Friday, January 30, 2004


Well, I suppose we'll just have to get busy writing our legislators.

HB2116, being introduced this session, will impose a $2.00 per gallon tax on soda syrup such as is dispensed through the soda machines in restaurants. That can impose a burden of more than $100.00 a day on some restaurants - it equals a 2¢ per 12 ounces dispensed product tax in addition to the 8.7 something % sales tax.

Although I haven't found the pending legislation for it yet, there is a bill being introduced this session that will impose a tax on filing taxes.

Other taxes that will adversely effect opening the Cracked Cauldron include the increase in gasoline taxes - deliveries will increase because it will cost them more to deliver. It may also affect our decision to deliver our baked goods around town.

When the taxes become so high on something that people will avoid it, it's a hint that something's wrong with the tax system.

I wouldn't normally discuss politics on this bakery blog, but these decisions may seriously effect our business plans, and how we will be structuring our business. Our pricing plans.

Needless to say, we will be tracking these pieces of legislation, and any others we see that could adversely effect us.

Sad to say, I didn't see any pending legislation that would help us.

Thursday, January 29, 2004

More On King Cakes 

We've been asked to supply King Cakes to the doctor's lounge at the teaching hospital, the photographer's, and the county health department.

Yanno, if for some reason (and lack of money is the only reason we forsee intervening at this point - well, and death, but death is always a possibility) we can't open this bakery, there will be a lot of disappointed people.

We have a list of 53 King Cakes to make between now and Mardi Gras. We have a weekly order of 7 loaves of Bacon Bread (the maximum we can make without a commercial kitchen), and a weekly standing order of a cake or pie for the teacher's lounge and the bank, and anything at all for the Latin class. Then, there are the cookies for the Senior Center. And the sandwiches and soup we make and deliver for the homeless every week. That's about the maximum we can handle.

The orders are done for cost only (or a little less), since we are not in business yet.

Oddly enough, the price may go down once we buy ingredients at wholesale prices instead of the current retail, even buying in bulk as we do for flour, sugar, salt, and yeast.

Wednesday, January 28, 2004

Chief Flour Monkey 

We hired our first employee today. She has extensive experience in operating a bakery, has helped with the start-up and opening of a bakery before, takes orders very well, and our pay is better than competitive. She won't actually go on the payroll until next January, she already understands that. I can keep her informed because she works on the same campus I do, and I see her daily. We've been discussing this bakery for almost a year now, so she's been involved since the beginning.

Having her as an employee will look very good for our start-up loan request.

That and Manager will be working this summer in several bakeries for the experience of it.

Later this spring, she'll spend a week working in a Texas bakery.

I will name and refer to her as Chief Flour Monkey, Chief for short.

In less than a week, it will be 10 months to our loan, and 14 months to opening.

Tuesday, January 27, 2004


Having discovered the most wonderful donuts in town, we will not provide donuts in our bakery.

Bagels - maybe. The bagelries that were once so popular have declined, many going out of business altogether. There is still, however, a desire for good bagels. So, maybe we ought to offer a few bagels among our buns and rolls.

Not too many, and not too fancy - egg bagels, plain bagels, onion bagels. Those seemed the most popular, and those are the ones people mention when we ask.

Donuts, however, require specialized equipment to cook and glaze. It seems - redundant - to try to make donuts when someone else makes really really good donuts. Especially since they are located just down the street from the locations we've been investigating.

Besides, donuts are a morning or very late night food. Since we will not be open mornings, it makes no sense for us to offer donuts.

Like any other sensible people, we will buy our donuts from The Best Donuts Shop.

They want our pies and rolls. So, it will work out well.

Their donuts are soooo good.

Yes, we could probably make donuts every bit as good (or better), but why? It's not part of our menu, equipment purchase plans, or business plans.

I don't think there is any point at which we will be offering donuts.

Monday, January 26, 2004

Angel Food Cakes 

Use up an awful lot of eggs. Even the dogs tired of yolks. We froze a bunch, and still had many many yolks left.

But I must say, freshly made angel food cake is worth all those egg whites, and the desperate search for yolk uses. One of them, of course, is egg yolk paint for sugar cookies. Mardi Gras cookies are especially colorful, so some of the yolk made paint.

The cats, dogs, ferrets, neighbor's dogs, and the wild birds also enjoyed their fill of yolks.

I baked a sour cream bread with an egg yolk salt glaze. That came out surprisingly well.

We've begun the last dash of our financial adjustments to insure qualifying for the loan in - get this - 11 months!

I may have convinced Manager to get a summer job at a bakery so she can see for herself how it's done. I've done my time as a baker when I was younger, and since I don't plan to actually work in the bakery (I have a full time job that I will not quit - one of us needs to be producing income in case of a slow month - or two). I've also done quite a bit of time in fast food, and haute cuisine. I've done management, and cost analyses, and efficiency reports.

My contribution is my money (such as it is), my recipes (which are really good), and my acerbic wit. That last isn't worth anything, it's simply a pleasant bonus.

Friday, January 23, 2004

Chocolate Angel Food Cake 

Tastes like marshmallows.

We'll be experimenting with angel food cake recipes over the weekend.

Mardi Gras King Cakes will be made next week. I'm thinking a lovely cream cheese praline, and that Zulu version.

Thursday, January 22, 2004

Helpful Site 

Thanks to a rather round-aboutation, we found this wonderful site: My Own Business. They offer a very well structured entreprenuerial course on line, with lots of lovely extras. We already had much of this information via mentorship with a local prominent businessman. And we've been implementing them in an apparently haphazard fashion on this blog (it really is more organized than it appears - we just happen to be in our test-marketing phase, which is exciting and quite unpredictable).

But if you don'y have a local businessman who is willing to devote some
time to answering your questions and steering you around, this site gives you everything we got from our mentor - and then some.

We'd like to thank Small Business Trends, from whom we found The Small Business Blog, which is where we found the link to My Own Business.

Who says clicking around will get you nowhere?

Anyway, back to our mentor: He adored franchises, and was forever questioning how we planned to make our bakery a franchise, which did spur certain thoughts. In the end, we've decided franchising is not a viable option for the sort of business we want. We've noticed that the quality becomes static and descends to catering to the common demoninator in bakeries when they are franchised. Bakeries we once loved for their ethnic breads have turned to parbaked and premixed products, and the breads have suffered as a result.

In our research - and our test marketing - we have discovered people adore the personal touch, love the full-bodied ethnic breads, and are willing to pay the price for that sort of enduring quality.

When you have a 72 year old man standing before with tears running down his cheeks because the bread slice you just gave him tastes exactly as he remembers from when he was a little boy growing up in his home country - how could we offer the standardized breads of other bakeries?

When there's a college student who tastes a slice of bread, and starts telling you it's just like the bread she ate on a student exchange program that she thought she'd never find in the US, and offers to buy the rest of the loaf right then to share with her friends - how can we limit ourselves to a few "favorites"?

When someone eats their very first slice of fresh baked bread, the look on their face is priceless, the ecstasy that comes from closed eyes and a smile that won't quit - how can we offer less than our best?

Sure, parbaked bread is convenient. It reduces manhours, and thus lowers employee costs and overhead expenses. But something special is lost.

One of the things we want to bring back is that special touch: the artisan bread, the daily bread, made fresh from scratch. We want to see that look of remembrance, that joy that something once thought lost is found again.

Plus, you know, homeless hungry people don't always get the best. By having the best bread in the city - and soups and desserts - we will be offering a little bit of dignity to them, and maybe an inspiration to help them find a way off the streets and back into a productive (for them) life. We aren't even averse to giving more help in the way of employing them. Sometimes, all they need is for someone to give them a moment of dignity.

Tuesday, January 20, 2004

The Popular King Cake 

Is - oddly enough, one I have no intention of ever making. Rice Krispies and chocolate. Yuck. That's almost as bad as the crawfish ones.

However, a light almond paste filling and a brushed apricot glaze under the Mardi Gras decorations is another good choice.

I experimented with a new type of white bread, made with sour cream and lightly flavored vanilla sugar.

In Germany, the bakers when I grefw up there depended heavily on vanilla sugar (sugar flavored with vanilla) in place of vanilla extract for subtle flavoring enhancement.

That seems to work wonderfully well in breadmaking as well. The bread comes out light, dense enough to slice in very thing slices (my favorite way), soft enough to satisfy the American tongue, with a beautiful light brown crust. I think it might need a bit more fluid, so I'm thinking perhaps the addition of a little buttermilk, or maybe whole milk.

Carrot cake with Frangelico will also be among the "booze cakes" we'll be offering, with an orange cream cheese frosting.

We've started working on our "employee training manual and handbook". This was prompted after several rather disappointing encounters with employees in other eating establishments. They weren't bad, they just weren't quality, and we want quality. Of course, we plan to pay for it, too.

On the list of acceptable behaviors:
1. Greet the customer. There is no need to be all smarmy about it, no embarrassing "Welcome to ---!" shouted out across the room. But, there should be an immediate acknowledgement of the customer - eye contact and a nod at the very least, I prefer to have a smile attached.
2. Assist the customer ASAP. If you're helping another customer, acknowledge the waiting person and get to them quickly. If you're doing anything else, acknowledge to customer, say something to them, and then get to them as quickly as possible - even if you have to stop doing what you're doing - like filling napkin holdres, or salt shakers. The napkins and salt can wait. They aren't going to get mad at you for dropping them to do something else more important. If you're making coffee, or pouring soup into the cauldron, be careful and finish it, letting the customer know you'll be right there - say it loud enough for the customer to hear - no whispering or "baby voices" here. No ambiguity. The customer has to hear the employee.
3. When you are finished and ready to help the customer, greet them with a smile and speak loud enough for them to hear you. Speaking up is highly important. Nothing frustrates me more than to wait on an employee to slowly finish filling containers with packets of Equal then wander over to the cash register and just stand there staring vacuously into space, forcing me to prompt them and ask them if they are finally ready to take my money. The slow, bored look of "Oh, you're still here" and a shrug are not the responce I want to see. That is unforgiveably rude in a business establishment. Any employee of ours that does that will get their pay docked. Too many instances, and they'll be walking out the door with their final paycheck.
4. Cleanliness is Our Friend. When there are no customers present needing help - clean and tidy things up. Water the plants. Pick off dead leaves. Wipe display cases and tables. Even when things are busy a certain minimum level of cleanliness is expected.

You know, those are what impress customers. Quick, friendly service with a smile. Letting the customer know they are important.

After that, knowing the product is essential. The two are about equal, but I know I'm more patient with an employee who's friendly and caring that's a little slow on product information than I am a rude employee. Since we plan to have nutritional information available on all our products, and label the ones that are soy-free, peanut-free, and vegetarian, knowing the answers shouldn't be hard.

We aren't going to teach our employees that the customer is always right, because, quite frankly, they aren't. They know what they want. We know what we have. If the two intersect, great. If they don't, we can go some way to meet what the customer wants. But, this is a food establishment. There are some limits over which we will not cross to please a customer. Those limits are usually imposed by law. And we know the law regarding our business better than they likely will. No matter what the customer says or demands, no matter how right they say they are, if it is illegal, we will not do it. If it is outside our "parameters", we probably won't do it (fried foods, for example, in spite of the Scottish penchant for anything fried).

We have, by popular demand, decided to do a once-a-month Lasagna Day, because there is a surprisingly high demand for my secret recipe lasagna (which would probably horrify any true Italian, as I use absolutely no ricotta or cottage cheese in it).

And that's the results of our weekend of work.

Friday, January 16, 2004

King Cakes 

It's already that time of year when people begin requesting King Cakes. Not to brag or anything, but we make some mighty fine King Cakes.

My favorite is a praline filled, brioche style King Cake. Although, the Zulu King Cake is also yummy - chocolate Bavarian creme filled with a rich chocolate icing and colored coconut topping instead of the more usual colored sugars. Oh, that is sooooo good.

Cream filled and cream cheese filled with assorted fruits have also gained in popularity over the years.

I'm not sure yet if the praline, cream, or cream cheese fillings are popular this year. I have to ask my New Orleans spy.

Anyway, from now until February 24th, I'll be making King Cakes to share around.

I like Mardi Gras, even if I'm not Catholic and don't therefore have to follow it with the Lenten fast.

Wednesday, January 14, 2004


Kahlua in cookies doesn't make a noticeable difference in flavor. Espresso, however, does. The price difference between Kahlua and espresso is considerable, especially if we use the gleanings from the pot to bake cookies. So, coffee flavored cookies will be flavored with real coffee and not a coffee liqueur.

This tidbit of experimental information is brought to you from the working kitchen of Manager, because Moneybags doesn't have either coffee or Kahlua in the house.

But Manager's Chocolate Chip Coffee Cookies with Almonds were tasty. Only a small amount of adjustment is needed to make them near perfect.

I think the addition of cherries might be nice, in place of the almonds.

Tuesday, January 13, 2004

The Manly Stew 

Hehe. There's a Manly Stew competition. I'm tempted to enter it. I can make manly stews all full of hair raising spices and meats, and a few potatoes to soften it. Lima beans are quite the manly food, too. I've met few men who didn't like limas. They like limas better than butter beans, even though the two are closely related and virtually indistinguishable flavor-wise once cooked.

Must be the color thing. Limas are green, butterbeans are yellow.

So, what exactly goes into a "manly stew"?

Meat, of course. Slow barbecued beef, deeply smoked with a dense combination of hickory and pecan, so toothsome it falls into shreds. Small cubes of real German smoked ham. 2 whole onions, nicely caramelized, with destringed celery (women will eat celery with the string in, why won't men?), 4 or 5 cloves of garlic, a habanero, diced tomatoes, lima beans, whole corn (especially if they're still on the cob and cut into "coins" - this just seems to thrill the men around here), new potatoes because they don't get mushy in the stew, bay leaves, salt, pepper, cayenne, Maggi seasoning, chicken broth (it adds depth to the flavor and ties the ham and beef together), and a few other odds and ends of spices (I like adding a touch of cloves, what man doesn't like the bite of clove?).

Maybe we'll make this stew in the winter and actually call it The Manly Stew.

On a more sober note, we've been investigating health insurance alternatives. We're not sure how legal a "pay as you go" system is supplemented by major medical, but it looks like a good plan that isn't as likely to be abused, and may garner better medical care.

We'll see how it flies with the authorities.

Still waiting to hear about the herb issue.

Monday, January 12, 2004

Pound Cake 

Substituting low fat neufchatel for butter in pound cake makes for a yummy moist dense cake.

The calories are quite high, but for those who are watching their fat intake, this is a delicious choice. I think it will become a part of the bakery repertoire. Individual poundcakes can be baked in heart muffin pans for Valentine's Day, and egg shaped ones for equinox celebrations like Easter and Passover and Ostara.

The menu is expanding at a good clip, all tested personal recipes that are different from what anyone else is offering.

Let's see. We have low carb bread - 3 kinds, wheat-free bread - 4 kinds, 2 kinds of salt-free bread, and a slew of artisan breads and sourdoughs, all of which can be made in individual, small and family sized loaves. We have a variety of yummy pies, seasonal as well as year-round. We have several standard cakes and tea cakes. We have dozens of cookie recipes. We have dozens of small pastry recipes. We have a number of savory pies and baked goodies. We have far too many good soup recipes.

We have a number of marketing opportunities to go along with our menu offerings.

We have developed a few carry-out options, from a picnic, to supper, to corporate snacking trays.

A little more work on those savory pies - calzones, empanadas, and the like, and we should have our menu fairly well set.

With our marketing year organized, and menu done, we get to get down to the nitty-gritty.


Oh, sure, we've been accumulating the small stuff all along - specialty cake pans and molds, cookie cutters, rolling pins, knives, knife sharpeners, scissors, decorating tips and tubes, standard pans and baking sheets, stock pots, and the like.

Now we need to look at the big stuff. Floor mixers and counter mixers. Proofing cabinets. Ovens. Sinks. Display counters. Stoves. A computer system and software.

We need to formulate a bake schedule, so we optimize the use of the ovens, and get the product out in a timely fashion.

Then we need to consider the sound system. We will be having live entertainment, so a good sound system is a must, along with a "stage" area.

We're still waiting to hear back about the growing herbs, but that shouldn't take too long.

Wednesday, January 07, 2004

Growing Herbs 

Well, the search is on to find out if there are regulations about growing the herbs we'll be putting in the soup and breads.

So far, the only regulations seem to involve growing herbs to sell. We won't be selling them, so these regulations don't apply.

We will keep digging.

If we find nothing, we will assume it is legal, and begin planning those hanging rosemary bushes and trailing thyme, stands of parsley and dill and fennel, bushes of sage, and planters of nasturtiums and marigolds and chives.

Having these plants growing will add to the charm and ambiance of the bakery, and definitely boost the flavor of our products.

In our timetable, we are 11 months away from formally applying for the start-up loan, with our grand opening scheduled for 2 months after we receive the loan. We're pretty sure we can buy the large equipment and remodel in that time.

We already have some media interest, because last time we dropped "guinea pig goodies" at the school, a reporter was there and overheard us discussing the rating sheet for it. She sampled some, and wants to do a story when we're closer to opening. We told her she'd be invited to the Press Preview, so she could sample the bakery as it would be after opening.

With all this pressure to open NOW, we are finding ourselves working harder to maintain our original timetable. We truly aren't ready to open yet, and the time we take now will make the bakery a better and more stable success.

I wonder if this is one reason why other small businesses fail? They succumb to the pressure to hurry up, and miss important things they should have tended to, then couldn't cope after opening? It has the look and feel of a trap, to speed things up, so we will resist.

Our timeline of what we need to accomplish is a realistic one,a dn it allows for adapation in the event of stumbling blocks and obstacles.

This is particularly true in the face of a totally unanticipated obstacle - a college loan for my youngest child has to be repaid BEFORE he graduates. I was under the totally mistaken impression that college loans weren't due for repayment until after the student graduated or left college. To be forced into repaying it now was a big surprise. Granted, it's not a huge loan, but it is still an unanticipated ongoing expense that may affect our loanability.

We'll see. I should have the college loan almost paid off by the time we apply for the start-up loan

Tuesday, January 06, 2004


Is it too soon to think of landscaping?

All the seed catalogs are arriving, and bludgeoning us with ideas.

See, the Cracked Cauldron is going to be gemuetlich, a place where people want to relax and eat a pastry while sipping coffee and listening to some half-decent amateur musician amid cutesy teapots, cauldrons of all sizes, and plants. Sure, we could go for the usual indoor tropical types of plants, the wandering jews, and airplane plants and such. But don't you think trailing rosemary would be prettier and smell better? Plus, we could harvest it for the breads and soups. Wouldn't a windowbox of feathery dill and curly parsley make a delightful contrast - and delicous addition to the breads and soups? Baskets of nasturtiums would add splashes of all-important color, and provide low cost alternatives to capers in the soups.

Is it legal for us to grow the herbs we add to the food we make?

That's certainly an important thing to look at before we get too much further along.

I didn't see anything about it in the Health Department literature.

I wonder if we have to go to the Department of Agriculture for answers?

That goes on the list of Things Which Must Be Done.

Monday, January 05, 2004

More on Catalogs 

I don't know if it's because we're getting the wrong type of catalogs, or if these are the real prices, but it's distinctly odd when catalogs marked "Wholesale" carry higher prices than I will spend on the same product retail.

Here's an example: The Nordicware Bundt Rose Pan. In retail catalogs, it sells for $29.95. In the wholesale catalogs we've received, it ranges from $21.95 to $24.95. In the retail baker's supply store here in town, I can buy that same pan, same quality, for $13.95. And I don't have to pay shipping and handling charges.

What it works out to is that I can buy twice as much retail here locally than I can wholesale via catalog.

Is this crazy? Or is this really the way wholesale works?

We've been buying the smaller dollar items for the bakery as we go along - baking pans and sheets, stock pots, utensils, "ove gloves" (which, by the way are great if you have big hands, but I slip and slide around inside them so much I'd rather stick with regular mitts - the long armed barbecue style mitts), and teapots, cups, mugs and bowls.

Some people think we should wait until we're ready to buy the big ticket itmes, and buy the dishes all matching at the same time.

Part of the charm and ambiance of the Cracked Cauldron will be its eclecticism. The pots are charming character pots, larger ones for table use, and smaller ones with matching cups for individuals. The coffee mugs have slogans and pictures on them, and the soup bowls are all different as well. I know we aren't open for business yet, but we do occassionally cater (for cost only, no profit just yet) for friends and co-workers and classmates and professors, and the reaction to the mismatched tableware has been an actual increase in demand - people want us to provide "their cup" when we cater, and are more likely to ask us to cater for them if we provide "their cup". It's better than wine charms!

When we do open the Cracked Cauldron, I know we'll have customers who return to us simply because we'll provide their favorite beverage in "their cup", a touch of gemuetlicjheit in an otherwise stressful world.

It's really fascinating to see people's reactions when we tell them about the bakery we're opening. At a local drugstore, they were having a clearance on holiday ornaments, and one was of a bakery - the store manager, in exchange for an invitation to the Pre-Opening Party, gave the bakery the ornament (OK, it was marked down to 75¢, so it wasn't a huge expense), and the antique shop where we've been buying the teapots is now actively searching for them and keeping the best ones back just for us. As a thank-you, we brought her an entire batch of plum yeast cakes (we have to find a nicer name for these little coffee cakes!), and now she really can't wait until we open. She said the cakes were just like her grandmother made when she was little.

Nostalgia, it is our friend.

And have you seen the new carb-blocker chewtabs on the market? Talk about a baker's booster! Not only can we offer low-carb breads, but with customers willing to take these carb-blockers, they will be able to buy a wider range of our goodies.

I'm not terribly sure about the carb-blocker chewtabs - do they really work, what are their side-effects? - but if they are as advertised, then it will be a boon for those who love carbs but are restricting them.

People are pushing us to open sooner, but I really think our slower approach will be better in the long run for the business. We can shake down any problems before they come up and have an action plan to deal with it. We can build good will and trust in the business community and most especially among the financiers upon whom we will depend to provide the large opening costs. And we'll have a stability and momentum going in that will allow us to carry through and make the profits we'll need to stay in business. We also have a growing, dedicated customer base.

Not bad, for two people who didn't know we were doing this a year ago.

It's all coming together like a good bread dough, and you don't rush bread dough. If you do, you get a soggy brick no one wants.

And may I say the Indian spice blend Garam Masala is a great addition to chocolate cake? It gives it a lush, mysterious flavor that keeps people guessing and eating.

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