Monday, October 31, 2011

Tanglewood Baked Goods: Signage

I spent some time this morning working on the design for the sign I want to use for my bakery stand at markets. I know I want it to have a sort of Art Nouveau look, so I gave it a rounded top. I'll be making two signs: one for hanging and one to top a chalk board easel-style sign for venues that I can't hang things.

So this is my first sketch. I took the thistle design directly from a piece of jewelry, so I won't be using it exactly, but I liked the gesture and shape of it so I put it in as a place holder until I sketch up something a little closer to what I want the finished thing to be.

What do you think?

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Tanglewood (_______ Baked Goods)

Well, I know I've been slacking over here on the blog lately and that's in part due to the fact that I've been diving into bakery prep with the intensity of seven suns, though some days after a complicated mistake it feels more like seven weakly lit flashlights. I've made cakes, cookies, candies; frosting after frosting; and I've been designing my aesthetic and display. (I've also been researching correct, non-traditional ways to use the semicolon; please forgive me.)

Through my various attempts at charming-sweet-tasties I have noticed one thing. This one thing has become my focus and will likely be a way that I separate myself from other home bakers. It'll keep me challenged, help me feel less guilty about eating the things that I make and dangit - it's cute!

Miniatures. I love to bake miniatures. I love the extra detail I have to add and the care and delicacy of it. I've always had a thing for miniatures, and I've always liked the look of a whole-buncha-tiny-colorful-things put together. I blame it on Richard Scarry's Busytown. Richard Scarry was the kid's book master of itty-bitty-eye-catching and I remember looking at the pages showing the busytown market and bakery and thinking WOW! I wish apples were that tiny...

Okay, I know, that's kind of a weird thing to admit, let alone base a baked goods business on.

This kind of strange love of itty-bitty-detail may also come from living with my husband, Jeremy Bastian, whose comic book art is known for its bizarre and almost impossible detail and minuscule size.

Okay, so I'm not going to be baking "toy" sized (to borrow from the world of dog breeds), just more like bite sized. It may sound totally silly to some of you, but it really does have some valid bonuses to it. I often find with baked goods - cookies in particular - that I either really only want a single bite of something sweet, or I want a variety in my few sweet bites. The nice thing about baking small is that while you can eat only one small bite of sweet, you can also eat multiples. They make great novelties for kids and for parties, and I like to think most people will recognise the extra care that goes into decorating a miniature cake or cookie. Plus... I mean... come on. They're totally adorable!

In order to keep things catchy, I'll take at least one mini layer cake to market each week. Mini in this case means either 3, 4 or 6" in diameter, and at least three layers deep. I'll take orders for traditionally sized baked goods as well. 

I'd love to thank everyone who has offered their support and guidance (namely Julia, who is a font of baking information and troubleshooting!) I'm hoping to have a mid-winter tasting party over here at Tanglewood early next year, and if you've spent any time around me lately you've likely had sweets shoveled into your mouth as a taste tester.

So now I am left trying to come up with a sub text for my signage. I plan to just use the name "Tanglewood" rather than "Tanglewood Bakery" since I don't want to imply that I have a storefront elsewhere. I'd love to have the subtext read something like "Conscientiously Baked Goods" without sounding so verbose. I intend to use as many local ingredients as possible, and I have already sourced specialty flours, dairy, spices, herbs, etc (though I'd love to find a local source for non-GMO beet sugar if anyone knows of one!)

I also intend to use only biodegradable, recyclable packaging, and only from the most local sources I can find. I want my baked goods to taste amazing, so I intend to buy amazing ingredients. I also want to feel good about selling them to people, so I don't plan on putting anything into the business that I'm not completely sure about. So far, my display consists of garbage picked shipping crates and signs made from scrap wood, but that is a post for another day! I guess if this whole thing fails, I could always be an astronaut... (thanks Ben!)

Anyway, I'm going to set up a giveaway this weekend so be sure to check back soon! 

Any words of advice for someone trying to set up their own baked goods business from home? Is it legal to sell home baked goods in your state?

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Fall Shearing Day (part two: In the Barn)

We started by shearing Brighid, thinking that since she tends to be the super nervous lamb it might help to have her done before the other girls so she didn't stress out and get more and more aggravated watching the other girls get done before her. Oh boy. Now it seems so obviously silly to get the "easy" one out of the way first!

She was so docile! She has a perfect blend of her parents' personalities - personable and curious like her father, and wise and cautious like her mother, and she has such loft and crimp to her fleece! It was like Christmas, seriously. She has grown up so much since Gertrude died, and her personality has finally been able to come through. She's not as skittish and neurotic as I thought she was - she's cautious and sweet. <3 


She even handled the less dignified positions with grace.

We did let her up part of the way through since she was being so well behaved. Half-shorn sheep look hilarious!

Blair was next and she was, predictably, a fighter. We didn't let her up to rest between positions, she just escaped from us over and over and over. What a turd! She got away from us so many times, and we found the best way to shear her ended up being in a head lock between my calves, braced against the wall. Ugh. 

Even if we thought Blair was bad, she was a walk in the park compared to Nance. After trying all sorts of restricting positions for her we found the best way to shear her was gently. We let her stand, and I stood at her shoulder, one hand under her chin and one behind her head, just in case she tried to move. Eventually we had to get her belly, and it was nearly impossible. We finished her with scissors. LOL!

All in all, the day was exhausting and I am pretty beat up. At one point yesterday I was trying to head lock Nance with my legs and she managed to shove through and bolt across the barn with me riding her! I landed on my butt with my elbow naturally in a pile of sheep poo, laughing hysterically.

The sheep are now bald and I have three pillowcases full of beautiful fleeces - Much nice than Gertrude or Ingrid's were. I can't wait to get to spinning this stuff! The sheep will be happy to go out on the grass today. Now that they don't have fall fleeces on them, I don't mind sending them out to the field to find the last few burrs of the year.

Overall I'm happy with their conditions. The older ladies both have just a bit of fat over well muscled bodies, broad backs and wide hips. Brighid is a bit thin, but Laura pointed out she's still growing so her body is sending nutrients to bone and growth rather than layers of fat. She's still decently muscled too so... hooray!

Fall Shearing Day (part one: In the Kitchen)

Let me just open this post by declaring that Laura is the BEST.

Yesterday was our first fall shearing here at Tanglewood. When we got our sheep it was in December so we had missed the fall shearing by a 6-8 weeks (not that you could tell - they looked fully fleeced when they arrived!) This year I was lucky enough to have Laura, our sheep's breeder, offer to come shear our sheep for us in return for "something tasty".

Ooh, I do love a good barter. Something tasty? I can do that.

This was an exciting day in the kitchen for me because I got to taste test some things on someone new and I got to play around with gluten free baking for the first time. I decided to make GF plum and blueberry clafoutis, and hazelnut tarts with GF sweet crust (pâte sucrée). Gluten free is... interesting.

The clafoutis, upon first inspection, came out beautifully. It looked just great! Of course when I went to remove it from the pan it absolutely refused to budge and became more of a lumpy, gooey mess. Of course it still tastes great - It's just not something I could sell without some tweaking. Then again, who sells clafoutis at markets? Hm.

The surprising thing was the tart recipe. I had heard that working with gluten free pastry shells was incredibly difficult and frustrating. I quickly learned that the recipe that I used for my pâte sucrée doesn't like to be as cold as it does when it contains wheat flours. When I chilled it, it quickly became an unyielding mess more like a croquet ball than a ball of dough. I set it on the stove to warm it a bit and when it came to just cooler than room temperature (which you must realize is only about 60-65º in our house) it became workable. It baked beautifully, and had a fairly delicate flake to it, and just like the clafoutis, it refused to budge from it's ban. I did have some luck with the mini-tartlettes that I made in a mini-muffin pan that was non-stick. Apparently if I use butter to grease my pans it gets absorbed into the GF dough. If it's non-stick, it releases fairly well. I've got to remember that.

I just realized I forgot to take photographs of any of the tart stuff. Damn. They were pretty, too.

The sheep were definitely ready for shearing. Brighid was beginning to substitute as a snuggy for the chickens.

The other girls were looking pretty hairy, too, so it was a good thing Laura was able to come get those gorgeous fleeces off of them so that they can start growing their fleeces for the winter. 

When Laura arrived I was still finishing up the tarts, so we stood in the kitchen for a while and caught up. As soon as I finished with the work in the kitchen we headed out to the barn to start shearing. Later, during breaks between sheep, we enjoyed hazelnut tarts on the couch and chatted about life. There's nothing like sweets to take one's mind off of aches and pains, flailing hooves and biting wind waiting in the barn.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Fall has Fallen

The leaves are changing and the winds feel restless as they blow rain and storms our way. This past week has been an amazingly clear and beautiful respite from the chill and damp. We've had our indian summer, with temps in the high 70's and nothing but sunshine. It's been a fantastic farewell to summer.

The Virginia creeper is blazing in shades of red and fuchsia.

The blueberries are a rainbow of intense hues. 

You can hear the leaves falling like rain today. I keep thinking it's sprinkling outside and then I realize it's a shower of box elder leaves, spiraling towards the ground. The maple trees have yet to change, but I'm sure it's just a matter of days. We're nearly at peak color here and I'm finding myself at peace, despite the insane number of tasks in the garden that I haven't completed. I've managed to remember this year that I have until the ground freezes to pull vegetable plants - It's not the end of the world if I don't get everything pulled by hard frost... I can take a deep breath and enjoy this farewell to summer while we have it.

Are the leaves changing where you are, or are you already enjoying the crunch of falls frosts?

Friday, October 7, 2011

Hard at Work in the Kitchen (rather than on the Blog)

I have been using these past few weeks to experiment. Like a mad scientist in a frilly floral apron, I have been pouring over books and manuscripts, researching ingredients and methods... and at last I have come to the conclusion that...
Yes. I could see myself truly pursuing the art of making sweets.


I am uncertain of whether I should say I'm pursuing baking, pastry arts, confections or just "nummy things". I'm certainly not ever going to be a pâtissier, simply because at this point in my life I can't afford the cost or the time it would take to pursue full pastry chef schooling. Still, I'm pursuing sweet and dainty things that have a specific aesthetic... alluding to childhood sweets, appealing to subtle and refined tastes. Within these sweets I intend to combine the freshest and most local of ingredients possible - Michigan grown/milled flours, home grown fruits, local honeys.. I even found a supplier of locally grown, GMO-free soybean oil, for those times that really call for vegetable oil rather than less processed fats.

I have been truly experimenting, starting with base recipes and making serious alterations. Baking batch after batch after batch until I have a recipe of my own that is up to my standards.

The best thing is, I'm having a great time doing it and I've accepted that sometimes it's best to just throw the whole thing out and try again! It's almost liberating to be baking for baking's sake, rather than for a person or an event. If it doesn't turn out, nobody has to eat it.

So far I have tried several cake recipes, cookie recipes, tea cakes, frostings... I've even been working on a sweet skillet bread (spotted dick - yes, that's what it's called) that is moist, crusty and fantastic! I hope you understand that I'm not going to pretend I'm something that I'm not. I am not a trained professional; I am a dabbler. Still, baking has sparked a passion and obsession in me that I haven't felt since I started training horses so I would imagine this is going someplace good.

To take good, fresh ingredients and to make them into something that invokes a physical and emotional response reminds me of when I was in school for art. I've always loved to create things, but I've always made art for myself and cringed at the idea of doing it for the pleasure of others. With baking it's totally different; I bake because I want to share the experience of my finished piece with others.

I've been taking samples to pretty much any gathering I can, to shove into the mouths of unsuspecting friends, family, students and clients... It's awesome to see their responses, and people have been very honest with me. I can't wait to share more of my adventure with them and with you... like a mad scientist I cannot wait to take over the worrrrrld! (or at least a few of my local markets...)