Tuesday, November 03, 2015

California Cottage Food Law: Cardamom Cupcakes with Plum Swiss Meringue Frosting and Pomegranate Seeds

In one of the more "San Francisco" things that's ever happened to me, a couple of guys showed up to my last baking potluck and hustled us for their new baking internet start-up.  Yes, you read that correctly: a baking internet start-up.  Ah, the joys of living in SF.

Their basic business plan is that they have arranged all of the pesky non-baking details, like setting up a secure online payment system, contracting out with a delivery business, etc.  This leaves bakers with only thing to worry about: baking.

They've got several bakeries signed up and using their website but they specifically came to my potluck because they're trying to get home bakers who want to have their own from-home baking business to use their website.  They wanted to get some of us interested and to essentially be the from-home baking beta testers.

This is where the California Cottage Food Law comes into play.  As of January 1 2013, cottage food business became legal in the state of California.  A cottage food business is any food production business where the food product is manufactured in a non-commercial cooking space (i.e. a home kitchen).  Commercial food production facilities are monitored by the state for health and safety and food production business are licensed.  Before the Cottage Food Law was passed, all cottage food production was illegal.

So these guys are aiming for this new business area.  Leaving aside issues such as if it's worth it to run a cottage food business and if it's really possible to make money from a cottage food business, there's one major problem: frosting is not legal.

As odd as that sounds, there's a very logical reason for this and it's codified in the law.  "Baked goods, without cream, custard, or meat fillings" and "Flat icing" are legal, as is "Buttercream frosting, buttercream icing, buttercream fondant, and gum paste that do not contain eggs, cream, or cream cheese".  Now if you're wondering exactly how it is that you're supposed to make frosting that doesn't contain eggs, cream, or cream cheese, the answer is that it's very difficult.  I suppose you could make something vegan but I have yet to try a vegan version of buttercream or Swiss meringue frosting that doesn't taste like a gigantic sugary mess.  The law specifically excludes eggs, cream, and cream cheese because of problems with refrigeration.  Eggs especially can be vectors for bacteria and the state cannot inspect and license non-commercial food production facilities, so the compromise is to allow cottage food businesses to make and sell food types that aren't well known for spreading illnesses and food poisoning.

Basically, the start-up guys didn't do their homework.  If you want to (or already are) run your own cottage food business, do your homework!  Check your state laws and make sure that you're not accidentally breaking any laws.  I had no idea about the restrictions in the California law until I looked it up.  Ignorance is not an excuse for breaking the law.  If you have a cottage food business and make somebody ill by selling any illegal food types, you are going to be in serious trouble.

The theme of the potluck where I got hustled was "autumn spice".  Although Americans seem to be obsessed with pumpkin spice, I decided to use cardamom, which is a spice that I ate a lot of when I was kid and we lived in the Middle East.  It's a standard spice in the Levant but for some reason it hasn't really got any traction in the US.  I don't know why - it's fantastic.  I also made the Swiss meringue frosting again for practice and I think that I've finally got the piping figured out.  Check out how pretty this cupcake was:

Then I accidentally washed the piping tip down the drain when I washed up.  Oops.