Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Baking Up A Business Series: Create Your Recipe

All businesses start with an idea.  All great businesses start with a plan.

When starting out on the adventure of business ownership, you need to take the time to develop a plan. When you bake a cake, you follow a recipe.  Same is true when you start a business - you have to follow a recipe.  You can't just dump things together in a bowl, stir it around a bit, then realize to turn on the oven, and just hope and pray it will all turn out fine in the end.  Chances are if you did that with flour, eggs, sugar and butter you would end up with a mess, so why would you think you would yield any other result when starting a business in the same manner?

So you have the statement:  "I want to start a cake business" - now what?  This statement is very broad, what you need is to focus - what is your vision?

What kind of cake business will you offer?

This part takes time - do not skip over it because you want to start picking out your paint colours and equipment.  You need to think about what you are looking to offer in terms of services and style - what is your mission statement? what is your vision?

A mission statement?? Really? "I'm not a corporation, I just bake cakes" .... if that's what is going through your mind, you might as well just end this idea right here and now.  Remember what I had stated earlier - this is a business - just because it involves sugar and creativity doesn't mean it somehow functions in a magical land of icing and sprinkles versus the real world of capitalism and commerce.  

A mission statement sets out the purpose of a company.  The statement will guide the actions and decisions of the company, set forth the goals and provide a clear path on where the company is going.  

Having a solid, sound and tangible vision becomes the anchor to your business.  It's what you will keep coming back to to ensure you are on course.  It is the big picture, but it is also the solid foundation.  A strong vision will aid you in all future decisions.  Is this true to my business? Is this true to my brand? Is this true to my vision. It is your checks and balances - it is vital to your business. 

So your first step in your business recipe is to build your foundation and set your goals.

What kind of cake business will you offer?
Will you offer custom cakes?
Will you offer pre-set catalogue designs?
Will you offer any other baked items? Cupcakes? Cookies? Macarons?
Will you offer cakes for all occasions? Or will you focus on weddings only?
What will your overall style be?
Will you focus on luxury? Sophistication? Whimsical? Graphic? Modern?
Will you be looking for a retail location?
Will you be offering wholesale or retail only?
Who is your target audience?

So again, what kind of cake business will you offer? 

This is the time to sit down and plan - the devil is in the details.  Write down everything that comes to mind.  Review it.  Rework it.  Rewrite it.  Keep it.  Create it.  Destroy it.

This process will take time, but its going to be your business recipe, the one that you will follow, the one that you will always fall back on - it's your tried and true recipe to success.  Sure over time you may play with it, tweak it, add things to it, take things away, but it's still the core to your business and what will guide you in the years to come.  This step is at the heart of your business, everything else that comes after is simply frosting and decorations, but you still need a solid amazing cake to build upon. 

 Create Your Recipe ... for success.

This is the most crucial first step to any successful business - creating your recipe, i.e.: building your business plan. 
Without a business plan , you will not have a vision of where you are, where you are going, and how you will get there.  Most people skip this step because they find it too boring, too much work, too slow, etc.  Building a business takes time, building a successful business takes effort.  If you jump in with your eyes closed, you may be successful but chances are very slim, and at what costs? Your business plan once completed will either encourage you to move forward, or demonstrate that more thinking and more development is needed before proceeding.  It will also be extremely helpful should you be looking to the banks or investors for loans (but that's another story).  Do your homework, do your research.  Be pragmatic.  Be sensible.  Dream, then work for the dream. 

Overwhelmed? Don't be.  Just take it one step, one day at a time.

Need more help?  Here are several websites with more information about starting a business and writing a business plan: 

Starting a small business in Ontario - Ontario.ca  

Restaurant Start-Up Guide from Canada Business Network

Writing Your Business Plan from Canada Business Network

BDC Business Plan Templates

ScotiaBank's guide to writing a business plan

Bank of Montreal's Small Business Centre

CIBC's Guide to Business 

TD Bank Business Planner 

RBC Royal Bank Business Resources

This is just the beginning of a long process....but the reward is sweet!  Stay tuned for more!

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Baking with Buttermilk

photo credit: Jason Chow Photography

For most of my cakes, I prefer baking with buttermilk over milk - I love the texture and taste buttermilk gives to a cake.  However, although I love buttermilk, I don't often love shopping for it.  
At most grocery stores, it's only available in 1L cartons - and sometimes you find it, sometimes you don't, sometimes it has a long expiration date, sometimes a week or less!  It can become quite a nuisance when you bake to order and you suddenly get a last minute request but you are out of buttermilk, or you buy more than you need and end up tossing out half the container because it goes past due.  Yes you can freeze buttermilk - best to do it in small amounts which can thaw easily, but again that's a nuisance.

Recently we brought in dry buttermilk powder - all the essence and qualities of buttermilk but in dry form just waiting to be reconstituted.  Now I have buttermilk on hand whenever I need it - I can make a little or a lot depending upon my needs - no waste! And this is true buttermilk like the product from days gone by - it is the residue left over from making sweet cream butter, and then dried into powdered form.  Today's commercial buttermilk is cultured, i.e.: it is milk with an addition to it to create a buttermilk taste & texture.  For more info about buttermilk, see this Wikipedia post

So what can you use buttermilk for? It is excellent in baked goods; from muffins, to quick breads, to cakes - it gives an amazing texture & flavour to your baked items.  Here's a quick non-cake related recipe in which buttermilk is the star - Irish Soda Bread.  This bread is VERY easy to make, takes less than 5 minutes to prepare, can be on the table in 45 minutes, tastes amazing and has 4 simple ingredients!  It's homemade and your family will think you hit a home run!  Try it!

Irish Soda Bread
adapted from finecooking.com 


3 1/2 cups all purpose flour
3/4 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 1/2 - 1 3/4 cups buttermilk

To make 2 cups of buttermilk: 
Mix together 6 1/2 tbsp (62.5g) buttermilk powder with 450mL water

One amazingly delicious 6"-7" round loaf

1-8 depending! :)

Using the centre rack of the oven, pre-heat the oven to 450F and lightly flour a rimmed baking sheet

In a large mixing bowl, sift together all your dry ingredients.  Make a well in the centre of your flour mixture and pour in 1 1/2 cups of buttermilk.  Using one hand, stir together, incorporating all the ingredients.  If too dry, add additional buttermilk 1 tbsp at a time until the dough just comes together.  This dough is soft, do not overwork the dough.

Turn the dough onto a floured surface, gently knead together and shape into a round about 6"-7" in diameter and 1 1/2" high at the centre point.  Flip the bread round over so that the floured side is face up.  With a sharp knife, score a cross in the dough - from one side to the other about 1/4" deep.

Place dough on the baking sheet and bake for 15 minutes.  After 15 minutes, lower the temperature to 400F and bake until bread is golden brown and sounds hollow when you tap on the bottom - approximately 20-30 minutes. 

Best if allowed to cool for approximately 2 hours prior to slicing and serving .... if you can wait that long!

Get creative: add raisins, herbs, chopped chocolate, caramelized onions, currants, dried cherries, crystallized ginger, olives - experiment & have fun!

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Baking Up A Business - NEW Series!

Hello everyone!

I know it's been a long time since I have posted - life always gets in the way doesn't it?  I have been working on a new series of blog posts called "Baking Up A Business".  In this series I will be discussing the "ingredients" you will need to have when starting up your cake or baking business.  

Here's the intro:

Baking Up A Business

"Building a business is like baking a cake.  It takes a combination of the right ingredients to make it perfect."

The business of cake is not unlike any other business - the key word is that it's a business.  Whether or not you have talent, skill, fabulous ideas, and amazing products - you still need the proper foundation to build your business.  Just like a cake, a business requires a combination of the right ingredients to produce a fabulous end result.  No two businesses are exactly alike - why?  Because it is YOU which makes it unique.  Your talent, your skills, your mindset - all make your business stand apart from the others.  However, just like a cake needs flour, sugar, butter, and eggs - all successful businesses do have the same common foundation which allow them to build and grow.

Want more?  Keep watching over the coming weeks!

Thursday, January 17, 2013

20 Questions to ..... Lisa Bugeja

Recently I had the pleasure & honour to be interviewed by the talented Bettina Schliephake Burchardt of Cake Pirate.  Bettina is the talent behind Betty's Sugar Dreams - she has a whimsical style full of humour and charm.  I've known Betty for many years via online cake forums and was happy to finally meet her in person a few years ago when she attended our first class with Ron Ben-Israel.  After meeting her in person you can see why her cakes & figures are so fun - her personality is infectious!

Betty & Me back in 2010

Recently she began an online e-zine for cake decorators called Cake Pirate.  Each issue is filled with tutorials and great information.  Also each month, Betty includes a feature called "20 Questions to" in which she interviews talented cake artists from around the globe.

Betty's questions are great - they really make you think and reading the responses from people like Ron Ben-Israel, Elisa Strauss, and Debbie Brown is quite informative & entertaining.  To be included amongst such talent is an honour.

If you haven't already subscribed to Cake Pirate, I highly recommend it!

I asked Betty if I could share my interview with everyone, so you could all get a glimpse into my world.... here it is - and thank you Betty for including me!

20 Questions to: Lisa Bugeja

1. when did you start cake decorating

Ok time to age myself I guess…. In 1994 I had dropped out of University and was being “encouraged” (lol) by my mother to get a job! I remember watching something on TV I’m thinking it was Oprah and there was something to do with cake decorating (very basic) on there and I said I want to do that! LOL! So I enrolled in a 10 day course at the McCall’s School of Cake Decorating and took the course. After that I got a job as a PT cake decorator at a large grocery chain. After working there for a year, I decided to go back to University and carry on with life. That was my start and I wouldn’t change it at all! Working in a grocery store gave me the foundation skills that everyone needs to keep up with this industry.
After working in offices etc for several years, I wanted to get back into baking. So in 2001 I went to George Brown College for their Baking & Pastry program. Shortly after graduating and working here and there trying to find my way, I got pregnant and so my baking/caking life came to a halt. It was not until our daughter was 2 that I got back into the cake world when my cousin “forced” me to make his wedding cake…..that’s when Flour Confections was born and I haven’t stopped since!

2. professionally or as a hobby

In 2004 I started Flour Confections as my business/career/obsession/life and it’s grown and changed so much since then!

3. self educated or trained

Both – I’ve had “professional” training in terms of a 10 day course and baking program as well as cake classes which I’ve traveled to take or hosted at our shop, but you are ALWAYS learning on the job. Some things you just have to learn on your own – making mistakes is the BEST way to learn – so stop being so hard on yourself – “perfection” is something you can strive for as it provides you with a goal or challenge to always do better, yet it’s something that is rarely if even ever truly attainable.

4. your favorite technique (flower making, piping etc.)

Ooo tough one – as you named in your examples 2 of my favourites! I do love flower making though, and I have to attribute that all to Ron Ben-Israel – he gave me the passion for sugar flowers and I’m constantly striving to do better each time I make them. My recent OSSAS wedding cake was to date my favourite in terms of the flowers I created and the arrangement – it was the first time I stepped back after I created the topper and gasped! Truly it was everything I saw in my head and more. And the praise I received from my flower mentor Ron was just the “icing on the cake”

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5. technique you would like to master

You keep asking tough questions!! Funny enough I would love to master the flawless fondant finishes that Rebecca Sutterby of Sugar Creations can do! I really don’t know how she does it (I mean I do know as she tells me each time I say that to her) but I really am in awe of her fondant finishing and it drives me mental that I cannot seem to master that!

6. whose influence formed you

Over the years I’ve been influenced by so many artists and I admire tons of people for various reasons.
If I did have to choose just one person, I would have to say Ron Ben-Israel has had the biggest impact & influence on me – both in my work and professional life. He is perfection personified.

7. first book you got about sugarcraft

OMG I have no idea!!! I’ve had so many books for such a long period of time I couldn’t say which was one of the firsts! Cake Bible is one of my oldest baking books I would say, and looking at my bookshelf I would say any of these would be some of my first books on sugarcraft: The Icing on the Cake by Greg Robinson & Max Schofield, The Wedding Cake Book by Dede Wilson and Colette’s Wedding Cakes by Colette Peters – but believe me I have TONS more! LOL!

8. what is your favorite book

In cake or just book in general? Hmmm you know Betty you’ve made a pretty kick ass book – just wish my German was a bit better ;) Cakewalk by Margaret Braun is just a gorgeous book too.

9. your favorite color

I don’t discriminate! LOL! I love so many colours for so many reasons I couldn’t just pick one!! I’m partial to pink (obviously) and I love grey …

10. where are you getting inspirations from

Everywhere! Art, fashion, designs, wallpaper, textiles, architecture, Google images! LOL!

11. favorite cake you created – (please send a pic)

That I’ve created???!!! Yikes!
One of my favourite sculpted cakes was my Taz that I made in a secret rush for Scott’s birthday! As soon as he left the shop I got to work and turned it out in record time! Made by altering up the Cake Bones set by Browen Weber & Francois Long, frozen cake tops and left over buttercream, it turned out pretty darn sweet! I kinda wish we didn’t have to cut it!
For wedding cakes hmmm I would say a toss up between my last 2 entries in the Grand National Wedding Cake competition – I love both for different reasons.

12. for whom do you dream to do a cake and what will it look like

My daughters wedding cake – how it will look I have no idea as she is only 10 and who knows what her tastes will be – but I can’t wait to find out! Ok maybe I can wait…cause I hope it’s at the very least 15 years from now and I don’t want to know what I will look like 15 years from now!!!!!

13. a design you wish to transfer into a cake 

Hmm that’s a tough one! Ummmm……. (think think think)!
I’m gonna have to say Art Nouveau – something with a Mucha feel to it – it’s something I’ve wanted to do for a long time but I love that style so much I guess I’m avoiding it for fear I wont do it justice.

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14. a cake, made by another decorator, you admire (please give a link)

Again with the just one option??!!! I admire so many different artists for so many different reasons, it’s near impossible to choose just one!! But I will say that I do love Rebecca Sutterby of Sugar Creations work/style. She has a whimsy to her designs, they are always perfect in execution and she has a way of tying in so many elements in one cohesive design. One that always brings a smile to my face is this cake: Link to flickr

15. 3 tools you can't work without

Just 3?? Small palette knife, turntable, Google images – and for those who know me well a close 4th would be pressure – I do some of my best work under pressure!

16. your favorite flavor

If it’s cake, then a good old chocolate cake. But if it’s dessert then crème brulee is up there for me! I recently had a PB&J crème brulee where they had a peanut butter custard and raspberry compote on the bottom – that was pretty heavenly!!

17. where will you be in 10 years - visions

On a beach, in Hawaii, with a drink in each hand! Haha!
Oh you mean in life & work?!! LOL! Man I really don’t know! If you asked me in 2004 when I started Flour Confections if I would ever be anything more than a side cake business I would have said “ya right”. And if you asked me 5 years ago if my husband Scott would leave his career and become my cake business partner I would have said “ya right”! And if you asked me 3 years ago when we expanded the business to a retail & online sugarcraft store if I would be shipping around the globe, having a staff of 12 and constantly needed more space for inventory I would have said “ya right”!
So not really sure what to say in 10 years time as it hasn’t even been 10 years since I started this business and it’s changed SOOO much. I’m not much for planning so let’s just see what the future holds…

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18. if the 10 golden rules for cake decorating existed, what would one of them be: 

Oh good question! So many to choose from but probably this: Always strive to challenge & improve yourself. You can always do better and take each mistake as a learning lesson for next time – modesty in your work is a great quality – it is after all just cake. And to quote Genie in Disney’s Aladdin “ Beeeee yourself”!

19. a cake decorating no-go

Crying – there’s no crying in cake (but I’m sure I’ve shed a few!) And fingernails! – the thought makes me icky! Oh and Lick & Stick! haha

20. who would you like to answer these questions too

Just one person? I would love to see so many people answer these questions hmmm……I think Michelle Wibowo, Bronwen Weber, Debbie Goard, Kate Sullivan, Wendy Kromer and Elizabeth Falkner (pastry chef & chef) would all provide some awesome answers! Ahhh I keep thinking of more people!!!

Thanks Lisa for taking all the time to answer these questions!
If you want to learn more about Lisa and Flour Confections, please visit her website: http://www.flourconfections.com