Thursday, October 29, 2009

another simple idea

Turns out all the folks who assured us they would buy pretzels if we made them on a regular basis, didn't shop here yesterday. Win some, loose some. We're still tryin'. Made 'em again today. Funny, different set of store personnel today, already sold a bunch. They were quick to point out, that yesterday we had them in the wrong spot in the store. They moved them today, and voila!! Sold out by eleven.

Just now, on my way to the office, my son Guy was rolling caramel apples in Halloween sprinkles. We buy caramel apples from Andrews in Chicago. Couple of reasons. First, theirs are the best. A reputable bakery supply house sells "Taffy Apple Fudge", in a pail. Theory is, just heat it up and dip your apples. Stuff is really not good. The caramel from Andrews is the real deal. The second reason is, their tricky to do. It's tricky to keep the caramel from sliding off the apple. Strange where ideas come from. Daniel is a part-time bakers assistant. The other day he had an idea to roll, plain caramel apple in Halloween sprinkles. Turns out, they've become our number one seller behind plain and peanut. Everyone used to discount Daniel, but no more. Daniel is young man that found us thru a high school program. He is, not sure how you say this, but he has slight "Special needs". Does a terrific job finishing and stacking cookies. Stacks 'em like German soldiers. We sell so many more cookies because of what he does. Our cookie case never looked nicer.

We're gettin' ready for a big weekend here. Found out last night that this is parent's weekend at Northwestern. Downtown Evanston is gonna be a madhouse.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

been a while

It seems like forever since I've posted anything. Being busy is a double edged sword. October has been a very big month for the bakery. Our Oktoberfest promotion brought in two hundred twenty more folks than the same week last year. I'm callin' that, worth it. Pretzels were the clear favorite of our offerings. Apflestrudel came in second. Incidentally, Matt put up a cool page on our website devoted to apflestrudel. We really are selling a lot of it. One of them things you can't get in many places. In fact, while I was in Dusseldorf, we ate a place called "Schumachers Golden Kessel". Awesome, awesome food and better beer. Lousy strudel, not lousy, but not like I'm accustomed to.

We've succumbed to the pressure. We are planning on making pretzels a few times a week. We had a group of customers that threatened a petition. Martha and Sam designed a new t-shirt. "I, heart shaped pretzel, pretzels", we should have them(the shirts) by the end of next week.

We've located a nice package for our florentines, for this Christmas season. It's a shiny gold box, with a large window. The box has an insert that has a six well insert. Will easily hold a pound of florentines. Gonna look very snappy with a strip of Bennison's ribbon around it.

Gotta get upstairs and get started. Big orders today for Allison hall, over on the campus, and the Lincoln Park Co-op. We're happy to get 'em, the weather has not been kind to the pumpkin farm this Halloween seson.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

one inexpensive, valuable idea

Had two really cool experiences at the trade fair in Germany. Well maybe more than two, but two stick out in my mind.

I'm sure I've mentioned Raymond Calvel, here before. He is regarded as the new age, patriarch of French bread baking. Mr. Calvel died in 2006. I never met him. Wish I had. Any real bread baker, anywhere in the world, knows his name. He has written books, that have been translated into many languages. The BBGA published a three video tape set of Mr. Calvel working at the CIA campus in Hyde Park, New York. He is really held in the highest regard in Japan. Shortly after his death, a fellow by the name Hubert Chiron, started the "Amicale Calvel", the Raymond Calvel Society. Mr. Chiron has written a book of his own. Without question, the most in depth, science of baking book, I've ever seen. Only in French, although Hubert speaks pretty good English. Hubert is a very soft spoken, humble man. I am a member of the Amicale Calvel. As far as I know, there are two members here in the states, myself and Jeff Hamelman. The society prints two newsletters a year, and they get together in France for a few bakery related excursions annually. The most recent email I got from the group announced a meeting of the group at a certain place, at a certain time, during the trade fair. Tuesday morning, October 6th, 10 am , at the Merand booth. I wanted to go, so I could pay my dues, and see other members. Merand is a French equipment manufacturer. I arrived at the booth, and Hubert was there. There were maybe a dozen or so folks, half Japanese and half French. I spoke to Hubert and offered my dues. He passed the money across the table to anther member, and they marked me as paid. I started talking to Hubert, we spoke of each others families, and the state of bread baking in each of our countries. Hubert and I agreed that the bread at the trade fair, that all the respective companies were displaying/baking/sampling, was all very "Flat". Lacked flavour, and/or character. He brought up a point, the very point that defined the place in the world for the Calvel society. Hubert said "Why can't they just use less yeast and ferment longer"? There it is, spoken from a man, who was very close to the man. A slight, humble, quiet man, who respects the proper, bread baking process. He was standing within earshot of millions and millions of Euros worth of equipment, all designed to sidestep our beliefs. I found it very ironic.

The second coolest thing I found, a German "Sahneblaeser". If I had to make a list of my reasons for traveling to IBA, this would be top on the list. It's a machine that, whips creme. It does it by blowing refrigerated air into liquid creme while a big screen spins and breaks up the air bubbles. It whips far more stable cream, with a lot more volume, in about 20% of the time. It also allows us to use more real cream. We use a blend of non-dairy topping and real cream. Without this type of whipping apparatus, whipping straight, real cream, creates cream that is far to unstable to apply to cakes. So, here in a few weeks, we will be using real cream, flavoured with pure Mexican vanilla. I can't wait. Not sure why I'm so excited. I don't shop here. Guess I'm excited for our customers. Lucky dogs, you.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

home sweet home

Started sorting thru eight days of mail yesterday. It's tough coming back after a week away. The show in Germany was a terrific expereience. Went with my son, we saw lots of new things. I think most importantly, my son Guy got an invite to go work in
France for three months. A type of exchange program has been offered. I would send my son there and they would send a young Frenchman here. We also found a six week program in Germany, that is taught in English. There is a chain of baking schools in Germany, similar to the Cordon Bleu schools here in the states. Same school, campuses in all the big cities. Terrific opportunities for him.

Very discouraged by the bakery situation in Germany and Belgium. I was there for eight days. I saw maximum of ten bakeries. Don't think I wasn't lookin'. Hell, I'm always on the lookout for a bakery. In Dusseldorf, we stayed outside the city. Rode the train back and forth to the city twice a day. In the morning to attend the trade fair, and back in at night for dinner. Between Nuess and Dusseldorf, on the S7 line there are two bakeries. TWO BAKERIES! I was there in 1980, there were two bakeries at every intersection. In the altstadt(old city), in Dusseldorf, they are gone. Used to be one every one hundred yards.

Went to Belgium, spent two nights in Brussels. One day we took a train over to Brugge. I think Brugge is the second largest city in Belgium. Big tourist place. A little like Venice. Canals thru the streets. Not sure how many square blocks, the city market is, but it's at least double Evanston's downtown district. Two bakeries, two macaroon shops, one pastry shop and several "Tea rooms". Sign says "Tea Room & Patisserie". Sign should say "Beer and Eclairs here". They are more focused on the beer. Great, great beer in Belgium. Lots of chocolate shops in Belgium. It appears that some are better than others, but I was very surprised at the quality of the workmanship. Lots of molded chocolates that were not handled well. The chocolates all tasted great, but the majority of the few bakery goods, I saw, were crooked. Bread was bland. Stuff had no character.

We were back in Chicago, Sunday afternoon. I came to the bakery right away, just to look things over. I returned Monday morning around 4am. I was walking up the street, approaching the bakery, half a block away, and it hit me. The aroma that is released when the oven is full of baguettes. Unmistakable, under appreciated, unforgettable, unmatchable. Fermentation, is king. We have our shortcomings here at Bennison's. We are far to busy for our square footage. We are baking round the clock, 24/7. The place never gets shutdown. We're over crowded, and there is flour everywhere. As soon as a spot gets cleaned up, there is someone standing there waiting, because he or she needs to work there. But the aromas here, oh, the aromas. I walked into that international convention. Thousands, and thousands of bakers, from every corner of the world. Places that I never heard of. Nine buildings, machines that would stick out each end of our bakery. Demos of these stainless steel giants, running non stop. Racks of rolls, pretzels, baguettes being baked all day long. Everything designed to produce it faster and cheaper. The place had no aroma. The bread had no soul. It was all pretty, nice uniform stuff. All no time doughs, no fermentation. Chemicals designed to speed up the process. It bothered me until 4am Monday morning.

More tomorrow. I'm not done ranting.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

not missing home yet

Robotics!! Freakin' robotics in the bakery. Incredible, here at the trade fair in Germany there is amazing stuff. Roll machines running hundreds of rolls a minute, automatically panning them, and robotic arms placing the tray in a rack. Very little manual involvement.

Seems pretzel type items are very popular here. I believe they will be the next big thing back home. We get several calls weekly, people looking for pretzel rolls and buns. Just before I left we made a load of "Lauger pretzels". We needed a picture for our website. We are doing Oktoberfest in our store the week of the 19th of October. Matt put together our opening page announcing that. We made the pretzels on a Wedenesday, and we sold them at our Aville market. Pretty incredible. We had one lady come back three times for pretzels. I think they will do well during our Oktoberfest week. Probably need to keep making them after that. During my time here at the trade fair, I found two vendors that sell pretzel equipment. The first one had just what I wanted. A little tabletop unit that will dip six pretzels at a time in the lye solution. Downside, they don't sell to the U.S. or Canada. The second vendor, will ship to us, but only sells big, expensive machines that are far to big for our bakery. I'm kinda back at square one. I'm sure I can get our local welder guy to build what I want. I'll keep ya posted.

Well it's dinner time. Headin' back to the Altstadt, old city, here in Dusseldorf. Wild busy place. Lots of nitelife. It's in a part of the city that's left from before the war. Narrow streets with no form of pattern. Probably occupies one square mile. Food here is really good. But the beer is better!


Sunday, October 4, 2009

how much knowledge can one room hold?

Pretty cool! I spent the afternoon with the Ambassaduers du Pain, here in Germany. We had an afternoon meeting with some of the biggest players in the French baking industry. Hubert Chiron, Pierre Nury, Patrice Ferrand, Dominique Planchot, Thiery Meunier, Bruno Cormerais & more. A bakers "Woodstock". Just think of the knowledge in that room! It's a wonder it didn't catch fire. There were four of us from the states. Myself, my son Guy, Peter Yuen & Mitch Stamm. No English spoken, only French. Hubert Chiron spoke for ninety minutes about enzymes and dough conditioners. Talked about how they work and the negative effects. Mme. Raemy Esther from "Haute ecole des sciences appliquees de Zurich" spoke for another ninety minutes about bread aromas and flavours and how they are percieved by consumers. Again, all in French. Had tougher time with that. I thought about it on my way from the meeting, "Why did they choose those topics"? Easy answer, ANYONE IN THAT ROOM KNOWS HOW TO BAKE! No point explaining liquid versus stiff levain. The most impressive part, I heard it over and over. The group is built on those who are passionate about the bakery trade and asa member, you must be willing to share.

It's late, I'm not sure what day it is, I've had it.

Good night.

Tomorrow, it's off to the convention.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

uber artisan hot chocolate

Last night was my last night at the Aville market. I said goodbye to the customers that I recognized as "My regulars". Told them that I won't be at next week's market, and I really appreciated their support all summer long. Unanimously they had a look of panic on thier face and the immediately asked "I thought we had one more week". I explained to them that I wouldn't be at the market, but Bennison's will be there. Lots of questions about getting our goods over the winter. Marc Levy came up with a great idea, this morning. We shoul've put together a mailing list thru the summer, and we could stay in contact with the Aville customers electronically. Great idea, a little late.

I will be attending IBA, in Dusseldorf, Germany. IBA is an international trade show that takes place every three years. Largest bakery trade show there is. Several buildings showing equipment and processes that fat to large for our little bakery. But very interesting none the less. Besides it's in Germany. After a few days in Dusseldorf, we will be traveling into Belgium to visit both Brussels and Liege. Fine, fine pastry and chocolate shops in both of those cities. I plan on seeing two of the guys who were a part of the Belgium baking team, I competed against in 2005.

Another event during IBA, is a few days with the French group "Ambassaduers du pain". The "Ambassadors of Bread". I'm not yet a member, but I found a sponsor, so while I'm there I plan to join. This group is focused more on the nutritional & quality values of baked goods, rather than supporting the baking tradition.

Two days ago, Jennifer made our first sheet of "Housemade marshmallows". It's something I've always wanted to do. I've always wanted to use our own marshmallows for our hot chocolate. We been making our hot chocolate syrup for years. So now, in keeping with true artisan tradition, we are using real marshmallows. The texture is so much better than store bought. They also have vanilla bean in them. That makes them really cool. White marshmallows with tiny vanilla bean specks.

Gotta get busy creating the goods we will feature during our Oktoberfest week. Not anxious to sell them but we need to get photos done for our website.

Stay tuned.