Business and Operations
How to sell 60 dozen muffins in 60 minutes
By Marcy Goldman
By Marcy Goldman
Baking is a serious business, as I found out early in my career. It all
began with a recipe for a simple home-style muffin recipe that I
introduced to a bakery café I worked for.
Baking is a serious business, as I found out early in my career. It all began with a recipe for a simple home-style muffin recipe that I introduced to a bakery café I worked for. The recipe proved such a hot seller that people would just about knock the doors down before the bakery opened. Almost three decades later, I am still talking about my “Lawsuit Muffins” because it is one recipe for which things became litigious (but fortunately “settled” out of the bakery and out of court). This is one recipe that needs a patent! Enjoy the back story behind my muffin adventure as well as the original recipe. Great baking doesn’t have to be complicated. Bottom line: if you bake it (right), they will come.
Although classically trained as a French pastry chef and baker, I began as an independent baking entrepreneur. I worked out of my home briefly and then rented facilities before caving to the need for a steady wage and going to work for various other bakeries, pastry shops and cafés. My specialties were chocolate chunk cookies, oatmeal cookies the size of plates, a four-layer carrot cake, an unrivalled variety of cheesecakes (including my famed Oreo Cheesecake, a tale for another day) and, of course, ever-popular muffins of all kinds.
One of my first commercial and most memorable gigs was that of muffin creator and baker for a new age, upscale, California/vegetarian-style restaurant and bakery called Terre Etoile (Earth Star, in English). The ad I responded to simply said: “Baker Wanted: experience with American style chocolate chunk cookies helpful.”
I auditioned with a deluxe carrot cake and some chocolate chunk cookies, each weighing about a pound. I landed the gig of bakery manager and reported at 4 a.m. the very next day. My first mission was to prepare muffins, to be sold fresh and warm in time for the restaurant opening at 8 a.m.
The role of bakery manager was a coup, considering I had been a home baker for only a few months before leaping into the profession and attending hotel school at night. I was overwhelmed by my responsibilities. I had a staff of five bakers and brand new commercial mixers and six sparkling ovens bought at my behest. When not at work, I would sit for hours with a calculator and a small weigh scale, meticulously adapting little home recipes for commercial proportions. After stumbling along for days, I got things up to speed and my little bakery operation was pumping out batches and batches of muffins (bran, blueberry, corn and apple buttermilk) and earning a great reputation in the process. The neighbourhood turned up in droves and our bakery’s reputation grew. We could not keep up with the demand and often kept mixing batter until 6 p.m. when we should have stopped at 10 a.m.!
Yet I could not help but notice, at day’s end, that one variety of muffins was outselling the others tenfold. It was a Buttermilk Apple Cinnamon Streusel muffin based on a popular domestic recipe you see everywhere and also my personal favourite. Years earlier, I’d clipped the original recipe – Sunrise Apple Muffins – out of a gourmet magazine. It was not unique but darned good. I made a number of changes to the recipe with flavour, leavener, flours and mixing method, but it was, in the beginning, just a simple affair. I made it special by pumping it up with the best ingredients (sea salt, unbleached flour, double-strength Madagascar vanilla, a variety of apple chunks) and techniques and handling. Once I perfected it all, I then painstakingly scaled the recipe up into a formula.
As any great baker knows, you cannot just arbitrarily scale recipes up. It takes a discretionary hand and much trial and error. Once that is done, you must consider the mixers and ovens. You will also have all sorts of other people making your recipe, but it still needs to be consistent and so you need to create an ironclad, durable formula that tastes as amazing as when you make it. That’s the beauty of a really great formula.
Clearly, something was working right because we were selling 60 to 75 dozen muffins a day!
In comparison, muffin booths in malls sold an average of 15 to 18 dozen a day. We were also selling pies, cheesecakes, carrot cakes, fudge tortes and brownies, and still the muffins dwarfed all other sales.
Soon, I upped my game and created a whole muffin line dubbed “The Famous Buttermilk Muffin Collection” using the same base formula with several varieties of fruit: apple, raspberry, strawberry, rhubarb, peach, apricot, blueberry and a zesty cranberry-orange. I was diligent about marrying up the flavours just so. Cranberry merged with orange zest, blueberries were partnered with lemon zest; rhubarb got both orange zest and a double dose of vanilla, and banana chunk did well with a dusting more of cinnamon and a kiss of nutmeg and allspice. It also made the most of what fruits were available at better prices from our supplier or what was in season. I instructed my bakers to be very generous with the nut streusel but even the basic recipe sold well in a “plain” cinnamon vanilla version. Buttermilk was a key ingredient. It contributed taste and height to the muffins (its acidic nature interacts very well with baking soda and its flavour adds a nice tang to muffins). And I learned to use quality buttermilk powder just in case our dairyman forgot the fresh buttermilk or we ran out.
One day, I arrived to find my recipes were in the office upstairs and I was asked to gather my things. For whatever reason, things had changed. Because my muffin formula was a working recipe it was known by the staff and, it could be argued, property of the bakery. I was young and stung; those muffins were my North Star. But undaunted, I moved on to other baking escapades.
My favourite muffin recipe (among a ton of great muffin recipes on my website and in my cookbooks) is still my regular buttermilk muffin formula. It bears equally well scaling up for a bakery or scaling down for a trial batch for your kids’ school bake sale. They are superb, no matter what. They are easy and consistently successful.
|Marcy Goldman’s Lawsuit Muffins |
These are great even without any fruit. For fall, apple cranberry is a good combination.
Spray a muffin tin very generously with non-stick cooking spray. Line nine of the muffin cups with muffin liners. Place on baking sheet. Prepare the streusel by pulsing all ingredients in a food processor to get a crumbly mixture. Set aside.
For the muffins, in a large bowl, hand whisk the brown sugar with the oil and butter. Whisk in the eggs, vanilla and buttermilk well. In a mixer, use the paddle. Slowly fold in the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt to make a smooth batter. Fold in the fruit and blend well.
Using an extra-large muffin scooper (#16), scoop huge gobs of batter into muffin cups. Top each with a crown of streusel. Bake at 400 F for 20 minutes, turn muffins around, and bake another 15-22 minutes at 375 F. Let stand 15 minutes before attempting to remove muffins from pan (let them set up and get more solid).
Yield: 9 muffins
Marcy Goldman is a Montreal-based pastry chef and baker, host of the renowned BetterBaking.com website (www.BetterBaking.com and www.BetterBakingBlog.com ), author of four cookbooks, and a frequent guest on Martha Stewart Sirius Radio.