Monday, 27 June 2011

All sold out at Picnic in the Park

I think the gods must have been smiling down on us yesterday because it was a glorious day in Queens Park for our second Brighton Bakery cake stall.  The sun shone all day as the harmonies of the Brighton Beach Boys sang out from the central stage and the families flocked in with their picnic blankets to fill the park in their hundreds.

While this story has a happy ending, it didn't start out so well.  Our last minute treasure hunt for a gazebo on Friday was utterly essential on the day but that morning it seemed to take forever to build.  Maybe investing the the more expensive concertina one would have been a better bet on reflection...

And while the park was packed to the brim with people, nobody seemed to be buying anything.   What was also a bit frustrating was that out of the 50 stalls there, 10 of them were selling cakes.  By 2pm I was getting really worried as we'd hardly sold anything and from chatting to the other stallholders around us we weren't the only ones.  Looking around the park people had brought tuppawares of food from home and didn't need to buy from us.  Melissa and I prepared ourselves that we were going to have to bring a lot of cake home.

But we just needed to have a little faith.  Cake o'clock hit at around 3pm and trade really picked up - over the next 3 hours we sold out of practially everything we had brought with us.  Result!

We gave away quite a few sample tasters and discounted the prices at the end of the day, which when I was totting up the totals today made quite a difference in the amount of money we could have made - it would have been so good if we had made it past the £100 mark.  But I think samples are important and we managed to double the amount of profit we made at the Kemptown Carnival with a third less stock - a real achievement.  We also gave out plenty of business cards and got some great feedback from the people that tried our cakes so there's not really much more we could have asked for.

The one thing I would have changed is going for a few pints to celebrate without eating dinner - I've really been paying for it with my hangover today... ;o)

So all that's left for me to say is a massive thank you to everyone that came and supported us and tried our cakes yesterday - hope you enjoyed them!


Saturday, 25 June 2011

Bakeathon for Picnic In The Park tomorrow

Yes the time is nigh and I've got my apron on and sleeves rolled up for a full marathon day of baking in preparation for tomorrow's market stall.  Already ticked off the list are the Sticky Jamaican Ginger Cake, Cinnamon and Courgette Cake and Nigella's delicious Italian Almond and Carrot Cake, and as I write there is a Luscious Lemon Trickle Cake rising nicely in the oven.
As you may have come to expect from me, this is no ordinary Lemon Cake I'm baking.  The surprise ingredient in this one is.... mashed potato.  I admit, this may sound like a cake catastrophe in the making, but I trialled the recipe as a thank you gift for our lovely friends Sheena and Nathan at the weekend and it was a real success.  The potato keeps the cake beautifully moist and it also happens to be naturally gluten free which is a bonus for the stall tomorrow. 

Even though this cake's a winner on the plate, getting it there is another matter.  This recipe is like a naughty toddler that doesn't want to do what it's told.  Perhaps it was the fact I was trying to make the cake with a hangover the morning before we were off on a 4 night camping trip and still hadn't packed that was the problem.  The mixture kept splitting when I added the eggs and I had to employ my secret trick of using the hairdryer to warm the outside of the bowl of the mixer to help it emulsify (this was advocated by my tutor at pastry school so I'm not completely barking!).  Then the mixture took about half an hour longer to cook than the recipe said it would and so it helped make us nearly an hour late to meet our friends for lunch.  I gave it some stern words that it had better behave as I strapped it in to the back seat of the car and prayed that it would be good on the 4 hour drive to Wales. 

Luckily it was and Sheena and Nathan seemed to love it.  Potato is such a mild flavour that you really can't detect it at all and it gives it a wonderful texture.  But if you're still a sceptic why not come by tomorrow afternoon to Queen's Park and try a slice?!

It's nearly ready to come out the oven so I must sign off and get back to the kitchen - 48 muffins, 32 brownies, 16 flapjacks and a Wholemeal Honey Cake still to go :o)

Monday, 13 June 2011

More recipe trials - eggless chocolate cupcakes

To the untrained eye, it might seem like I am trying to avoid redecorating the spare bedroom today, but since the oven was already hot from the Sunshine Marmalade Flapjacks coupled with the fact it gave me an excuse to use my lovely birdie cup measures, I decided to tackle an intriguing vegan chocolate cake recipe I found on the internet yesterday.

There are quite a few versions of this cake on various websites, but the Suzanne Martinson recipe I plumped for was highly recommended on a forum so I figured it must be a good one.  What's handy is that you're likely to have all the ingredients in your cupboard already, even the egg substitute, which by the way is vinegar.  Yep, I agree it sounds disgusting, but if you know me by now, this only made me more curious to try it.  I already have quite a few cake recipes on the list for the next market so I thought I would try this recipe as cupcakes instead.

Try as I might, I just couldn't imagine how using cider vinegar in place of eggs in a cake recipe could possibly taste good let alone still deliver the indulgent richness a good chocolate cake really needs.  But like Alice down the rabbit hole I went and if they were going to go wrong then nobody needed to know.  The first thing I was pleasantly rewarded with was how simple and quick it was to make the batter - no bingo wing busting creaming butter and sugar, no worrying about the mixture curdling as you add the eggs, just sift together the dry ingredients, stir together the wet ingredients then mix.  Easy peasy.  Then finally add the magic ingredient of  the cider vinegar which curiously fizzes up as it reacts with the baking soda and makes you feel slightly like a mad scientist.  Then the only stressful bit is making sure you get the mixture in the oven as quickly as possible after adding the vinegar.

I was suprised that the cakes rose much better than I had expected in the oven, and just 20 minutes later I was rewarded with 11 brunette beauties (in hindsight a couple were overfull so this mix would make 12 comfortably). 

Because I have the winning combination of being both greedy and impatient I had to try one while it was still hot from the oven.  Curiouser and curiouser, these cakes are really good!  Who would have thought it.  I might even go as far as saying they are better than most chocolate cakes I've tried - they're moist, rich and chocolatey, not too heavy and you would never know they were made with vinegar instead of eggs.  I also tried one once they had cooled down in the name of quality control and can confirm that yep they are still yummy. 

I have to say though, the raspberry and chocolate glaze that Suzanne recommends for the top is pretty horrible and I'm glad I tasted it before ruining the cakes with it.  I don't think it really needs a glaze in any case.  I might consider adding some dark chocolate chips though for a bit of added texture.

So my only dilemma now is whether I promote these cakes as vegan on the stall - will this put non-vegan people off buying one?  I'll have to put my thinking cap on again to come up with a good name :o)

Exciting news & marmalade flapjacks recipe trials

I must start this post by sharing some very exciting news.  A few weeks ago, Melissa and I entered the First Pitch competition for new businesses run by the National Market Traders' Federation.  We are thrilled that we have just qualified for the first round and have been given five days' free test trading at Worthing Outdoor Market - every Wednesday from 29 June.  During this time the NMTF will assess us to see if we are good enough to be one of the 50 shortlisted businesses to go through to the next round, which will give us a whole year's trading at reduced rates with invaluable on-site mentoring from the NMTF.  At the end of the year the overall winner will receive £2000 so I now have even more pressure on finding the right recipes for this and our upcoming stall at the Picnic in Queen's Park a week on Sunday.

So today's recipe trial is for Lemon Marmalade Flapjacks.  Now these were delicious and went down a storm at the Kemptown Carnival a couple of weeks ago, so why mess with a good thing?  Well I was hoping that I might be able to substitute the butter in the recipe for sunflower oil so that they would be suitable for vegans.  But would they still taste as good?

After some fruitless scouring on the internet about how to substitute oil for butter in a recipe (and using vegan margarine just didn't seem right) I just decided to go with my gut instinct.  So here's my adapted version of Dan Lepard's original marmalade flapjack recipe:

Sunshine Marmalade Flapjacks (makes 16)

200g dried apricots
200ml sunflower oil
125g dark soft brown sugar
150g lemon marmalade (try my recipe for Sunshine Marmalade)
Finely grated zest of 3 lemons
2 scant tbsp black treacle
400g rolled oats

1. Chop the apricots into chunks about the size of raisins and cover boiling water.  Set aside for 10 minutes then drain off the excess liquid.
2. Heat your oven to 180C (160 fan-assisted) and line a baking tray with foil - 25cm square is ideal.
3. Heat the oil in a large saucepan, add the brown sugar, lemon marmalade, lemon zest and treacle, and bring just to a boil. Remove from the heat and stir in the oats and drained apricots until well mixed. 
4. Spoon the mixture into the tin and squish it down evenly, making sure it fills all the corners (incidentally when I did my trial I made 1/2 the quantity and just filled up to halfway across the tin and the mixture was completely well behaved and remained in fat flapjack yumminess).
5. Bake in the middle of the oven for about 25 minutes, until lightly coloured at the edges. Dan says that the timing is slightly tricky to get right - if you bake it too long, the flapjacks turn rock hard when cold; bake it too little and they crumble - I did mine for 27 minutes and they were perfect.
6. Remove from the oven and cut into squares in the tin once they are cooled a little but still warm.

And the verdict?  Well, adopting my favourite Larry David accent, I have to say these were pretty pretty good.  The lemony treacliness gives these flapjacks such a lovely flavour that you don't miss the butter.  All in all I don't see any reason why these can't be made with sunflower oil going forwards - it has the added bonus of being vegan, lower in saturated fat and easier on your wallet!

Sunday, 12 June 2011

Recipe trials - Venetian Carrot Cake

Although I was really pleased with our debut stall success at the Kemptown Carnival last week, a couple of the cakes and treats I made were virgin outings and hadn't turned out quite as I had hoped.  With this in mind and with our upcoming market stall at the Picnic in Queens Park on Sunday 26 June Melissa and I made a pact that we would test every recipe first before selling to the public.  We also want to add a few more recipes suitable for people with food intolerences and special diets so we can offer something for everyone.  So baggy trousers at the ready, Melissa's on tasting duty and I'm back in the kitchen on a market stall mission.

Despite being the author of our worst selling recipe at the last market, I've decided to give Nigella another chance, and first up in the recipe trials is her Venetian Carrot Cake, which also happens to be naturally gluten free and dairy free.  I hate the idea of using artificial or substitute ingredients to make it suitable for those with intolerances so I'm pleased to have found this recipe which doesn't require any.  Now if you're imagining a tall and proud triple layered cake slathered with rich cream cheese frosting then you might be in for a suprise.  This is a carrot cake of a completely different breed.  It's handsome and elegant, unassuming and not at all show-offish, but boy is it delicious.  Rich, moist and almondy, studded with booze-soaked sultanas and rounded off with lemon zest and the comforting spice of nutmeg, Melissa and I both agree it's a real winner.

But it's not just about the taste.  They say the first bite is with your eyes and I'm not sure that people would be instantly invited to buy or licking their lips to try a slice.  We're just going to have to try a little harder to and offer free samples to show Brighton just how good it is. 

I also have a dilemma with the name - Venetian Carrot Cake just sounds pretentious and misleading.  For selling at a market stall... this just ain't a carrot cake. People expecting the flavour of a traditional carrot cake might be disappointed.  But it's so good I think it should be included, just with a little rebranding.  Therefore I open this up to the lovely readers of this blog - if anyone would like to offer a better name please leave me a comment!

Sunday, 5 June 2011

Kemptown Carnival - our first market stall a success!

I have to start off this post with a huge THANK YOU to everyone that came down to support our Brighton Bakery stall at the Kemptown Carnival yesterday.  We had a really great day, met some lovely people and even managed to make a profit so I think we can proudly say that our first market stall was a success.

After a marathon baking session on Friday using as much local produce as possible (sourced from the excellent Park Farm Shop on the outskirts of Brighton) we arrived to set up our stall with over 200 sweet treats for sale.  As this was our first stall we could only guess at how much to bring, but based on 10,000 people coming to the carnival and the hefty £110 stall fee to cover we hoped that 200 was a good number that would at least cover our costs.

We didn't get off to the best start when the table we had hired from the carnival turned out to be 4 times the size we had ordered, but luckily we had a lovely stall neighbours Brighton Peach who lent us a larger tablecloth and we were good to go.

It was a bit slow to begin with, but we figured 10am wouldn't be prime cake buying time (I think I might be in the minority of people that like cake for breakfast).  It was a shame that we were right at the far end of the street so we didn't get anywhere near the footfall of the stalls in the middle, but there's not much we could have done about that.  After lunchtime things really picked up and we had a pretty steady trade throughout the afternoon.  At about 4.30 we dropped our prices which really helped - maybe we had been a bit ambitious with our prices to start off with so we will definitely look at that next time as we did end up bringing a few things back home with us.

We had a few strange looks from people when they realised our cakes were made using vegetables, but once they tried some of the free samples of our beetroot brownies they were won over and they started to fly off the plate and ended up becoming our best seller of the day.  Our Lemon Marmalade Flapjacks and Sticky Jamaican Ginger Cake also went down really well.  But I was surprised that the Chocolate and Banana Muffins didn't really tempt anyone and the Chilli Chocolate Cake (which I thought would be a real winner) didn't sell very well either.  Maybe it was the prices, maybe the portion sizes or maybe it was the choice of products but we will definitely look at changing them next time.  We also had several people come up and ask us if we sold any vegan cakes so I will be doing some research and there will be a vegan option for our next stall.  Speaking of which, the next event we will be at is the Picnic in Queen's Park on 26 June (see how seamlessly I slipped that one in??)

Despite my best Apprentice-style selling efforts dropping everything to £1 for the last 20 minutes we did have quite a lot leftover so anyone stopping by at ours in the next couple of days will be leaving with a goodie bag of treats.  And even though we had leftovers, we managed to sell more than £200 worth of cakes which covered the cost of the stall and ingredients and gave us a small profit.  If we take into account my labour costs for baking and Melissa and my costs for running the stall on the day then it's not very impressive, but this was always going to be a learning experience and we knew we were never going to make a huge profit.  It was also about more than making money - we wanted to get our name out to promote the bespoke cake side of the business and as a marketing tool I think it went very well.  Lots of people picked up cards, we made a few contacts and I even got 2 minutes on the radio to plug our business so I think we can be pretty pleased with that.

So lessons learned, bring on the next stall!

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Brighton Bakery at Kemp Town Carnival this Saturday!

I am very excited to announce that Brighton Bakery will have it's first stall at the Kemptown Carnival this Saturday 4 June.  As I write this post the delicious aromas of a Sticky Jamaican Ginger Cake that's in the oven right now are filling the kitchen and I will have to do my best not to eat all the produce before it gets to market ;o)

All our cakes will have a bit of a twist (as you may have picked up from reading this blog) - expect appearances from my Beetroot Brownies, Peanut Butter & White Chocolate Blondies and Apple Crumble Muffins as well as some new recipes including a Latin American Chilli Chocolate Fudge Cake I can't wait to make.

If you're in the area it's free to get in so please come along and show your support - if you're not able to make it then wish us luck and do a dance for the weather gods to pray for sunshine :o)

See you there!  x