Monday, November 26, 2012

Bramley apple pie - pre-cooked filling vs. apple slices filling

Apple pie is my favourite thing to make (and eat) with Bramley apples (this link includes updated information on how to get them in Japan), with a crumbly double pie-crust made with simple all-butter shortcrust pastry, or a rich sweet shortcrust pastry. As I rave about excitedly in my first Bramleys in Japan post, British style apple pie made with Bramley cooking apples is tarter than American apple pie, and the apples end up as more of a fluffy puree rather than clearly defined slices. It is the taste from the tree in my childhood house.

Pre-cooked filling on left, apple slice filling on right

Working from a basic recipe you can add all kinds of things to the filling (sultanas, nuts, cinnamon  cloves, a splash or steeping of a choice alcohol, lemon or orange zest, some flour or cornflour if you find your apples produce too much juice, caramel sauce, marzipan..) and/or to the pastry itself (ground almonds or hazelnuts, cheddar cheese, a little baking powder, spices...). Depending on the type of dish you use, the nature of your oven and how you want your pie too look, you will also be able to change the amount of ingredients, cooking times, and temperatures.

To get started with a basic recipe, you’ll need roughly 500g of shortcrust pastry and 700g of Bramley apples (about 2 large ones) for a 22 cm pie dish. I used about 500g of apples for each of the 18 cm shallow-dish pies in this post.

Sweet shortcrust pastry (about 500g)
  • 275g flour
  • 175g chilled butter, diced
  • Pinch of salt
  • 25g sugar
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 2 tablespoons of cold water

Pie filling
  • About 700g of Bramley apples for a 22cm pie dish
  • Squeeze of lemon juice
  • Between 0 - 100g of sugar, depending how tart your apples/sweet your tooth
  • 25g of butter, diced
  • Any additional ingredients of your choosing (spices, nuts etc..)

For the pastry, sift the flour and salt and rub the cold butter into flour briefly, until there are no very large lumps of butter left, stir in the sugar. Mix in the beaten egg and cold water with a round bladed knife and bring the dough together into a flat disc with your hands. Wrap in plastic and chill for at least 30 minutes, bringing it out of the fridge again 15 mins or so before you need to roll it out so that it's still cold but not solid to roll. Top tip! - if the sweet pastry misbehaves when rolling, try rolling it between two lightly floured sheets of plastic wrap, peeling them away carefully when you line the pie dish. Prick the base with a fork, scatter with ground almonds (optional) and leave the pastry hanging over the edge until you place the lid.

For the filling you can either peel and core the apples, cut them into chunks and -
a) heat them through in a saucepan with the lemon juice, sugar and butter until they start to soften into a puree to use in the filling (some chunks of apple left in the puree are fine, and desirable.) Be sure to let your puree cool completely before using so that you don’t prematurely melt the butter in the bottom crust of the pie (1st photo), or you can -
b) toss them in some lemon juice and sugar and pile them in the pastry-lined pie dish as raw chunks with little bits of butter dotted over them before putting the pastry lid on the pie (2nd photo).

With your preferred filling in place, wet around the edges of the bottom crust and lift your lid on top. Cut a couple of slits or holes for air vents and press down gently around the edge of the lid to secure it and push out the air. Hold your dish like a waiter with a tray, and slice off the over-hanging crust (if you love lots of crust, you could instead fold the lid and overhang under itself, a bit more American-style pie maybe? Nice link here on American-style crimping and tips on lattice top pies too).

Crimp edges or press down around the edge with a fork to make a pattern, and decorate to your heart's content with the pastry trimmings - my favourite part when I was little. You can freeze/chill the pie at this point for later baking, or brush the finished pie with milk (which I prefer) or egg wash (as used in these examples), sprinkle with sugar and bake. My little pies for this post took 25 minutes at 190°C, a 22 cm pie will probably be closer to 40 minutes.

If you are using the raw fruit method in particular, you will need to use quite a hot oven temperature (190-220°C) to get the pieces of fruit to go soft inside the pie. Be ready with some foil to drape over the top of the pie (or fold loosely around the edges of the pie) if you notice the pastry browning too quickly on top - this is a particular problem with small ovens used in Japan, as your pie will take up most of the space in the oven and be quite close to the oven roof.

No, these aren't the ideal dishes for baking pie...

The differences between the two methods of preparing the filling are that the pre-cooked filling (on the left) is a flatter pie with a more dense and jammy filling, whereas the raw fruit method (on the right-side) gives a more dome-like shape, often with pockets of space under the top crust of the pie as the Bramley apple pieces mush somewhat during baking and reduce in size. It makes for a rustic, bobbly appearance to the lid of the pie, and probably also helps to prevent soggy-bottomed pastry, as the filling only becomes wet with juice after the pastry base already has had time to bake.

Heating up the baking tray in advance in a hot 220°C or so oven, ahead of reducing the temperature to your normal baking temperature, will also help to cook the bottom crust properly for either filling method. Using an enamel pie dish will also help you get a good bake on the base, and if you use a glass dish you'll be able to see at any point how well the base is doing.

If you have pastry left over you could make jam tarts or mince pies! (Which is another fine use for Bramleys...)

Mini mince pies with homemade Christmas mincemeat filling

Making up a double batch of the sweet shortcrust pastry isn't a bad idea as it keeps for a 3 days in the fridge, and freezes well for up to 3 months.

Here are a few good alternative pastry recipes that work well with apple pie:

Classic plain shortcrust, half fat to flour, no sugar. Good photos:
Sweet shortcrust made with icing sugar, butter, eggs and milk:
French-style sweet pastry made with the creaming method:
Cheddar cheese crust apple pie recipe from Delia Smith:

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Start-up costs for a small bakery/café in Tokyo

I came across an interesting series of articles in Japanese magazine Café Sweets which introduced 3 recently opened cafes in Japan and listed their start-up costs and average sales per customer and so on.

Here is the information from the images above:
  • 8-seater café in Meguro-ku with 2 staff, took 15,000,000 JPY in start-up costs (about $185,000 / £119,000). Monthly sales goal of 2,000,000 JPY ($25,000/£16,000), with current estimated sales at 680,000 JPY ($8,500/£5,300). 
  • Café with 20-seats in Setagaya-ku, 4 staff. 10,000,000 JPY cost at start-up ($125,000/ £79,000). Monthly sales goal 1,800,000 JPY ($22,600/£14,000), current estimated sales of 1,512,000 JPY ($19,000/£12,000). 
  • Café in Ishikawa prefecture with 28-seats and 2 staff took 8,000,000 JPY to get started ($100,000/ £63,000). No monthly goal stated, but current estimated sales of 600,000 JPY ($7,500/£4,700). 

Although it appears quite possible to spend 15 million yen and more to set up a small cafe, I've spoken to business owners in Tokyo who have spent much less than even the lowest start-up cost of 8-million yen listed here, so it is possible to do it more cheaply than these articles suggest. It also occurred to me that it might be in the magazine's best interest to talk up the costs slightly to be responsible and encourage sufficient planning.

The shop rent and real estate fees aren't stated explicitly in the magazine's break-down, but all 3 examples took between 1.3 - 2-million yen to acquire the spaces which we can assume includes rent, deposit, agent's fee etc. The business owners in the article spent 49 - 72% of their start-up funds on reforming the space and fitting the kitchen, and so doing up the space is definitely an area you could focus on to try to reduce initial costs. Perhaps you can break down the old space yourself, keep the new design simple to start with, buy some of the non-critical equipment and furnishings second hand, search hard for space reform contractors who can give you a great deal, and look into recently closed 'going concern' / 居抜 / inuki spaces that still have kitchens and some of the items you might need in place.

The small café based in Meguro-ku in particular looks to have some challenges ahead, just based on the figures - with a stated goal of 2-million a month in sales, and an average sales price of 900 yen per person, they are going to have to make themselves available to and able to serve over 2,200 customers a month instead of their current 755, either that or increase the average sales price, or cut costs to allow for a lower monthly goal. Gosh. It appears to be part of a larger chain of coffee shops however, so perhaps there is financial support from the parent company during the initial stages.

By way of comparison, here is an article from New York magazine a few years ago telling the stories and listing the costs involved in setting up a bakery, restaurant, or wine bar in New York. Even accounting for inflation, the start-up costs for Babycakes in New York were considerably lower than those published in the Tokyo magazine:

Babycakes NYC startup costs (recalculated to 2012, considering US inflation)
  • Total Start-Up Costs= $43,600 (about £27,000/3,490,000 JPY) Rough Monthly Expenses= $13,300 (about £8,300), including rent of $3,200 a month. 
Despite the NYmag article painting the owner Erin as perhaps not best-prepared shortly after the business had opened (not having enough start-up money, paying staff in cash, a tight business model with low margins...) it looks like things worked out great for Babycakes, the business seems to be going strong 6 years later -

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Might your ward office help you set up your small business in Tokyo?

Just a short and sweet post today, to get the word out in English that many ward offices in Tokyo have various support services for small and medium-sized businesses that are based in their jurisdiction. Even the helpful chaps at Tokyo Business Entry Point neglected to mention that such services are available and so I thought people might like to know.

In the case of Minato-ku small business support services include free ‘business advisor’ consultation to do things such as go over your business plan, low interest loans for new businesses, rent subsidies, incentive grants to companies to encourage the use of parental leave, subsidies towards setting up or improving your website etc. (All above links in Japanese.)

It’s certainly worth having a look for information on services offered by your own ward office, as each area offers varying support each with their own deadlines for application.

You’ll probably need to look in Japanese, and could start with Googling the name of your ward (Minato ku, Setagaya ku) + 中小企業 支援 / chuushokigyou shien / small medium business support, or the name of your ward + 融資あっせん制度 / yuushi assen seido / financial assistance system. Note that the ward office in question will need to be that of your business address and not your home address, if the two are different.

Good luck, and I hope this information helps someone realise their plans!