February 24, 2010

Tutorial 101: MandiCrocker Platter Secrets!

After my last post, the Great Robynski asked me to write a blog based on my platters.  I was completely flattered because Robs is BRILLIANT.  She makes her kids homemade bread or scones on a daily basis, she sews, she scrapbooks and her blog is terrific.  She posts consistently and her stuff is always creative, amusing and touching.  I look forward to it everyday!  So when she asked me my advice on doing platters, puh-shuh, snort, yeah- I was gonna do that!  :)


A little platter background:  I think my angelically generous gift giving all started because I was selfish.  HA!  It was tradition growing up that on Black Friday, I would bake from eeeearly in the morning until laaaate at night.  Screw Christmas shopping!  I had soooo many different kinds of cookies & bars to make-- I wanted to make them all!  I'd make about 20 different varieties.  I couldn't make just two or three!  Obviously, one day of baking became one weekend which became the entire month of December...  But that is how I learned to bake in bulk and rob my mom of lots of money!

Cut to my time after college...  I was working at a phone company with a call center of over 200 people.  And because I'm a psycho about Christmas, I wanted to do something festive (anything to make work NOT feel like work).  So I thought it would be terrific to do a platter for every Supervisor's team in the call center... All 12 teams.  That means 12 platters.  Key word:  PSYCHO.  But that, including the years experience that followed, is how I learned the trial & error of platters (and how much work they are)!

And now on to present day.  
This is going to be A LOT of information.

Here is what I typically-ish end up making (dependent upon # of orders):

1)  Chocolate Chip Cookies
2)  White Chocolate Macadamia Nut Cookies or Peanut Butter Cookies
3)  1 or 2 different kinds of brownies or bar cookies
4)  Mini donuts or French Breakfast Puffs
5)  2-3 festive items to attach the theme to the platter
6)  Something small like cake truffles, fudge or chocolates to sprinkle around the outside
7)  2 different kinds of cupcakes
8)  Mini bread

Here is what I ask myself:

1)  How many orders do I have?
     **If I only have one or two orders for platters, I will try to stick to four or five items per platter plus cupcakes.  If I have seven platters to do, I can increase my variety of items even more!

2)  How many people is this supposed to feed?
     **Say my order is for an office with 20 people in it; I will make 40-60 pieces of baked goods.  I typically do 2-3 pieces per person.  Next question:  Do I have a platter that is big enough to fit 40-60 pieces?  I usually forget to ask myself this until the day before & I run around like a chicken with my head cut off.  That's stupid.  Don't do that part!  Find platters ahead of time or you'll end up spending $8.99 at Target & that, ladies & germs, AIN'T cost effective!

3)  How much am I charging?
     **I typically charge $40-$45 for a platter.  How much I charge depends on what I put in it.  Platters are really expensive & time consuming to make.   Honestly, I usually don't break even unless I have 2 or 3 orders for them.  Think about it, you make soooo much stuff, your costs are high (especially now-- thank you economy!!) and you have so much leftover.  That's why, until my business is legit & booming, I only do platters during the holidays when I'm almost guaranteed a few orders.

      Something else to think about in regard to charging people:  YOU ARE WORTH WHATEVER YOU WANT TO CHARGE.  If you're just starting out, maybe take a year and do a few orders for cost of ingredients so you can get the experience you need.  Looking back on it, I started charging people before I should have.  I made a lot of mistakes & hadn't perfected items I was selling before I sold them.  A couple of highly embarrassing lessons learned!  So be honest with yourself!  Do your items look professional or do they look like they were taken from a church pot luck?   Cause if the answer is church potluck, you'll end up putting too much salt in a Strawberry Shortcake and the City Counselor of whatever (I blocked it out) will never order from you again.

       If you really have a product that people keep talking about, it's packaged nicely, looks professional, etc., then charge what you want.  Make it worth your time!  I don't believe in highway robbery by any means but I consider food an art.  As Americans, we have a tendency to disrespect our food and shove it in our pie holes without too much concern for what we're eating or who made it, how it was distributed and the love that went into it.

        So many people are used to Vons & Costco & Dominick's where you can get a million frozen, dried out brownies & cookies for 39 cents.  And that's all well & good. I don't have $45 for a platter-- I get it!  But keep in mind that when you charge people, it's not just for ingredients;  it's for your time.  There's a reason people don't like to bake for themselves!  It's messy, it's time consuming & some people really suck at it!

        All this to say... don't be surprised to get a couple eye rolls now & then.  It's especially awkward when it's people you know, believe me!  But you don't want orders from those people anyway.  You'd be killing yourself, up at 3 in the morning, cursing the next work day.  For what?

You are worth what you believe you are worth.  

4)  What is most cost effective?

      **When I make platters, I always have a couple of staple items that are less expensive to make.  Items like chocolate chip cookies or my french breakfast puffs.  Butter, sugar, flour... nothing too fancy, keep a few items on the CHEAP side or you'll break the bank.

5)  What is most time effective?

      **Typically I will do both chocolate chip & white chocolate macadamia nut cookies.  Why?  Because I can make a batch or double batch of dough.  Once the dough is made I split it into two bowls.  Add chocolate chips to one and macadamia nuts & white chocolate to the other.  FASTER.   Also when it comes to cookies, I will make the dough a day or two in advance, saran wrap the dough & put them in the fridge.  All I have to do the day of is bake them. 10 minutes, cool for 20, immediately wrap them up in your platter & done! That guarantees fresh, soft cookies but you do the work ahead of time!

       I'm also sure to include a couple varieties of bar cookies or brownies.  Depending on the recipe you use, you can bake bar cookies or brownies a day or two in advance.  As long as you don't cut into them and cover them as soon as they have cooled, they will stay deliciously fresh & moist & will still last for days afterward.  My brownies are actually good for two weeks in the fridge if they're wrapped carefully.  EASY.

       The same goes for hand-painted sugar cookies!  Sugar cookies are a pain in the can to roll out & bake.  Ugh, the flour mess!  Time consuming to the max!  (Like OMG!) If it's a platter for a family gathering, I'll make them a week or two in advance & freeze them.  Why not?  Once you add frosting, they're still moist & delicious!  Your family won't know.  They're not very bright- heh, heh.  For customers, I do them the day before.  I frost them the same day I bake them & let them sit overnight to dry.  And no they don't get stale.  (Some people freak out about that sort of thing).  If you're using royal icing, it takes a few hours to dry.  Then, to pipe decorations on top of the frosting, that's another few hours to dry.  It's just how it is, folks.  They have to be made the day before. The frosting keeps them chewy & delicious, I swear!

6)  What is best suited for a platter?
         **I do a layer of brownies in the middle at the bottom.  They're flat so they work well when you need to stack items on top!  You want to have a good variety of items so it looks pleasing to the eye & people have a lot to choose from.  Sturdy in the middle, fragile & delicate on the sides & top.

Or in this case, what best goes in a Valentine's Day box?

7)  What is the occasion, holiday or event?

        **You really want to think about the occasion that's happening.  What is this holiday known for when it comes to food?  What will someone miss if it's not on the platter?  My first instinct with Christmas is peanut butter kiss cookies.  So for example, I might skip out on the macadamia nut cookies & opt for peanut butter kiss cookies instead.  I can still make the dough ahead of time & bake the cookies the day of delivery.

        I will also think about what little things I can do to change my staple items into more festive ones.  For example, my Halloween platter, I turned simple chocolate cupcakes into evil red-eyed cupcakes.  I added some goofy gummy worms, etc.  I would still have to decorate my cupcakes.  This way, I just decorate them in a faster, easier fashion that is boooo-tifully scary!

        I'll also ask my customer what makes that particular holiday for them?  'My mom used to make this...' or 'My boyfriend's favorite cupcake is chocolate', etc... You want your customers to get what they like.  There's nothing worse than giving a primarily chocolate platter to a person that's 'egh' about chocolate.  And there's nothing more special than finding out what a customer's favorite 'thing' is-- especially if it's from their past or from their mom- that fills a person's soul.  You really want your customer to feel loved!!!  :)

8)  What do I want to do (ME, ME, ME!!!)?  :)

      **Okay, okay... so my favorite part, once I have all my staple items declared, is to pick out what I want to make!!  :)  Usually it's the most selfish, most creative & holiday oriented part of the platter.  This is where I'm going to allow myself to be creative, allow myself to make something that's a little less time effective.  This is where I want to 'wow' my customer.  I asked before 'What will this person miss from their holiday if they don't have this?'  This time I will ask, 'What can I bring to this person's holiday that they have never had before?"  or "What will go missing next holiday if this never shows up again?" or "What can be a new tradition for them?"

        Ex:  For my Halloween platters, rather than do my typical red velvet cake truffles, what if I made  them into eyeballs?  What if I made my ghosts into fondant cupcakes?  What if I made my chocolate peanut butter dipped oreos into spiderwebs?

       For Valentine's Day this year I made heart-shaped linzer cookies.  They're a pain in the hazelnut, let me tell you-- super time consuming but they're beautiful & delicious and VERY Valentine's Day-ey!  And again, rather than do typical red velvet cake truffles, I put them in heart shaped molds to make them more seasonal.  And that was a REALLY small platter that was stacked HIGH so hey!  How about them stackable, sturdy brownies on the bottom!!  Hip hip hooray!!!

Also be thinking about things you can do a few days to a months in advance:

Toasting/ de-shelling/ candy-ing nuts- those hazelnuts are the DEVIL!
Buying correct cookie cutters
Making fondant
Making cake truffles (a week & a half in the fridge!)
Finding correct packaging- platter, cellphane, ribbon, etc.

A couple of days in advance:
Various doughs
Various royal icing
Chocolates or fudge

And finally, when I plate my platters, I usually do brownies on the bottom, as I said before.  Then cookies, breads, mini donuts, etc. on the outside in a circle.  Then I'll stack my cupcakes in the middle.

Cupcakes are tricky because of the frosting.  I put mine in the fridge for 30 minutes before I wrap my platter up in cellophane just to "flash chill" them.  You tie the cellophane at the top which gives the middle (suprisingly) some room and the cupcakes can breath without smushing the frosting.

I just did this one a day or two ago for a new baby named Stella!  :)  :)  :)  I started with the green grass, put the extra sugar cookies on the bottom, stacked the cupcakes on top & there you go!  I also don't like the taste of fondant so I made the letters out of sugar cookies as well.

Are we learning yet?  :)

I hope this helps!  Sorry it was so long-- but again, trial & error makes you remember planning is everything!

Happy Plattering (that just doesn't sound right),


Robyn said...

You are AMAZING!!!

I feel like I just told you that...and there I went and did it again. ;)

First of all...great tips about the batter and frosting and whatnot and getting that together ahead of time! That seems to be key! And I can see what you mean about stacking it just right. Dang cupcake frosting.

I'm never very patient about perfecting recipes. I more often than not am baking a new recipe. It also seems like one of your keys to success is perfecting recipes. Gotta try that!

I LOVe your baby tray! I wish I had ordered a MandiCakes baby tray when MY babies were born. Shucks. Such a good idea!

ahhhh...Mandi...you're something special. ;)

Darci Monet said...

Mand, that baby tray is one of your most beautiful creations EVER! You just keep getting more amazing. So proud of you! xoxo

Starr Wahlen said...

I love your baby tray too, its darling! but DANG, now im hungry for yummies :):)
p.s. I learned alot too, Thanks!!

MandiCrocker said...

Thanks everybody!! :) :) :) I was really happy with how the baby platter turned out. Now let's see how this St. Patty's Day minicake happens...