Clean Eating Trend, Good News or Bad?

April 22nd, 2016

Fresh produce and open air markets.

Is the clean eating trend good news for us? I’d say yes! For consumers, and society as a whole, we are all better off eating a more healthful diet. But not everyone is happy.

Sometimes, when I read a food industry trade magazine, I wonder: who are these people and why are they writing such nonsense? In a recent issue of Bake magazine I found a convoluted article, The paradox of choice, which explained their side.

The article began by talking about consumer TV habits. “Not long ago, Nielsen released an eye-opening report on the television watching habits of Americans. Despite the fact that the average number of TV channels received by US households increased dramatically from 128 to 189 within five years (a 48 percent jump), the average number of channels actually watched remained flat at just 17. More channels did not equate to viewing a wider selection.”

Apparently, they believe the number of increased stations should mean people can increase their viewing to match what’s available. Sadly, these folks don’t realize there’s a finite number of hours in each day. People chose from what’s available and if there are new programs, they stop watching older ones.

The article moved on, to the food analogy. “The same can be said about consumer eating habits. While Americans are moving in all sorts of different directions, as people become increasingly more selective about the foods they will and won’t eat, the overall number of food and beverage occasions consumed by the average consumer is flat, according to a new report by The NPD Group.”

Why, yes, of course the number of food and beverage occasions remains flat. Most people are not eating more, they are replacing what they eat with new choices. And with the healthy food trend, people are choosing healthier foods. Good for them! Trends happen, people change, and this trend bodes well for the other trends: eat natural, eat local, support your small businesses. And these small local businesses produce foods with fewer chemicals. Isn’t that a good thing?

Uh, oh, I kept reading. “Another equally menacing fact for food manufacturers and food retailers is consumers’ increasing demand for purity in their foods and beverages. Consumers are avoiding adulterated elements and looking for natural and fresh foods and beverages, as well as avoiding some of the processed foods on which many major food companies base their business.”

“Another equally menacing fact”? That seems to be a shame. But it sure is great for most home-based bakers who don’t usually add chemicals to their homemade baked goods.


Home-Based Baking at its Best!

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Thinking Outside the Dinner Kit, part two

April 15th, 2016

In the last post we talked about mail order meals. The concept is a combination of take-out and delivery updated for the lifestyle and income of a market segment. As Hello Fresh explains, “We do it all for you; from creating the recipes and planning the meals, to grocery shopping and even delivering all of the pre-measured ingredients right to your door!”

Meals in a box is not a new idea. Many eateries have had it on the menu as boxed lunches. My bakery & café sold these very popular items for business meetings. We also delivered individual boxes during lunch time so workaholics didn’t have to leave the office. Over time, our boxed lunches expanded to include breakfast and dinner take-out.


For hometown businesses that would like to capture some of this business, the concept can be adapted to your local customers and economy. If your cottage food law regulations allow, this meal delivery idea is truly home-made, local, and super fresh. And less work, since the customer will put together their sandwich from your ingredients. Everyone wins!

Other mealtime options: Some businesses send meal delivery to office buildings. Sourdough Stacy, a small hometown business, made sandwiches on fresh homemade sourdough bread. She piled the sandwiches in a large basket along with cookies and brownies, and made the rounds in a few office buildings. People knew when she would be there; they could order ahead or pick from what she brought that day.

Another meal delivery idea is catering to market segments, such as kids’ lunches for busy parents. In a local Arlington Massachusetts newspaper, Lisa Farrell, owner of Red Apple Lunch said, “There is this whole idea around kids and food and that having healthy food is so important to them. But it’s not easy to get healthy options, especially having parents invested in their careers and family. It’s hard to make it all meet.”

Home-Based Baking at its Best! With thought and creativity, and a good business plan, some of these concepts may work for you.

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Thinking Outside the (Mail Order Dinner Kit) Box

April 8th, 2016

Next week we’ll talk about adapting this concept to your local area.

Have you seen the current food rage? Meal kits in a box, delivered to your door from far off businesses with names such as Blue Apron, Hello Fresh, Green Blender, and Peach Dish.

Now that we have this mailed-to-your-door convenience, why should anyone bother thinking about a menu, making a shopping list, trudging to the store, fighting the crowds, dragging groceries back home, then prepping a meal – all this before we even eat? And then we have to clean up when we’re finished! Makes no sense, right? Especially when we now have this meal-in-a-box alternative.

Why bother shopping and preparing your meals when there's a new easier way to plan, purchase, and fix dinner?

For those of you who haven’t seen the latest fad in food preparation, here’s an article from the New York Times,   It’s Dinner in a Box. But Are Meal Delivery Kits Cooking?

“Some analysts say meal kits show classic signs of a bubble that may already be leaking air. They [analysts] make comparisons to the rise and fall of the grocery delivery service Webvan in the first wave of the tech boom, or meal assembly storefronts, where cooks pick recipes online and then show up to put together what are essentially fancy casseroles from precut ingredients. Such companies once opened at a rate of 40 a month in the early 2000s but have faded from view.”

Sometimes odd or unusual ideas take hold and turn from fad to long-term trend. It’s definitely too early for us to know. The Times article goes on to talk about past “new” innovations (frozen foods, microwaves, bagged lettuce) that initially appeared as fads but have become solid parts of our culture. With this new business idea, we’ll have to wait and see.

Overall, the meal kit delivery venture has received some good press. But positive press or not, my first concern is with the PR spin from respected, outspoken chefs and authors who are promoting this new business model. They might be more interested in encouraging the trend because of their own business possibilities, than with the long-term impact mail order meals have on our lifestyle and communities.

If you’re interested in this concept, think it through and document ideas in your business plan. Think about the cost for putting together this kind of venture. Who is your target market for buying mail-order meal kits? Think about the competition. It’s not just from businesses already in the game (plus new ones that will appear soon), it’s also the businesses adversely affected – businesses such as take-out shops and local supermarkets that will come up with their own in-store response to easy meals.

For businesses like yours: with a commitment to buying local, supporting other home-town businesses and local farmers; keeping a small footprint; and avoiding too much packaging; there can be ways for you to create a local version of meal delivery.

Home-Based Baking at its Best! Next week we’ll talk about some innovative ideas for creating your own meal delivery business.

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Pied Piper Pies, Bakery Tour

March 31st, 2016

Pied Piper Pies is located in Highland Falls, a quaint town in New York’s lovely Hudson Valley. All the delicious pies in this recently opened shop are made from scratch using Suzanne Carroll Quillen’s home recipes for fillings and crust.

The eatery has two strong advantages: a corner location and an energetic owner.

Meet Suzanne - owner of Pied Piper Pies.

Day two!

Front counter display.

Daily menu.

Chicken pot pies!

Snickers pies!

Ginny and I tried several delicious pies. We'll be back to try more!

Suzanne began as a home-based business, selling her pies at area farmers’ markets and festivals.

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Is “Convenience of Delivery” Realistic?

March 24th, 2016

Delivery may sound like a good idea, but will it work?

Trade publication Bake magazine is a fast read with occasionally helpful articles and lots of food pictures. In the March issue there’s an interesting article, Believe it or not, bakeries can deliver too, about the ability of bakeries to jump on the “convenience of delivery” bandwagon. Bake believes this is another source of revenue that bakeries should seek.

“As consumer demand for convenience and instant gratification continues to build, local mom and pop bakeries looking to remain competitive with big names like Starbucks and Dunkin’ Donuts must be able to provide the convenience of online ordering and on-demand delivery without having to completely restructure or make capital investments in infrastructure like fleets of delivery cars.”

These are fancy, but unrealistic words aimed directly at small businesses. Too bad it paints a rosy picture and glosses over the reality of delivery cost and sustained consumer interest. It may work in densely populated cities or college towns, but even in those areas, it’s a stretch for long-term success.


A customer may place an order when they are in a tight spot, or for the novelty of it. The erratic behavior of college students might prompt a call for a late night delivery. But would it work for the “local mom and pop bakeries looking to remain competitive with big names like Starbucks and Dunkin’ Donuts” to have a delivery person available?

Pizza delivery has been hugely successful, but it’s tied into the American love affair with an already popular, favorite food. If Bake magazine wants to hand out advice for success, they would be more helpful if they began a column sharing successful ideas that already work for small bakeries, rather than send struggling businesses down a well-oiled rabbit hole.

Home-Based Baking at its Best! When you hear or read about great new ideas, be sure to do some serious thinking.

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Irish Orange Soda Bread

March 17th, 2016

Orange juice gives this bread a golden glow.

Irish Soda Bread is the classic holiday bread for March 17, St. Patrick’s Day. We start seeing these breads for sale at the beginning of March.

The original version was made with only four ingredients: flour, buttermilk, salt, and baking soda. But the American taste for sweet and tender has spurred creative bakers to offer a sweet, rich bread that’s enjoyed by most folks, whether Irish or not.

Irish Orange Soda Bread
Yield: two small loaves, or 18-24 rolls
4 cups all-purpose flour
¼ cup sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 tablespoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
¼ cup (½ stick) butter, softened
½ cup buttermilk (or use 7/8 cup milk with 2 tablespoons vinegar)
½ cup orange juice
2 tablespoons orange zest
1 egg, beaten
½-1 cup raisins

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Line a large baking sheet with parchment or silicone sheet.
2. In a large bowl, mix together flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and butter. Add raisins.
3. Stir in buttermilk, juice, zest, and egg. Mix until it forms a soft dough.
4. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead slightly. Form dough into two small loaves, or 18-24 rolls. Place on prepared baking sheet and with a sharp knife cut an ‘X’ into the top.
5. Bake in preheated oven until a light golden brown, 20 to 50 minutes, depending upon size.

Home-Based Baking at its Best! Customers like classic foods, but especially ones with a new twist. Even a size difference is enough to catch a consumer’s attention. Try making single-serve breads – simply round the small balls of dough, flatten slightly, and score the tops. Sprinkle with sanding sugar or streusel.

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Funding for Food Businesses

March 11th, 2016

Finding enough capital to start or grow a business can be difficult.  Conventional banks were never too keen about loaning money to food businesses; and these days, with the food industry failure rate continuing to grow, banks seem more reluctant than ever.

But two other funding categories have stepped in to help. For the new food entrepreneur who needs more money than friends and family can provide, there are other options.

Crowdfunding    $ $ $ $      $ $ $ $      $ $ $ $
Crowdfunding is the practice of funding a project or venture by raising monetary contributions from a large number of people. It’s been instrumental in helping some businesses move forward. A few well-known sites are gofundme, KICKSTARTER, and indiegogo.

Venture Capital    $ $ $ $      $ $ $ $      $ $ $ $
Venture Capital is private (non-bank) money provided by investors. These venture groups step in to help businesses and individuals who have new and exciting ideas, but are not eligible for traditional loans. “With consumers craving specialty foods and beverages, new industry-specific funds are cropping up to build up-and-coming brands that serve the taste buds of the future.”

$ $ $ $      $ $ $ $        $ $ $ $      $ $ $ $        $ $ $ $      $ $ $ $

Home-Based Baking at its Best! Have you written a business plan? If you have ideas, writing a plan will help you see the whole picture – the good points as well as potential problems.

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Recipe Development, Orange Almond Biscuits

March 4th, 2016

Orange Almond Biscuits: one recipe, two cookies.

Recipe development can be fun but it often takes several attempts to refine your new product. My client wanted a tasty, not-too-sweet, dry, long shelf life, healthier cookie suitable for eating with coffee, tea, or wine.

First attempt had the basics.

My first attempt had the basics – good sweetness level, texture, and health component. I made this several more times with some changes in both the recipe and technique.

I made the recipe several times to refine the final outcome.

I settled on two sizes and shapes, each with a different finish. The small logs were rolled in Turbinado sugar which gave them a wonderful crunch and added sweetness. The S shaped cookies (S is for sesame!) were rolled in sesame seeds. Recipe development was complete.


Orange Almond Biscuits
Yield: 30 ounces dough
• ½ cup butter, melted
• ½ cup sugar
• ¼ cup fresh squeezed orange juice
• 3 eggs
• ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
• ½ teaspoon orange extract
• zest from 1 orange
• 2 ounces almond meal
• 6 ounces whole wheat pastry flour
• 6 ounces unbleached all-purpose flour
• 1 tablespoon baking powder
• ½ teaspoon salt
• toppings, if desired, sesame seeds and/or Turbinado sugar

1. Mix butter, sugar, orange juice, eggs, extracts, and zest. (Use oil if you prefer. But if dough is sticky, refrigerate for easier handling.)
2. Add all dry ingredients and mix to combine.
3. Divide into equal-sized pieces, roll each piece into shape. Put topping into bowls and lightly press cookie in, then flip over and place on baking sheets. Sesame seeds make a nutty crunch, Turbinado sugar gives an extra sweetness and nice crunch.
4. Bake at 325° F for 30 minutes; drop temp to 300° F and bake longer, maybe 15 minutes. Turn off heat but leave in oven. If after cooling, these are still soft inside, bake again to dry out, 250° F for 30 minutes or so.

Home-Based Baking at its Best!

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Food Safety for Home-Based Businesses, FAQ

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.



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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February 19th, 2016

For something different to offer your customers, bake with pears! Every year when in season, I make a few pear pies and strudels. This fruit has a pleasant, unique flavor.

Pear strudels.






The most important point about pear filling, is that pears should not be treated like apples. The filling needs to have an abundance of spice. That’s the single biggest mistake most people make and then complain it was a terrible, tasteless pastry.

Pear Tips:
1. Unlike apples, pears need to be ripe before baking. Otherwise, they have little to no flavor and the crunchy texture of apples. About pears. How to tell when a pear is ripe, plus other facts.
2. Remember, you are not making apple pie  or apple pastries, you are baking with pears. I’ve seen far too many recipes for pear filling that have no spice or just a pinch of cinnamon. Use enough spice to add flavor to your pie. I suggest using up to 50% more spice than you would if baking an apple pie. Cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and cardamom are all good spices to use.
3. For the crust, use any pie or strudel dough, phyllo leaves, or puff pastry dough. Below is my flaky pie crust recipe.

Pear strudel.


yield: 6-8 medium-small strudel
5 cups all-purpose flour (approx. 1¼#)
½ teaspoon salt
2 cups vegetable shortening (1#)
¾ cup cold water (or use part vodka, part water)
extra flour for rolling out dough

Pear filling
6-8 ripe pears
½ cup sugar, or to taste
1 tablespoon mixed spice, your choice of nutmeg, cinnamon, allspice, cardamom
½ cup flour (or ¼ cup cornstarch)

1. For filling, I gauge how much I need by how many strudels I will make. Approximately 1 pear per strudel. Mix all ingredients and set aside.
2. Line baking pan with parchment paper and preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
3. For dough: In a large bowl, lightly mix flour and salt, then cut in shortening. When mixture looks fine-grained, drizzle in water and mix into a ball. Knead lightly, separate into pieces. Use at once (or wrap and chill for one hour or up to five days
4. For strudels, roll dough into a rectangle, spread filling, roll up and place seam side down on prepared baking sheet. Slit dough deep enough  to reach the middle of the strudel. This helps the center dough bake properly.  If you wish, tops can be brushed with water, milk, butter, or beaten egg. You can also sprinkle with sugar.
5. Bake in preheated 375° oven 45-60 minutes. Strudels are done when juice has bubbled out for a few minutes.
6. Let cool at least an hour before cutting. If wrapping for market, cool thoroughly before wrapping. To freeze, cool to room temperature then wrap well and place in freezer.

Home-Based Baking at its Best! With the trend toward home-made, seasonal, and local, your customers would appreciate purchasing fresh fruit pastries. If you want to be known for your incredible pear pastries, remember to NOT treat them like apple products.

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