Friday, January 2, 2015

10 Tips For Baking Up Scrumptious Homemade Dog Treats

Now, more than ever, people are ditching the excuses and opting to make their own dog treats. I can't say I blame them. While there are a few decent and reputable brands amid the endless selection, there's too much garbage sitting on the store shelves, recalls, dogs getting sick and dying from tainted treats, etc. In addition, there are ingredients which upset sensitive, and even not-so-sensitive, tummies, like fillers, artificial flavors, artificial colors, etc. When you open a package of store bought treats, it's a gamble. In this household, it's not one we're willing to take.

As of late, I've been seeing quite a few people post photos of their dog-biscuit-baking-adventures. I make it a point to "like" and/or comment. While doing so, I often times mutter, "Sooo awe-summm-summm-summmmm!" I get excited! Some women are thrilled with a new pair of shoes or Coach purse. Me, well, I feel that same ping of joy when I see photos of people making dog biscuits.

In the past few months we've received emails and messages from people who are trying their hand at making homemade dog treats. The overall theme has been, "Help! What am I doing wrong!" Or, "Do you have any suggestions for...."

We're always here to lend a hand. Here's a few tidbits of advice to assist...

1. If at first you don't succeed, try again. Just because it's a dog treat doesn't mean Fido is going to be head over paws the first or second time around. Experiment with flavors and ingredients. Since our mission to spread the biscuit love began, we've come across a few pups who genuinely despise the taste of peanut butter. Do we get offended? Absolutely not. Like hoomans, dogs have taste preferences. There's a world of recipes at your fingertips. From basic recipes to vegetarian dog treats and gluten free. And for all you cookbook aficionados, there are some great picks exclusively just for dog treats.

2. Cut recipes in half. When trying out a recipe for the first time, only make half a batch. If Fido gobbles with gusto, the recipe is a keeper. If not, at least an entire batch isn't going to waste. Crumble up the trials and errors and feed 'em to the birds and squirrels. Or, if your neighbor has chickens....

3. Where's the crunch? Most of the recipes out there for crunchy biscuits won't have the crunch factor immediately after baking or cooling. Dog biscuits usually need to rest anywhere from 2-12 hours in an area free from humidity and extreme heat or cold. It's a process. This is why we have a biscuit room. And, from experience, I'll pass this on too...baking the biscuits longer or at a higher temperature will not speed the process. You'll end up with a plate of shame. Trust. Me.

4. The ingredients will give you an idea of the outcome. Biscuit recipes with a lot of wet ingredients (mashed pumpkin, banana or sweet potato) will yield a softer biscuit due to the moisture content. Baking powder will make your dog treats rise. The addition of dried fruit will make a slightly softer biscuit unless you roll 'em thinner. There is a big difference between fresh fruit and veggies and dehydrated. Certain ingredients (especially dried fruits) will burn quickly due to the concentrated sugar. The list goes on.

5. Thickness matters. Not too thick. Not too thin. That's how we roll (no pun intended) around here. A thick biscuit will take longer to cook and, often times, will brown too much on the outside before the center is done. A biscuit that's too thin will burn well before the baking time is up. I would suggest 1/4 of an inch especially for recipes that include baking powder. Remember, ovens vary. It took us several weeks to nail down the perfect oven temperature and amount of baking time.

6. Scrap the idea of a perfect looking biscuit. Your homemade dog biscuits aren't going to look like a box of uniform Milk-Bone dog bones. It's not happening. Think of it along the same line as snowflakes. No two are the same. If you were to take all the biscuits out of one of our bags and lay them side by side, they'd all look different. You'll also notice that on your third or fourth roll (flour based recipes), the dough will tighten up. This is due to the strengthening of the gluten. I'm sure Alton Brown could explain it better than I ever could...

7. Give it time. The transition from store bought treats to homemade treats might take a bit o' time for some dogs, especially the finicky ones. It's an adjustment. To the hooman palate, it's right up there with switching from whole milk to skim, Aunt Jemima syrup to real maple syrup, real bacon versus turkey bacon, etc. There is an enormous difference in taste, texture and smell.

8. Keep it simple. For special occasions, we'll lightly swizzle biscuits and add a few festive sprinkles, but otherwise, our biscuits are naked. Four ingredients. That's it. Homemade dog treats don't have to be fancy and coated with a thick layer of icing and elaborate designs. There is nothing complicated about simple goodness.

9. When experimenting with ingredients, do your research. You found a great biscuit dough and now you want to get creative and experiment with various mix-ins. A little of this. A little of that. Before you do, make sure it's a food that is safe for dogs. You'd be surprised at how many people don't do this. It's also important to examine what ingredients are in your ingredients. Read the labels. Always.

10. Have fun! Seriously. You're making dog treats! How cool is that!? Even though more people are doing it, there's still quite a few who aren't. I remember when we first started baking biscuits, people were in awe. It generated conversations and interest. A few people we knew started making their own dog treats too. In our world, that's a beautiful thing. You don't have to be a pastry chef or have years of experience under your belt. You don't have to present your final product to a panel of judges. It's not rocket science. Mix. Roll. Cut shapes. Bake.

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