Tuesday, 31 January 2012

New Year, New You?

I'd been looking forward to January.
This is my 4th January trading as Cake Box (happy 3rd anniversary to me!) and the previous three have been deathly quiet.  Everyone's full of New Year Resolutions about healthy eating,  Indulgences like cake are brushed aside as people join gyms, think about summer holidays and go on diets. Or at the very least looking to the credit card statements with some nervousness after the Christmas spend.
It's the prospect of this extended period of quiet that keeps me going through the very busy autumn.  By Christmas week I'm ready to hibernate. Orders will be down, I can choose not to accept the birthday or anniversary orders from private customers. I can use the time to recover from the marathon baking session that October to December involves and I can look to the future.
Well, that's the theory.
I don't know what went on this year. The deli had a quiet fortnight but the soft play centre went mental for cake. Orders were up, not down.  I had my much-anticipated weekend away, but the work either side was heavier than ever.
So here I am, on the last day of January. I'd done my tax return in plenty of time and my admin is up to date. But I've not worked out a business plan for the year, nor done any recipe testing.  I have a fair amount of guilt about that.
Looking forward, I've an interesting fortnight ahead.  From Monday I've a work experience pupil with me for a week.  I've worked out which jobs to give her and which skills and techniques I can show her.  It's my hope that she'll do some of the low skilled stuff that chews up my time - stuff like washing up and wiping the counters down - as well as some baking and cake decorating.
One job she's looking forward to and I'm delighted to be rid of for a week is piping the faces on the gingerbread men. It's the sort of job that is fun if you don't do it often. However, it is a right pain if you're doing 150 of them at the end of a busy day when your hand is so tired it keeps cramping.
We'll also talk abut how to professionally cover a cake and ideally she'll design and make a celebration cake across the course of the week that she can take home for half term.
Should time allow, I'll use the opportunity to do some recipe testing while I've help to hand.  I've got a list of HEAPS of things I'd like to try.
During half term itself we hope to have the marvellous Miss P back with us.  She did a few days of work experience with me in the summer and charmed the whole family into loving her.  She's impossibly tall and beautiful, good company and ace with the kids.  If she's this marvellous at 16, she'll set the world alight by her 20s.  She's been asked to decorate a wedding cake for a family member, and I've invited her to come here and use my equipment to help her.
If I do get some new cakes ready, I'll pop here to post the recipes, I promise!

Sunday, 1 January 2012

Happy New Year!

One of the things I like about baking is that you can be very friendly and welcoming with so little bother. Our horrendously grumpy neighbour moved out just before Christmas (yay!) and to welcome the new couple to the neighbourhood I dropped in some mince pies and a card. To get to know them better we've invited them around for a cuppa and a cookies on New Year's Day.
20 minutes messing about in the kitchen and the house smells lovely. Miss B, now a grown up young lady of 6, deigned to help for a bit. It was mostly an excuse for nicking unbaked cookie dough in her case, but fun nevertheless. Anyway, it's so little real work, knocking up a couple of batches of biscuits.
And at the end of that bit of effort it's ace offering lovely warm cookies to our new neighbours. Baking for someone is such a nice way of saying Hello, or Welcome to our house. I also find people are much more forgiving of the mess you live in when they are distracted by fresh baked goods!
On the selfish side, I could also take the opportunity to play with recipes from the marvellous Dan Lepard book. I've had a lovely time reading it lately and was dying to have a go baking some of the recipes in it. The oatmeal and cherry cookies were delicious. I'd not got the dark chocolate and mint cookies quite right; I'll need to work on that.
Another happy baking time this holiday was when my very ace friend and her family came over for Miss B's birthday. I made a chocolate cake using Annie Bell's recipe (my old favourite) and then had a go at a pecan pie from Edd Kimber's book, using rum instead of bourbon.
We are all fans of When Harry met Sally, so the pie was greeted with many exclamations of being "Proud to partake of your pecan pie," (which we found funny for longer than was seemly.) The pie itself was utterly delicious.
I'd used the wrong pie dish - a quiche dish - and it stuck quite badly despite being greased before hand. It also couldn't accommodate nearly half of the syrup mix, which was such a waste. I found I needed more pecans to cover the top than the recipe called for, but that might have been down to the wrong size dish as well.
Despite this, the pie was gooey, crunchy and flavourful in all the right ways. It's taken us 4 days to eat it and every mouthful has been scrumptious.
Now I know what I did wrong I shall certainly be making it again soon!
Tomorrow I'm back to work, baking what needs baking rather than whatever takes my fancy. It's only a fortnight until I hit my 3rd anniversary of Cake Box, so I'd best get cracking.
Happy 2012