Cake Inc.: Building a Strong Cake Menu
We all love decorating cakes– that is probably why we got into the business! But, having a strong, well thought-out menu will bring customers back again and again. Our cakes, no matter how beautiful they are, will not attract loyal customers if they taste dry, old, or plain gross.
So how do we go about building a menu? What are customers looking for? As we discussed in How to Work with Customers, we are looking for loyal customers that are willing to pay for quality cakes. This means we need to produce quality cakes! Here are the best ways to achieve this.
Measure your ingredients
Troubleshoot your recipes (even before beginning your business). The best possible way to reduce stress when baking is to use a scale and weigh all of your ingredients, instead of measuring with cups and spoons.
Baking is all about chemistry; it is not a time to toss together ingredients and hope for the best. If you have not done so, consider converting all of your recipes into grams, milliliters and/or ounces. When you weigh your ingredients you know your recipe will turn out exactly the same every single time. When using cups and teaspoons the amount of flour or other ingredients can vary quite a bit due to how you measure them. My favorite online conversion calculator is traditionaloven.com.
For example, I measured 1 cup of all-purpose flour two different ways to see how close I would come to the exact weight in grams. One cup of all-purpose flour weighs 125 grams. I used my 1 cup measure and first used the spooning method. I spooned flour into the 1 cup measure then used the back side of a knife to skim the flour off the top. I then weighed it on the scale. It weighed 139 grams, 14 extra grams of flour.
Next I used the scooping method by employing my measuring cup as the spoon. I simply scooped up the flour with the cup and skimmed off the top. This method compacted the flour giving me 147 grams of flour: a difference of 22 grams.
If your recipe calls for 2 or 3 cups of flour, you can easily dry out your cakes by simply not measuring your flour accurately. If you’re using the scoop method and your recipe calls for 3 cups of flour, you could add almost ½ cup more flour than the recipe calls for! Weighing your ingredients will ensure your recipe will be the same every time, reducing stress and helping you be more productive. It is also much easier to double and triple recipes that are by weight, there is no more counting cups and loosing track of which number you were on.
Choosing flavors can be fun and exciting! You may have recipes that were handed down to you by family or you may be trying new recipes, but either way make careful choices. Select recipes that are easily produced without tons of hard to find ingredients.
Running a bakery is very different than baking at home. In your own kitchen you can take your time when baking, especially when baking small cakes for friends. When you open a bakery you will need to produce more cakes a lot faster than before. You will need to focus on productivity, and the cost of baking that many cakes. I am not saying use boring recipes or make boring cakes, but do choose recipes that you can easily find the ingredients for, as often as necessary.
When choosing flavors, start with your best white cake recipe. White cake is very versatile, and with the use of extracts and a little coloring, it can be turned into any number of wonderfully flavored cakes. (Vanilla, Lemon, Key Lime, Almond, Amaretto, Coconut, Pineapple, Orange Dreamsicle and many others.) This is also the best cake to color for a rainbow or ombré effect inside the cake.
When choosing flavors, take your location into account. Many cake flavors have universal appeal, but others are embedded in the culture and traditions of certain areas. Try to offer what your customers will want and not just what you like.
Crazy and fun flavors may seem like a great idea. Having a huge variety of flavors may also, but I have found that most customers choose chocolate and vanilla. Customers, like all of us, usually go with what they know. So if you want to have unique flavors make sure to give your clientele a chance to try your flavor options either by selling cupcakes in your store front or providing tastings to interested customers.
A friend of mine in the bakery business gave me some great advice when I started my company. She said to build deep and not out. She owns a very successful cookie company that sells beautifully decorated sugar cookies. She has one cookie recipe that uses a handful of ingredients, and she and her ten employees are always working overtime because they are so busy. They are successful because they have a great quality product that her customers can trust. Almost all of her business is by word-of-mouth and from repeat customers. Rather than making a huge variety of mediocre cookies, she focused on perfecting one recipe.
My point is: when choosing flavors, perfect the recipes you have. Make them the best chocolate cake or the best vanilla cake or the best carrot cake in town, and be sure your recipes can be reproduced repeatedly with the same results. Once you have your basics perfected then begin expanding your recipes and offering new and unique flavors. Baking a quality product will bring customers back again and again, it will help spread the word and set you up for success in the future.