Working at home: New law eliminates need for outside showroom
When the Texas Cottage Food Law went into effect last September, home cooks and amateur bakers rejoiced.
It’s the law that allows individuals to produce and sell select baked and canned goods from their home. For Aquarius Benoit-Franks, it’s the law that allows her to jokingly refer to her home as the Peachy Sweets Headquarters.
Benoit-Franks is a local mother stationed at Dyess Air Force Base — and Peachy Sweets is the name of her cake company. Started about a year ago, she bakes and sells elaborate cake creations from her home kitchen in her spare time.
Her interest in cakes started with the desire to bake a special cake for her son’s first birthday. She was living in Germany at the time, where the over-the-top cake designs popular in the U.S. do not exist, she said.
She desperately wanted to learn to make the elaborate cakes shown on American television shows like “Cake Boss” and “Ace of Cakes.”
“They don’t make cakes like that in Germany,” she said. “They’re just not there yet. Cakes that are made to resemble other things, that’s not caught on there yet.”
The lack of presence of elaborate cakes also means very few products are sold for that kind of cooking.
Determined to learn to bake before her son’s first birthday, she and her husband dove right in with an attempt to make homemade fondant.
“It was a total failure,” she said, laughing at her recollection of the experience. “Cake is so temperamental, but I’ve gotten a lot better.”
Her first experience was a lesson she still carries with her, claiming trial and error is the only way to improve in the kitchen.
Last week, for example, she spent two hours searching for a recipe for buttercream meringue only to have it turn out horribly.
“I’ll try it again and again and again until it turns out right,” she said with a smile. “You have to practice until it’s perfect.”
In the military four years, she moved from Germany to Abilene in October. The move to a state with a cottage food law allowed her to start her cake business from home.
Senate Bill 81, more commonly known as the cottage food law, allows the production and sale of baked goods, canned jam and jelly and dried herb or herb mix from home kitchens. Before the law went into effect, people who wished to make money from these types of goods had to prepare them in kitchens certified by the health department.
Martha Alice Spraberry, Taylor County Extension Agent for Family and Consumer Science, attended a training with Health Department officials in San Antonio in the months following the introduction of the new law. She said she believes locals will become increasingly interested in what they can bake and sell from home following the law.
“The purpose is to try to help people maybe start a business without creating the hardship of licensing and permits,” she said of the bill.
Over the years, people have been very interested in baking and selling goods from home, she said, but she always directed their inquiries to the health department. Now, she said she gladly informs them of the new law and directs them to the regulations detailed in Senate Bill 81.
Although not required, she said she recommends home cooks take a basic food handling course at the local extension agency. The $20 course offers some simple safety training, she said.
Benoit-Franks has listed her baking business on Facebook and Craigslist, she said, where she gets a variety of orders. Her hobby still in its infancy, Benoit-Franks admitted that even when she’s not baking for business, she likes to try out new shapes and methods.
While most home pantries might be stocked with everyday items like cereal and rice, Benoit-Franks prefers hers to be stocked with cake paint and piping gel.
Not one to cook, she said her family knows she only steps into the kitchen to bake.
“I never make dinner,” she said, “we just eat cake all the time.”
Teaching herself to bake and decorate wasn’t easy, she said, and admits she still has a lot to learn. A member of baking website cakecentral.com, she said she spends most of her spare time researching new methods and ideas.
For example, considering fondant is a major component of most of her cakes and a source of complaint for many sweets-eaters, she has worked to perfect a recipe she feels many people like.
“A lot of people don’t like fondant,” she said. “I just explain to them it’s like a banana. You just have to peel off the outside to get to the best part.”
If people are willing to give the fondant a try, she said, she whips up a homemade version with marshmallows, sugar and water she said tastes better than the store-bought variety.
While her son was her inspiration to get into baking, he is now 15 months old and never got that cake for his first birthday she said. Citing her busy schedule, she said she already has a cake in mind for his second birthday. Considering he is “obsessed” with children’s television show “Yo Gabba Gabba,” she said it will be a giant cake fitting the theme of the show.
To order a cake from Benoit-Franks, visit facebook.com/PeachySweetsCakes.