by Mallory Moad
Once upon a time, there was a little girl who loved to play “store.” Fascinated with cash registers and display counters (as well as the Wizard of Oz), she dreamed of someday running a retail establishment of her own.
Some kids outgrow the make-believe games of their childhood, but not Jennifer Trunnelle. She’s the owner/operator/candy maker/spokesperson of Yellow Brick Bakery, home of delectable small-batch, hand-made artisan caramels. Sugar and butter and cream, oh my!Jennifer’s factory is the kitchen in her Fresno home. The California Home Made Food Act, which went into effect in 2013, allows individuals to make certain foods in private homes to be sold to the public. But that doesn’t mean you can just start baking and be on your merry way to fame and fortune. It’s a lengthy, potentially costly process that involves business licenses, inspections, restrictions, and permits. The kitchen has to be certified by the local Department of Public Health (Jennifer had to go through a re-certification when she and her husband moved into a new house: new kitchen, new permit). Then there’s the Food Processor Course that has to be completed before a Cottage Food Operations Permit can be granted. It can be intimidating, but Jennifer wasn’t going to let regulations, requirements, and a pile of paperwork interfere with following her dream. With patience and courage, she completed the necessary tasks, and in October, 2018, she officially became a business owner and professional purveyor of sweets.
So, why caramels? After all, caramels have a reputation for being tricky to make. Folklore will tell you they can be affected by weather, humidity, the temperature of the room, and the phase of the moon. I’m not convinced about the lunar connection, but you get the picture. Wouldn’t cookies be easier? Yes and no. Jennifer has always made caramels for friends and family at Christmas, but her original plan for the Yellow Brick Bakery was to sell decorated sugar cookies for the holidays. “However, the perfectionist in me wasn’t ready to bring my cookies to the masses,” she says. “But I had already completed all the steps to legitimize my business and had even booked a craft show in town.” Not seeing any point in wasting all that hard work and energy, Jennifer’s husband, Eric, suggested she make and sell the caramels everyone was so crazy about. His brainy idea was a success: “The caramels were so well received that I haven’t been able to focus on any other offerings.”
Let me tell you about caramels from the Yellow Brick Bakery. If, like a lot of folks, your experience with caramels is limited to those hard, pre-packaged cubes that come in two flavors (light brown and dark brown), you are in for a happy surprise. Soft and almost gooey, there’s no stickiness or threat of dental damage. And although they are all the same toasty tan in color, the flavors are anything but neutral. I’ve tasted them – I know what I’m talking about. With unique, exquisite selections such as lavender, sea salt, cheesecake, and espresso, their taste varies from subtle to punch-packing. Felix Muzquiz, Executive Director of the Vineyard Farmers Market (where the Yellow Brick Bakery can be found seasonally) describes them as “Melt-in-your-mouth divine goodness with a twist.” Jennifer doesn’t go in search of unique flavors; she says they find her. Encountering something new or different can be inspiring. “When I had my first lavender milk tea, I knew I had to try to make that into a caramel.” Sometimes requests will result in best-sellers, such as the popular cinnamon and sea salt flavors.A core group of friends and family serve as Yellow Brick Bakery taste-testers. It’s a tough job but somebody’s got to do it. Since sheltering in place and social distancing have become standard issue, tastings are done by drive-by. “I send out a group text saying I have new flavors and need feedback. The only requirements: they have to be home, ready to receive, and provide immediate feedback.” In the beginning, Jennifer was developing and tasting flavors by herself or with Eric, in the evenings after work. This led to what she calls The Espresso Incident of 2018. “We taste tested in the evening and ended up not sleeping that night…and with work the next morning.” No wonder this flavor comes with a warning for those of us who are caffeine sensitive.
Jennifer’s confectionery creations come from her heart, something that’s reflected in her enthusiastic disposition and positive outlook. Although at least two of the usual holiday events in which she had planned to participate have been canceled due to Covid 19, she has chosen to use the downtime productively. “If anything, this has allowed me time to work on some other offerings” like new products for 2021. She also made and sold masks, which “ended up exposing my caramel business to a bunch of people who wouldn’t have known about me otherwise.”
When asked what she likes best about running the Yellow Brick Bakery, Jennifer has this to say: “I love the creative aspect of it and seeing the joy it brings to others. I’m a maker…at least that’s what I call me. Being creative, making things…it feeds my soul.”
For last-minute Christmas shopping, you can find the Yellow Brick Bakery caramels at the Vineyard Farmers Market in Fresno on Saturday, December 19, from 7 a.m. until noon. You can also place online orders year-round by visiting theyellowbrickbakery.com or on the Yellow Brick Bakery page on Facebook. Eric will personally deliver your purchase free of charge.
My name is Mallory Moad and I believe there’s no place like home, especially if there’s candy in the kitchen.