking notes.

It was a great workshop! I learned more than I had expected about food safety issues and I am thankful we have food safety inspectors.

Then yesterday I saw something quite disturbing. Too bad the person who owns the car pictured below has probably not learned about food safety issues.

I took this photo through the closed window of a vehicle parked next to me. Look closely at the top left side. There are bags of partly covered hotdogs behind the yellow and blue umbrella.

I saw this car (an older model with an amazingly unkempt interior) parked in the lot of a small food market. It was 9 am, already 85 degrees F outside. This puts the car interior well over 100 degrees F – which is in the danger zone for meat products. The vendor was probably purchasing a few last minute items before heading off for a day of hotdog selling. Thirty minutes later the car was still parked in the lot. This unrefrigerated vehicle was crammed with items – most notably many packages of hotdogs.

I shudder.

Home-Based Baking at its Best!

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Bread Class: Sticky Buns and Coffeecakes

Saturday, June 22nd, 2013

In our last bread class for the spring semester, we made sticky buns and coffeecakes.

First step: to avoid egg shells in the dough, eggs are cracked into a small cup and then added to the measuring cup.

Preparing pans for sticky buns.

Dough is rolled out, spread with butter and cinnamon sugar, then rolled up and cut.

Slices are placed in prepared pans and dough is pressed down before rising.

Making cherry-cheese coffeecakes.

Pans are placed in the proofbox to rise.

Fully baked and cooling: sticky buns, almond rings, and cherry-cheese coffeecakes.

A peek inside the coffeecake.

Packed for home!

Check back in a few days for the 2013 Fall semester class schedule.

Home-Based Baking at its Best! If you have a home-based baking business, remember that consumers LOVE these products.

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Product Development, FAQ

Wednesday, June 19th, 2013

Product development begins with an idea and proven recipe(s). Above, the any season "fruitcake" combined two of my basic recipes.

Recently, clients requested a new cake for their bakery-cafe, one that can be made throughout the year using a combination of fresh and dried fruits.

The filling was a combination of fruits that works well throughout the year.

The dough is from my Linzer Tart.

Filling is completely surrounded by dough.

Fully baked and cooling.

Pan bottoms are lined with parchment or waxed paper to insure easy release.

For a rustic look, cake can be served top up; for a clean edge it can be iced with the top down.

The cake could be served with a heavy sifting of confectioners' sugar, or as above, plain to enhance the "healthier" seasonal aspect of fresh fruit.

When thinking about new ideas to expand your product line, you can always start with a recipe you are familiar with, and tweak from there to create a new product.

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Fads, Trends, and Gluten-Free Products

Saturday, June 15th, 2013

Supermarket shelves everywhere are stocked with a large variety of gluten-free products.

The gluten-free industry took in more than $4 billion in 2012. But can it sustain long-term stability? Most insiders dissecting this category have suggested that this figure may be at peak and cannot survive without stable consumer demand. In “How to Grow Sales Beyond Gluten Free” Ken Harris writes about the long-term issues with this vulnerable market. “Unfortunately, the angst is caused by the fear that gluten-free is a fad and will go the way of all fads before it, like low carb, low fat and fat free. There is legitimate reason for concern.”

Trends eventually become part of our culture while fads ride high for a short time but then fade out. In another article about the gluten-free phenomenon, David Orgel wrote, “Typically a health trend (as opposed to a fad) begins with early adopters” and from that group emerges “the households most engaged in health and wellness.” From there, the trend becomes part of mainstream society.

Steve French, spokesman for the Natural Marketing Institute, added that with gluten-free it’s not happening. “In this category, usage is highest among the ‘fence sitters,’ a healthy-wannabes, younger consumer segment more likely to have children. That links the trend to Gen Y, and may indicate a connection to concerns about allergies and tolerances, he said. These facts make it harder to predict the course of gluten-free momentum.”

The majority of gluten-free consumers, therefore, are those who cannot be counted on to sustain the category.

...

We can only guess about the future. I suspect that currently strong sales in gluten-free will fizzle out in the next few years and drop back to the base market, those consumers with Celiac disease or an intolerance for gluten. But they are a small part of the population. Mainstream America is now infatuated with these gluten-free products. Many followers, as above, who are concerned with health issues, don’t understand the complexity of healthy eating. Their purchase power is based more on popular culture than on long-term understanding. The gluten-free market is also fueled by people who want to lose weight, always a fickle group. Another large segment of this market are people who have self-diagnosed their problems and then self-medicate by placing themselves on gluten-free diets. If past history is any indicator, the above groups will likely move on to the next fad when it arrives.

Gluten-free should continue to do well for a while. But as you design labels and advertising, I suggest you keep in mind that eventually you may need to downplay your products’ gluten-free aspect. Use your labels and advertising to reflect other great features of your products. Add words such as made by hand in micro batches, No Preservatives, or 100% natural.

As a business model, we each need to find our comfort zone and bake accordingly. It’s heartening that people are now more aware of the foods they eat. But remember that for long-term business health, having a wider customer base is beneficial.

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Ingredients for a Successful Farmers’ Market

Tuesday, June 11th, 2013

Farmers’ markets can be a good venue for small home-based food businesses, but selling at a farmers’ market is not for everyone. Think about your target market and the different types of markets in your area. Do your (market!) research.

How long has the market been in existence? Who sponsors the market (non-profit community group, for-profit business such as a supermarket, etc)? Who is their target market (who do they cater to)? What is the foot traffic?

When researching the viability of a new market, or your becoming  a vendor at an existing market, look at current draw, growth potential, other vendors, location, market management (committed to helping vendors?), sponsored events (weekly events help to draw in shoppers)? Is it local farmers selling their own products or regional businesses selling shipped-in purchased products? And quite important for your sales: look at vendors with similar products.

Do your market research!

Last week we decided to visit the Delmar Market near Albany, NY. First we looked at their mission statement, which can tell a lot about a market: The mission of the Delmar Farmers Market is to provide a marketplace that introduces local farmers and other food producers and craftspeople to the community. We will promote sustainable farming, healthy foods, environmental awareness and support local and fair trade businesses.

We also visited their Facebook page which states:  A “producer-only” market just 5 miles from Albany, with more than 50 LOCAL vendors (none more than 35 miles) of sustainable foods (raw & prepared), artists, crafters and musicians; fun for the whole family!

This market is located on the grounds of a public school. It had an interesting mix of products and events.

There were numerous local farmers.

Comfortable seating area with several choices of freshly prepared foods.

Events for kids, music, and the sale of complementary non-food items.

There were several bakers, but each had a specialty or focus.

Before signing on with a market, do your market research.

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Batter Viscosity, FAQ

Friday, June 7th, 2013

Have you ever been annoyed with additions (chocolate chips, diced fruits, nuts, etc) that sink to the bottom of your products? Would you like to know the simple answer? At Baking Fix, it’s one of the most frequently asked questions.

A common myth for correcting this problem, is to toss your additions in flour. Unfortunately, this is not the answer to keeping your add-ins from sinking. Extra flour is useful to coat and separate sticky ingredients, and helpful in absorbing excess moisture from fruit. But the answer to keeping your add-ins suspended: start with a thicker (denser) batter.

It’s all about viscosity.  Think about the viscosity (density) of honey versus water. Which of those two is better at suspending a solid particle? The denser a batter, the better equipped it is to keep additions (choc chips, dried fruits, nuts, etc) from sinking to the bottom.

Thick batter for Apple Cranberry muffins will suspend the fruit and nuts.

These muffins all have visible fruit, indicative of a thick batter.

Dense batters work well for all products.

If adding more flour does not result in your preferred texture – you prefer a lighter, more tender result in your baked goods – it can help to chop heavy or large add-ins into smaller (lighter) pieces. But if you have a thin batter, only very small, light pieces will stay suspended.

Answers to some of your other baking problems are covered in my book, Home Baking for Profit.

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First Local Market of the Season

Tuesday, June 4th, 2013

Shop local! Farmers’ markets around the country are increasing in popularity and numbers. Local markets offer consumers a direct link to their neighbors – the folks who grow and produce wholesome foods. As stated by an Ohio newspaper, “More than 7,000 indoor and open-air markets operate at least part of the year in all 50 states, a 60 percent increase since 2000.”

Last week we shopped at an early spring market. It was a chilly day but exciting.

Even though it's still early in the growing season, a few vendors had luscious greens.

I loved seeing the blue cold packs under all the prepared salads.

Displaying products can be an issue. Especially when the temperatures rise. Depending upon your products, refrigeration (coolers and ice!) might be necessary. It’s important to have respect for product quality and your customers’ health and safety.

Uh oh, this local bakery had not bothered to cover any of their products.

So while I like lemon bars and cinnamon buns, the appearance was not that appetizing.

This vendor made a haphazard attempt to cover a few items. Hopefully they will try harder as the season progresses.

If you are interested in selling products at a local market, talk with the market manager and ask to fill out an application. If they currently have no openings for new vendors, request to be added to their waiting list. Eventually, your name will be at the top.

Oh well, too bad shoppers can’t read.

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