Bakers Journal

Small delights

January 31, 2014
By Karly O'Brien

Many customers are opting for bite-sized baked goods as they try to
maintain healthier lifestyles while still wanting to indulge on sweet
treats, says Morgan Ray, owner and operator of Mo’s Minis Bakery in
Qualicum Beach, B.C.

Many customers are opting for bite-sized baked goods as they try to maintain healthier lifestyles while still wanting to indulge on sweet treats, says Morgan Ray, owner and operator of Mo’s Minis Bakery in Qualicum Beach, B.C.

“People feel more comfortable eating smaller treats as they create less mess and feel less guilt with fewer calories in each treat,” says Ray. She saw a niche market of health-conscious people who wanted this yet no businesses in her area dedicated to selling miniature baked goods.

Currently, she says her mini-cupcakes, cake pops and whoopie pies are selling well, but her mini-squares are not doing as well. She also offers mo’ stashes for Movember, mini-cakes, truffles, mincemeat tarts, and a cookie stuffed into a cookie, to name a few.

Heading east, Nisha Amin-Agnihotri is the owner and baking research and development manager at Bite Bar in Toronto, and she echoes the sentiment that consumers tend to be more health conscious than in previous years.

She has chosen to specialize in miniature baked goods because they appeal to the growing group of people who want to maintain a healthy lifestyle.

On a regular basis, she says she gets questioned on how many calories, fats and sugars are in her treats.

“They like the idea of having less waste because they are so small and it eases the mind of people who want a treat without too many calories.”

With these smaller sweets, Amin-Agnihotri has found success. Her minis have made appearances at the Screen Awards, Toronto Fashion Week and the founders’ party for the Toronto International Film Festival.

In terms of sales, she is finding that the beverage selections of coffee and dessert-flavoured teas are not doing as well as the very popular mini-cupcakes and the mini-cheesecakes. She also offers marshmallow bars, an expansive dessert-flavoured cocktail bar, cookie sandwiches and shortbread.

These two bakers have offered Bakers Journal their insight on what it’s like to own a bakery that is dedicated to offering customers miniature baked goods and outline some of the challenges of trying to bake something half the size of a regular treat.

The fact that these sweets tend to be based on what is current can help keep the creative juices flowing in the kitchen, but it can also make it difficult to keep up to date.

To stay on top of shifts in food trends, it’s important to always be doing research and development.

Ray focuses on talking with customers to see what they are currently interested in flavour-wise. She then develops her recipes based on the feedback.

“Social media is also a big help for staying connected and remaining in the know,” she says. “Pinterest is the best because there’s always a photo to get inspiration from.”

Sometimes exchanging ideas with loved ones does the trick. Amin-Agnihotri finds that many of her ideas are based on regular conversations she has with family and friends.

“The ultimate is taking all of those ideas and then having a long chat with my chef, and we’ll just invent new recipes based off of these ideas we have. Some of them work and some of them don’t.”

Customers who frequent bakery shops are used to seeing standard-sized products and prices, and may comment if they see smaller size goods with similar prices. It is a difficult matter because size is subjective; a treat that looks too small for one person may look like the perfect size to another.

“Our focus for walk-ins is to be a mini-treat bakery,” says Amin-Agnihotri, who trained at George Brown College in Toronto. “There’s always someone who is going to point out that your treats are too small, but in the end I’m a bakery that makes small items.” She bakes regular-sized items for custom orders.

One way that Amin-Agnihotri manages customer expectations is by lowering the price so that it is still profitable, but also appeals more to her customer base. She has experimented with prices ranging from $3.50 per mini-cupcake to as low as $1 and found that anywhere from $1 to $1.75 was the most marketable.

Ray also received feedback from her customers about the size of her treats, so she decided to incorporate larger versions of her mini-treats – dubbed larger minis – that are still smaller in size by comparison to what a regular bakery would sell.

“It’s difficult to find a good price point for our smaller items. I don’t want to gouge my customers, but I need to cover my costs and make money off of each item that I’m selling at the same time,” says Ray, who has gained most of her knowledge from her mother, who was a Red Seal chef. She adds that in the end it’s about finding a balance that your customers can appreciate.

Regular-sized items have a much larger surface area than small items, so it is easier for a larger product to lock in moisture. It isn’t as noticeable if the edges dry out a little bit because there is still plenty of moisture inside of the cake to offset any dry parts.

When the outsides of a small baked good begin to go stale, it is very noticeable because the surface area is proportionate to the contents of the baked good, says Amin-Agnihotri. Her trick to overcoming this one is a trade secret, but it took several months to summon up the right ingredients to max out the shelf life of her mini-treats. However, adding coconut oil or adding arrowroot flour to the recipe of a mini-baked good are two ways to maintain moisture for a longer period of time, she says. 

The shelf life for all miniature-sized items is about three days, which can present a challenge when determining how to balance keeping inventory available with minimal waste. 

Amin-Agnihotri decided to slow down baking production from Monday to Wednesday and pick it up from Thursday to Sunday. In the end, it’s all about studying customer trends and figuring out the peak times, which she does via a POS system. This February, Bite Bar will be one year old and she will be wrapping up her first year of research to help determine how much to make and when.

“I will have someone come in and order a 50-treat box, but other times I will have people grabbing maybe one or two treats, so it makes it hard to gauge how many I should make.”

Another tough challenge is working with designs, pictures and logos that customers like to have put on for special occasions like weddings and corporate parties.

Amin-Agnihotri works with her clients to do something unique instead of trying to add writing because the small item offers very little surface area to work with. To make it more manageable, sometimes she will recommend a regular- or larger-sized baked good or instead focus on an original flavour that will signify something about the event.

“But if they want to add a logo or if they want to do images, we work with a company called Edible Images.”

Customization is also tricky as the small size means one little mistake will greatly affect the esthetics. Ray says that she has overcome this hurdle by using teeny tiny piping tips and customized tools for smaller goods.

“If you make one mistake it is really obvious, so I find that when it comes to decorating that it actually can take longer than regular-sized items,” says Ray. “Attention to detail and plenty of patience goes a long way, but on the bright side, if you don’t make a mistake it’s also really noticeable.”

As for equipment, there appears to be a limited number of suppliers who provide culinary tools dedicated to miniature baked goods, which Amin-Agnihotri says results in pricey, customized equipment. There are also no one-stop shops.

“I think if we were just opening up a regular, traditional bakery shop we could have been in business about four or five months earlier,” she says. “Since we had to research out for those different avenues it took us a bit longer so that was a huge challenge.”

Wilton is one equipment company that Ray recommends for smaller treats.

There are many new rules to play by and challenges to face when baking smaller treats, but the customer reaction can be quite rewarding.

“People get hyped up when they see the smaller treats and they tend to gawk over them,” says Amin-Agnihotri.

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