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BonBonBar 2010 Holiday Newsletter… Blogged

Saturday, February 6th, 2010
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Hello,

Happy Holidays!  Even though I have been quiet on the newsletter front, it has been busy at BonBonBar.

The most exciting news is that I have been hard at work writing a cookbook! It is called Beautiful Candymaking, and it is due out in the Fall of 2011 through Sterling Publishing.  The book will feature my take on a wide range of candy recipes — from toffee to fudge to caramel corn — along with candymaking tips/techniques and gorgeous photography courtesy of The White on Rice Couple.

After developing so many recipes for the book, I thought that it would be a good idea to recharge and seek new inspiration for the company’s confections.  So, BonBonBar will be closed from December 23 to February 1 as I eat my way around France, Italy, Brazil, and California.  I am looking forward to returning with refreshed ideas for new products, but it most likely also means that, unfortunately, some candies will be rotated out in the new year.

As always, thank you so much for your support and enthusiasm.  Happy customers have always been my favorite part of this BonBonBar adventure, and you have given me the amazing opportunity to run a truly artisan food company that will be going into its fourth year. I am grateful, and lucky.

All the best for a happy and sweet holiday season, and I hope that BonBonBar treats will be a part of it!

Thank  you!

Nina

Founder & Chief Chocolatier,BonBonBar

MORE BONBONBAR NEWS

So far, our candy bars are being featured in Fine Cooking, DailyCandy, and The Huffington Post’s 2010 holiday gift guides.

If you would like to place your holiday orders in advance of when you would like them to ship, please let us know in the comments of the order.

All orders placed during the break will ship after February 1.

How to Stop Worrying, iPod-style

Thursday, May 21st, 2009

I spent a bit of my first year in business worrying.  There was so much that I had little or no experience with that I was often anxious about things that had happened or could happen.  I tried to do my best and figure things out logically or by asking other people, and I had mellow periods, but it was easy to worry about just about anything, anytime.

That abated a bit as I got more experienced, and as I felt more comfortable with the work, I listened to my iPod more and more.   At first, I just listened to my library of songs that I was familiar with and could tune in and out of, but as I got even more comfortable, I realized that I could easily learn a few new things by listening to audiobooks.  And they would give me a bit of perspective outside of my work.  Again, I started to listen to them during the really repetitive tasks, like packaging individual items and chopping nuts & marshmallows, but now I listen to them while cooking and working with tempered chocolate, too.  The only task that always remains silent is the final packaging of mailing boxes, when I want to be sure that everything that was ordered is included and packed properly.  And the iPod is put away when someone else is working with me.

I tend to go for history, biographies and rarely, fiction — which, btw, makes me feel old because I used to mostly read fiction.  On the job, I’ve listened to subjects, titles, and authors like Theodore Roosevelt, Truman, Julia Child, Jacques Pepin, Einstein, Magellan (who was killed before he made it around the world!), the Mayflower, Steve Martin, Sandra Day O’Connor, Captain Kidd, Andrew Jackson, Shackleton, the Mondavi’s, P.G. Woodhouse, Churchill, Wicked, The Country of the Pointed Firs, the CA Gold Rush, Sherlock Holmes, Sarah Vowell, Neil Gaiman, Billy Collins, Paris 1919, Balzac, Susan Orlean, Hannibal (the Carthaginian), David Sedaris, Ruth Reichl, John McPhee, the Darien expedition, Nick Hornby, Abraham Lincoln, TEDTalks, Dickens…

I admit, listening to Dickens’ Hard Times has been just that — the sentences seem to make sense, but I can never make sense of them altogether and I doubt I’ll ever finish that one.  I often think about Dickens, however, when I select my audiobooks.   I believe he was often paid by the word, and when I look for books, I often look for length.  Two volumes totaling 80 hrs about Churchill’s life, and not even getting to WWII?  Fantastic!!!  I consented to Steve Martin’s 4hr memoir about his standup career because I was interested in it — and ended up listened to it a few times because, well, why not?  I’ll usually listen to a book for awhile at a time, and then go into the music library part of the iPod to listen to music on shuffle for a little while like intermission.  Or sometimes, it’s all one or none…  Silence can also be wonderful to work to.

When someone else started listening to an epically long audiobook about Warren Buffett earlier this year, my interest was piqued.  It turned out that he also had Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point and Dale Carnegie’s How to Stop Worrying and Start Living, so I got those, too.  When I got them onto my computer, I realized that they weren’t in typical audiobook format, which is continuous and allows you to stop at any point, switch to listen to music files, and then go back to the same point in the book.  Instead, the books were broken up into files equivalent to song files, and they stored along with the songs.

I listened to the beginning files of How to Stop Worrying… but when I stopped to listen to music instead, I lost my place.   I’d have to write down the file# and time somewhere to keep my place or waste time/memory looking for my place.  But then the best thing happened.  As I was listening to music on shuffle mode, a chapter from How to Stop Worrying… came on with a bit of succinct wisdom, and then a song file played after that.  In the weirdest of ways, I think that this method of listening to it has made it the most effective it can be.  Instead of earnestly listening to the audiobook in long blocks when I feel the need to listen to it and then finishing it and vaguely remembering key points that will fade away, the advice not to worry is randomly whispered into my ears whenever the shuffle strikes.  I hear some things more than once, or sometimes for the first time — sometimes when I need soothing and sometimes when I don’t.  It’s almost subliminal (and the college-days film theorist in me gets a kick out of the semiotics of this).  Since it’s been woven into my work and thoughts, it sinks in well and is a welcome commercial btw songs, rather than a task in itself.

And of course, credit should be given to the book itself.  As he notes in the intro (which really should be read/listened to continuously to get a foundation for what the book is going for), you’ve probably already heard much of the advice in it, but it’s good to hear about it out loud once in a while and about how people have specifically gotten over their worries.  In fact, my favorite parts to listen to are those narratives “by so-and-so” about their own experiences overcoming worry — in many ways, they are song-like, but they’re just not set to music.  And to think that they took place early last century is somehow charming, though it’s easy to mistake them as contemporary. The advice in the book usually comes down to living life in the present (or “day-tight compartments”) and to take responsibility for your life without dwelling on what can’t be changed, and to change what you can.  The narration is also pitch-perfect — down to earth, but authoritative.

The book really has changed me.  There are still so many imperfect things about my company, but my perspective on how to think about them has changed.  Perhaps a concern now is to not try to take on more than I can really handle because I’m not worried that I won’t be able to do it.

Anyway, back to a more practical matter — listening to an iPod during work isn’t such a bad thing after all, though, of course, it wouldn’t work on a larger scale. Though part of me thinks that instead of playing background music or talk radio on speakers in kitchens, maybe audiobooks would work, too.

Hundreds of Orders, 3 Hours of Sleep

Thursday, April 30th, 2009

In which every piece of paper represents an order (and this wasn’t even all of them)…

In which I consider filling them, in my stylin’ bouffant…

Early last week, I got a lowkey fact-checking phone call from someone at UrbanDaddy, asking me a few questions about the Single Malt Scotch Bar (which has a Scotch Ganache topped by a Chewy Caramel Layer, enrobed in Dark Chocolate, and finished with Maldon Sea Salt).  Just as we were finishing, I asked if, um, they were running a story about them, and was told, yes, it would go out that afternoon in the NY edition.  Here it is.

And soon after, it all began… or rather, stopped for a little while –  I’d told them to link to my webstore on Foodzie (since that’s where they’d heard about them; Foodzie gets a percentage of every sale on their site — and they really do earn it) and I’d given the wonderful people at Foodzie a similar lowkey, last minute warning –  but the site crashed.  People then googled for the Scotch bars, found the BonBonBar site, and placed order after order… and then the Foodzie site was back up, and then it was doubletime order after order… Every time my email reloaded, there were more orders, and almost all of them were going to NYC.

I can handle a pretty large number of orders, but I’d never had a rush of unique orders like this before.  It was so different from the December holiday season because in that case, there were fewer orders but they were larger on the average because they were placed by customers who already knew my products and were giving them out as gifts; and multiple gifts were often the same combination of candy.  For this, orders for the Scotch Bars started at 3 bars and went up to about a couple dozen, and then also for other candy bars, caramels, and marshmalllows.

I took some pictures during the week when I remembered because I thought that it would be interesting to blog about trying to fill so many orders in a rented kitchen with limited resources — and this mega post would make up for my lack of posting recently due to being busy!  I’ve had interns and helpers during the last 1.5 years that I’ve been in business, and at this moment, I generally make and package everything with a wonderful helper (who usually comes in one day a week, or two), and am used to getting everything out no matter what — which usually means a lot of time on my part.  When something like this happens, it becomes even more evident that I truly need to hire someone, but what makes it especially hard is that when you’re suddenly very busy, it’s difficult to suddenly hire someone.  Generally, I think I can still handle the cooking, but if someone could package quickly even one solid day a week, I think that would make a big difference.  And then there’s the trick of finding someone who’s available exactly when I need them…  For these orders, I had 4 people working at different times for me, but as the post title suggests, I averaged maybe 3 hours of sleep a night.

So… last week was supposed to be a week to relax, with a possible short road trip, because in the past month, I’ve been fortunate enough to have steady online orders from fantastic customers around the country, good sales at the LA farmers markets, and also to have my products featured by DailyCandy Everywhere and Martha Stewart’s Bride’s Guide blog.   I thought that there would be a lull last week, and I was prepared to exploit it for all of the sleep and fun it was worth.  It was fun to watch the UrbanDaddy orders roll in for a few hours, but it quickly sunk in that these orders would need to be made, packaged, and sent out…

I didn’t have a single Scotch Bar at the time because I’d sold the leftovers from the previous week’s online orders at the Brentwood Farmer’s Market on Sunday.  And my helper was going out of town.  Timing became an issue.  It takes 2 days to make my candy bars, so with packaging, the first batches wouldn’t have been ready to go until Wednesday.  But there was the added complication of the weather — it was 99F in LA!

Chocolate likes 68F best.  I prefer not to ship when it’s over 90F here or at the destination, and the burgeoning weatherwoman in me noticed that even though it was supposed to drop down to the 60’s (woohoo!) in LA on Wednesday, the hot weather wasn’t just disappearing  — it was moving East and would linger in the East Coast until the end of the weekend.  Packages sent out to NY on that Wednesday would have traveled along with the heat perfectly (and probably, meltily) on Thursday and Friday.  Even styrofoam coolers and gel paks can only help so much when it’s really hot for a long period of time.

So I planned for NY orders to go out the following Monday and Tuesday — when the country in general looked like it was cooler — and sent out as many orders as I could to the West Coast at the end of last week.  I knew that the days would fly by for me and that it was the right thing to do temp-wise, but I also felt bad for the customers — to them, it just meant that it took one and a half weeks at least to get some cool chocolates that they’d ordered.  Although, I sent some out during the first week, upon special request for birthdays and gifts.

From a production standpoint, I usually make the ganache for the Scotch Bars in a Robot Coupe food processor in batches that make 48 bars — that’s the max I can do at one time in it because of its size — and regularly make multiple batches per day.  I pour the ganache btw bars to make slabs…

I only have 4 of those longer bars (I can put 2 shorter bars together, but it’s unwieldy) and two nicely flat portable surfaces (heavy wooden cutting boards; tables and sheet pans are rather unreliable)… which makes doing multiple successive batches a little hard, especially since I have to make caramel slabs the same size for the other component in the bar.  But if I let it either set just enough, I can take the bars off, seal the sides upright with the saran wrap that covers the slab, and do another batch; so I can do multiple sets of 2 slabs at a time per day.

In a bad-yet-good turn of events, the bowl of the Robot Coupe that I use smelled strongly of garlic one night last week; it’s not my Robot Coupe – the Chef at the kitchen lets me use his.  I spent as much time as I could trying to wash it out with everything I could think of, but it wouldn’t go completely away. A new bowl would have been $250, and would have taken too much time to arrive. Ganache can be very sensitive to how it is emulsified (and mine was last year when I developed the recipe), so I was a little reluctant to try it another way but I had no choice.

At least there was a commercial-size stainless steel immersion blender handy. I use an immersion blender to emulsify my Malt Ganache, so I figured I may as well try it with my Scotch Ganache.  Luckily, it worked (the ganache came together fine every time — didn’t break), but I didn’t want to make too many batches without seeing out how it set.  It set a bit softer than the Robot Coupe version and as far as I can tell, there was a slightly greater volume of it.  So, I decreased the cream a bit for future batches, which, in any case, should help the shelf life and make the scotch flavor even stronger.  Even better, the amount of ganache that I can make at a time is only limited by the size of the bowl it’s made in and how many frames I have.  So, I was able to up my batch size of ganache to 104 bars, or 2 slabs.  I can cook 2 caramel slabs at a time, too (I only have one 6 qt pot and two none-too-strong arms), so it worked out fine.

Keeping count was also kind of an issue because orders kept coming in and I sent some out, and while I could tally the sales on my site, I got emails for each order from Foodzie, so I had to rely on periodic tallies from their end.  Since I was making them in batches of over a hundred, one or two extra batches would be a huge difference… and would take up a lot of time and cost.  Luckily, even with some rejects, there were enough to cover bars from that week’s orders based on my calculations.

Oh, also…. I only had a half bottle of Scotch left last Monday!  Since I use Talisker 1992 Distiller’s Edition, it’s not available everywhere — it was a limited production, and as far as I could tell, is no longer sold anywhere in LA.  I searched online, and was able to order the last bottles from stores in Riverside and Massachusetts.  The Riverside bottle arrived the next day, but with no one to sign for it, I had to go to UPS will call that night to pick it up; I waited there for over an hour, but I got my package, unlike some others waiting there.

And so, lots of Scotch Bars!

This is what the scored 2-layer slab looks like — it’s cut with a pizza cutter to size…

And this is my melter (6 kg) that I temper chocolate in for dipping…  I actually have two melters that are each double the size (12 kg) of this one, and I thought about breaking out at least one of them… but the idea of tempering that much chocolate at once and keeping it at a good temper kind of intimidated me.  It’s another of those things that you can’t really practice… but I have a feeling that it will be more practical to use them soon.  At this point, I can probably handle it fine.

And then the bars are heat sealed within a sheet of cellophane and the ends are trimmed, and one end is snipped to make them easier to open…

And then stickers are unpeeled and wrapped around them…

And then they’re put into gift boxes, and will be topped by gold candy pads and my blue BonBonBar intro card….

And then, they’re wrapped with a strip of handmade lokta paper and secured with a BonBonBar Sticker, and then the orders are laid out in bathes on the tables… I’m incredibly lucky that the kitchen that I rent is huge.  My source for the paper ran out of the red that I like to use for Scotch Bar boxes, so I switched to black.

And the shipping boxes have to be prepped and filled….

The packaging takes a lot of time, and in addition to ingredients, it’s something that I have to make sure I have enough of in stock.  It turned out that I didn’t have enough boxes of the right sizes, so I also made a field trip out to PaperMart’s warehouse early this week because I couldn’t wait a day for them to be delivered.  Luckily, I had placed an order for my gift boxes and candy pads the week before from my supplier TN, so they arrived in time, and aplenty.  Unfortunately, I had not yet received my warm weather packaging from GA, but thanks to Foodzie and Diana at Ococoa, I got styrofoam shippers in 24 hours!  I also picked up gel paks and smaller insulated pouches at my LA packaging supplier.

Amidst all that, I had to make other products, too…

Such as strawberry jam for my Peanut Butter Bars (I had to make sure that I didn’t miss the Wednesday Santa Monica Farmers Market so that I could get my organic local strawberries)…

I also had to make marshmallows… but at least I’ve graduated to using the 30 qt mixer that another baker in the facility lets me use (next goal: get a guitar cutter made). I just had to buy the whisk… which hopefully won’t break like the 7qt whisk in the forefront often does…

And Caramels… Here are the Single Malt Scotch Caramels made with Balvenie…

And Caramallows

And others….

And then there was the transportation issue…  FedEx seemed too expensive to do a pickup and I don’t have a reliable system to weigh USPS packages, so they were transported in bins, by car over multiple trips on different days.

I also have to give credit to my iPhone — it’s such an amazing device.  Not only could I monitor orders from the kitchen, I could also keep in touch with the world through Twitter and Facebook — it’s a nice way to keep things in perspective.  I also could get emails there, though I’m not yet completely comfortable or fast tapping out emails back — I prefer to do that on a computer.  I wasn’t able to communicate as well as I would have liked with some people through email.

So… that’s how it was done this time… Pretty cool and commendable, but still small-scale and pretty inefficient?  I can’t really dispute that.  It really does take a lot of time to make, package, and ship everything.  And I have been reticent about hiring and buying more equipment. There are a lot of issues with that… probably deserving another post… but a lot of it has to do with how I feel about having my own company that, essentially, is a manufacturing company of a heat-sensitive product in a large city.  It means that I have to keep track of a lot of things (tangible & intangible), and even if I hired people, I would have to keep track of people who are looking after things and do a bit of followup on those things myself, too.  If I had my own store, I would have to keep track of that space, too, and pay/take effort to upkeep it. And behind all that, there’s always the fear: what if the orders stop?  When I think about what I value most in general, it’s not really money or recognition — it’s freedom.  For example, part of me really likes that I can work on my own schedule right now — anytime day or night — to meet deadlines that others give me and to handle things as I see fit.  I haven’t figured out how to grow the company without feeling less free…

But anyway….  This was an exciting experience to go through, and I was unbelievably lucky to have it.  I kept pretty cool throughout it for the most part, and am pretty proud of that.  And to think, when April started, I was afraid that this may be a slow month!  In addition to the orders, I got more media requests and sales propositions….  Now there are so many things brewing that I’m curious to see what happens next….

And I’m happy that the Scotch Bar got such a fantastic writeup on its own. It’s long been my best-selling bar, but it hadn’t really been focused on by the media — I think it’s great that it finally got the recognition it deserves… in the biggest way yet! 🙂

Oh, and I know what you’re wondering by this point — what did I eat through all this???  Whenever I could, I went to The Hole in Wall Burger Joint.  I’m completely in love with their burgers, and every day is like Christmas when I realize that they’re so close to my kitchen and apt, and it’s so quick and efficient.  Their burgers are juicy and flavorful, and all the accompaniments are so fresh.  And I’ll quote Chad: Pretzel Bun FTW.

I believe that this one had swiss cheese, bacon, and avocado… cuz I needed energy. :)  If you can possibly inhale burgers, I inhaled these.  It’s also nice to sit outside in their rather cozy patio area, appreciating the fresh air & sun.

I also liked Cabbage Patch.  Their salads — and cole slaw!  and whoopie pies! — were also fresh and delicious.

A Perfect Fig

Wednesday, September 10th, 2008

Just felt like sharing. I got a whole bag of them from the Brentwood Farmers Market on Sunday.


I Have A Sunday Night Again. And I’ve Discovered Facebook.

Monday, July 21st, 2008

Since I started selling my candy bars in December, I’ve been making them on Saturday and Sunday nights from about 6pm-2am. This schedule fit in with the times available for my first kitchen, but now I’m in my third rented commercial (with honest to god central Air, though it’s not normally turned on)… and it’s the summer… and the kitchen traps a lot of heat and humidity by 6pm. On Sunday nights, when I usually do most of my chocolate tempering, that means going in later when it’s cooler and even then waiting a couple hours at least for it to cool down so that I can temper chocolate.

So, this Sunday, I went in at 8am instead… and it was heaven. The temperature was perfect for tempering and it wasn’t humid. It was several hours before I even had to turn on the AC, and it was effective right away. The kitchen felt like a real chocolate kitchen. And I was fresh and not trying to get a second (and third) wind for the day. And when I finished work, I was free! There were still several hours of sunlight left, and I had no lurking feeling of all that I had to do that night. I even got to go to a bbq and meet Brian, who was in town.

In short: it was like a normal job, not a covert confectionery mission. It felt so nice.

August and September will probably be hotter than it is now, but I think going in a little earlier might be fine, too. And luckily, since Chad generally sleeps until about 11-12, I won’t be missing all that much time with him by going in early. And I usually wake up early anyway.

And in other news, I finally joined the rest of the world on Facebook, and I’m addicted. It’s such a great way to keep up with friends — fun and on your own time. Unfortunately, it competes with my time for the blog and returning emails… but it’s irresistible, like a big hug from people I’ve met during so many different times in my life. And I can publish mini-thoughts that won’t make it to the blog. I just made butterscotch pudding. I doubt I’ll blog about it, but why not let everyone know on Facebook… Plus, I get to play games. Scrabulous anyone?