Each baking/cutting employee averages 8,000 hand cut cookies a day; This sheet pan was filled – with “perfect” handmade cookies – in less than 2 minutes. “A decorated cookie goes against every rule of baking. You have to reinvent the rules with the cookie type, the icing, how to make them, how to bake them.” At this stage, the handmade cookies first meet Philip’s new high tech computer tracking system (installed 3 years ago). Each baking sheet is then scanned into the payroll system and they are paid by cookie (“they make more money, I have employees here 10 years who never leave”). Scanning also means they can track electronically any problems in the dough, a batch, an order that goes wrong.
For each design every day, batches of every decorating icing (sturdier) + fill color (more liquid) is color checked visually and then entered into the computer so they precisely match. Philip spent time in the early years studying which colors are more appetizing. "Green is hard this time of year, people associate it with green beans, but red is good. Black and brown, strangely, are well received because people associate them with chocolate." So yeah, he uses a lot more red as a base color than green.
Two Finger Dipping: Over time, Philip realized that if an employee could dip every cookie, even the huge 12-inch santas, with one hand, they can work much faster. "An extra hand slows things down. It takes me a long time to train a new employee." These guys were amazing - so fast. Dip, then wipe with one hand. "I insist they stir (the icing) every few cookies, too. It slows things down, but it eliminates any bubbles in the base icing. I am very precise."
Gingerbread houses destined for high end clients like W-Sonoma, Harry+David, Neimans, Macy's, Even Ralph's (Construction/cookie is the same (!), price is determined by detail of decoration/complexity of cookies/houses)
The trains are part of a build-your-own set, which includes powdered icing (just add water). Customers, he learned, didn't want to make their own icing. "It's three ingredients?!". So he added the powder, but one year, he wrote "add 3 T water" in the icing instructions. "I had sold hundreds of thousands of gingerbread houses, and people were so angry. They called saying it didn't work. Some thought T meant cups! Some thought T meant tap water. Never again. Always Tablespoons."
Every process is planned in advance to maximize handiwork time since Phillipe insists on not using machines for rolling/decorating/icing ("I am a bit obsessive, ask my employees (laughs). But a machine you can tell, the edge is not as pretty, the icing covers the edges of the cookie, I don't like that, and we make thousands of new designs a year." (He has a dedicated cookie cutter maker). Here, one of 300 employees piping one side of the hat only + moving down the line, rather than one full cookie at a time.
Here, the after the base color was hand-dipped at the dipping station, the green bow + green lines were added first so they can dry enough so the granulated sugar coating doesn't stick to them, but does elsewhere.
Bakery Houses Drying Before Shrink Wrapping + Shipping. Every house and cookie is planned so pieces "stick out" too much or they would break in shipping. The names on these houses are piped via one of Phillipe's new designed-in-house software innovations that beams the name onto the cookie via a light overhead set up to the computer ordering system, so a shadow of the name appears on the cookie + the employee can pipe it. quickly and with no mistakes. (Some funny stories here as to why he did this, so he can show customers they made the spelling mistake.)
Management isn't all technology, though. Philip Moreau here sensing something is off, as he did several times, and asking an employee about it. '"I used to be a toy maker, so I like fun things. To me, figuring out how to do more with the cookie production, and how to improve it, is fun. Next I want to put a GPS tracking device on our 7,000 baking racks so I can find number 78 when we have a problem." (He was only half joking. It's a 100,000 square foot facility).
Large houses being shrink-wrapped before shipping throughout the U.S. and internationally later that day. Local hotels and shops were there picking up houses on Monday."The gingerbread is my favorite, the recipe I based on the old German original, no molasses, just honey, like it was in history." The gingerbread is very good. His strong suit. The other vanilla cookies, etc, are meant to be sturdy -- fine, but not revolutionary, as to be expected, which Philip agrees with. "There is no way it can be like a pastry chef cookie with all the things you need going on."