Our Newsletter
Did you know Mike sends out a newsletter (almost) every week? It's filled with news about bread or whatever Mike is excited about this time. It's "Mike's (more or less) Weekly Baking Tips"!

Mike's Bread Blog, 2018

Our "So you want to own a home bakery saga". Earlier this year we sent out a series of emails about how to start a home, or cottage, bakery. A number of people have asked us to share it again, so we decided to put it in our blog, and set up pointers to it so it can be easily found.

September 3, 2018 - The Road From Rote To Mastery, or a frustrating night of BarBeQue.

tl;dr And worse, philosophical. But not "scientific" (Thanks to Blind Dog Cooley!)

Sometimes I get frustrated with new bread bakers. They want all the answers handed to them on a silver platter. And calibrated. "How can I use whole wheat instead of all-purpose flour?" "Can I use beer to make bagels instead of water?" "When is my bread done?" That last one is especially interesting for me today.

Some bakers go by time and temperature. 45 minutes at 400F. Done! Others go by internal temperature, when it gets to 205F, hey, it's done! Jeff Hamelman goes by color, by the heft of the bread, by how it sounds when he thumps the bottom. He's a master baker. I've never had luck thumping the underside of a loaf. I'm not a master baker. Still, I've seen him do it at Camp Bread 2007 (*), and they were perfect. He is, again, a master.

One of the campers asked about internal temperature and he commented that he just couldn't bring himself to ruin a loaf by poking a hole in it with a thermometer. I commented that I cut those loaves up into samples at the farmers market. After a bit, he decided the only way to shut us up was to poke a hole in a loaf. And, there it was, dead on 205F. Again, he's a master.

Getting there is simple though. Mastering your formulas, your fermentation, your rise, loafing, your ovens and time. And 30 years of experience. Easy peasy! More seriously, when a master does it, it looks easy.

And now that I am getting more into barbeque, I find myself asking the same sort of newbie questions. "How can I tell when the brisket is done?" Aaron Franklin commented that brisket is our horribly overcooked meat. "You cook it until it's done, and then keep cooking until it's tender." For those not in the know, brisket is not normally a tender piece of meat, but it does benefit from long, low temperature, cooking. Think somewhere between 225F and 275F, somewhere between 12 hours and darned near forever.

At the Camp Smoke(*) Brisket workshop at Lockhart Smokehouse, Will, the pitmaster, said, with great political incorrectness, that he looks for something in a brisket similar to what a teen-aged boy looks for in a teen-aged girl's bikini. He dropped a cooked brisket onto a table and it quivered. It jiggled. It wiggled. Beautifully. It filled our lunch with inexpressible joy and delight.

Yeah, but, what temperature should I cook the darned thing to? My WiFi enabled thermometer can tell me temperature, but it can't tell me wiggle and jiggle and quiver!

Aaron Franklin said all briskets are different, and they are done at different temperatures. *sigh* Yeah, OK, but, what temperature should I cook it to?

Last night I decided that the Costco Prime Brisket should be cooked to 205 and then we'd see where we were. I started cooking around 8:00 AM. Around midnight it finally got to 200. And then it went to 201. And the fire cooled off, so I added wood to the fire. It went to 199. 200. 201. Time to add more wood to the fire. I added a LOT of wood to the fire. And the brisket wouldn't get to 202, much less 205! At 2 AM, I decided whether or not the brisket was done, I sure was.

When I got it to the kitchen I discovered the brisket was overdone. Was the WiFi thermometer stuck? Had the brisket hit another perverse stall?

For those not into barbeque, when a brisket gets to about 165F, the meat stops heating for a few hours as the moisture in the meat evaporates which in turn cools the meat as fast as it is cooking. The stall is very frustrating, but people didn't even know it was there until they got instant read thermometers - once thermometers, especially wireless thermometers, came out newbie barbeque enthusiasts got antsy. Until then, they knew it would take 12 to 20 hours and opened another beer as they kept looking for the wiggle, the jiggle and the quiver.

There are a number of ways of dealing with the stall. The best, from where I'm sitting, is to open another beer and wait it out. Some people wrap the brisket in butcher paper (Aaron's preferred way) or aluminum foil to trap the heat and force the brisket through the stall. Each method has its fans. Me? I like beer. And the crispier bark of an unwrapped brisket.

Anyway, does it matter what was happening? No, what matters is I should have been at the pit looking for that wiggle and jiggle and quiver. Not looking at a thermometer. A thermometer is a poor replacement for human judgment!

The thermometer's role is to foster learning and build technique, not take its place. Whether you are baker, or a budding pitmaster, or are involved in any of a thousand other crafts, at some point you need to move beyond dependence on coarse tools and develop craft mastery.

This has been a report from someone on the road to brisket mastery. Whether I will get there is another question. Last night's brisket? It's nice, very nice in fact. But it could have been better had I gone to the pit instead of looking at temperature readings on a browser screen. And I would have gotten to bed lots earlier too!

Until next time, may your dough always rise, and may your brisket get properly overcooked, no matter how you choose to manage your processes.

(*) PS - Does it seem like I go to a lot of camps for an old guy? Yeah. I also go to WordCamp, a camp where words are rehabilitated. No, it's for WordPress enthusiasts. Camps for adults are at least as much fun as camps for kids, probably more fun because the adults really want to go! And there are adult beverages in the after meetings. Look around see what's happening in your area - you could be a camper too!

PPS - for the budding barbeque junkie, here's a video of Aaron Franklin comparing an unwrapped, a paper wrapped, and a foil wrapped brisket.

And for people wanting a bit more detail about the stall, there is this article at Amazing Ribs.

August 19, 2018 - Crackers, Ending Starter Waste and MORE! - Or, Is Mike going crackers again? Maybe, stay tuned!

A Healthy recipe? Run away! Run away! Lately we've been working on cracker recipes, and we do have another one to link to in today's newsletter. While we were searching for recipes, we ran across a web page that specializes in "healthy recipes" that had a cracker recipe. And the recipe did look healthy - whole wheat and whole rye flour and other goodies. However, the person who put the recipe together had no real idea of what a dough should feel like or how it should work. The dough was a crumbly mess and it smelled bad. We never even baked it. Maybe it would have baked up great if I'd taken the leap of faith, but I just couldn't!

Sadly, the experience reinforced my belief that when someone makes the the number one thing they tell you about a recipe "it's so healthy!", it's time to run away. Have you had any recipe disasters? Care to share?

YES! Mike goes crackers, again. We did find a new to us recipe that worked at The Fresh Loaf. Our salted spent grain rye crackersIf you haven't been there, you need to go! It's a great bread making community! Rather than retype the recipe, I'll just share a link in order to get you to go there. All we did to change it was to add 50 grams of spent brewers grains to the recipe which made it even better.... and maybe I was more generous with the sea salt sprinkle. Here's a picture of my humble attempt.

Discarding sourdough? Just say no! Many people hate discarding sourdough starter. After all, it IS food and we abhor waste. But many starter feeding instructions have you discard half of your starter and then feed it. Right now, we're baking twice a week on Tuesday and Thursday. And I really want enough starter, but not so much that I'm discarding. So, here's what I am doing....

The process starts with a look at what we're baking and how much starter we need. Then we ask the spreadsheet how to get there. This week I had about 280 grams of starter left over. I used about 275 to make a pizza, and then started feeding the other 5 grams to get up to 500 grams Monday morning. Small feedings will get you there. Here's my feeding schedule for this week:

Feeding Date/Time Starter Flour Water
1 Thursday 8:00 PM 3.9 grams 2 grams 2 grams
2 Friday 8:00 AM 7.8 3.9 3.9
3 Friday 8:00 PM 15.6 7.8 7.8
4 Saturday 8:00 AM 31.3 15.6 15.6
5 Saturday 8:00 PM 63 31.3 31.3
6 Sunday 8:00 AM 125 63 63
7 Sunday 8:00 PM 25 125 125

With this approach, there is very little wastage, and my starter is always at room temperature and being fed. I am convinced that starters prefer this!

What shall we do with all the time we're saving? A digression...We keep hearing about time saving appliances and methods, so I have to ask, what are you doing with all the time you are saving?

A while back Beth, my long suffering wife, gave me a hand crank coffee grinder for Christmas. Despite the fact we already had two electric coffee grinders, one a chopper the other a very nice mill. And also despite the fact that we were using a super automatic coffee maker. It ground beans, tamped the beans and then made an espresso based drink, all at the tap of a button. Somehow, a hand powered coffee mill just didn't appeal to me. "Maybe you could use it to mill other things, like herbs?" she suggested. Nope, the instruction manual was clear, coffee only.

And then, sadness struck. Our super automatic coffee maker died after 10 years of very loyal service. So, we went back to using a French Press and we've been very happy with the resulting coffee. We've also played with using a Melitta filter (pour over) rig, but we seem to like the French Press more.

First we used the chopper to grind our coffee, then we started using the coffee mill. And then, my eyes landed on the hand grinder. Part of my disquiet about it was that my grandmother, or Oma, had one in Germany when we visited her, and she thought the kid (that would be me) should grind the coffee. Since I didn't drink coffee, the task seemed really onerous to me. And I just wasn't ready to want to do that. However, being a good kid, I did that for Oma. And I tried to not grumble too much.

Still the mill Beth had purchased looked so clean and crisp and modern, none of which could be said of Oma's ancient wooden mill. So I had to try it. I spent an hour getting the grind right, and then ground some coffee. (That adjustment is an infrequent thing.) The ground beans smelled SO good! And the coffee tasted great too!

But, what about the time it took? Yes, both electric grinders were faster. But did that turn into any real time savings? The next morning I set some water on to boil and then measured and ground coffee by hand. And... you know what? I was done grinding beans WELL before the water was hot enough to use. It's not like there was enough time saved to actually DO anything. Since then, I've been grinding by hand and enjoying it.

We see the same sort of trade offs again and again. One place I worked a number of the younger women told me when it came to grocery shopping, "if it doesn't go into the microwave, it doesn't go home with me!" Michael Pollan did a informal study of how long it took to cook a meal for four as opposed to microwaving a meal for four. As is so often the case, each person got a different frozen meal. He found there were no time savings. He could only nuke one at a time, and by the time the fourth was done, the first needed a touch up. It was faster to cook a real meal!

Of course, if you aren't having a family meal, each person nuking their own dinner might sound attractive. But I'm old fashioned and value family meals.

Of course, he could have gotten a large multi-serving dish, like a lasagna, so enough for four would cook at once. Still, they take a long time to cook. Of course, you can argue that at least you don't have to spend the time in the kitchen.

I'd take a different look at it. What are you going to do with the time you may have saved? Are you writing a novel? Are you bonding with your family? Helping your kids with their homework? Are you finding a cure for cancer? OK, you get a pass. Or are you just watching some mindless drivel on the TV? In that case, it doesn't matter, you've wasted your time either way.

More to the point, I'd argue that fixing a meal as a family is a wonderful bonding experience. And the value is further increased when you enjoy it together! We just don't have enough bonding moments these days. Even a young child or clumsy spouse can do meaningful food prep tasks in the kitchen. And what they are creating and bringing to the table is love. And there just isn't enough love in the world! (Just don't ask a kid to grind the coffee, a limited sampling suggests they hate that!)

A followup! A newsletter or two back I shared a formula for a hatch green chili bread. I was delighted when Sharon shared a picture of the version she made, as well as telling me what she did. "Tried the recipe from the last Mike’s newsletter and subbed in 1cup of cheddar and 1 cup of a parm, asiago, romano mixture instead of the nutritional yeast. Fantastic bread! Thank you." She baked this in a Romertopf, a terra cotta clay baker.

It's a nice looking loaf, and I'm glad Sharon is enjoying it! It really brings home my long held belief that it isn't your recipe until you change it and make it yours! Good going Sharon, and thanks for sharing your photos!

Sharon's Green Chili Bread Sharon's Green Chili Bread

I think that wraps things up, so until next time, may your dough always rise, no matter how much you changed the recipe to make it yours! -Mike

August 12, 2018 - Mike's going crackers! - Mike IS going crackers! It began a few years ago when I saw a recipe for Lavash Crackers in Reinhart's "The Breadbaker's Apprentice" and thought it looked pretty neat. Of course, I converted it to sourdough, and it was very popular in our house and bakery. However, it was so labor intensive that it was never going to go into production. And we had no good way to package crackers. So, every now and then, I made crackers at home. The dough is VERY stiff, and the only way to roll it was to use a pasta machine, sheeter, or some similar sort of device. And even with the pasta maker, it was a rough slog.

And that's where things remained until I heard Mark Dyck's "Rise Up" podcast where he talked to Troy DeRego about Troy's spent grain crackers. Troy sells his crackers by mail order as well as locally.

Spent grain is the grain a brewer has left over after they make beer. The grain has had been cooked to get its sugars out of the grain to make beer, but it is still a great source of fiber and protein. Many brewers sell the grain to hog farmers - hogs love the stuff.

The spent grain idea just revived my fascination for crackers! I talked to Bobby Mullins at Armadillo Ale Works (a great place to get some great beers and a nice bar!) in Denton, Tx and he offered me as much spent grain as I wanted and told me when they were brewing. We picked up about 15 pounds of spent grain from their "Honey Please(tm) Mesquite Bean Blonde Ale".

A few cautionary words

if you decide to follow in Troy and my footsteps, make sure you get the grain the day it is used and immediately dry it. It is still a great food for all sorts of microorganisms. I love sourdough, yeast and many other microorganisms, and flirt with wild fermentations in my sauerkraut, but you really don't want to use spoiled grain, which is the most likely outcome - wet spent grain goes bad very quickly!
Next, you don't need 15 pounds. Yeah, it's cheap, OK free, but since you have to dry it, having 15 pounds and a home oven is a recipe for tedious trouble. Our recipes call for around 50 to 100 grams, so 15 pounds is almost a lifetime supply. We threw away about 12 pounds of the stuff. I should apologize to pigs in Denton!

To dry the spent grain, spread it in about a 1/4 inch thick layer on a sheet pan and put it in a 180F (82 to 85C) oven. Stir it up every half hour or so until it is quite dry. Once dry, you can freeze the excess. We put 100 grams in each of a number of sandwich bags and were delighted to see the grains remained separate even when frozen.

A bit of research suggested that 10% spent grain added to crackers is all most people enjoy in crackers. With that bit of information in hand, we made crackers. I sure wish I'd seen that before I picked up 15 pounds of spent grain!

We REALLY liked the Sourdough Lavash Crackers with Spent Grain. We searched for more recipes and found a promising one at King Arthur Flour's web site. We thought that this recipe could use some spent grain added to it.

And now it's time for another digression. How do you market the crackers? Most people don't know what on earth "spent grain" is, and when you explain what it is, it sounds vaguely distasteful. You mean, I'm eating animal feed or garbage? Well, yeah, but... face it when you have to explain you have lost the marketing battle. Really. Spent grain works for brewing nerds who are glad to see good stuff hasn't been wasted. But for everyone else, it's probably a hard sell. So, we decided to use the term "brewers grains".

The other question is, what does the grain do to the flavor of the crackers? It depends on the grains. With the grain we used, it added a clean grainy barley flavor. Still, the flavors have naming implications. If you use the grain from an India Pale Ale, and put India Pale Ale in the name that sets up an expectation that the crackers will be hoppy. Only, at that stage in the beer making process there are no hops involved. If you use oatmeal stout grains, there will be oatmeal, but the crackers won't taste like oatmeal or stout. So, naming the crackers probably shouldn't be tied to the beer the grain was used to make. "Buttery brewers grain crackers with sesame seeds" might work. If you decide to market these, be ready to do do some market research on the product naming.

The crackers we made used grain from Armadillo's "Honey Please(tm) Mesquite Bean Blonde Ale" which is a light bodied refreshing beer. My advice, is get what you can - as long as its fresh. I think any spent grain should make a good tasting cracker. Ask any friends you know who brew, or hang out at brew pubs and breweries and ask the brewer for some spent grain.

The color of the crackers was, in our case, little impacted by the grain. The grain was mostly light colored. However, it did add some darker flecks to the crackers that made them more visually interesting.

Both of these recipes use sourdough discard. However, it should be a fresh sourdough, not one that has acquired off tastes or has become bitter. While we use sourdough, we use it for flavor, not for rise. So, this is another way to use up discard starter.

All that said, here are two recipes, both of which got rave reviews at our two favorite watering holes. We'll take pictures next time we make them and post these recipes to the Sourdoughhome recipes pages.

Brewers Grain Sourdough Lavash Crackers - inspired by a recipe from Reinhart's "Breadbakers Apprentice". This is a very stiff dough. We're playing with making it wetter, so while it is easier to roll than it was, it was still too stiff for me to roll with a rolling pin. A pasta maker or sheeter is really necessary. This makes about 2 pounds of dough, which is about 7 half sheet pans full of crackers.

Grams Ingredient Baker's Percentage
74 Water 15.3
70 Honey 14.51%
47 Olive Oil 9.67%
330 Sourdough Discard 69.87%
480 Bread flour 100%
48 Spent grains 10%
9.3 Salt 1.93%

Method:

  1. Mix dough, allow to rest for an hour or so.
  2. Roll out very, very thin – use sheeter or pasta roller, less than 1/16 of an inch thick, to #5 on the Atlas pasta maker. This takes a number of passes. If the dough tears, fold it in half and pass it through the pasta maker again to further develop the dough.
  3. Put on parchment paper on trays and then cut into strips about 2 inches wide.
  4. Spray with water, dust with herbs and spices as desired - caraway, sesame, rosemary, za'atar, and coarse sea salt are all popular, but the crackers are also great with no topping.
  5. Preheat oven to 375
  6. Bake 10 to 15 minutes, or until crackers are nicely browned.

Serve with hummus and beer. Since these crackers are as long as your sheet pan, the usual way to serve them is to break them.

King Cracker - This is the recipe inspired by the one from the King Arthur Flour web page. Their recipes are usually reliable, so we played with this one without even making it first. This is enough to make 2 pounds of crackers, which was about 4 sheet pans.

Grams Ingredient Baker's Percentage
130 Butter (solid, cut in 1/4 inch cubes) 50%
540 Sourdough discard 208.33%
260 Whole wheat flour (white or regular) 100%
110 Spent grains 41.67(1)
26 Dried herbs (optional) (2) 10%
6.4 Salt 2.5%

Optional - Coarse sea salt as garnish/accent

Notes:

  1. Yes, we said 10% spent grain is all most people like, however, there is more flour in the starter, so it's about 20% of all flour but people really liked it. Internet rules of thumb aren't always accurate. Imagine that!.
  2. Herbs are optional, use as your taste dictates. We used about 4 times the fresh rosemary that the recipe called for to compensate for it being fresh rather than dried.

Method:

  1. Mix together the flour, salt, sourdough starter, butter, and optional herbs to make a smooth (not sticky), cohesive dough.
  2. Divide the dough in quarters, and shape each part into a small rectangular slab. Cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 30 minutes, or up to a couple of hours, until the dough is firm.
  3. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
  4. Very lightly flour a piece of parchment, your rolling pin, and the top of the dough.
  5. Working with one piece at a time, roll the dough to about 1/16" thick - this is about as thick as a penny. The dough will have ragged, uneven edges; that's OK. Just try to make it as even as possible.
  6. Transfer the dough and parchment together onto a baking sheet. Lightly brush with oil and then sprinkle the coarse sea salt over the top of the crackers.
  7. Cut the dough into 1 1/4" squares; a rolling pizza wheel works well here.
  8. Use a fork or docking wheel to prick each cracker.
  9. Bake the crackers for 20 to 25 minutes, until the squares are starting to brown around the edges. Midway through the bake, perform a Chinese fire drill with the baking sheet pans - reverse them top to bottom, front to back and left to right to help the crackers brown evenly.
  10. When fully browned, remove the crackers from the oven, and transfer them to a cooling rack. Store airtight at room temperature for up to a week; freeze for longer storage.
  11. Well, that wraps things up for this week. Now you can also go crackers! However, it's only fair to warn you, we could go crackers again!

    In closing, may your dough always rise, unless it's crackers!
    -Mike

    August 5, 2018 - Changing recipes and Hatch Green Chile bread After the past two or three LONG newsletters, this shorter one might be a relief. And that it’s REALLY about baking might make it even better.

    Back to bread - The Texas Cottage Food laws prohibit a cottage food baker from selling foods that need refrigeration, foods that are apt to spoil. A number of my breads have cheese in them, and this could be a problem. We’re looking into the matter. Until then, we’re experimenting. And that’s what we’ll share with you, along with the formula for a really nice bread.

    A number of years ago we were on vacation in Albuquerque and saw a bakery with a big sign on it, “Home of the Original New Mexico Hatch Green Chili Bread”. You know I had to go try it, so we got a loaf and took it back to the hotel. The next day I went back to talk shop with the baker. I'm embarrassed to admit I forgot his name, but it has been over 15 years, since I met the gracious baker at the Golden Crown Panderia. He was a very friendly guy, as are most bakers. We talked shop, he gave my son some really nice cookies. At the time, they were baking turkey shaped breads to be the centerpiece for vegan Thanksgiving dinners – it seems a number of vegans in Albuquerque wanted a centerpiece, like a turkey, for their Thanksgiving dinner, just without meat. If I were a vegan, I'd get one - they looked great!

    Simply put, the green chile bread is amazing! Rich, warm flavors with a slight pepper bite. I really wanted to make something like their bread at my bakery. I wasn’t gauche enough to ask for their recipe. Since the ingredients are listed on their web page, the baker shared that with me, and gave me food for thought. An essential ingredient is the Hatch green chile, which is amazingly flavorful and available in various heat levels. If you ever get to Albuquerque, stop by. They're nice folks who make great breads and cookies. They also make great pizzas and have a good beer selection on draft.

    They make the bread as a straight yeast dough, but I wanted to go further, while keeping the flavor profile of yeast, so I decided a poolish bread was the answer.

    Before we go further, let’s talk about the hatch green chiles a bit more. We are lucky in that a number of local grocery stores have people come and roast the peppers in front of the stores during the harvest season. You can buy as many peppers as you want, in your preferred heat range. We always go for the hottest. Remember, the peppers will be diluted in bread dough. We take them home, still smoking from the roaster, put them on sheet pans making sure they don't touch and then into the freezer. These become what is called IQF in the trade, or individually quick frozen. Once frozen, they go in zip lock bags so I can pull as many, or as few, out as I need.

    When roasted, the outer skin of the pepper chars, and you want to rinse that off before using the peppers. I rinse them under cool water and rub off the charred skin. This also thaws them. At that point, I can use them in scrambled eggs, green chili, bread or many other things.

    You want to get freshly roasted peppers if you can. If not, look for frozen peppers. A number of companies in New Mexico will be happy to send you frozen peppers. Don’t use canned ones, they are too wet and not flavorful.

    Our recipe started with a mixture of diced hatch green chiles, Parmesan cheese, diced tomatoes, Mexican oregano, basil and cilantro. It worked very well, but when we moved from being a professional bakery to being a cottage food bakery... I think you see the problem. Based on my current understanding of Texas Cottage Food law, we'd have a violation if we sold that bread.

    We researched vegan replacements for Parmesan cheese. One that worked well was a cup of cashews, 2 TBSP of nutritional yeast, and ½ tsp of salt. It worked very well. Try it on popcorn or pizza, it’s really nice!

    However, as we were enjoying the bread we realized that we didn’t taste the cashews. They might as well have not been there. What we wanted from the Parmesan was the umami taste. And the nutritional yeast delivered that. Did we need the cashews at all? Or the added salt? Our great baker friend in Boston, Daisy Chow, confirmed our guesses and suggested we might only need the nutritional yeast.

    That led to another experiment – just the nutritional yeast. And that loaf was as good as the Parmesan loaf. Without the cost (or legal liability) of the Parmesan, or the cost of the cashews. We’re sold.

    The point here is that recipes aren’t carved in stone. Feel free to play with them! Until you do, they aren’t really your recipe. Many of my recipes were inspired by better bakers than me.

    Well, I promised to share the final recipe… so here goes. This is for a 1 ½ pound loaf. Poolish - We start by making a Poolish – 12 hours before you want to mix the final dough -

    Grams Ingredient Baker’s Percentage
    120 grams Water 100%
    120 grams Bread flour 100%
    .1 gram (1) Instant Yeast .2%

    Mix, cover and allow to ferment at room temperature about 12 hours. We talk more about poolish in our Mastering Flavorful Breads cookbook.

    (1) – YES, that really is 1 tenth of a gram. I use a My Weigh MX-300 jewelers scale to measure small amounts. The point of a poolish is to use less yeast and create more flavorful breads. If you can’t get a jewelers scale, mix 1 gram of instant yeast with 99 grams of flour. Replace 10 grams of the flour in the recipe with 10 grams of the flour and instant yeast mix which should .1 gram if yeast in it if you mixed it well.

    Green Chile Spice Mix – mix shortly before you use it

    Grams Ingredient Percent
    70 grams Diced Hatch Green Chiles (1) 59.32%
    35 grams Diced Tomatoes (2) 29.66%
    2.6 grams Nutritional Yeast (3) 2.21%
    5.2 grams Cilantro, dried (4) 4.41%
    2.6 grams Oregano, dried (5) 2.21%
    2.6 grams Basil, dried (4) 2.21%

    Notes -
    1. Chop off the stem end of the peppers, and dice the rest, seeds and all.
    2. Remove the stem end core of the tomatoes, and dice the rest. The seeds and pulp are the most flavorful part of the tomato. Also, you can use canned diced tomatoes if you want.
    3. Nutritional yeast is available in most health food stores. No need to get the debittered yeast.
    4. If you prefer to use fresh herbs, use about 4 times what is called for here.
    5. I prefer Mexican oregano if you can find it. Check with our friends at Rancho Gordo if you can’t find it locally.

    Final Dough -

    Grams Ingredient Percent
    130 grams Water 41%
    120 grams Hatch Green Chile spice mix 37.87%
    230 grams Poolish (1) 75.09%
    310 grams Bread flour 100%
    .2 grams Instant Yeast (2) 0.06%
    6.2 grams Salt 2%

    Notes -

    1. The poolish will probably be a bit less than this weight. It has been losing carbon dioxide and water all night long. Use whatever you mixed up, it’ll be OK.
    2. Yes, two tenths of a gram. Use a jewelers scale, or 20 grams of the flour mentioned above in the poolish instructions.

    I mix all the ingredients, do a rough mix with my hands, just enough to get all the flour wet. Then every hour for three hours, I do a stretch and fold.

    After the last stretch and fold, I let the dough rise to twice its size, and then loaf it into a boule, let it rise again, and then bake it at 400F for about 45 minutes with steam in the oven for the first half the bake or so.

    I hope you enjoyed the story, and will let me know if you made the bread – pictures would be great!

    Until next time, may your dough always rise no matter what sort of strange stuff you put in it! -Mike

    July 31, 2018 - for some time, we've been sending out "Mike's (more or less) Weekly Baking Tips". More, or much less, weekly. I've been asked why they aren't on the web page.

    I realized I really don't have a good reason, so I am adding the back issues to the breadblog, and will label them with a date tag so they can be easily found.

    We'll still send the emails, but you can also look here and look for back issues.

    July 30, 2018 Respect the Fermentation and Market Math - A twofer?

    We've fallen into a frenzy of baking, and it's been a sheer delight! For a few years, the only time I've baked was for a class, and that was more a matter of helping others rather than refining my techniques. And, honestly, my breads were starting to show it. Now that I'm settling into retirement, we're starting to do things we've wanted to do and just couldn't when we were doing the 8 to 5 thing.

    A lot of this has been inspired by our recent discussions of farmers markets and bread clubs. Is it worth it, to us, to go down that rabbit hole? And what do people want to buy? More has been inspired by our discussions of our long stalled cookbook project.

    As a result, for the past few weeks I've been baking twice a week. I've been baking to adjust our recipes from when we were living in the mountains, and the breads are showing what can happen when they are given a bit of love. We're giving away the breads for now, which gets us feedback on the breads and makes us feel better because we aren't throwing food away. This has also been a great way to finally meet the neighbors!

    We're also visiting farmers markets in the area to see what other people are selling and what they are charging for their breads. We found two cottage food bakers selling bread. And, we're still thinking.

    The first thing we see, and we've seen from our own renaissance of baking, is you have to respect fermentation to make good bread. One baker told us she was up at 4:30 to start making her breads. And, honestly, while she is a very sweet lady, the breads weren't all that good. You may remember our time line from earlier newsletters about our farmers market experiences was around 24 hours, not 3 or 4. And that didn't include prep time for the starters and preferments.

    What do we mean by, "respect the fermentation"? It takes time for yeast or sourdough to raise and flavor a bread. If you rush things, you don't get full flavor development. And your crumb structure isn't what it should be. If you rush bread by using more yeast, the bread has a strong yeast flavor. and not much else happening. The extreme example of this is grocery store white bread. Some people like that, but I'm not a fan, and if you're here you probably aren't a fan of supermarket white bread either.

    I like to experiment - or even play - with a recipe, so for the same recipe I'll try loafing the dough shortly after mixing, giving the dough a good first rise and then loafing it, and then trying two rises and then loafing the dough. I'll try it with sourdough, with poolish, with a biga and even straight yeast. There are differences between the breads. The time it takes for dough to reach a flavor peak is the time it takes. Once I try the loaves, I have an idea of what I want to do. It isn't always necessary to do two rises, but it often helps. Once I know how what the dough wants, I can plan for bread production. It is worth mentioning the usual rule of thumb is that each rise takes about half the time of the preceding one. So, if the first rise is 4 hours, the second would be around 2, and the final rise would be around 1 hour. That is, of course, a rule of thumb and your mileage may vary.

    If a bread takes too long, there are a few options. One is to not produce the bread commercially. An old saying has it that, "time is money", and we'll talk about that some more later in this email.

    Of course, the time that a dough rises isn't time you need to be there watching the dough. It can handle rising on its own. However, the dough is taking up containers in the first rise, and it is taking up bread forms or sheet pans for its final rise. In full production, we often used the same bread pans and sheet pans several times in a bake day. When the bread was risen, it went into the oven and the brotform was filled with another loaf to let it rise. If something has to rise a long time, it could mean you don't have enough gear, or space, to do other things you want to do.

    Another thing you can do is see what you can do to encourage the dough to move, or rise, more quickly. Is it really necessary to give the dough two rises before loafing it? That's an easy change. Can you raise the dough temperature to get it to rise more quickly? If you go too far down that road, you can get off tastes in your bread, so caution is advised. Can you use a bit more riser to get it to rise more quickly? More riser is, as suggested before, a double edged sword. Too much riser can rob the dough, and bread, of flavor.

    We have a sourdough whole wheat bread we've been making for quite some time. I hadn't really looked at its formula in years. When we started baking this bread recently, I examined it and saw that it uses about 80% sourdough starter which is a staggering amount. We're cutting that back to a more normal 20%. In general, the more starter the faster the rise and the milder the sourdough flavor. We want more sourdough flavor, so we're going to see what happens when we cut the starter back to 1/4 of what it had been. You'll hear more about this experiment in future newsletters.

    Our cinnamon raisin sourdough bread uses a good bit of starter because we want a very mild sourdough flavor profile. Also, cinnamon slows the rise so we need a lot of starter.

    Yes, ingredients can slow your rise. So, if your rise is taking too long, there may be ingredients that can be done away with, or handled differently. Have you ever wondered why most cinnamon raisin breads have the cinnamon swirled into the dough, jelly roll style? Yeah, it IS attractive, it makes the cinnamon more obvious and gives your customer a delightful burst of cinnamon flavor. But, that's not the whole story. It turns out that cinnamon will slow your riser - a lot. By rolling your dough and putting the cinnamon mixture on the dough and rolling it jelly roll style, the amount of dough in contact with the cinnamon is reduced and your rise isn't as impacted. There are other ingredients that can impact your rise. Jalapeño peppers and garlic are two of them. To boost flavors and reduce rise impact, we roast these ingredients before putting them into the dough.

    A long, slow rise really helps build bread flavor, which is what bakers call, "respecting the fermentation". Even for flavored breads, like the cinnamon raisin or garlic breads, I want a fully flavored bread. If the cinnamon and raisin, or the garlic, were missing would I still want to eat this bread? My preference is, yes. Even a flavored bread should be build on a base of good bread.

    That doesn't mean that every bread needs to be a curl your toes sour San Francisco style sourdough bread. The flavor needs to be appropriate for the total bread. A number of our flavored breads are based on a poolish, and a few are straight yeasted breads with no "fancy bakers tricks".

    If you're a wine lover a great book to read is "Cork Dork: A Wine-Fuelled Journey into the Art of Sommeliers and the Science of Taste" by Bianca Bosker. Ms. Bosker kinda got sucked into the wine scene because she was wondering how much of wine snobbery was real and how much was just nonsense. She engages in a discussion of what is a good wine with one of her mentors. He said it was simple, "when I taste the wine, do I want to drink some more of it." It bypasses all the considerations of grape type, fermentation, aging, vintage year and gets right down to the basics. Is this good enough that I want to drink more of it? And, that's where I am with bread. It's great that the bread is sourdough, was made with heirloom grain, with flour freshly ground just before use, and that it took 48 hours to make, but in the end the question is, does the bread make me want to eat more of it?

    In the Avery household we're in the process of undoing years of overeating and under-exercising, so we are watching what we eat. And that means, for us, that bread has to justify its place in our diet. When we go to our favorite local barbecue joint, we'll eat the meat and skip the mass-market white bread they serve it on. Actually, they've learned to not even ask if we want the mass-market white bread because they know we don't. But the nice bread at the nice French restaurant, yeah, we want that. And a bit more of the olive oil to dip it in, please.

    Wrestling this back on topic, respecting the fermentation means allowing time for an appropriate fermentation. Having a number of tools in your tool belt helps. We talk about the slow fermentation techniques in our book, "Mastering Flavorful Breads."

    So, you want a home bakery, Part 5 - Market Math - And that brings us to another topic... when is working a farmers market worth it? Everyone has their own motivations, and money isn't the only motivation. Still, there are times when money IS a major driver. To a teacher in some underpaid state like Texas or Oklahoma, additional revenue is a big motivator. Paying the rent, paying for food, getting out of bare subsistence mode is very important. To a person in a better paying profession, the equation is different. A doctor or successful lawyer might value their time off more than a few hundred extra bucks coming in every week.

    However, the doctor or lawyer might value the happiness that their baked goods bring people, and thus be willing to bake for that good feeling. We all have our own motivations.

    Right now, however, we're going to talk about money. And we're looking at our local community market, with a few side comments about other markets we've been in.

    Sales tax is a monetary and procedural consideration, but luckily for us in Texas food that is sold for consumption off premises is generally exempt from sales tax. That would be us. People buy a loaf of bread and take it home. A wrinkle here is cookies. If your cookies are not wrapped, it is assumed they are for immediate consumption and are subject to sales tax. If they are wrapped, it is assumed they will be consumed elsewhere and are thus exempt. Same applies to cupcakes and other treats. Many health departments simplify the discussion by insisting all foods be packaged. So, the bottom line is we can avoid sales tax altogether! At least, in Texas. Your mileage may vary.

    Now, let's look at fixed costs. These are the costs you incur because you have a business, whether you sell anything or not, whether you sell for one day, or 365 days a year.

    First, insurance. You REALLY should have product liability insurance. Bread is generally regarded as safe, so the rates are usually low. We haven't priced this lately, but let's guess $200 a year. While I am not a fan of big insurance companies and while I am sure I won't make anyone sick, the potential costs of not having insurance are astronomical. Not having insurance is just too risky.

    Second, market fees - our market charges a $125 a year membership fee and a $15 per market fee. Some markets charge a percentage of sales, so the better the vendor does, the better the market does. The market fee covers the site, the entertainment, and marketing. If they are doing a good job, it is worth it. Some markets let you pay in installments, which can reduce your up front costs.

    Next, you need a place from which to sell. If you don't have this gear yet, you'll need a shelter, weights to keep the shelter from blowing away, some tables, some chairs, and a cash box. The price here can range from a few hundred for a bare bones shelter to over a thousand. We are interested in low starting costs, and we are partial to the ez-up brand of shelter as we've seen them last longer than the competition. Some of their products are quite affordable. Some markets want you to have a banner identifying your business which is another expense. A cloth banner printed with your name and logo will probably be around $100, but you can use a piece of paper you printed from your computer, at least at first. We already have all that stuff from our previous market adventures, but for the sake of discussion, let's say it will cost you $300. (My guess is the range is from $250 to $350, though you can easily spend more.)

    That leaves us with overhead of $200 + $300 + $125 or $625 for insurance, market membership and a shelter, table and chairs for the first year. In subsequent years, the shelter, table and chairs can be reused at no additional cost, so the overhead is just $325. Our market has 34 market days, so the overhead is $19 per market day the first year, and $9.55 in subsequent years. You can use these sales tools at other venues, like festivals or gatherings in your area.

    Again, in addition to this, there is a $15 per market day fee.

    Let's assume you can bake 50 loaves per market, and will charge $6 per loaf. That is a potential gross revenue of $300. The usual rule of thumb is the ingredients cost about 1/3 of the sale price, or about $100. At this point, our best net return is $300 - $100 - $19 - $15, or $166 per market day the first year, and $300 - $100 - $9.55 - $15, or $175.45 per market day in subsequent years. This works out to an estimated $5,644 the first year and $5,965.30 after the first year. We look at variations on this in the spreadsheet at the end of this blog entry.

    We'll be putting in about 20 hours in preparing the breads, another 8 hours getting to the market, setting up, selling, taking down and going home. So, the hourly wage works out to $5.93 an hour the first year and $6.27 an hour after that. Somehow, I'm not thrilled with this math since it isn't enough to get us above the minimum wage. We'd be better off getting a greeter job a Walmart (it they still hire greeters).

    We can improve this by selling things other than bread, selling more bread, and/or raising the price we are charging for the bread.

    Both of the booths we saw last weekend were selling other things as well as bread. Preserves and produce in both cases. Preserves are attractive to the seller because they popular and they aren't terribly perishable - you can make a bunch and sell them until you run out. You could also sell arts and crafts and other things. A food vendor has a major advantage over an art vendor. Every week people need a new loaf of bread, but that usually isn't true of photographs, statues, paintings, jewelry and so on. Still, the margins are probably better on art and jewelry than on bread.

    Selling more is attractive, but it is self limiting. Each additional loaf of bread we sell increases our wages by $0.14 an hour. An additional 10 loaves increases your hourly take by $1.40, an additional 100 loaves, $14.00. However, it isn't easy to make that much bread in a home kitchen. From 50 to 60 loaves is achievable, but going from 50 to 100 in a home kitchen is probably not.

    If you can increase the perceived value to the customer, you can charge more for a product. People are willing to pay more for organic and heirloom products. When we switch from mass market white flour to organic heirloom flour our costs do go up, but since we're raising the price to keep the cost of ingredients around 1/3 of the sale price of the bread, we're going to make more money.

    I've put together a spreadsheet, see below, that shows what happens with different loaf prices and production quantities. At $8.00 a loaf, our net return for the upscale breads $232 per market day the first year, and $242 per market day in subsequent years. This is about $66 a day improvement with no real increase in labor. On an hourly basis, this is about $8.31 or $8.65 an hour on the first and subsequent years. Hey! At least we've broken the minimum wage!

    Also, the annual earnings for the pricier loaves are up to an estimated $7,911 the first year and $8,232 after that. Again, if you can kick your sales to 60 loaves per market day, things look even better. The obligatory brush with reality reminds us that these numbers assume you'll sell all your bread every week which isn't all that likely. Rainy days, competing events and many other things may impact the number of people coming to the market. So, this is very much a best case estimate.

    Still, if your market will support the pricier loaves, it is worth going that route. As mentioned in the previous emails about farmers markets, in one market the customers had trouble justifying $5.00 a loaf. In the market in the next town, people bought four loaves at a time. When we raised prices because we switched to organic grains, people grumbled in the first market, but sales were unaffected in both markets.

    This doesn't enter into the question of how much of a bread appetite does your market have? If you are dealing with a bunch of gluten phobic, carb phobic, keto-diet people, you may not sell as many as you are hoping. On the brighter side, you will probably find that demand increases as the market year proceeds. Word gets out that there's good bread at the market and demand goes up.

    And that leaves us still trying to decide if its worth the effort. Whether its worth it for you is up to you - how much do you need the money, how much do you want the praise, how much are you able to deal with the people who will complain often for no good reason, how much will you miss 34 weekends a year? Also, how much do you like interacting with people? Remember, it's not just the baking at this point, but also the marketing and selling.

    How much money can we make at the market? (Just click it to make it larger)

    Until next time, may your dough always rise, even if you didn't respect the fermentation enough.

    June 3, 2018 - So, you want to have a home bakery, Part 4 - Some marketing drivel and then - Actual baking tips!

    Yeah, this was going to be the final blog post dedicated to starting a home, or cottage, food business. But people asked questions and I had second or third thoughts, so there are more installments. Still, this time, we'll get into actual baking, believe it or not!

    Before we get into that, here's a few bits of trivia I'd like to share. The nights get long in a bakery. When I'm not listening to the excellent audio adventures from ZBS media, I really like listening to podcasts. Baker, Canadian and all-around good guy Mark Dyck has a bread oriented podcast that has been quite good. The first few episodes had some audio issues, but he seems to be taking care of that. The pod cast name is "Rise Up" and it is available wherever you find finer podcasts.

    In one of his recent podcasts, Mark shared stories about little baking nightmares, OK, mistakes, he went through. It'd be fun to hear how you messed up, and how you recovered (if you did). Please let me know if it's OK to share your story, and if it's OK to use your name. I'll think of a few great stories of my own to share.

    But wait! There's more! Beth has been staging some excellent content and sharing it through our Bake With Mike Facebook page almost every day! If you are into Facebook, please check us out.

    Before we talk about baking, a last shot at marketing – in the end, you will live and die by your marketing. I can’t tell you how many mediocre – or worse - bakeries are thriving because they market well. And how many good and great bakeries die on the vine because they didn’t market well.

    Some things to do – anywhere you go, anyone you talk to, talk about bread and your bakery. Print business cards which have (date limited) coupons on the back. Hand them out freely.

    If your community has online community bulletin boards, participate and mention your bakery. If your community has a Facebook page, get involved. Speaking of Facebook – your bakery has a Facebook page, doesn’t it? How about Twitter (mention where you’re selling today, when and what you’re offering.) I just haven’t gotten into Instagram yet, but you should.

    See what sort of school, church, social and businesses associations you can join. When they have an event, provide bread. And business cards.

    Web page – I think we’re past the “if you don’t have a web page in the next year, you won’t be in business a year later” phase of internet madness. However, I do think having a good web site is a good thing. There are lots of ways to get a web site online for not much money and have a good Internet presence. In classic Internet marketing, all the social media should be intended to drive traffic to your web site where you have your heaviest marketing message. Where you can do as much selling as the law allows. I recommend avoiding Wix, SquareSpace and other turnkey services – they make it hard to move your content to other services. Before you get in bed with them, look at how to get back out of bed! Still, if the package is affordable, you could do worse.

    Make sure you’re listed on Yelp, and that your web page (you DO have a web page, don’t you?) is listed on the Yelp listing. Get friends and relatives to review you. Stay on top of Yelp and respond to negative reviews politely, encouraging a repeat encounter. “I regret we didn’t delight you, your experience is not what we are shooting for, I hope you’ll give us another try – and ask for me so I can make sure we delight you!” is a good template.

    Despite encouraging a media presence and coupons, I am not a big fan of coupons or sales. If you get a reputation for offering sales, you’ll find many people will only buy when you’re having a sale. Get acquainted offers are one thing, discounts are another. Along those lines, I am NOT a fan of Groupon type deals. They want you to offer their customers a half price deal. And they want half of the money. So, if you offer four loaves for $10, you actually see $5 of that. And if I had a nickel for every online review that started, “We came here with a Groupon coupon and all I can say is thank goodness we didn’t pay full price for this!” People value too little what they acquire to cheaply. Your products should be worth the price you are charging, don’t give away your life’s blood!

    If you can sell at farmers markets do so. People go to farmers markets to buy things. And when they get used to your bread, they’ll be hooked which provides the opening to the bread club.

    Read the Guerrilla Marketing books. And then engage!

    So, you want a home bakery, Part 4 -Let’s talk about baking! - WOW - a long blog post and we haven't even talked about baking yet! Whether you want to be a farmers market baker, a bread club baker, or just need to bake 10 loaves for a church function, you’ll probably find some information you can use here.

    I’ve seen some interesting notions about scaling up. A friend who uses bread machines thought she could just get a bunch of bread machines to scale up. That’s a bit expensive, has low return on investment, and really clutters a kitchen. And most people don’t want to buy bread with a hole in the bottom where the mixing paddle was.

    Someone else asked how professional bakers emulate what she sees when she bakes in a Dutch oven. Actually, the Dutch oven is used to emulate what the professional baker does. And getting 20 Dutch ovens really doesn’t scale any better than 20 bread machines would.

    When you scale up, things change. The big change is that you hit bottlenecks! Every kitchen has bottlenecks. And any time you address a bottleneck, you just reveal another one. You get a bigger oven and discover your mixer can’t keep up. But, in the end you find ways to cope, and that’s what a lot of this section is all about.

    Generally, in home kitchens the bottlenecks are time and space. Sadly you can’t get more time, though you can start earlier and you can work on your scheduling mojo. Scheduling is, quite likely, the greatest secret ingredient for bakers. A professional baker is never doing just one thing. Once the baker has weighed the ingredients for the next batch of bread, the baker is cleaning the bakery as one bread is baking, another is rising, and another is being mixed.

    The best explanation I’ve seen of baker scheduling is in an appendix to “Secrets of a Jewish Baker” by George Greenstein. George gives several bake day schedules. The recipes in the book are classic Jewish Bakery recipes, and some of my best, and most popular, breads came from that book. By current standards, the breads are very dense and the doughs very dry. However, I feel recipes are a starting point, not holy writ carved in stone and brought down from Mt. Sinai. It isn’t your recipe until you change it. So, try George’s recipes and then make them yours. Sadly, his book is no longer in print, but it is still available. ISBN.nu can tell you who has the book and at what price. Look at the bakers schedules, and then at some recipes, you’ll be glad you did.

    The answer to space restrictions is often cleverness. But space… is the final frontier! Some of the places we run into space issues are in the oven capacity, in mixer capacity, in space to raise dough, and space to cool baked loaves. We can address these issues. Often, space and time constraints are related so we’ll talk about this as we go along.

    As Stephen Covey said, “start with the end in mind”. Start by thinking about when you need the bread. Let’s imagine you’re getting ready for a farmers market which opens at 8:00. You need 15 minutes to set up, 30 minutes to get to the market, 15 minutes to load your car or truck, and the last bread has to be out of the oven an hour before you leave for the market. I haven’t included time to wrap the bread for two reasons. You may not have to wrap bread for your market, and you can wrap your bread as it cools - multitasking! So, the last bread needs to be out of the oven 3 hours before market time, or at 5:00 AM. Of course, your schedule may be very different. One of our markets was just around the corner from out bakery, another was an hour away.

    Realistically, it will take a few bake days to get your schedule worked out. Farmers markets want you to be there on time. You’re better off getting there without one batch of bread, but on time, than an hour late with all your bread. (If you are in a state where you can have employees, one can finish off the last batch of bread and bring it to market when it’s ready. Don’t ask how I know this.) If you are wholesaling to commercial accounts, they REALLY want timely deliveries. Bread clubs are the most forgiving clients.

    Since the oven is the bottleneck for most home bakers, we’ll start talking about oven space. Using more than one rack in an oven can double, or triple, your baking capacity depending on the size of your oven and loaves.

    In order to get a better bake with a home oven, I put unglazed quarry tiles on two of the oven racks in my oven. Some people use steel plates, pizza stones or Fibrament brand stones. All of them do more or less the same thing. They retain heat and give it back to the bread, creating an oven environment more like a classic masonry wood fired oven.

    Pizza stones tend to be the wrong shape and size to make good use of oven space – you want a rectangle of tile covering as much rack space as possible, most pizza stones are small, round, pricey and fragile.

    Fibrament stones are pricey but excellent. They are also NSF certified, which will be important if you move into being a commercial bakery. You can get them in a wide variety of sizes and thicknesses. We used them in our commercial bakery, and I liked them a lot.

    Many people rave about steel baking plates. They are said to heat up faster than ceramics and return heat to bread faster, but I’m not a believer. I put a steel plate on one rack and unglazed quarry tiles on other and put the same dough on both racks. I didn’t see any differences in oven spring, crust color, crust density or the crumb. I checked the unglazed quarry tiles and the steel plate with an infrared thermometer and they heated up at the same rate. There is nothing wrong with them, and I could be wrong, but from where I’m sitting they are over hyped.

    Unglazed quarry tiles are the cheapest option and the best for most people. Usually available for around 50 cents to a buck or so each and available at most hardware and flooring shops. If you break one or two, it’s not the end of the world.

    The cracks between tiles, and even the imperfections of the well used tiles to the right, don’t interfere with the baking characteristics of the tiles.

    With all tiles, you want to leave about 1 ½ to 2 inches of open space on the left and right sides of the rack to allow heat to move through the oven. With any tiles, even the steel ones, you want to preheat the oven for about an hour before baking to make sure the tiles are thoroughly heated.

    With two usable oven racks, I can put 6 round loaves (or boules) at a time, three on each rack. Because home ovens are notoriously uneven in heating, half way through the bake, I move the breads between racks, front to back and left to right. The breads are pretty evenly baked because of this little hack.

    At 6 loaves per bake, we’re looking at around 64 loaves per 8 hours of baking time. At $5.00 per loaf (your pricing may vary), that’s $320 for your labors.

    Where to from here? A typical strapped bread pan If you use strapped bread pans, you can put more bread in the oven. Strapped bread pans are bread pans that have been strapped together for easy of handling. The pans are separated by a carefully adjusted distance so all the loaves will cook at the same rate. Using a 4-up bread pan, similar to the one to the right, I can put 4 sets of pans in the oven, two on each rack, allowing me to bake 16 loaves at once, which takes us to about 170 loaves per night, which raises the day’s potential sales to $800.

    Some people object to pan loaves, thinking they aren’t artisan. No bread is artisan. YOU, the baker, are the artisan. An artisan is a trained craftsman. The breads are artisanal, that is, created by an artisan. The artisan uses their skills and judgment to make a good product, in this case bread. Whether the loaf is round, a baguette, a batard, a fougasse, or a pan loaf it is an artisanal loaf because you, an artisan, created it. Many customers prefer a pan loaf as they feel it is easier to make sandwiches from pan loaves. As we said earlier, ya gotta know the territory.

    Seriously, if the only difference between the loaves is their shape, why would one be artisanal and another not?

    The next options on the oven front are to get a larger oven, or to get more ovens. If you can use any oven in your state, I’d suggest going for an electric deck oven with steam capacity. However, in many states you are limited to what is normally found in a home kitchen. So, if you are shopping for a home oven, I’d suggest an electric oven that is wide enough to accommodate a full sized sheet pan with a bit of room to spare. You can find used ovens on Craigslist. Look for a used double oven, put it on a cart and wheel it in and of your kitchen as needed. Pro-tip - make the cart tall enough that you don’t need to bend over to load or unload the oven, use locking wheels on the cart so it won’t move when you aren’t expecting it to, and put extra weight on the bottom of the cart to make sure it isn’t top heavy and thus easy to tip over.

    If you are a true enthusiast, you can buy or build a wood fired masonry oven. Scott and Wing’s “The Bread Builders” is a treasure trove of information for people who want to use, or build, a wood fired masonry oven. If you are less interested in building an oven and more interested in using an oven, you might want to contact Antoine Cantarel at Bread Stone Ovens. Antoine is a very good person who loves good bread!

    Sadly, there is only so far you can go down the “add an oven” route in your home. It would be nice if you could bake your entire bake in one fell swoop. However, an oven that size would be overkill. There are other considerations here, and they will ripple through your entire production schedule.

    There is a limit to how long a fully risen loaf of dough can sit waiting to be baked without losing quality. Bakers call that characteristic “tolerance”. How much tolerance a dough has depends on many things. Wetter dough tends to have less tolerance than drier dough. Wheat dough has more tolerance than rye dough. Temperature is another variable. The warmer the dough, the faster it will “move”. The cooler the dough, the longer it will stay at a plateau. A sandwich style wheat dough with around 65% hydration will probably have about an hour of tolerance at room temperature. A similar dough with more than 30% rye flour could have as little as 6 minutes. In general bakers will work hard to make sure than when the rye dough is ready to bake, there is an oven waiting for it.

    What does that mean to the baker? You can make enough wheat dough in one batch for two oven loads (dough temperature being a variable we’re ignoring for the moment). While half the dough is being baked, which usually takes around 50 minutes, the other half of the dough is patiently waiting for its turn in the oven. After the first half batch is done, the second half moves into the oven. Both bakes in the batch are done before the dough runs out of steam.

    Many beginning commercial home bakers want to mix as much dough as they need as quickly as they can. As you can see from the above discussion, you’re better off pacing the dough production so that you don’t have too much dough to bake all at once. To complicate matters, some dough gets ready to bake faster than others. You may want to start the faster dough first so it can be baking while slower dough is still getting there. Or, you may want to start the slow dough first so it will have longer to get ready. Sometimes the second, or third, dough you prepare can be the first in the oven. Since I don’t know what recipes you are using, I can’t make iron clad suggestions, so I suggest taking notes and adjusting your mixing schedule to get batches of dough ready to bake to optimize oven usage. The bottom line is that you’ll need to play with your dough to find out how it performs.

    And that brings us to mixing. If all you have is a KitchenAid mixer, or similar home grade mixer, that is your first bottleneck. Smaller KitchenAid’s can only do about 3 loaves at a time, two batches back to back, and then they need a 45 minute rest. This is not a real production workhorse. What kind of mixer you can get depends on where you are. In some states you may not use commercial gear in a cottage industry kitchen, so you aren't getting a 50 quart commercial mixer. A better option in many cases is to do stretch and fold. This is a great option for a new startup, whether a cottage food shop or a full fledged bakery because it allows you to defer the expense of purchasing a professional mixer until you really need it. With this technique we easily mixed about 225 loaves a day by hand. We could have done more, but that was about what we could reliably sell.

    We have two web pages about Stretch And Fold. One is a general overview, the other is a more focused look at how we prepared breads for the farmers market. The web pages go into more detail than we will cover below.

    As you can see in the second web page, we used virgin paint buckets to measure ingredients, and the used food grade bus tubs to mix and raise the dough. Pro-tip – spend a few extra bucks to get NSF listed bus trays. Not all trays are food safe. You really don’t want to poison anyone, and if your bakery moves from a cottage food producer to a full fledged professional bakery, you won’t have to replace the bus tubs with ones that are NSF listed.

    We covered the dough with clingwrap, though anything that keeps moisture in, fingers out, and will fit where you are storing the tubs will work. Pro-tip – if you get cling wrap get a box with a sliding safety cutter. Cutting yourself is bad enough, having family or staff cut themselves takes awful to a whole nother level!

    We put the covered bus tubs into bun sheet pan racks. This let us put 7 bus tubs into a single rack. If I were starting today, I’d defer the purchase of the sheet pan rack and start by putting the bus tubs on the wire racks we’ll discuss later. A typical sheet pan rack As production ramped up, I’d add another wire rack or sheet pan rack like the one to the left.

    When we were making free form loaves, we let them rise on sheet pans on top of parchment paper. You can also get lots of bannetons or brotforms to hold the loafed and rising dough. And bread pans are also a good answer. A friend of ours loves Silpat and another loves siliconized baking paper. However, cost again becomes a factor. Baker’s parchment is very inexpensive and disposable, though we usually got 3 or 4 bakes out of each piece of baker's parchment. While I’d rather not throw things away, if you get the more expensive pan liners sooner or later someone will throw them away for you and - if you’re lucky – you’ll be digging through the dumpster to find the twenty or so $24 Silpats or the $7 siliconized baking sheets. And that doesn’t even cover startup costs – buying 20 or 30 of these sheets is a real expense.

    As you loaf the dough, you can put the sheet pans on the same sheet pan racks that the bus tubs were on. Additional sheet pans can rest on the wire rack. The logistics depend in part on how much bread you’re making. In his book, “Small Breads”, Bernard Clayton talks about seeing how the bakers on S.S. France made enough croissants for many passengers in a smallish kitchen every day. Before the actual bake began, every horizontal surface in the bakery had sheet pans resting on it, filled with rising croissants. Creativity may be called for. As demand grows, you may need to get additional sheet pan or wire carts.

    In the end, we tended to start another batch of bread about once an hour. And got a good flow in and out of the oven.

    As the dough comes out of the oven, we put it to cool on wire racks. Hot bread is giving off steam so you need to get it out of pans and off sheet pans. It needs to breathe. If you trap the steam, it will make the bread soggy and more prone to mold. You can get racks like the ones we used at most hardware stores. We used a rack from Seville Classics, but many other brands are also good. Pro-tip – get wheels on anything you can buy with wheels! Wheels are your friend! No one cleans under things that can’t be easily moved. As you bake, you want the tools you are using close to you – you’ll walk a LOT in the course of a bake. Rolling a cart close to you helps cut footsteps a lot!

    Of course, as more breads come out of the oven, the cooling rack will fill up. To be ready to free up the space on the cooling racks, back when we loafed our breads, we cleaned the bus tubs we mixed the dough in, so we could wrap the bread and put the baked bread in them to ready them for market. Staying on top of this insured a smooth work flow. The breads stacked in the bus tubs took less space than when they were loose on the cooling racks. The filled bus tubs could in turn be stored on the top of the wire racks, or in the sheet pan racks. Pro-tip – some bus tubs fit nicely in the sheet pan racks, some are too narrow. Try to get tubs that fit nicely in the racks. If push comes to shove, you can use a sheet pan to hold up the bus tub, but that ties up a sheet pan.

    A question that remains is what to do when you reach the limit of how many breads you can prepare in a day. Some people wrap their breads and pop them into a freezer at once. They pull the breads out the next day and let them thaw and sell them as fresh. Fresh frozen bread can be very good, however I am not a fan of this approach. I tell people I am selling fresh bread, not freshly frozen bread. And selling frozen bread as fresh is lying, even if the customers don’t notice.

    A better approach is to reexamine your work flow, look for bottlenecks and address them. And maybe, just maybe, it’s time to move out of your home and set up a commercial bakery.

    An overview of our Farmers Market Prep – when we lived in Colorado, we sold at two farmers markets, one on Saturday, on on Sunday. It’s been over 10 years, but this is what I remember of our schedule for the Saturday market.

    We’re trying to make 220 loaves of bread, or 10 batches of 22 loaves. It is worth noting we had two large convection ovens in one kitchen we rented, and two home sized ovens and a commercial convection oven in another kitchen. This let us bake around 30 loaves at a time. Your mileage may vary. Also, sometimes reality intruded and some breads were slow to rise and others were quick. So, we juggled the schedule.

    Remember, once you bake the bread, it will rise no further so don't be in too much of a hurry to bake your bread! A final note – we didn’t have enough sheet pans to hold all 220 loaves, so once a batch was baked, we spread the hot sheet pans out so they could cool and we could reuse them for a later batch of dough.

    The Sunday bake preparations were parallel to the Saturday preparations, but we started the final push hours earlier because the market was further away.

    Wednesday – finalize the list of breads we’ll prepare and the quantities. See what ingredients we need and don’t have. Go shopping. We had spreadsheets that helped us with starter and other pre-ferment feed up. On Wednesday I’d start feeding up our sourdough starters.

    Thursday – keep feeding our sourdough starters. If our breads used a biga, start the biga Thursday evening. Keep feeding the starters.

    Friday morning – If our breads use poolish, start the poolish. Keep feeding the starters.

    Quick side note – poolish and biga are yeasted pre-ferments which deliver a nice alternative flavor to sourdough. We talk about preferments in our book, “Mastering Flavorful Breads”.

    Friday evening – about 5:00 PM, mix the first batch of dough. Beth helped me by doing measurements while I did mixing. However, the benefit of that was more a matter of us being together rather than being necessary for scheduling. We still like being together.

    Every hour, we stretched and folded the previous doughs and started a new batch of dough.

    About 9:00 PM things changed slightly. The oldest dough has at that point been stretched and folded 3 times and had 1 rest period. The dough is set aside while we stretch and fold the other doughs and start a new dough. The oldest dough is loafed and the loaves are placed on parchment paper covered sheet pans, and then covered with clingwrap.

    This process continues until some of the loaves are rising, at which point the ovens are started and preheated. Once the loaves are risen and the ovens are at temperature, the baking begins.

    We continue stretching, folding, starting new doughs and loafing doughs. Once the dough has been in the oven 25 minutes it is moved around the oven for even baking. Twenty minutes later, it is put on a cooling rack. Bread fresh from the oven is giving off, or out-gassing, steam. If the steam can not escape, it will condense inside the bread and make it soft and too moist. So, the bread has to be removed from bread pans or taken off of sheet pans as quickly as possible and put on wire racks to cool. The highest priority tasks at this point are getting baked bread out of the oven so it doesn’t burn, getting the baked bread onto cooling racks, rotating dough so it bakes evenly and getting more dough into the oven so we meet our deadlines.

    Because we didn’t have enough sheet pans for all 220 loaves, the sheet pans are put on another rack to cool so we can reuse them for later batches of bread.

    This becomes a carefully choreographed ballet – breads are going into the oven, being moved around, dough is being loafed, more dough is being made, dough is being stretched and folded. There are some “feel good” milestones in the night, like when all the dough has been made, when all the dough has been loafed, when all the dough has been baked, and when all the bread has been packaged. It’s a long night.

    When a bus tub is emptied, it is cleaned and set aside to dry.

    In among the other tasks, we check the baked loaves to see if they are cool yet. As loaves cool, we package them for the farmers market. We used clear plastic bags, despite not liking plastic bags. We also printed bread labels on an ink jet printer that we affixed to the bread bags which gave the needed information about the breads. We looked into custom printed bags but the minimum order levels were just too high for us. Printing the labels and applying them to the breads was a hassle, but better than paying for and storing a mountain of labels or pre-printed bags.

    Printing labes as we needed them also let us change our bread line up, and change labels to meet emergencies, like when someone used green rather than black olives. That bread suddenly became, "Green Olive Over". We had used self-adhesive labels printed on an HP Inkjet. We chose the HP because the ink prices were low. You may want to shop around. As we start up a new cottage baking effort, we are printing labels on a Brother electrostatic label printer. We find it easier to use, but haven't run the numbers on the per label cost.

    As bread kept coming out of the oven the cooling racks would fill up. When we packed and labeled the bread we’d put it into the cleaned bus tubs and put the bus tubs onto the sheet pan racks. Pro-tip – get bus tubs that will neatly fit on your sheet pan rack. If you can’t find them, you can always put the bus tubs on a sheet pan on the rack but that is less convenient than having a bus tub that fits.

    Beth returned to the bakery around 7:30 in the morning. By that point the last breads were in the oven and most breads were baked, cooled, bagged, labeled and in bus tubs. She helped with the last breads. About 7:45 the last breads came out of the oven and were put on the cooling rack. Depending on the weather, we opened the doors to get cool air moving through the bakery to help cool the bread a little faster. Just before we went to market the last loaves cooled enough, were packed, labeled and also put in the bus tubs.

    We loaded the car with the tables. chairs, the gear we used for sampling, and the popup tent, went to market and set that up. Then we rolled the sheet pan cart, loaded with bus trays filled with bread, around the corner to the market and completed the set up.

    At that point, I went back to the bakery, fed sourdough starters and started any poolish that needed to be made, went home and got a few hours sleep. The whole thing started over again Saturday evening for the Sunday market.

    If you have questions, or have horror stories to share, please write!

    And now, may your dough always rise whether it's one loaf or a thousand! -Mike

    May 29, 2018 - So, you want to have a home bakery, Part 3 - where we talk about the Bread of the Week Club

    In some areas farmers markets are open all year long, in other areas when the farmers markets aren’t open there are other marketing opportunities such as winter festivals, Christmas markets and so on. But in many parts of the country, when the summer is over, so too is the farmers market. And you still have bills to pay and a family to feed. A good answer to the issue of year round revenue is the Bread of the Week Club. It can also be a great answer if you live in area where a cottage food manufacturer is not allowed to sell in farmers markets.

    In some areas, the Bread of the Week Club is a year around effort, in others it lets you survive between farmers market seasons.

    As with farmers markets, you are constrained by state and local laws, which will control how you can advertise, take orders and whether you are allowed to deliver bread. Check out the state guidelines, and see what you are allowed to do.

    The bread of the week club works like a book of the month club where each week you offer one, or more, breads. We offered one bread as the default bread and several alternate breads. Some people offer add-on products, such as preserves, bread knives and whatever they can sell at a profit. We offered subscriptions for one, two, three of four loaves per week. Some people have larger families than others, and some like bread a lot more than others.

    The first season of our bread of the week club we had people come by the bakery to pick up their bread. We packed a shipping list and a flier that described the next week’s offerings in each order. We also labeled each order so when Frank showed up, we could hand him his order. People could elect accept the default bread, ask for an alternate, or skip a week.

    The downside of the pick-up model was that people forgot it was bread day. And they’d show up late. And we spent the day in the bakery, long after we’d planned on going home and to sleep. The second season, we delivered bread and were able to deliver the breads in much less time than we wasted sitting around the bakery the first year.

    People could mail the completed form to us or email us. Some people have set up web sites where members can login and place their orders. Our guideline was that if we didn’t hear from someone three days before “bread day” they’d receive the default because that was when our purchasing and production began.

    It is worth mentioning that you don’t have to offer everyone the same default bread, depending on your market and production capacity. Pro-tip - almost all of our clients took the default bread of the week they were offered. Make sure you don’t offer more loaves of any one default bread than you can deliver. And you don't have to offer the same default bread to everyone.

    The previous section on state cottage food laws will color much of what you can, and can not, do with a bread club. Can you advertise, or take orders, on line? Can you deliver your bread to your customers or do they have to pick it up? Can you hire someone to handle deliveries for you?

    The keys to success are marketing and limiting your delivery area (if you’re delivering). One bread club owner I know would go into large high rise apartment buildings and put a flier on each door, letting people know about the bread club. Concentrating on a limited geographical area meant he could make one stop and deliver for quite a few people. Remember, in some municipalities it is difficult to get permission to put fliers on people's doors.

    You can put fliers on the doors of free standing houses, but you’re looking at a much lower concentration of customers. We lived in a small town, so we dreamed of servicing large high rises, but that never happened. Delivering to individual homes wasn’t optimum, but it wasn’t a major problem either – we spent some time optimizing our delivery route to minimize travel time and gasoline costs. Some people use delivery bicycles, which is neat for limited areas and can also act as an advertisement. Having a magnetic sign on your delivery vehicle is also good advertising.

    You should look for other marketing options. Can you give samples at civic events? Can you give subscriptions to people as part of a promotional effort – many churches and other groups have fund raisers and offer prizes through raffles or silent auctions – you should make sure your subscriptions are an option! You can also harness word of mouth – offer a free week or month of subscription for each person someone gets to sign up and who stays with you for 3 months. Some cable companies offer a free month of service if you have someone sign up, but only let you earn a few free months. I’ve never understood that – we told our customers we didn’t care if they never paid us again – the more people they signed up, the better we did!

    The keys are flexibility and persistence, finding out what you can do in your area and what works in your area. We really liked the Guerilla Marketing books as they got our creative juices flowing.

    Until next time, may your dough always rise, no matter how you're going to sell it! -Mike

    P.S. - next time we're going to actually talk about baking again! Really! -M

    P.P.S. - Of course, it will be baking for a farmers market or bread of the week club. -M

    May 20, 2018 - So, you want to have a home bakery, Part 2 (And some baking information too!)

    We get lots and lots of questions about sourdough baking here at sourdoughhome.com. And we're OK with that. Anyone who puts themselves in the public eye espousing any level of expertise and claiming to help people should, well, help people. Still, we see many of the same questions again and again. We've used those questions to improve sourdoughhome. When we started the "starting a starter" page was a little more than one screen. Answering questions made it grow. And now we hear it's too long. LOL!

    Anyway, almost all the sourdough starter questions we get can be resolved by feeding your starter more, and more often. We prefer to feed a starter at room temperature twice a day, and to feed equal amounts of flour and water and enough to double its size, by weight. So, to 100 grams of starter we'd add 50 grams each of flour and water. This makes a starter that is pretty stable and is easy for beginners to handle.

    What about discarding? Well, if you don't discard and you don't bake, you'll have a swimming pool of starter in short order. And 12 hours later, you'll have two swimming pools of starter. Discarding starter when you're not baking is one way of reducing waste. Once your starter is stable, you can store the discard and/or use the discard to make other things such as pancakes, waffles, muffins, cupcakes, cakes (the sourdough chocolate cake is just great!), and pizza crusts. Several of those links are at the rec.food.sourdough faq site and you'll need to search for the recipes using the find function in your browser. Rec.food.sourdough is a great sourdough resource!

    When you are going to bake, stop discarding starter until you have enough for your recipes and just a wee bit more.

    I said that feeding a starter is almost always the answer to starter problems. You might ask when is it not? When starting a starter, the concentration of microorganisms has to reach a viable level for the starter to take off. If you keep discarding half the starter and diluting what is left, it may not get there. That is similar to when you revive a refrigerated starter. If, after a few feedings, the starter is still dormant, let it sit in a warm place for a day and see what happens. When it starts bubbling again, then resume feeding.

    So, you want to have a home bakery, Part 2" - This section is about Farmers Markets and this will be a long section. Sorry. Remember not all states allow cottage food producers to sell at farmers markets. If you're allowed to do so, farmers markets are great places to sell your bread, get exposure and build other aspects of your business.

    Before we get any further into things, there are a number of pointers to Amazon.com in the text that follows. That is not an endorsement, and we won't get a commission. We point there because they have everything you can imagine and are a convenient place to look for things. You may be able to find better prices at food service companies, so look around!

    With that out of the way, let’s start out with the good news. People go to farmers markets to buy things. And they do so. A friend has a successful bakery in Austin, Texas and tells me they make more money Saturday morning at a farmers market than they do all week long in their store front. The money is there. Also, it is great to see and talk to your customers. You can see what they like, they’ll tell you what they want. The dynamics can be wonderful!

    However, picking THE farmers market, or markets, to sell at can be difficult. Just like most people don’t marry the first person they date, signing up for the first farmers market you see might not be a good idea. Start by looking around your area for farmers markets. “Your area” means close enough that you can drive there after your bake and be there and set up by the time the market opens. Market managers do not like people who show up late – it interferes with the shopping – and selling – experience for everyone.

    The US Department of Agriculture has a web page that helps you find farmers markets in your area. It seems to be reasonably up to date. The web page is quite nice - you can enter your zip code and how many miles away you’re interested in, and it will show you the markets it knows of.

    localfarmmarkets.org also has a guide to finding farmers markets near you, though a few markets I know if are not listed.

    Another excellent resource is a book entitled, “The New Farmers Market”. It was our bible when we were starting, managing, and selling at markets. You can find it through isbn.nu, a book finding service. Much of the content in the book is “evergreen”, meaning it will not go out of date. However, any guides to specific markets could change so a newer edition is probably a good thing. You might also check with your local library to see if they have a copy or could borrow one on inter-library loan.

    As suggested above, you would probably prefer a market close to your home. Once you find a likely candidate, visit the market during their business hours and start by walking around and pick up on the feeling of the market. Buy some produce. Talk to the vendors. Some markets are friendlier than others. Some markets are only open to grown products - fruits, veggies, meat, preserves made with fruits the farmer raised. Make sure the market is open to having a(nother) baker.

    Look around and see if there are already bakers at the market, and if they are producing goods similar to your own. Some markets prefer that there be no direct competition between vendors. If you're doing bread and they are doing pastries, that might work. Other markets prefer “to let the market decide”, so they'll let 20 bakers show up realizing that there isn't enough business to keep all the bakers happy and some will stop showing up. This makes the market managers life easier when vendors just drop out instead of the market manager having to tell a vendor to go away.

    Hannah, a baker friend, got into a market and was worried - there was a farmer's wife there selling bread for $2.00 a loaf, and Hannah knew she had to charge $6.00 a loaf for her bread - could she compete against two dollar bread?. However, Hannah didn't like the farm wife's bread and thought there might be a market for her better bread. Before the market season was over, Hannah had most of the bread sales and in the end the farm wife stopped selling bread and concentrated on her excellent preserves. The farm wife was happy as she didn't really like baking bread and had wanted to concentrate on her preserves! It can be hard to predict how things will shake out, so just shake them!

    A friend who is a mayor in a small Arkansas town tells me that the smaller the group, the nastier the politics. And farmers markets are a case in point. Your best bet is to read and live the title of one of Alton Brown's books, "I'm just here for the food". Don't get into arguments. You have no idea whose toes you're stepping on. Until you know the lay of the land, just go along to get along. You may want to look at other farmers markets, both so you can escape if things get ugly (YES, things CAN get that ugly!) and so you can expand.

    Expansion may be desirable for you, but whether it’s legal depends on the state laws and market rules you are operating under. Some markets want all vendors to be within a certain distance of the market to insure the products are truly local. Some states prohibit cottage food producers from having employees sell their products. This rules out markets that are happening at the same time. (If you know a way to be in two places at once, please share it with me.)

    Many markets require that you have a table and an awning. We've had good luck with Ez-Up brand popups. We've seen other vendors buy other brands and have them fall apart on their first market day. Our Ez-Up is a bit battered, but we've had it over a decade and it still works well. We found one on sale for well under $200. You can spend LOTS more, but I'd suggest starting with a more modest one like their Vista and upgrading when you're sure you're going to stay in the game and your cheap-o is showing more wear and tear than you want to show to your customers.

    We also like tables that fold in half so they take up less room in your car or truck. Cosco makes one we like which is sold at Amazon (of course), but you can buy it elsewhere, and the table is available in white.

    Before you go to your first market, practice setting up your pop-up and table(s). You don't want to look like someone who doesn't have a clue in front of an audience (although all the markets I've been at are filled with helpful people). We had to wrap our bread for sale, so the packed loaves went into the bus tubs we used to mix the dough (more about that later).

    Pricing is one of the stranger inconsistencies between markets. Some markets charge a flat fee per market day, with some offering a discount for paying for the season. Some charge a commission that is a percentage of your sales. Some charge a registration fee and a commission.

    In the end, you won't be paying the market fees, your customers will. You're just passing money from your customers to the market. In exchange for the fees, the market is providing you a space, advertising the market to get people to your booth and providing other services. Our market had cooking demonstrations using market ingredients. The market fees are money well spent, but you need to understand how the market charges so you’ll know how much you need to charge. Again, if the fees are high, you’ll have to charge more for your baked goods. In general, we covered all our expenses and had a profit on the first market day even after paying for our popup and tables. People go to farmers markets to buy things. Really!

    If you’re just getting started, you might not want to pay for a season’s pass all at once. You might ask the manager if you can pay for a month and have that count towards a season’s pass if you decide to hang in all season. Why wouldn’t you want to stay all season? Lots of reasons, here are just a few:

    • You had NO idea how hard it would be to sell at the market and it just isn’t worth it to you (we’ll cover this in detail later),
    • The market’s customers aren’t interested, for whatever reason, in what you’re producing,
    • You found that another market is a better fit for you and you want to move to the other market

    A number of studies, mentioned in "The New Farmers Market", have shown that having a baker at the market draws more customers to the market and improves everyone’s sales, so if the market manager is reluctant to add a baker, you might dangle that carrot in front of their eyes and ask that they mention you in their advertisements.

    Sales taxes are another little hassle. Some states tax foods sold for on premises consumption, others don’t tax food at all, and others tax all foods. You need to live withing your state’s laws. In some cases, if you sell something wrapped it is assumed that it is not for on-premises (i.e. at the market) consumption so it isn’t taxed. Unwrapped, it assumed it will be consumed there, so it is taxed. Wrapping your brownies can change the tax situation in some states. Ya gotta know the territory!

    Some farmers markets collect and handle sales taxes for you, others don't. If your market handles sales taxes for you, that means you might be able to avoid getting a sales tax license and dealing with your state sales tax agency. In the end, it’s not a big deal either way, but it is something you need to know.

    We've heard that some markets make customers pay the market, which then pays the farmer/baker. That seems unwieldy and unlikely to last more than a few market seasons. This approach can be handled with chits or coupons which are redeemed at the end of the market day.

    Make sure you understand how money works in the market! Some markets will throw you out if they catch you taking cash instead of a chit or coupon. If the market uses its own money, when will they pay you in real coin of the realm? Since some people could pay the market with checks or credit cards it could be a while before the market receives the funds to pay you. Again, ya gotta know the territory!

    If you will be handling money, it helps to have a cash box, one with a lock. We also suggest a counterfeit detection pen and using it on larger bills. We never had a counterfeit money issue, but having the pen made us feel better about taking larger bills.

    Handling cash adds another wrinkle. Money is gross stuff. It is grimy and crawling with germs. From a food safety standpoint, you can not handle food and money safely and you need to plan for this. In our markets in Colorado, that was easy – all our bread had to be packaged so we only handled packaged food at the market. We pre-cut our samples and poured them from a bag into a bowl as needed and provided tongs for people to take samples - we didn't touch samples at the market! We also had cute little mesh covers over our sample bowls to keep bugs off the samples.

    Gloves and hand sanitizer are another, inconvenient, way to go, if that is allowed in your area. A third way is to have one person act as the cashier and NEVER handle food and another NEVER handle money but handle food.

    Speaking of hand sanitizer, in Texas each food vendor that handles food must have a wash station with running water and hand sanitizer is explicitly banned. Yeah, you heard me say it before, you’ll hear me say it again, you gotta know the territory! And the health department can change their rules at any time so what was true last year may be totally contradicted this year.

    As a matter of convenience, we priced all our items in whole dollars and included the sales tax in the price. That way, we didn't have to mess with change. We delayed raising our prices from $5 to $6 because we didn't want to handle all the ones. Calculating sales tax and making change isn't difficult for the first few hours of the day, but as the day wears on, you'll be happy to avoid handling coins and sales tax tables.

    Speaking of change, make sure you have about a hundred dollars in ones and fives when the market starts so you can make change. Too many bozos come to the market straight from the ATM machine and only have what we called "yuppie food stamps" ($20 bills). If your market is on a weekend, see if you can find a nearby bank that could give you some smaller bills in an emergency. Some farmers markets do that as a service for their vendors, but they'd rather not have to.

    Also worth considering is accepting credit and debit cards. PayPal and many other services will let very small merchants take credit cards. Of course, that means someone else taking a part of your hard earned money but it’s better to have 93% of something than 100% of nothing! Shop around for the best service rates. The guy in the booth next to ours at one market was a vintner. His wine bottles were in the $20 to $30 range, which was a lot of cash and some people just don't carry cash!. He was selling bottles in ones and twos. Then he got an early cell phone driven credit card system and suddenly people were buying cases. He was very happy! That market was in Crested Butte, which is a very affluent, but not cash carrying, community.

    Some marketing tips.

    • If you run out of bread before the end of the market, you lost sales!
    • Every market is different - what sells like gangbusters in one market, you can't give away in another so start with a variety of breads and track what sells, do more of what works
    • Every market has a threshold price where something goes from being an impulse buy to something they have to think about.
      • At one market, people were reluctant to spend $5 a loaf.
      • At another market they bought 4 loaves at that price at a time, not to mention cases of wines from the booth next to ours.
    • Having items at different prices lets you find where your market's points of pain are.
      • It's easy to reduce prices, but you will face headwinds if you try to raise them.
      • A painless way to try different prices is to issue coupons as people understand they are a short term offer.
        • Make sure you put an expiration date on any coupons or you’ll see them for years!
      • We raised prices at the start of a new market season when we started selling all organic breads to justify the price hike and it was well accepted
    • What people want changes with the seasons, so offer specialty items and seasonal items
    • You can turn leftover bread into something you can sell at the next market - bread pudding, croutons, bread crumbs
    • Most sales happen in the first, and last, hour of the market.
    • Give samples if you are allowed to do so - people who try are people who buy (why do you think Sam's, Costco and BJ's give out samples?)
    • There are no problems, only opportunities!
      • We didn't have a bread slicer when we started selling at the farmers market. People wanted sliced bread. So, we started selling Rada bread knives for about $11 each. This was a decade ago, prices may have changed, but we only paid half that for the knives. Rada also has great bagel and tomato knives and both sell well at the market.... Rada also has a lifetime warranty.
    • If you have leftovers, at many farmers markets you can trade them with other vendors for their leftovers - peaches, apples, asparagus, beans, steaks, whatever is available - most markets have lots of last minute trading. Would you rather take home 20 loaves of bread or two steaks, several ears of corn, a pound of beans, and some peaches?

    That covers the highlights of selling through a farmers market. We really loved selling through our farmers markets and we think you will too!

    Next time, we'll talk about Bread of the Week Clubs, and then we'll (finally) talk about actually baking!

    Until next time, may your dough always rise, no matter what you've been doing to your starter lately!

    May 13, 2018 - Making a recipe your own–So you want to have a home bakery, Part 1–it seems in every class someone thinks that our recipes, or formulas, were carved into stone tablets on Mt. Sinai and that they MUST NOT be changed in any way. I go to the other extreme – they aren’t your recipes until you change them! There are lots of reasons to change recipes. Here are some -

    The recipe doesn’t work! - it’s easy to blame the recipe author and say that they must not know what the heck they are talking about when a recipe doesn’t work. More years ago than I care to admit I was visiting my then girlfriend (and now wife) in Galveston. At the time I was living in a coop in Austin where my job was to fix dinner on Sunday evenings. So, after looking at different recipes I selected "Fish en Crote" (red fish in Brioche) recipe. We went to a fish monger and got a nice red fish and put it on ice. We went to the local grocery and got some flour, butter, eggs, yeast and containers to raise the dough.

    The recipe assured me that the dough would take 4 hours to rise, and checking Google Maps shows it should be a 3 ½ to 4 hour drive. It sounds like it should work for me, and that the dough would be risen about the time I got to Austin. Emboldened, I mixed the dough, put in the rising bowl on the floorboard of the front passenger’s seat, loaded the car and headed out.

    An hour later, I looked at the bowl and realized I had a crisis on my hands. The dough had risen SO much it was about to overflow and hit the floorboards! I pulled off, kneaded the dough, and hit the road again.

    This happened three more times before I made it to Austin.

    What terminal incompetent had written that fatally flawed recipe? Julia Child. It’s in her “Julia Child and Company” cookbook. Hmmm.. maybe it wasn’t REALLY her fault? Maybe her Massachusetts kitchen is cooler than my car with no air conditioning in a Texas summer?

    As an after note, the dinner turned out very nicely. It’s a great recipe, despite my issues more than 40 years ago.

    At this point, I no longer expect a bread recipe will work the first time out. My sourdough starter isn’t the same as the author’s. I may be using different flour. My kitchen isn’t the same as the author’s. And my water is definitely different. How many other things that we just take for granted are different? When I read the instructions and see that the author has a long, finicky, precise and involved way to prepare dough do I follow their directions or go off with what has always worked for me?

    And when the recipe doesn’t work, what do I do? Curse the author? Admit defeat and Google for a better recipe? Or look at the results and try to make the bread better? I hope you’ll take that last option, it is the way you’ll learn the most!

    The recipe worked well enough, but it’s not what I really wanted! You wanted rolls with a crisp crust and the crust is soft. You wanted a green olive bread but the recipe called for black olives. You want to use spelt and the recipe calls for wheat. The recipe calls for overnight fermentation at 48F and your refrigerator is at 34F.

    OH! What Ever Shall I Do? Cope. Experiment. Try to change things to make the bread one you want.

    As long as you are married to the recipe, you are married to its results. You can bake at a higher temperature to get a crispy crust, or add some steam to the oven, or reduce the oils in the recipe.

    So many changes are trivial. Feel the dough as you make the bread. Pay attention to what it is telling you. Adjust as needed.

    Take notes so you can repeat your successes, and fine tune the process. Many of our breads took a long time to nail down. Some we’re still refining. Live in the process and trust yourself. As Brother Dominick used to say, “It’s only dough, it will forgive you!”

    The recipe was great, but I want to kick it up another notch! One of my favorite upgrades is to replace cinnamon with cardamom. Cardamom is a lovely, and underused, spice. Two of our favorite breads are attempts at kicking it up another notch. We took a nice white bread and added about a head of peeled and roasted garlic and a bit more sharp cheddar cheese, kneaded it in, baked it and called it “Garlic Head Bread”. Then we roasted a similar amount of jalapeño peppers and again added more sharp cheddar. This one is called “Pepper Belly Bread”. Why did we roast the garlic and peppers? Several reasons. They taste better after roasting. And if you don’t roast them they impair the dough’s rise. You learn by doing and playing.

    When we were making croissants, our pastry chef decided to use roasted Hatch Green Chilies in the croissants. Then she added ham to some, and cheese to others. All were very successful. What is successful? There are two parts, the first is do we like it, the second is do customers like it enough to buy it and ask us to make more.

    So, you want a home bakery, part 1 And that brings us to the first chapter of the “So, you want a home bakery?” saga. Many people want to sell in farmers markets. We’ve been there, we’ve done that, and we can help you over some of the hurdles. The first place to start is with -

    State Laws - In a college philosphy class we read a Russian short story about a man who was set upon by ruffians and chained. He could barely move any of his limbs. But he taught himself to walk, and even became a popular acrobat - still in his chains. The moral of the story is that we are all free, within the limitations that bind us. It isn't clear why someone didn't remove the chains from him. Then again, it's been 45+ years since I read the story and someone may well have freed him - but since it was a Russian story, the outcome of that act of kindness couldn't have been good.

    The reason for mentioning this is that there are many restrictions placed on those who would provide food services. And they vary from state to state and city to city. And they are apt to change with every meeting of your state legislature. The rules covering home production of food are generally called "cottage food laws."

    Cottage food laws govern what you may prepare for sale, which varies from state to state. And the laws can be quite specific. In Texas, you may prepare pickled cucumbers, but no other pickled food (the lack of pickled okra and pickled eggs is a grievous lack for many a good ol’ boy!) Still, that may change the next time the legislature meets.

    Cottage food laws may restrict what equipment you may use. In some states you may only use equipment that was sold for home use. However, in some of those states, the health department is specifically barred from inspecting your home so no one will ever know about the 50 quart mixer or the huge commercial oven in your garage. In some states you may not use any area of your house but the same kitchen in which you prepare food for your family, so you can't turn your garage into a commercial kitchen.

    In some states there are limits as to how much you can sell in a year. In some states there is a gross sales limit, such as $50,000 in gross sales. In some other states, there is a limit of how much of any one product you may sell in a year, such as $15,000 per product or $15k of pepper belly bread, $15k of garlic head bread, $15k of cinnamon rolls and so on. The laws don’t HAVE to make sense.

    In some states, there are limits on where you may sell. Some require you sell in your home only. Others bar that and require you to sell at a farmers market. Some allow you to sell through resellers (such as grocery stores and health food stores) and other prohibit it.

    Confused yet? Me too! You don’t want to be on the wrong side of the law as in many states your kitchen gear can be confiscated. Needless to say, this email can't advise you about the laws in all 50 states. So, your first step is to find out what the laws are in your area. There are a number of good web sites with summaries. If you are in doubt, ask your county extension agent for guidance. Pickyourown.org has a good page on how to find your county agricultural extension agent.

    If the links below don’t work, Google “state cottage food laws”. Here are a few links - PickYourOwn is a site geared more towards gardeners, but they have a good summary of state laws.

    Forager.com also has a good summary of state laws - just click on your state in their map

    If you are in Texas, Kelley Masters' web site, Texas Cottage Food Law, is a treasure trove of information. Ms. Masters was one of the people who really got the cottage food laws passed in Texas, and we all owe her a big vote of thanks! You might buy her cookbook to thank her.

    Some questions you'll need to answer for your state:

    • Do you need a license
    • Do you need special training
    • Do you need a sales tax permit (this question will arise again...)
    • What equipment may you use
    • May you use a commercial kitchen as well as your own
    • Must you use a commercial kitchen
    • What foods may you sell
    • What foods may you not sell
    • Are there limits on how much money you can make, and how are the limits measured
    • Can you advertise, can you advertise on line
    • Can you take orders on line
    • Can you accept payment on line
    • Where can you sell your goods
    • Can you deliver your goods
    • Can you have employees help make the food
    • Can you have employees help sell the food
    • Can you have employees help deliver the food
    • What are the labeling requirements for your products
    • Do you need insurance (maybe not, but you should probably get some anyway)
    • Are there city or county restrictions as well as state ones (in some states the laws bar local entities from getting in the cottage food producer's business)

    Each of these questions has implications. For example, in some states you may only sell from your home. What's the implication? Let's pull some number out of the air and say you want a gross income of $15,000 a year and that you sell your bread for $5.00 a loaf. That means you'll need to sell 3,000 loaves of bread in the year. And that means about 58 sales per week, and that means that somewhere between 29 and 58 people you may not really know will be coming to your house. Are you comfortable with that? You could make sure you have a receiving room for customers so they don't get into the rest of your house. While strangers in the house is a major issue for some people, others aren't put off by this influx of strangers. Again, check your local laws and think about the implications for you and your comfort level.

    Some selling options - state laws govern what you may do, so some of the options listed below might not be applicable where you are.

    A bread of the week club How it works - the idea is like a book of the month club. Every week the subscribers get a loaf of bread. They can sign up for more loaves depending on how much bread they want. You can, like the book of the month club, have a standard loaf each week. This week rye, next week cinnamon raisin and so on. You can provide an alternate bread offering. If you're a tech whiz and this is legal where you are, you can have people select their breads on line. Or you can include a sheet describing the next week's breads in each order so they can email, call or fax you. We had a bread club during the farmers market off season (more about farmers markets below) and it worked well for us. We also found very few people selected the alternate bread.

    You may deliver the breads or have people pick them up. We found delivery took less time because we sat around all day waiting for people to show up and pick up their bread and some people just forgot. Delivery was over in two hours. You may want to restrict your delivery area - it's not worth driving 30 miles to deliver a loaf of bread. One bread club we saw specialized in high rise apartment buildings - with one stop he could deliver dozens of loaves of bread!

    Look for tie-in products - If you can sell your own preserves, you can offer them. If you can’t make your own preserves, or can't sell them in your state, you could resell someone else’s.

    We made a fair sum of money selling Rada brand knives. The knives have a lifetime warranty, are sharpened by a knife smith, and while not pretty they are very sharp. They also give you about a 100% markup. In the early 2000’s, we bought their bread knives for about $5.50 and sold them for $11.00. How good are they? A customer bought one of their tomato knives one week and wanted 10 more the next week to give to friends. A friend’s bagel shop in Chicago uses their bagel knives and they have outlasted many very expensive knives. The real message here isn’t “sell Rada knives” though that IS a good idea, the real message is look for tie ins that can increase your sales. And this will be a recurring message. What else can you do to make money?

    Marketing the bread of the week club - if your neighborhood has a Facebook user group, you might mention on that page that you're offering bread. Depending on local laws, you can put door hangers advertising your business. One friend put flyers on all the doors in a high rise apartment complex and got LOTS of business. People want well made artisanal bread. Use customer referrals - we offered a free week's bread to people who got their friends to sign up and stay with us for a few months. Some companies, like cable companies, limit how many freebies a customer can get. Our view was, "we don't care if you never have to pay for our bread again - we want more business!"

    Selling out of your home – this is fairly obvious. However, you may want to set up your home with an entryway that will keep people from marching into your home depending on your level of insecurity. From where I sit, I’d do this only if there was no other choice as it ties up too much time.

    Having stores sell your product – this could be tricky as many stores would be reluctant to sell a home made product even if it is legal. We sold through several health food stores in Colorado, but we were registered as a wholesale bakery. One took the bread we couldn’t sell at the farmers market and sold it. This was great for us as it reduced the dangers of over production. We’ll stress this again later, but if you sell out of bread before the end of the market, you lost sales. If you have bread left over, you lost money. However, leftovers are usually the less expensive, but more visible, error.

    Selling at farmers market – I'm sorry we teased you with this topic, but it can be quite complicated and this mailing is already a bit too long. We’ll get further into farmers markets next week.

    Until next time, may your dough always rise, no matter whose recipe you used – or what you did to it! -Mike