The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Baking Items for sale in my cafe... shelf life, storage and other questions?

luc's picture

Baking Items for sale in my cafe... shelf life, storage and other questions?

Ok since there were no posts here I thought I would start some...
hopefully I can get some pro's to answer. :)

I own a small restaurant/cafe in Hong Kong, China that is open for breakfast lunch and dinnner. Recently I have been baking bread and sweets to sell to the customers as part of Afternoon Tea and Coffee sets... some examples would be:

1 slice of Sprouted Wheat-berry toast with creamery butter/jam and a mug of steamed milk -

1 Almond Biscotti served on the side of a Capuccino -

1 Chelsea sweet bun with coffee or tea -

Available all day:

Chocolate Mousse with crushed cashwenut topping
Chocolate cake with custard sauce
Pear & Apple Crumble

The items I've made up to this point are things that I like to eat with an afternoon cup of coffee or tea. I have the items displayed in a small pastry case in the restaurant. As for the items that require refrigeration I don't as of yet have a proper temp. control case that can display items that need to be kept cold - so I rely on my cafe's reputation and my waitresses and menu's to move those items. The response has been good and I would like to add more items. But I am running into the following issues on the baked goods:

1) Shelf life - any way to extend the shelf life without the use of flour improvers?

2) How to store items at night time?
Up until now I have left them in the pastry case - a clear acrylic case with minimum ventilation but NOT airtight.

3) Is it common practice to bake more items when the oven schedule permits and then freeze them? Thawing them and putting them out at a later date?

4) Any idea of the best relative humidity for bread?

5) Any recommendations for the best way to bag bread?
I am reluctant to use plastic bread bags with ties. So I have only started using paper bags that are generic in size for my boules of rustic rye bread.

6) Any recommendations for breads sweet or not that have relatively short make up times and that have decent shelf life?

Thanks for any information.

Best regards,

ryan's picture

I have found that when you start messing with things that are really good/ great to get better shelf life out of them I find that it doesn't improve the product. I would bake what you need daily and then either donate it or give it away. Clients know when things have been around for awhile. That said, your biscotti should last forever in an air tight 16L pail or something like it. You could make a large batch of your toast loaves and freeze them and thaw as needed for the next day, same for your crumble. I would make the choco cake and mousse daily, as they are best that way. I hope I haven't been too opionated and that this helps. Have you considered nice truffles to put on your menu?


martin's picture

Hi Luc,

As Ryan says it is better for cakes, mousse etc to be fresh as the appearance goes quite quickly, particularly in our climate. I am based near Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. We found that when we placed our cakes in the fridge they get too cold, so when it comes time to serve they do not have the right texture. Take away is OK as the cake will be warmed up by the time they get home. We therefore made our cakes fresh each day as we do with bread.

We have now shut our cafe and concentrate on Bread Baking for distribution to Organic Shops.


luc's picture

A shout of thanks to both Ryan and Martin for input on how to deal with the issues of baking daily for my cafe.

I've found that much of baking comes down to being really good at planning. Baking for a cafe even more so.

I find myself baking everyday at any rate. This is primarily due to the fact that breads don't seem to really last much longer than 2-3 days. What I don't sell the staff happily eats.

The Chocolate mousse I can make once to twice a week. I found that the flavor is best about 2 days after making it and it'll keep for two days more than that. So far so good - I am having no problems moving it so that's a no brainer.

The Tiramisu goes off a bit quicker and Hong Kong is funny with Tiramisu... there is so much poorly made Tiramisu here that I honestly think most people have no idea what a proper Tiramisu is supposed to taste like. Given that and the short shelf life in the fridge I may change up to something else.

I guess much of it really comes down to making choices (as Ray mentioned - eg. Making the choice NOT to mess with something that is tasty. :) That and the choice to make the appeal of the products their freshness.

Martin... If you're based in KL then we definitely have similar environments (31 degree's celsius with 95% relative humidity in the summer) - Interesting what you noted about the cakes. I'll bear that in mind and see how this goes.

Ray - I hadn't thought about adding Truffles to the menu... but now that you mention it... that would be superb. The one drawback being that I am barely able to get mousse out of the kitchen - because with our pizza ovens and twin wok burners and a western range... it stays pretty warm even with the AC on. Perhaps I'd have to schedule to do these early morning (*groan - and I thought I had it licked by getting up at 6am to bake for the day with the preferments and the doughs done the night before).

I guess I had better become a master of timing. :)

luc's picture

A quick update on the selling of baked goods and pasteries in my cafe.

I have been continually baking and so far the demand has pretty much kept up with the production. The bread that doesn't move fast enough to get sold as fresh then gets turned into bread pudding.

I have to say bread pudding made with homemade bread is far superior to the kind that you see in so many places. My customers seem to agree. :)

The media has taken a keen interest in my deserts and bread and I've been lucky enough to full pages in many of the Chinese language newspapers - the best one being one of me holding several loafs of bread that I had baked just that morning.

Now for the not so good news...

I was curious what baked goods I could buy wholesale to sell in my cafe from a professional bakery. So today I got their catalog and price list. Shocker!

They have over 600 items. It's outrageous the variety of baked goods they do. Not only does this particular bakery sell wholesale to the restaurant and hotel sector but they also have 'bakeries' in many of the high end groceries.

So I had a chance to check out the goods first hand. Decent stuff. Granted it's not quite 'artisan' baking - but they did have a decent range of whole wheat and rye breads. They also offered many of the breads with a European style (darker) crust than you usually see on offer in the grocery.

At any rate - I found it kind of confuzzling. How can I even hope to compete with a massive bakery like that?

I've decided the only way to do it is to use top notch ingredients and bake in small batches. I will have to really look into perhaps going all organic and really highlight the fact that my baked goods use the best possible ingredients etc. etc.


I guess it's just kind of a reality check to see a professional bakery that huge that offers that many products and has 24 hour bakery staff and a no fewer than 9 delivery trucks.

A case of David and Goliath if ever there was one.

best regards,

martin's picture

Hi Luc
I am sure that you have noticed that most of the chains of Bakeries turn out a whole range of stuff but that each Bakery produces identical items. At least they do here in Malaysia. All of it is very soft and pretty looking. Probably similar to Japanese/Taiwanese breads and pastries.

We did not even try to compete with that, for a start we would have needed to have at least a hundred items on sale and that was out of the question.

By chance I entered an Organic Store, just before Xmas a few years ago. On walking in the door, with my wife, one of the young assistants came rushing up to me gushing something about me giving off good vibrations and that I happened to look like Father Xmas ( I have a long beard ). This is not typical of female Chinese behaviour, believe me. Anyway we started chatting and it came up we were Bakers. She said they were looking for Hand Made Vegan Baked goods. I warned her that our stuff was pretty hefty, most wholegrain. She was delighted and asked for samples.

They now have five shops and we have grown along with them and still supplying Wholegrain breads and cakes, most of them, at their request vegan, sugar-free, and wholegrain (we grind our own). They just happen to have a select group of customers that find it hard to get real wholegrain breads and cakes.

If it had not been for that chance encounter, we might be unemployed artisan bakers by now.

Good Luck

jef_lepine's picture

My experiences working in a medium sized French restaurant and a large, upscale hotel may be of interest.

There was a common theme between both places: If it can be made ahead and frozen, it was. Cakes, cookie dough, petit fours - all frozen.
At the Four Seasons, we had an entire walk-in FULL of baked and frozen cakes. Quality didn't seem to suffer, and to be honest, cakes are easir to deal with partially frozen. (but let them thaw fully before service)

Custard Sauce (creme anglaise) we'd make up at the beginning of the week on a Monday and use it until the following Monday (if there was any left).

Biscotti we'd do the first baking and then refrigerate until needed. We'd periodically slice and dry large portions and seal in plastic bags for future use. Properly dried and stored, it will last for at least six months.

You can freeze bread dough, but it can be a bit of a hassle. We'd sometimes make a huge batch of croissant, shape, and then freeze for future proofing/baking. Same with any puff-pastry type dough/pastries.

For the tiramisu, if you're making lady fingers, they have an exceptionally long shelf life -- close to indefinate in the freezer. You could have the components on-hand and just assemble small batches of it daily to minimize waste/keep freshness.

Hopefully some of this is helpful to you..

luc's picture

Ahh - brilliant.
This is exactly the kind of info that can be hard to come by.
It's much as I suspected... if frozen and stored properly many things in the pre-bake stage will not be adversely affected by freezing.

Good news for me.

Well sort of. Now I just need to get the chef's to be more careful when they are putting stuff in the freezer/fridge. I've had more than one batch of long fermentation dough ruined this way - the chefs now tip-toe around anything that looks like dough. :)

Yes I do my own lady fingers - and judging by most of the packaged lady fingers that I'd seen used at other places - I'd guess they could last at least a century!

It wasn't the first time that I'd heard of cakes being frozen. Now I just need to manage the storage very carefully so that they don't accidentally get a box 50lb box of mozzarella cheese put on top of them! :)

Thanks again for the info. Very useful!

Best regards,