Adding to the Menu

After the big day at Caoba on my second weekend, I was looking ahead to what more I could do. Sure, I could (and would) bring more products to the market, but I also wanted to expand my repertoire. I’d been telling people, “Yeah, I’ll have that soon,” or “That’s going to be down the road a bit,” when asked about certain products. But instead of procrastinating, as I had been, I decided that when I published the coming week’s schedule and menu on the Canela Antigua Facebook page, I would commit myself to some new products.

Time to step up the game.

By telling everyone there would be cinnamon rolls and scones…well, that means there WOULD be cinnamon rolls and scones. A self-fulfilling prophecy, and a delicious one at that. I got to work on Monday morning, laying out the plan for the week and felt like it would be manageable.

Back at Mama Jojo’s for the killer breakfast burrito. With my cookies in the background!

During the day, I happened to see a Facebook post about a new brownie place in Antigua. They claimed on their Facebook page to have the “best brownies in the universe!” I tried to be playful in response to the post, but it wasn’t taken in good fun. Nothing rude or anything, but clearly they had staked out their position as the best and that was the end of the story.

A brownie.

So, when I was out running errands, I decided to stop by and check it out. Down near the Bodegona, the brownies are sold out of a small storefront facing the street. There’s a counter that stretches the width of the space, a chalkboard menu/display, and a pathway to the back where the kitchen presumably is. The woman who I’d interacted with online was friendly enough in person, but there was definitely an edge. An edge with a smile, but an edge.

I was asked multiple times which type of ice cream I’d like on top of the brownie and I declined on each occasion. I just wanted to try the brownie in its pure form. It came out a few minutes later, presented as above. Looks nice, decent size – maybe six inches in diameter? But I could tell right away that it was a cakey brownie. And if you know me and desserts, you know I don’t like cake and thus not cakey brownies. After two small bites, I tried explaining that I’m more a fudgy brownie person and not a cakey one, and she tried telling me that it gets fudgier. Hmm…

In the interest of diplomacy, I’ll say no more except that I wish her the best of luck.

One of the freezer options.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, I’m dealing with space issues again – this time in my freezer. So I went shopping for another chest freezer. It’ll go in the back room where yet another fridge was placed just the week before. I guess it’s good that I’m producing so much already that I need additional cold storage, but buying new appliances is getting a little old (and expensive)!

Tuesday’s cinnamon roll.

Tuesday morning went very well. People were excited to come by and try the cinnamon rolls, and I got great feedback on them. I had 18 smallish rolls and sold nearly all of them, as well as a decent amount of bread. A few customers said they’d be back on Thursday to try the scones.

I was hoping to do a berry scone and had bought some blackberries at the market…but they were too sour to use. As I worked on the dough that morning, I decided to keep the first round of scones simple: lime juice and zest into the dough would be sufficient.

Taste-testing ice cream and cookie combos at Glacy.

In the afternoon, I headed into town to meet up with Felipe at his ice cream shop. The idea of working together on ice cream sandwiches was appealing to both of us, so I brought four or five cookie varieties so we could taste-teste in the shop. Some combos worked – like my lime sugar cookie with his key lime pie ice cream; some didn’t, like the ginger molasses cookie with toasted coconut. But there was enough potential to take the idea further, so we fleshed out some details of how an arrangement could work and agreed to meet the next week at his ice cream factory, where we would taste-test more, and his business partner could join us. After that, we’d likely hold some sort of special promotional event at his ice cream shop to kick things off, and see what customers’ responses were. Assuming we’d want to move forward, we’d each sell ice cream sandwich combos in our respective shops!

I walked out of there excited about the possibilities that working with Felipe and Glacy could bring. Plus, I love ice cream sandwiches.

Test scone on Wednesday morning.

I got to work early on Wednesday morning, because I needed to finish making the dough for Thursday’s bread before 10 o’clock. Why? Because I had hired Raul again to take me into the city. Originally, I was going to join Mindy and Carlos on their journey into the city. However, I now had too many errands of my own to run and needed both my own timeline as well as space in the car. (Friends of Mindy and Carlos were joining them too.)

So, I finished the bread dough and set it to rest in the fridge. I baked off a few scones to test them out, and they were delicious! I gave one to Raul and he was pleased. And off to the city we went. Our first stop was PriceSmart, but instead of going to the usual one – near Miraflores – we trekked across a wider swath of the city to the one in Zona 10. Why? Because a few blocks away from that PriceSmart was the office of Noé, my “guy” for rye flour. He said he’d meet me in the PriceSmart parking lot instead of having us try to locate his building.

We timed the meet-up perfectly, and with the flour safely stowed in the back of the car, I did my shopping inside. With no returns to make, and only essentials on the list, I was in and out pretty quickly. Next up was Cemaco, the Target/Home Depot/Bed Bath & Beyond hybrid. Another upside to being at the Zona 10 PriceSmart is that it put us closer to the bigger Cemaco – Plaza Cemaco – which is where Mindy and Carlos and I went on my first trip there back in March. I like this store so much more and was glad we could go to there.

Panini on the brain.

I tried not to get too distracted at Cemaco. I bought some display items for the bakery, but my main goal was light fixtures. While some of the rooms in the house and the bakery have very nice chandeliers or flush-mounted lights, in other areas, it seemed like the builders gave up or ran out of fixtures. Most critically, the single light bulb in my bakery workspace is placed directly next to a large wooden beam. So it completely cuts off the light to one side of the room. This isn’t an issue during the day, but any work I try to do at night (or early in the morning) is difficult. So I was on the hunt for a suspended fixture for there and some tasteful but not too expensive or flashy stuff for the bathrooms and the room I’m calling “multi-purpose.”

I spent entirely too much time staring at different fixtures, trying to imagine them in the house. The Cemaco guy who was trying to be helpful and asking me, repeatedly, what I wanted, finally left me alone. I just needed to stare and think. After a long enough time, I finally loaded my cart with the ones I deemed best, and made my way to the register.

Next up was AMSA, the cornerstone of the trip to the city. As you may recall, when they delivered the oven, mixer and other bakery equipment, only one of the two tables I wanted was part of the order. After a few weeks of trying to track down my rep, I finally got confirmation that the second table I wanted was in stock. However, because it was just a small item, they wouldn’t deliver to Antigua; I needed to go pick it up. On Monday morning, I told my rep I was coming into the city on Wednesday and that I’d be by to pick up the table. Her response, “Perfecto.”

So you can imagine my surprise when Raul and I pulled up to AMSA, and I walked in to not only find my rep wasn’t there, but they had no record of my order. The woman at the front desk, and one of the other sales reps in the back, scrambled to help me and see if they could find the order and the table itself. You can imagine my frustration, at having paid a driver to take me to the city for this critical purchase and pickup.

It’s almost time for brewing big batches of coffee.

I wandered around the small showroom as they tried to figure things out. Fortunately, they were very apologetic and accommodating. In the end, they discovered that they did have the table in stock but it was at their warehouse, not at this building. But, because of all the trouble I’d gone through, they would have it delivered to me in Antigua – free of charge – the next day or Friday. While not the best solution, it was a good one. With that all settled, I paid for the table, confirmed the delivery address and crossed my fingers that it would show up.

Raul and I continued our journey back towards Antigua, with a stop nearby at House & Green. This restaurant/bakery and home-cooking supply store carries the type of durable, heavy plastic tubs I like to use for storing cookie dough and mixing bread dough. However, the price for one variety seemed a bit too high and the other type was too large. I ended up just getting another cake/pastry display for use in the bakery and called it a day.

Beautiful produce display at La Torre.

Our final stop was almost all the way back to Antigua, at the new La Torre supermarket. Only about twenty minutes outside of Antigua, this will be a very helpful spot for me to pick up some harder-to-find items that Bodegona doesn’t carry. The key purchase was kosher salt, critical to my baking, which I can’t find anywhere in Antigua. I stocked up with a few boxes, got a few other small items and finally got home.

The sum of my day.

I spent the rest of the afternoon and evening relaxing, putting away my purchases, and getting a few items ready for Thursday morning. I was excited to see how well the scones would do, after a successful Tuesday of cinnamon rolls. The other project I was working on was a Boston Cream Pie (with modifications) for my friend Christina. She had ordered it for her birthday, coming up on Sunday, because it was one of her favorite things and she couldn’t find it anywhere in Guatemala. I hadn’t made it since pastry school but was happy to do it for her.

However, I’d been running into major trouble with the pastry cream. My first attempt, using one recipe I’ve used professionally and at home, didn’t set properly. It stayed too loose. I tried again, using a recipe from another place I’d worked, and the same issue. I happened to mention my struggles to Christina and she mentioned something to me about corn starch here being kind of “weird.” I also talked to Chef Nicole from San Francisco Cooking School and she surmised it was likely also an issue with the setting agent.

I doubled the amount of starch and thought I’d made headway…but once I emulsified the butter, it loosened up and never reset. I was very frustrated. I tabled it for the night, but was worried I both wouldn’t be able to solve the problem, and would also be pouring more and more money down the drain as I had all these useless batches of pastry cream. Hopefully the next day would provide some sort of improvement.

Lime scones, ready for business.

Thursday morning, while I waited for people to come by for bread and scones, I decided to save myself some stress and work on the babka that day instead of Friday. It keeps very well, so baking it two days before the Caoba market wouldn’t diminish the quality at all. I made a big batch (eight babkas), considering I’d sold out of six the week before. Meanwhile, the table from AMSA arrived, as promised, and was quickly set up and put into place. What a difference it made, too. So much more space to work now!

Babka city.

They were cooling on the racks when Christina and her boyfriend came by to drop off some canned cherries. You see, it’s Christina’s Boston Cream Pie and instead of the typical chocolate glaze, she wanted whipped cream and cherries. She was happy to supply the cherries, which made it much easier for me to do. I lamented about the pastry cream issues, but in talking to them, I realized that I might have stumbled upon a solution. Once they left, I was ready to try it one (hopefully) final time. I was multi-tasking, though, pre-heating the oven for my chicken dinner. I went to put the chicken in and the oven didn’t seem quite warm enough.

Panicked, I ran outside and lifted up the gas tank. Empty.

Ahhhhhhh!!!!!

I called the gas guy and he said he’d be there shortly. I debated what to do with the chicken. Do I fire up the big convection oven just for a few thighs and waste all that electricity and gas? Or do I wait and hope the tepid chicken doesn’t kill me when I eventually can bake it? I decided to risk my health, and after the Tropigas guy showed up about 25 minutes later, I fired up the oven, cooked the chicken through and hoped for the best.

Meanwhile, I was making another batch of pastry cream on the stove and…long story short…it worked! Finally! I could successfully put together the Boston Cream Pie for Christina. I measured out the ingredients for the cake layers, with a plan to make it on Friday afternoon, a few hours before she picked it up.

However, I now had three completely useless batches of pastry cream. What to do with them? Well, pastry cream is a custard, right? And a liquid, chilled custard – such as my three loose batches of pastry cream – is the same as….does anyone know? Ice cream base! With the exception of the corn starch or potato starch I variously added, I basically had a vanilla ice cream base. So I got out my ice cream maker and set to work. I started with one batch, as a test. I sprinkled in some ground cinnamon, cardamom and ginger, let it sit in the fridge for a while, and then tasted it. Pretty good! Into the machine it went, and it looked like it was going to turn out just fine. As the batch finished, I tossed in some chopped, toasted walnuts and had a delicious treat to stick in the freezer.

Friday morning, the focus was on making the bread dough for Saturday’s Caoba market and getting all my other cookies and scones and other pastries baked, cooled and packaged. On top of that, I had to put together Christina’s Boston Cream Pie. I wasn’t worried about the cake layers, and they turned out well. (Actually, they turned out delicious. When I leveled the top layer, I sampled some of the scraps. Turned out that this particular recipe was quite tasty!)

Boston Cream Pie – Christina-style, with cherries on top.

Since it was my third Caoba, things were getting pretty streamlined, so I was done earlier Friday evening than I was in either of the previous two weeks. That meant I could relax a little bit and get to bed early, before a long day on my feet. After the near-sellout the week before, I was super excited to see what my third outing would bring.

Saturday morning and ready to go.

It was another nice Saturday in Antigua, and the rain generally stayed away. However, the crowd was a little lighter and the sales weren’t as brisk. A better day than week one, but not by too much. Still, I sold well. By the time it wrapped up, I was excited to go home and have nothing to do that night, after another long week and long day on my feet!

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