Archive for August, 2013

My New Convection Oven!

Wednesday, August 28th, 2013

If you follow my Facebook page, you know I recently purchased a new range.

Visiting the appliance department.

My ten year old stove was having a thermostat crisis. When I set the temperature to 350 degrees F. it often fluctuated between 250 and 450. If I was a pioneer in the days when cooking inside was a novelty, this wouldn’t be too bad. Back then, indoor baking was simply a large cast iron pot hanging over a wood-fired flame. But modern day appliances have spoiled me. Especially with the wide range of choices. (Pun alert!)

Out with the old, in with the new (right).

Four-rack baking?

One of the three new oven racks has a deep indent for roasting pans so my largest cookie sheet will not fit on that rack. I saved a rack from the old oven. Does this mean I have four-rack baking?

Fresh peach coffeecake in the oven.

My first baking day, I made fresh peach coffeecake. Within five minutes the house filled with stinky smoke and the fire alarm went off.

But the coffeecake came out great.

As did a batch of chocolate chip cookies.

My experience working at Maytag Appliances was invaluable. l reverted back to test kitchen mode and made a batch of chocolate chip cookies. I used the conventional bake cycle for the first two pans of cookies. Very nice. I then turned on the convection bake cycle and put in three pans. Excellent!

So I’m in love! My new oven gives excellent results. Not like the convection oven I bought several years ago. At the time, I’d researched to find the best convection oven possible and purchased a top-rated model. Unfortunately, it never worked the way the company’s marketing folks claimed it would. I was totally unable to do three-rack baking. The results were dismal. I had several conversations with customer service and then with their higher ups. From The (Faux) Pastry Chef: How I Found My Baking Fix.

Banned from GE

My brand new almond colored GE convection range with black burners and a bottom warming drawer looked very nice in my kitchen, but I was not pleased with its performance. I sighed and continued on in test-kitchen mode. I baked biscuits and cookies, always with the same poor results….

Steve, the GE service technician, arrived two days later. I showed him the manual with the rack placement instructions and my different cookie bakes that were spread out across the counter and table, carefully labeled with their oven placements. He seemed surprised that I had read the manual and that I had done so much evaluation…

He thought the book could be wrong and called their technical support line. The tech said the convection cycle was best for meats but did not do well with baked goods. The expert recommended using only one rack in the regular bake cycle for any baked goods.

I was rather upset. “The only reason I bought this more expensive model was to be able to use the convection bake and not have to turn my trays each time. I could have saved a thousand dollars and bought a standard range,” I stated.

They both said how great it was for meats.

“I’m a vegetarian,” I replied.

So where was I? I had paid a surcharge for the privilege of baking the way I had always baked…

This went on for a couple more weeks. Each time I spoke with the company, it was always my fault. I was told it was my recipes, my ingredients, my expectations. I was getting pretty annoyed and told them so.

“I’m very unhappy and the only conclusion is that this oven was marketed to do something, but it can’t deliver the promised results.”

When she demanded to know where I saw this information, I gave her the page numbers in their manual so she could follow along as I read her their marketing words. …she told me this oven had other wonderful features. I assured her I knew all about that, and I really did like the warming drawer, but the only wonderful feature I was interested in was the three-rack convection baking. I almost felt sorry for GE. They probably never expected that a customer would buy their product based on their marketing propaganda.

She told me she would call back. The phone rang at exactly 8 a.m. the next morning. I was informed that GE was buying back the oven. They requested that I make my next purchase from another company. “We do not want you buying any more cooking products from General Electric,” she stated.

“You mean I have been banned from GE?” I asked.

“Well, I guess, if you put it like that,” she replied.

Home-Based Baking at it’s Best! If you bake quantity in your home kitchen, and you need to replace your range, consider getting a convection model.

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Across the U.S. it’s County Fair Season

Saturday, August 24th, 2013

This past week the weather was New York perfect for the Dutchess County Fair!

Dutchess County Fair

County fairs are a place to enjoy strolling with friends and family, a place to enjoy food, games, rides, exhibits, and entertainment!

Are you a fair-goer? Have you entered any contests? At most county fairs, it’s a place where home made baked goods shine and some entrants walk away with winning ribbons.

Several years ago, Annie won a blue ribbon for hearth bread.

Annie then took  my class, Start & Run a Home-Based Food Business, applied for a home processor permit under New York’s cottage food law, and started a business: blueribbonhearth. This week she was back at the fair doing a biscuit demonstration.

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After assisting with her demo, I walked around looking at the culinary exhibits. More than 550 products had been entered.

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After looking through the home made goods, I walked along the midway.

Rides and games.

Games and rides.

As I neared the exit gate the only thing I could think about:

Where did I park my car?

Visibility and professionalism are important for home-based food businesses. Consider doing a demo at a farmers’ market, county fair, or anywhere that food is featured.

Home-Based Baking at its Best!

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Plum Frangipane Tarts and Bars

Tuesday, August 20th, 2013

Cookie crust, frangipane filling, fresh plums, and streusel topping.

Take advantage of summer fruits for a seasonal and local product. Most fresh fruits are adaptable to this almond paste treat. These plum frangipane tarts and bars are essentially the same as the Pear Frangipane Tarts I wrote about in May 2013.

Preparing ingredients.

Before baking.

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Squares are fast and easy to make.

Frangipane Plum Tarts – Make a sweet cookie crust dough and reserve a small amount of the dough for your streusel topping. Press most of the dough into a pan and parbake until a light golden brown. Cool for a few minutes, spread a thin layer of frangipane, and sprinkle with a layer of fresh fruit and remaining streusel. Bake at 350 degrees F. until done (approx 20 minutes), until crust is a deep golden brown and top is a light brown. Cool before cutting.

Frangipane filling:

1 cup almond paste (8 ounces)
1 cup sugar
½ cup butter
4 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon almond
½ cup flour
¼ teaspoon salt

Beat together almond paste, sugar, and butter. Add eggs and extracts, and beat until smooth. Mix in flour and salt. Spread thin layer over tart crust or use as filling for other products. Store in fridge.

Home-Based Baking at its Best! Seasonal and Local!

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Insurance, FAQ

Friday, August 16th, 2013

One of the most frequent inquiries I receive is about insurance – both the necessity of having insurance and where to purchase a reasonable policy.

Having insurance coverage and selecting an amount, is a personal issue. Many wholesale outlets do not require their vendors (you!) to carry insurance. Most farmers’ markets do require insurance.

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Tip for the day: cover your products to lessen liability!

To find coverage I suggest that businesses start with their residential (home or renters) insurance agency to see if they also carry commercial insurance. If so, get a quote. And then start making calls. Insurance will be several hundred dollars. I’ve heard quotes from $400 to $1200.

Recently I learned about the Food Liability Insurance Program (FLIP). “The Food Liability Insurance Program (FLIP) was designed to help businesses in the food vending industry find comprehensive general liability, product liability, and inland marine insurance at an affordable price.” FLIP charges $299 per year.

The biggest drawback is that once you purchase for the year, there are no refunds.

IMPORTANT exclusion: Businesses not in compliance with County, State, and Federal Food Safety Regulations are not covered by this company.

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If you do purchase from FLIP, or any insurance company, please let me know how it works out for you.

I wrote this post because I thought you might find it useful. This post is not sponsored, supported, or paid for in any way.

Home-Based Baking at its Best!

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Half Moons (aka Black & Whites)

Monday, August 12th, 2013

The original Half Moon was created sometime in the early 1900’s by Hemstrought’s Bakery in Utica, New York.

Many years later it was made famous by comedian Jerry Seinfeld (episode 77, The Dinner Party). While waiting on line at the Royal Bakery, Jerry said to Elaine, “Oh look Elaine, the black and white cookie… I love the black and white. Two races of flavor living side by side in harmony. It’s a wonderful thing isn’t it?”

My Half Moons made from a chocolate cake batter.

To follow this theme, Barack Obama has referred to these as the Unity Cookie. However, in most parts of the U.S. these are known as Black & White cookies, or Half & Half cookies. But in central New York, their birthplace, we still call them Half Moons.

This traditional cookie is most often a yellow cake, iced half chocolate and half vanilla, using fondant or buttercream. But it can be iced with anything you have on hand. For several years at my bakery we used a recipe similar to a yellow cake batter, but thick enough to drop from a scoop and hold its shape.

After experimenting I learned that any cake batter, thickened with extra flour and a little more leavener, worked quite well. Eventually, for ease of production, we stopped using our Half Moon recipe and simply used batter from whichever cake we were baking.

Our most popular Half Moon was made with chocolate cake and all vanilla icing – the Full Moon. The all chocolate New Moon (chocolate cake, chocolate icing) was first runner up.

Adams Fairacre Farms, my local market, makes huge Black & Whites.

If you want to try branching out, there are any number of cake and icing combinations. The popular red velvet cake would be delicious with half cream cheese, half chocolate icing (or all cream cheese icing for a red velvet full moon cookie).

Home-Based Baking at its Best! Tweaking your recipes may yield your own Black and Whites with little extra work.

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Strawberry Muffins, Recipe Development

Thursday, August 8th, 2013

Enough about business right now. Look what I made…

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Strawberry season is winding down, but last week at the market I saw two pound boxes of gorgeous berries. They looked so beautiful stacked in the display. “Buy me!!!”

Once I got back home, I realized there was already too much fruit in the fridge. I would normally bake something when I have too much fruit, but I was already pie-d out for the week. For most other baked goods, strawberries are not the best candidate. Strawberries are too wet and usually not flavorful enough.

But baking was on my agenda. Should I make muffins? For fruit muffins I use a basic lightly flavored batter (orange, lemon or almond) and rely on fruit to give the muffins a pleasing flavor. Should I chance it? In my shop I’d made strawberry muffins a few times but I was never that pleased. I ate a few berries and made my decision.

These berries were delicious with a very strong, pleasing taste.

I added 2 cups of chopped berries to a lemon muffin batter, with some extra flour mixed into the batter.

When experimenting, I make a small batch and often mix by hand.

Loved the flavor but what was I thinking? Too many moist berries made for an almost too moist product.

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The strawberry lemon combination had exceptional flavor. Next time, I would add 1½ cups of chopped berries instead of the 2 cups I had used. I made notes for next year’s crop (seasonal and local!) and ate another muffin. Mmmmm…

Home-Based Baking at its Best!

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But is the Market Saturated? FAQ

Sunday, August 4th, 2013

Selling at a farmers' market.

My previous post featured an article Going pro? What you should know about starting a home-based food business. This brings up a current FAQ: with so many people starting businesses, is the market saturated?

In the US more than half our states have cottage food laws so the bar for legal entry into this business is very low. Many more folks simply start baking and selling without any regard for regulations.

So is the market saturated? For cakes and cupcakes, yes, this market is totally saturated. There are thousands of Facebook pages, websites, and ads on craigslist. People are advertising wedding cakes, birthday cakes, special occasion cakes, and the one-of-a-kind sculpted cakes (made popular by TV shows such as Ace of Cakes and Cake Boss). Everyday there are more people who decide that since they have a kitchen and can whip out a cake mix, then they can sell their cakes and cupcakes. Unfortunately, many have no experience, little talent, and no idea what they are doing. Eventually, they go out of business. But more cake businesses open to take up the slack.

In other  categories, however, there will always be a market for a wide range of  food products. Whether it’s selling

pies

cookies

breads (photo courtesy of blue ribbon hearth)

or a variety of decadent sweets.

These are locally produced home made products, the kinds that fall under the cottage food laws. This is the most feasible category. Becoming a home-based food processor is not for people who want to get rich with little work. But it is for anyone who enjoys working with food and can learn how to run a business.

Food is a consumable. There’s a steady market for products. With the current trends for local and seasonal, customers are there – but you have to work at being a business.

Home-Based Baking at its Best! If you’re interested in becoming a home-based food processor, do your market research and write a detailed business plan.

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