A Guide to Entering a Baking Competition

A number of people have expressed interest regarding entry to the local Country Woman’s Association (CWA) cookery competition, so this post is focused on hints and tips for competing in a baking competition.

Firstly, bring along your entry, even if you think it is not quite good enough.  One of the key reasons to enter is to learn about cooking, and each entry will improve your chances at getting there. The judges will often give feedback (without naming anyone) on the cakes and everyone always comes away with something new learned.

Secondly, read the schedule (or criteria for entry) very carefully.  Some entries require you to use a particular recipe, or ingredient, others allow you to use your own recipe.  Very often a particular size cake pan must be used.

Thirdly, if using a recipe, follow it, but also use your own judgement.  If the cake batter looks too dry, add a bit more liquid.  Flours do vary, and also the temperature and humidity can affect the final result.  Each oven is also individual, so in regards to the cooking time, test the cake to see if it is done.  It may need more time or less time than suggested in the recipe.

Fourthly, it is all about taste.  Where two cakes are very similar, the one that will have an advantage is the one with the best flavour.  Use the best and freshest ingredients to get the best result.

Lastly, practice makes perfect.  Like all things, skills are developed over time.  Experience is built up, cake by cake. So give it a go, and be proud of your achievements!

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Size is important – check the competition requirements

What Not To Do:

Rack marks – A cooked cake is turned out onto a rack to cool, this prevents the cake getting soggy on the base.  However, to prevent rack marks, firstly cover the rack with a few layers of newspaper and then a clean tea-towel.  The newspaper and tea towel will absorb moisture and protect the cake from getting marks.  Make sure that you have the right side of the cake facing up (usually the upper side, except for sandwiched cakes).

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Issue: Rack marks and dripping icing

Cutting cakes – Unless specified (for example for cake pieces, such as lamingtons) the cake is only cut by the judge.
Testing cakes – Do use a very fine skewer to test for doneness.  You do not want to holes to show in the cake from a thick skewer.

A Guide on Cake Judging:

Firstly, the judge will pick up the cake with both hands and inspect the sides and underneath of the cake to see if it is cooked properly.  At this point, the cake will be checked for rack marks.  The top will also be inspected for any signs of stickiness or spotting.

Then the judge will cut the cake in half and inspect the inside of the cake, checking for aroma, texture and for any inconsistencies.

A small notch is cut from the centre of the cake and tasted.  The centre of a cake will generally be the last area to be cooked, so if there is an issue with undercooking, this will be picked up by the judge.  The judge will also assess the balance of flavours.

The cake will then be replaced and the judge will go onto the next entry.  I have seen judges tasting more than fifty entries at a sitting at the Sydney Royal Agricultural Show.  They truly are amazing!

Troubleshooting for cakes:

This is not an exhaustive list, but shows some of the key issues that can occur with cooking cakes.

Cake is cracked at the top – the oven temperature is too high and the cake rises too quickly, or the cake batter may be too dry.
Cake sinks in the middle – the oven temperature may be too low or oven opened too soon after putting in the oven.  The heat of the oven causes the cake to rise and set, if it is too low, then the cake may not rise properly.
Cake is unevenly browned – many ovens have different temperatures throughout.  The cake can be turned halfway though the cooking process to prevent this.
Cake top is sticky – this may be caused by undercooking the cake or cooking at to low a temperature.
White spots on the cake – indicates that the sugar was not dissolved properly in the creaming process.
Course or open texture of the cake crumb – may indicated insufficient creaming of fat and sugar.  Flour may not be folded into the mixture properly.
Holes in the cake – this may be caused by air bubbles trapped in the cake batter.  Tap the cake gently on the bench before baking to encourage air bubbles to come to the surface.

Links for the current CWA of NSW cookery competition, including the schedule and recipes: www.cwaofnsw.org.au/cookery.html

Further reading:
“Jam Drops and Marble Cake”, CWA  of NSW, 2012
“Merle’s Country Show Baking”, Merle Parrish, 2013
“Cookery the Australian Way”, Barrowman and Cameron et al, 1975.  More hints are given here about faults with cakes.

Related Articles: Marble Cake, I’m Still Here…

 

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Photos and text copyright Sophia Poulos.

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Zucchini and Bacon ‘Impossible’ Slice

You are faced with hungry mouths to feed, but the fridge is fairly bare.  This recipe is from the group of recipes referred to as “Impossible Pies”. As all you need to do is throw a bunch of ingredients together and it forms a glorious, munchable mass, not more than 45 minutes later.  I thank my friend K. for leading me to this beauty, it has been become one of my go-to dishes in times of need.

Zucchini and Bacon Slice

Ingredients

3 medium zucchini (courgette), unpeeled, grated
1/2 large onion, finely chopped
3 green onions, finely sliced
2 rashers bacon, finely chopped
1/2 cup crumbled fetta cheese
2 tablespoons grated parmesan cheese
1 cup self raising flour
1/2 cup olive oil
5 eggs, lightly beaten
ground pepper, to season
2 asparagus spears, sliced lengthways (optional).

Method

  1. Preheat oven to 180 deg C (375 deg F). Grease and line a baking tin with baking paper.
    Combine all the ingredients together, except asparagus.  Smooth top and decorate with asparagus spears (if using).
  2. Pour into prepared tin and bake for about 35 minutes or until browned and firm on the top.
  3. Leave to cool slightly.  Slice into squares and serve warm or cool.

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[Text and Photos copyright Sophia Poulos].

Marble Cake? – I’m still here

With so much emphasis on healthy eating, we rarely see the golden oldies; perhaps not low fat, the simple cakes which were made with love, with simple ingredients, by mothers to provide a treat for family and friends.

I can remember the time where available cooking ingredients were much more limited.  Couverture chocolate definitely was not available and frugal housewives made use of cocoa powder for their chocolate cakes.  Butter was easily available, as was sugar, flour and vanilla essence (no vanilla beans in sight).


Back then, the Marble Cake with rose pink icing (and many cakes like it) would have taken pride of place for a lovely afternoon tea.  This cake reminds me of school fetes and old fashioned cake shops.  Luckily supermarkets still stock these cakes from another era.

Two NSW organisations that support these recipes so that they are not lost are the Country Women’s Association of NSW(CWA) and the Royal Agricultural Society of NSW.  These organisations champion the arts and crafts and also to support regional communities in Australia.

While the cakes appear to be simple it is quite challenging to get a perfect result.  My recommendation is to find a good recipe (try the CWA book ‘Jam Drops and Marble Cake’) practice and also to join a local branch of the CWA, you can talk to experienced bakers who can pass on valuable tips.

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Greek Christmas Baking

For me, Christmas wouldn’t be the same without the greek biscuits Kourambiethes (almond shortbread).  I haven’t found many people that aren’t eager to devour these freshly baked.

I recall my mother undertaking great baking episodes in the leadup to Christmas. The baking trays would be assembled, bags of flour, soft icing sugar, soft butter and crisp almonds.  The Sunbeam Mixmaster would be put to work, beating the butter and sugar to within an inch of its life.  Roasted almonds were crushed in the brass mortar and pestle, and added to the mix with a dash of brandy, vanilla and spice. Then the flour was folded gently into the mass to create the perfect silky dough.

There would be a flurry of action, and small “S” shaped biscuits would emerge, pinned with a black clove, to be baked golden in the oven. The air would be perfumed with spiced almondy butteriness.  And to finish, while still warm, a snowy white icing sugar coat was put on each piece.  Heaven.