Monday, June 20, 2011

Packaging, Mass Production, and Letting the Perfectionism Go (Just a Bit...)

Last week I filled my first big order!

My coworker Joanna had been thinking for awhile about what treat would be perfect to put in her wedding guests' hotel gift bags. She had even considered buying Crumbs mini cupcakes (thank GOD she didn't do that; might have had partly to do with my ranting about them...), but decided against it once she found out she would have had to package them herself. However, post-blog launch, Joanna came to me with a proposition: would I like to make favors for the gift bags, as my first big order? Um, YES...

Squealing with delight about this. 
We met a couple times to discuss what to make, how to pack them, etc. Because I felt serving just any dessert did not really make much sense, I asked Joanna to provide me with her and her fiancé's favorite flavors in order to give the favors cohesive theme. We discussed mini cakes and cake truffles in a variety of flavors, including cookie dough, chocolate peanut butter, and carrot cake (his favorites), as well as raspberry, lemon, and red velvet (her favorites). Ultimately, we decided on one treat being chocolate peanut butter flavored, and the other lemon raspberry (like that clever combination ? ;). Cake truffles seemed to be the best presentation; I would package them four per box, two of each flavor.

This started me on a mad hunt for packaging, something I had not envisioned I would need until much further down the line. Luckily, I have parents that work in the promotional industry, so an order like this was right up their alley. I consulted my mom, who pointed me in the direction of a packaging company to pick out the boxes; meanwhile, she and a colleague designed the labels. They came up with a cute design that incorporated my blog patterns and advertised the site URL and email address. I found small clear boxes to affix them to, as well as small yellow-swirled cups to set the truffles in. I was beaming and giggling like a eight year-old that just got a pony as I assembled these - the label made everything feel so real! I was thrilled that that part was set. Now, onto the actual truffles....

...baked crumbs...
..."dough" balls.
About two weeks before the truffles were due, I did some kitchen experimentation. First, I wanted to figure out the composition of the chocolate peanut butter variation. Traditionally I would have used cake; however, upon a recent visit to Columbus, I stopped into Sugar Daddy's bakery, who specializes in all things brownie, including brownie truffles. So, I grabbed a box of brownie mix just to experiment with the texture, composition, and coating (please note that I would NEVER sell something I made with brownie mix). I whipped up a batch of brownies, half of which were plain; the other half containing chopped Reese's cups (notice the dividing line in the picture). I baked them, then split the two in half and crumbled them separately. I mixed peanut butter frosting into both variations to serve as the crumb binding agent, then rolled them into balls (see Reese's on the left, plain on the right in the ball picture) .  

Dull peanut butter.
While those set in the fridge, I experimented with a peanut butter ganache, which I figured would be a softer coating than just melted peanut butter chips. I had browsed various sites to find out how the ratios of chocolate (in this case, peanut butter chips) and cream affected a ganache's composition; apparently a ganache used for coating typically is three parts chocolate to one part cream. So, I experimented with these proportions and got a smooth, fluid peanut butter ganache, which I then dipped the balls in. However, the one thing I was not completely pleased with was the dull color of the ganache. I had read that adding butter/fat adds sheen to a ganache, so I figured I would try it on the ultimate product. A taste test among the roommates chose the regular brownie mixed with peanut butter frosting and dipped in the peanut butter ganache as the favorite, with the chopped Reese's variation being overwhelmingly peanut butter-tasting.

Too-thick white chocolate.
I also experimented with white chocolate ganache, using the same proportions, but was not pleased with the end product, which was too viscous. White chocolate is extremely difficult to work with when melted, and will petrify if even a drop of moisture touches it. So, I knew I had to figure something else out. The next day at work, I asked a fellow coworker, who is a chocolatier in her spare time, what white chocolate she recommended, and she hooked me up with what turned out to be magic: Ghirardelli white chocolate wafers. She also recommended using Paramount Crystals, which are basically little chips of solidified palm kernel oil that you can add to melted chocolate to thin it, making coating easier. So, I scooped some of those off Amazon as well, praying that they were the end of my coating woes.

Lemon Raspberry White Chocolate with Candied Lemon Peel
The raspberry-lemon cake I had a feeling would turn out without a hitch and thus did not warrant a dry run. I scoured the web for recipes that did not use gelatin, food coloring, or other artificial raspberry. Surprisingly, a good recipe was difficult to find, and I ultimately settled on one that was actually a strawberry cake recipe, but substituted raspberries and some lemon zest. After I baked that cake and then destroyed it (cake truffles play hardball with the baker's emotions: you put all this effort into baking a beautiful cake from scratch, then rake it into crumbs once it has barely cooled, and add in frosting to form a dough, ultimately destroying what you just created), I added homemade white chocolate-cream cheese frosting to form the dough. I dipped these in the wonderfully cooperative Ghirardelli white chocolate, then topped them with homemade candied lemon peel, a last minute idea for flair.

For the chocolate peanut butter, I made my amazing fudgy brownie recipe, mixed in homemade peanut butter frosting, then dipped in a coating of peanut butter chips and the Paramount Crystals, which gave the coating the sheen and constistency I had been seeking. I then drizzled milk chocolate over top to garnish.

Good coating consistency.
Peanut Butter Brownie with Milk Chocolate Drizzle
Now, the fun part: packing all those damn boxes. Luckily I had assembled the boxes and labels the night before, so now it was just a matter of putting four little truffles in four little yellow cups, inside a little box sealed with a little label... Forty times over... And I found out I don't know how to count - I only ordered 120 cups, so 40 of my truffles were bare. I told my perfectionist-self that since they would be in individual bags rather than all set out on a table together, no one would know, but secretly I was conspiring how I could convince Sur La Table to open at 7am the next morning so I could get more before Joanna picked up the finished product. Alas, I had to let this minor detail go.

At this point I was going mad; it was about 1:30am, and I had been up that late the entire week working on this, as I had staggered the stages of production over several nights. Finally, the last box was done, but dear god, now I have to take pictures?!?! Shoot me...

However, I made it through, and got a few hours of sleep before Joanna came over to pick them up. She made cute little gray cardstock cards that said what the flavors of the "gourmet handmade cake truffles" were. I have yet to hear from her how they went over; she kind of has more important things to worry about, like, her honeymoon. But hopefully it will drive some more blog traffic and possibly some more orders! And the experimentation itself was totally worthwhile: I am now more confident about dipping and melting, and have some good new recipes up my sleeve. So let me know if you think cake truffles would make your next event really special.... ;)


Beach said...

Nicole no worries your business is about to explode...I just sent out a tweet about this blog and what you're doing. Be prepared for the hundreds of visitors you're sure to get in the next few minutes. I love the passion you can feel in reading the blog..also see you this weekend!


Meghan said...

Nicole those look beautiful! And they sound awesome! I'm sure everyone at the wedding enjoyed them. I wish I lived in Chicago so I could be a taste tester :)

Diane said...

Nic - I love reading your posts. Mr. Beach may feel your passion, as I do in reading the blog, but I can also taste the product! If only you still lived in Evansville!

Mary-Beth said...

Nic, I am so proud of you! The pictures were great as they certainly outlined step after step, and then the finished product was absolutely beautiful! I must admit I had tears in my eyes when I read how dedicated you are to pursuing your dream!
Great job, Honey!

Liz said...

Nicole, these goodies look incredible! So proud of you! Can't wait for our consultation.

Mr. Berthene said...

Look out Crumbs, there's a new kid in town. Those look incredible! Joanna & co. are one lucky bunch

Jessie Reuteler said...

See, lots of people post about delicious things on the internet... but this is so interesting to ready because you detail your scientific method approach! Also they look delicious, so props. [end nerd comment]

Anonymous said...

Dave and I are so excited for you. Dream BIG and always do what you love and live your passion. It's sure to sore and be a huge success.

Dave and Susan Krieg

Erin said...

I wish I could have tried these, they look amazing and I absolutely love the packaging.. simple but so elegant :)

I wish I could have tried one!

Nicole said...

Thanks for the comments, everyone! Looking forward to hearing back from the Bride or someone that received the favors to see how they were!

Also, Jessie, thanks for acknowledging the nerd-dom of my scientific baking experiments... More of those to come.