A home-based baker commented early on in the Get Back To Scratch movement that they couldn't keep up with the "big boys" leading the contest (I'm pretty sure they meant us, since we were -- and still are -- leading the contest).
I just spent a day at the Southeastern Retail Bakers Association convention in Birmingham, Alabama. I had a great time and learned a lot, but trust me, WE are definitely NOT the big boys.
And I am not talking about in-store bakeries like Wal-Mart and Publix. The member bakeries are mostly family-owned single or dual location businesses, but they are also mostly high volume retail establishments, selling hundreds of cakes each week.
The association is big on sharing knowledge, and many of the recipes (ok, *formulas*) I took home assume an 80- or 100-quart mixer and make scores of cakes at a time.
Their employees have job descriptions like baker, cake icer, cake decorator and finisher. Imagine that, having a separate person bake, ice, decorate and "finish" the cakes. Then there's sales, cleaning, packers, and baker helpers. At Mary's Cakes, everyone, including me, does whatever needs doing. Some are better at decorating or baking, but we all multi-task to get the job done.
They all have at LEAST one walk-in freezer.
At lunch, when I mentioned we had a single 20-quart mixer, I got looks of disbelief from the others at my table. "That's it?" I'm sure many wondered why I was even there.
And when I mentioned the Get Back To Scratch movement, it was like speaking a foreign language. Most of the bakery owners I met could not imagine making everything, or even almost everything, from scratch. During one showcase, where bakers were sharing different items they made, someone in the audience asked to clarify an ingredient. Ready-made streusel topping. Streusel is a combination of flour, sugar, butter and cinnamon. We put it on some of our muffins. It never occurred to me to BUY streusel already made.
After lunch there was a trade show, with over 40 vendors. Like a kid in a candy shop, I visited each one, sampling and gawking over the sheer volume of products. One vendor had ELEVEN different types of shortening, ranging from all-purpose to specialty, emulsified, frying, margarines, and flaked shortening (for biscuits). With trans fats, without trans fats, or reduced trans fats. Hydrogenated, non-hydrogenated or partly hydrogenated. I spent 20 minutes talking to this guy.
General Mills and King Arthur were there with flours. More than one for every type of baked product. Hard wheat, soft wheat, organic, high-ratio, pastry, high gluten... their brochures read like textbooks.
A yeast vendor, a sweetener vendor, three vendors selling specialized bakery packaging, and several multi-product distributors with pages and pages of products.
One vendor had a large display of specialty breads and I asked him what products they sold. I wasn't familiar with his company and thought maybe they were a flour vendor. No, he sold ready-made bread products I could heat up and put my own label on. He was shocked when I told him I could never EVER sell something we did not actually make at the bakery. He replied that many bakeries found it more profitable to buy products ready-made. I thanked him and walked on.
I joined the association because it was cheaper to join and get the member price than attend as a non-member. I also appreciated the opportunity to talk with other bakery owners. In the end, we have much in common. As a small business in a small city, I rarely get a chance to talk about different types of flour and butter and sweeteners, and how to fix or calibrate our dough sheeter or mixer, without having to explain anything. One day (soon) I hope to have a big mixer, and eventually a walk-in freezer.
But I hope I never lose my passion for scratch baking. While a few of the items we sell are simply not practical (or economical) to make entirely from scratch, I can assure you that we will NEVER put a Mary's Cakes label on a ready-made product.
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Today is day 67 of the voting marathon, officially known as the Get Back To Scratch contest. We're competing to win a big new mixer for the bakery. We are currently in the lead but there are 26 days left, still time for just about anything to happen.
Get Back To Scratch is a movement that supports and encourages the passion of bakers and chefs. Folks who invest the time and materials bake with real flour and sugar and eggs instead of pre-prepared and par-baked items. It was created by Hobart, the folks who make large commercial mixers. The movement is supported and promoted by an online network of culinary and baking professionals, including Buddy Vallestro, TLC's Cake Boss.
Vote for us at http://www.getbacktoscratch.com/directory/profile/?id=268 through August 21.