Archive for the ‘FAQ’ Category

Home Kitchens Meet the Bun Pan Rack

Tuesday, March 21st, 2017

Does your business baking turn your kitchen into a hunt for space?

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Do you dread the holiday production nightmare?

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I often receive questions from home bakers asking for help with this problem, especially when I show photos from my baking classes with this wonderful piece of equipment:

This sheet pan rack is old, but certainly does the job!

If you have a home-based food business you already know about heavy production in a home kitchen. Meet the home version of this commercial equipment, useful for cooling and storing baking pans as they come out hot from the oven.

Meet the half height bun pan rack.

The Webstaurant Store is only one of numerous restaurant equipment stores that sell many types of bun pan (or sheet pan) racks. The above rack is an end load half-height rack, designed for half sheet pans and can be assembled with or without wheels, and can be put away after the holidays. It holds up to 10 full size or 20 half size sheet pans and is not too costly. You can find new ones for just over $100.

You’ll find more tips and tricks for home kitchen efficiency in Home Baking for Profit.

Home-Based Baking at its Best!

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A Growing Trend That Makes Me Sad

Wednesday, September 14th, 2016

Our culture is food obsessed. And as the obsession grows, we’re becoming more obnoxious with our food preoccupation.

Bake Magazine featured an article this week, Zagat survey shows national dining trends to look out for

The Zagat survey had results from 10,000 diners across the U.S. Not only did the survey find that photography is a growing trend, but also:

1. 41% of diners say they post food photos to social media immediately at the table
2. 60% have stopped dining companions from eating so they can take food photos
3. 50% have taken photos of every dish at the table
4. And, quite shockingly obnoxious, 5% have even asked another table if they can photograph their dish

But what I find absolutely appalling, the survey goes on to tell us that “17% admit they have or would lie about it being a special occasion in order to get a freebie while 14% have or would fake a food allergy to get a dish modified to their liking, such as gluten-free offerings.”

That makes me sad. Why would anyone lie about such things? And then I think, what else are they lying about?

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Naked Cake – Trend or Fad? FAQ

Friday, May 6th, 2016

Top: Blueberry cake is true nakedness. Bottom: Raspberry Limoncello and Pink Velvet cakes with un-iced sides.

Have you seen the original idea behind naked cakes? The concept began as simple cakes with no icing, as in the blueberry cake above. Then some bakers, pastry chefs, and cake decorators gave their cakes a swipe of icing across the top. Over the years the naked cake phenomenon gained in popularity and more cakers began offering their own version. With simple designs and professional execution, these cakes were elegant (and especially good for people who don’t like frosting).

Cakes by sugar me sweet bakers.

Then something happened. The word naked continued to be used, but the previously simple designs with no frosting traveled into a different cake universe. Some cakes were crumb-coated (a thin layer of icing used to seal in the crumbs before the actual icing) and then some cakes ended up fully iced, yet bakeries still referred to their creations as “naked.”

While many of these cakes are beautifully executed, others are sloppy and lean heavily to one side. Or worse, many are now so laden with “stuff” (twigs, pine cones, flowers, fruits, candies, etc) we can hardly see the cake.

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In Brides magazine, most of the cakes are lovely and simple, and epitomize the idea of naked cakes. But the cake photo above is from an article in The Knot, another wedding industry magazine.

The industry must stop using the word naked. Maybe we can call them half-naked or semi-nude. The sloppy ones can just be called sloppies.

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Food Safety for Home-Based Businesses, FAQ

Friday, February 26th, 2016

I sometimes hear from home-based food business owners who are incensed that they’re told what to do in their kitchens. Recently, a new business owner asked about “those stupid rules” and how strict they are, because “no one keeps a cleaner kitchen” than she does. She sent a couple of photos to prove her point.

I saw: a can of (chemical) bug spray between the faucet and an opened bag of flour; her child’s baseball mitt and bat leaning precariously over the shelf above her work space; ingredients in glass jars; the garbage can lid slightly open with items visible; a scale coated with food residue; and an ashtray. (Really? An ashtray?)

I’m sure she only focused on her neat counter and a stack of clean folded dishtowels. But she was in the middle of production; these things would be significant regulation issues to a health inspector.

Food safety classes can be found in most regions and many agencies offer online classes. There’s also free material on the internet. If you have not had a chance to look at food safety information, this brochure from the National Food Service Management Institute is a good start.

There are three kinds of hazards to beware of in food preparation.
1. Biological hazards: bacteria, viruses, and other microorganisms cause 93% of the incidences of foodborne illness.
2. Chemical hazards: toxins, heavy metals, improperly used pesticides, cleaning compounds, and food additives account for 4% of the incidences of foodborne illness.
3. Physical hazards: foreign objects like glass, metal, plastic, and wood that may cause illness or injury if they find their way into food products.

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Cloth towels are not allowed because they harbor germs and bacteria. After washing, air dry or heat dry all items.

Sponges are also known to harbor bacteria. They're allowed, but must be placed in bleach/water when not in use.

Home-Based Baking at its Best! In our own kitchens we often don’t notice potential health risks that trained inspectors can see. Guidance from professionals should be welcomed. Take notes!

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Non Edible Decorations, FAQ

Friday, February 12th, 2016

Over the years I’ve received questions about the difference between edible and non-toxic, and the use of decorations such as gold and silver dragees which are labeled non-toxic.

Dragees have been sold for years but are not legal for sale in many areas of the US.

Edible means your body treats the product as food, while many glitter decorations sold as non-toxic are made of fine grain plastic and are not digestible. “People with certain health issues such as diverticulitis, Crohn’s disease, or IBS, must be careful about consuming foods such as seeds that can stick in the creases of the intestinal lining. Seeds don’t digest easily and plastic doesn’t digest at all. If those small things get stuck in that lining, even in a healthy person, serious infection can result.” For more information read “All That Glitters is Not Edible” and “Storm in a Cupcake.”

We see these pretty items everywhere: in bakery cases, magazine ads, on the internet, TV food shows.  The public trusts that all decorations are safe to eat. For consumer safety we should never use a decoration labeled non-toxic. It’s very confusing to the average consumer, but as food handlers it is our responsibility to understand the difference and not use these products.

FDA Advises Home and Commercial Bakers to Avoid Use of Non-Edible Food Decorative Products The FDA has come out with a clear warning that “… reminds commercial bakers that it is their responsibility as a food manufacturer — be it a large commercial bakery or a small, home-based business – to produce food that complies with the applicable FDA regulations and state and local laws. Manufacturers of food containing unsafe ingredients are potentially subject to FDA enforcement actions to keep unsafe products out of the marketplace.”

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Guessing Production Amounts, FAQ

Thursday, November 5th, 2015

Week to week, the number of market shoppers can vary greatly. But a covered shopping area when it rains may help keep visitation fairly steady.

Question: How do you estimate how much to bake when selling at a farmers’ market or festival for the first time? What about when you have a seasonal booth at a farmers’ market? Does it vary week to week?

Answer: This is not a problem unique to our baking businesses. All industries face this question. But when we’re working with perishables, especially for one-day events, it can be quite challenging. For special events such as a yearly festival, find out the expected turn-out and how many similar vendors will be there. Typically, only 10% of fair-goers purchase baked goods. Divide that number by how many vendors make similar products. For example, if 3,000 is the expected turn-out, 300 shoppers might buy baked goods. If there are two other baked goods vendors, you may sell 100 items. Speculating further, multiply your average product price by 100 and then deduct the vendor fee, cost of goods, travel expenses, and incidentals (are you buying drinks or lunch for yourself?) from the gross amount.

It’s different when you have a regular booth at the market. You can build up a loyal following and have customers pre-order each week. But many things affect sales – the weather; holidays preceding or following the market day; if any crazy diets are a growing fad (remember the low-carb fad?); and the new products your competitors may bring to the market.

Do the best you can, and keep track of sales. Eventually you’ll get better at guessing. But know when to cut your losses. Learn from your experiences. Don’t be stupid. Someone once posted on a forum asking for advice. She and her mom were making dozens of products to sell at a weekly flea market. They had no car and used public transportation to haul everything around. There were many weeks when they had no sales even though their prices were cheap. She asked for advice and received numerous responses from people who had no business experience, such as – stick with it you’re not a quitter, sample your products, hold a raffle, drop your prices.

My response: you need to stop immediately. Every week you are losing money. Find another venue (flea markets are notorious for drawing bargain hunters) and re-evaluate both your products and your pricing. She got rather snippy with me.  Clearly, she was not looking for business advice, only looking for people to support her misguided attempts.

Home-Based Baking at its Best! If you are in business to make money, please don’t be stupid. Do your market research and don’t take advice from well-meaning but non-business people.

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Freezing Baked Goods, FAQ

Wednesday, October 28th, 2015

Cranberry loaves sell especially well and freeze well. They're perfect for advanced production.

Now that holiday baking has started I often receive questions about using the freezer to jump start production. I always respond that freezers might be a good way to stock products for later sales.

Most large commercial bakeries schedule their production so most of their products go directly into the freezer. Their display cases are then stocked daily, from the freezer. Smaller bakeries bake and sell some of their products fresh, but also utilize the freezer to help keep their cases full and ease the daily workload.

The home baker can definitely utilize a freezer to manage production and sales. But it depends upon what type of freezer you own. In a refrigerator freezer, I wouldn’t keep baked goods longer than a couple of weeks. Frost-free (self-defrost) refrigerator freezers go through a thaw-freeze-thaw cycle. This removes the need for manual defrost, but it has a negative effect upon baked goods. In a manual defrost freezer, however, such as some upright or chest freezers, the temperature is constant so you can safely freeze baked goods for several months.

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Home-Based Baking at its Best! Most baked goods freeze well. But it’s important to do shelf life testing to determine if freezing is right for each of your products.

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Do We Need Insurance?

Thursday, October 15th, 2015

In our current world, most of us assume that insurance is a necessity. Motor vehicle laws require it, as do mortgages and other types of bank loans. Most farmers’ markets also require vendors to carry insurance.

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But for small legal home-based food businesses, there is no requirement, so you have some leeway. Think about your personal comfort level and the products you make. Only non-potentially hazardous baked goods (products that do not require refrigeration) are allowed for most home-processor permits. These types of baked goods are the lowest risk food category and have less risk (for food borne illness) than organic spinach.

Assess your risk and think about your products. For example, if you make gluten-free or other allergy-related  items, your risk is greater than someone who only bakes plain breads and rolls.

If I was legal (had a permit or license), did not make allergy-related products, and only made foods allowed under the cottage food law, I would not purchase insurance. I’m a rule-follower and not a risk taker, but I’m also a pragmatist. I would only purchase insurance if I was a farmers’ market vendor. My preference has always been to sell wholesale, which is allowed under some CFL permits. If your permit allows you to sell wholesale, any store you approach would already have insurance. Stores carry it to cover all their vendors’ products. If an owner or manager tells you that you must have insurance, either they do not carry insurance (red flag alert) or it’s their way of telling you good-bye.

If you decide to purchase insurance, call around and ask local agents for quotes. And look at the Food Liability Insurance Program (FLIP). Be aware that insurance companies only insure legal businesses.

I can’t tell you what to do, but I can tell you what I would do in your situation. I think, for the most part, the people who really benefit from home processors buying insurance, are the insurance companies. They might be the ones in a no-risk category.

Home-Based Baking at its Best! Remember, assess your products. For small legal home-based food businesses, insurance is a matter of personal comfort.

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Baking FAQ: Gas vs Electric

Thursday, September 10th, 2015

I often receive questions about which heat source, gas or electric, is best for baking. I always respond that it’s whatever is most comfortable for you, and gives you the best results. It comes down to personal preference and what makes you happier.

For me, it’s using gas. I grew up and learned to bake using gas ovens, so that’s my preference. But over the years as I’ve moved to different areas of the US, I’ve had to use electric ovens, too. After my initial shock and annoyance with each oven, I learned how to tweak settings for optimum results. My experiences in commercial kitchens were the same.

I recently moved and once again found myself with an electric oven. Drat!

In my new kitchen, I rolled out a top and bottom crust for blueberry pie.

Unbaked pie, crimped and vented.

This pie started on the bottom shelf, then was moved to the top for the last twenty minutes.

Look at my results: a beautiful golden crust.

Online, too, I often see this question posted in forums and on Facebook. Both sides respond, the pro-electric and the pro-gas camps, and they almost always have answers with anecdotes to prove their point. I don’t doubt the veracity of the negative stories, but I believe their replies have more to do with individual ovens and quirks, than with the overall category of heat source. (As bakers, we can be very opinionated people.)

Home-Based Baking at its Best! The best heat source for your baking business, is the one that makes you feel most comfortable.

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Baking Fix Returns from “Vacation”

Thursday, August 27th, 2015

We moved out-of-state! The past few weeks have been quite hectic.

With smiles, cake, and cookies, we were warmly welcomed to our new home state.

Bomba Cake from Modern Pastry.

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Sesame Cookies are a tasty, traditional Italian cookie with a long shelf life.

We’re now settling into a new life.

Between arranging furniture,

visiting nearby bakeries,

and standing in line at the motor vehicle office,

I've been getting acquainted with a new kitchen

and baking in a new electric oven.

And, of course, visiting with family!

Future posts will cover bakery tours, new product ideas, and answers to your FAQs.

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