The Big Five-O

I just passed my one-year anniversary with WordPress (they sent a card) and I realized that this post is my fiftieth.  Fifty sounds huge, right? What to say? How to commemorate? How’s ’bout with some photos?

I’ve been a busy little bee with these final three baking lab courses. We’ve been buckled down for winter over here in Maryland (which is pretty much like a mild Spring to most other states in the Northeast and New England, but Marylanders take the threat of snow verrrrrrrry seriously…) and it’s been nose to the grindstone for me, so I haven’t done much running around discovering local eats BUT there are a few things I need to do before I split this joint: I need to find a Berger cookie (people love them and tears were flowing last month when the shop closed down for a few weeks), eat at a decent restaurant, and experience the Southern Maryland Stuffed Ham I mentioned last year when I was on that quest for fresh ham. So stay tuned for all that fun.

In the meantime, I’ve got pictures (click on them for the slideshow).  And reservations tonight at Baltimore’s Woodberry Kitchen, the chef of which is a finalist for the 2013 James Beard Best Chef Mid-Atlantic.

The Great Cookie Puzzle

Cowboy Cookies

Victoria, of Victoria’s Fancy Foods, in Severna Park, MD told me she wanted to start up a cookie case for the holiday season; was I interested? I was. The question was when? I have about five spare minutes a day, and that’s being generous. But, if I saved them up over the course of a week, that’s enough for a batch of cookies, right? Peter, whom I’ve been robbing to pay Paul, will not be happy with my new time management arrangement. He’ll find it even less accommodating than my previous schedule. In fact, if he ever meets up with Paul for a drink they’re going to be super steamed when they realize I’m robbing them both blind. Hmpf. Best not to think about that. I turned my mind to cookies.

The criteria was tight. They had to be simple because they’re being made on-site in the store, which is not a bakery. It’s Health Board certified, of course, but not kitted out like a Cake Boss kitchen with deck ovens. Next, they have to either be drop cookies, or relatively fast to shape because with small-batch production my time is my biggest expense. They have to be chewy, because that’s the kind I like.

And, I wanted them to have something wholesome about them. Maybe even…no dairy no eggs? A.k.a., “vegan”? Vegan whaaaaaat??? What a challenge!

Well, why not? Vegan cookies are not that hard to make, it’s just a question of how easy or cost effective it is to find a quality vegan chocolate. Remember folks, I’m in Maryland, and while we have Whole Foods and Wegman’s here, I wouldn’t say buying vegan chocolate chips at specialty retail prices is the best way for a cottager such as myself to turn a profit. Most high percentage chocolate is practically vegan by nature, except that it may be processed on the same equipment with other lower percentage chocolates, like milk chocolate which keeps it, in the strictest sense, outside the definition. Ah, technicalities.

So, I thought about it. Lots. And lots. I like a puzzle. Well, I don’t like actual puzzles — how maddening! So many tiny pieces! Who has time for that? Those kinds of puzzles stress me out. But this kind of puzzle I like.

Here’s how I worked it out:
1.) Flax is my friend.
2.) Pastry flour is oddly expensive & hard to find. Whole wheat pastry flour even more so.
3.) Applesauce cookies sound warm like Grandma but can go really wrong when you swap out three ingredients at a time (rookie move), so ditch ’em if you’re smart. But, I’m stubborn, so I will keep working on them until I get one I like. Which I did.

Apple Spice Cookies

This whole process reminded me of waaaaay back when when I (briefly) went to University of California, Santa Barbara and was knocking around that town for a bit. I found this cookie that I really dug — this was way back in’89 now, so keep that in mind — that I think might be influencing me to this day. I think it was called the “No” cookie, so I looked it up. And it is called the “No” cookie  (even then I wondered at that marketing strategy)– as in, no dairy, no eggs, no wheat, no refined sugar, and so on and so forth — and it’s made right in my hometown of Oakland, CA. How funny that I traveled 325 miles south on Hwy. 101 before I met them.

These “No” cookies, along with another cookie brick made of oats and stuff that kicked off a big oat cake phase for me, were expensive ($3 was expensive for a cookie for a college freshman in 1989) so I only had them a couple of times, but the idea fit so well with what I thought a baked good could be via my bean pie experience that it lodged in my brain and has been percolating ever since.

Now whole grains have come a long way since then and people’s tastes have evolved (devolved, since unrefined baked goods came way before refined baked goods?) to the point that goodies made with what I consider to be very interesting ingredients like whole wheat, oats, flax, etc. are practically passe. Which is good, because I want more people to like this kind of thing, for less refined baked goods to be as common and enjoyed as all other kinds of baked goods, and not for their health benefits, which are undeniable, and not for their smaller global footprint or any other sociopolitical attachment, but because they’re good. They taste good. They’re appealing. They have texture and interest on their own. They don’t need to try to imitate their more worldly, refined cousins. I like them for who they are; I’m not worried about what they are not.

I think these cookies that I’m making for Victoria’s are good. In fact, one of them is my all-time cookie favorite, my go-to cookie, the one I look for if I’m playing dilettante at a cafe. The label will let you know the ones without dairy, without eggs, but only because some people might want or need to know, not because the cookies are trying to make a statement.

In the end, for my Double Chocolate Cherry cookies, I decided to stick with Ghirardelli chocolate chips because I wanted to use a bittersweet chocolate — 60% cacao instead of the lower percentages usually used for semisweet. Bittersweet chocolate has less sugar and more overall health benefits than semisweet. Plus, I like it better. Yay! And I did finally get an applesauce cookie the way I wanted it, so that’s in place. And my favorite? The Cowboy Cookie. You’ll just have to try it for yourself.

We’re going to roll them out fresh in the store on certain days and they can always be special-ordered.

Happy Owl is Extra Happy Today!

Today marks the official debut of Happy Owl’s Sweet Bean Pie, and it went swimmingly! Hosted by Victoria’s Fancy Foods in Severna Park, Happy Owl set up a sampling table amongst the salsas and rubs. Like at the Faux Trade Show, customer response was overwhelmingly positive. I do believe I made a few converts today. We had mini pies (pie-ettes? pie-inis?) for sale to stick our toes in the water, but 9″ pies are already on the books.

Here they are going into the convection oven. Aren’t they cute?

Sweet Bean Mini PiesAnd here is our sampling space; bean pies hobnobbing with spices and jams:

Serendipitously, I received a mystery package in the mail today. Waiting for me when I got home was something fabulous: this handmade home-crafted Happy Owl homage wall-hanging, courtesy of a friend and fan. Perfect timing!

Victoria’s will have a limited supply of bean pies on hand. Or, they may be special-ordered through Victoria’s Fancy Foods, or by contacting me directly here at Bean Pie and Baking.

Happy Owl Baking’s Sweet Bean Pie makes its official debut!

I am happy to announce that Happy Owl Baking will make its official debut on Saturday, May 12, 2012 as part of Victoria’s Fancy Foods Saturday Tastings Series.

Victoria’s Fancy Foods is a cool little shop that sells meats, cheeses, and lots of gourmet products that you’ve probably been wondering where on earth you could find without driving to…well, honestly, who knows where else you could find this kind of stuff around here. We’re in the ‘burbs, baby, so it’s a good thing Victoria’s has done all the legwork for you. She, Victoria herself, has also hand-picked a very accessible selection of domestic and international wines.  She’s a Certified Wine Specialist, so trust her. And if you’re a suspicious son of a gun and don’t want to trust her, then come to the free wine tastings. She has them, and a whole bunch of other stuff, on her calendar —  including my bean pie on Saturday, May 12, so check out her website for more info.

What I dig about this shop is her emphasis on  “clean food” — food that has been “produced, grown or raised completely naturally.” Click here to see her discussion of clean food on her blog  She does a lot of local sourcing and she also happens to be the pick-up point for several CSA’s — makes it all super easy.

So come out and say hi on Saturday, May 12 from 1:00-4:00. Victoria’s is tucked into a shopping center on Ritchie Highway in Severna Park, MD, so if you haven’t been there before, keep your eyes peeled! It’s in the same shopping strip that has Poor Boy’s Steakhouse.

The deets: Victoria’s Fancy Foods, 350 Ritchie Highway, Severna Park, MD (410) 384-9463

Survey says…

The trades show was crowded, a veritable crush at its zenith. As such, I consider it a success. The Happy Owl table had a good turnout and I had the chance to really talk about how my bakery concept and the products I was sampling that day were connected. I believe I used the phrase “heart health” at least 100 times.

Here’s the interesting part: People like bean pie.

Well, duh. I knew they would.

Of the people surveyed, 100% were trying bean pie for the first time, and 100% reported they liked it. And to hear how surprised they were when they said it — they seemed mildly startled, actually — was funny to watch, and also very satisfying to me because I have believed in bean pie from the start.

So without further ado, here are the Trade Show pictures for which you have been clamoring:


Pre- Faux Trade Show

For those of you who don’t know — and by that I mean all of you except for my first two followers (thanks KM and AC!) — I am in the Culinary Arts Entrepreneurship program at my school of choice here in Maryland. This mean that half of my classes are in cooking and baking, and half of my classes are business classes geared towards those of an entrepreneurial ilk. I’m also taking Italian language classes, but that is neither here nor there. These entrepreneurial classes are designed to help prepare people who want to start businesses, i.e. entrepreneurs, focus on their ideas and prepare their business plans. This semester I am in the Sales and Marketing portion of the program. We have been working on developing our marketing plans (target market, demographics, value proposition, etc.) and tomorrow we have our fake Trade Show where some faculty, some members of the local business community, and some unfortunate students who need to earn some Extra Credit points will come and check us out. I have been, as I am wont to do, taking this very seriously and have been pulling rabbits out of my hat for the last few weeks trying to pull together as if the business that has been in my head for the past ten years was actually getting ready to launch. So I needed a logo, a tagline, and marketing materials, pronto. Of these skills I have none.

Fortunately, what I do have is a friend,  who also happens to be a cracker jack graphic designer, the illustrious Ms. C.N., within driving distance of me. So, for the price of the Harbor Tunnel toll and some brownies that were basically just chocolate bits held together by butter, this Jane of All Trades cranked out, in short order, a tri-fold color brochure-cum-mailer-cum-menu, a killer postcard, and about 300 photographs of me in my chef’s coat to get that one, useable image. Oh, and she threw in a business card image, too. Done, done, and done.

The trade show is tomorrow, bean pie and olive oil brownies for sampling are baking, and business cards are ready to be picked up on the way to the show. Happy Owl Baking is born.

By Jove, I think she’s got it!

Bean Pie

I’ve decided that bean pie would be one of the things that I would demo at the faux trade show we are doing next week for my sales and marketing class, so I needed to get on the recipe, pronto. I had tried a few recipes in the past, but hadn’t settled on anything I especially liked yet. So, I played around with the recipe again last week, but it still wasn’t right. Also, I wanted to develop a savory bean pie recipe, so I made one up on the fly and tried that out on unsuspecting friends. The results were mediocre, at best.  I consulted my baking chef. We brainstormed. It was decided I would bring a bean pie in next class and have my classmates sample it. I tinkered with the recipe again last night, baked it up, and waited to see what would happen.

They liked it!

This is exciting to me.

I like it when people like bean pie.

So, it looks like I’ve got the  regular recipe nailed down. The sweetness is right, the texture is right, and, even more pleasing to me, the crust is right. I haven’t liked any of the crusts I have tried and I have secretly suspected that the answer is a vegetable oil crust, but no one talks about vegetable oil crusts so I just kept pushing the idea aside and continued working with butter and shortening combinations. But, last week I went back to the vegetable oil crust idea, tinkered with it, screwed up a good handful of batches, and then hit on one that I think I like. It even has some whole wheat flour in it, which doubles my pleasure.

All in all, a good night. Now, back to the drawing board for the savory bean pie.

Burning the Midnight Oil

Night classes are hard enough, but night classes that are 5 1/2-hour cooking labs take it up a notch. And having a 9:00 a.m. class the next morning takes it up another notch. And doing it all over the next day? Whew.  For the past two nights I’ve had about 10 hours of sleep total, so my edges are a little frayed. Even so, I am working, rather feverishly at this point between classes, on writing a Value Proposition for a college-sponsored competition called The Big Idea Elevator Pitch.The idea is to pitch your business concept by defining your product as the answer to a perceived problem, and then discussing its viability in terms of target market, competitive advantage, and potential for profitability. I’m pitching my bakery concept. The prize is worth $500, due tomorrow, so I guess I can handle another night of little sleep. Just don’t let me handle sharp knives in lab tonight.