While the cows will have been sent back to the farm and the last corn dog slowly but surely digested (just) the legacy of this years cookery competition is still lingering. This would have been my third year competing but alas at the last moment I wasn’t able to get my “cookery” act together and failed to get all items ready, to my satisfaction, for judging in time. There will always be next year. As usual the way in the which the items are judged was hotly debated prior to the results being announced, but what added to this year’s perplexities (judging is predominately held behind closed doors) was an article in The Age newspaper, centred around sponges.
To set the scene, after last year, where I felt my biscuits were of a very good standard, I failed to win any prizes. I don’t have hard feelings, but was interested that this year biscuits were separated into “fancy” and “plain”. Clearly the judges felt that the two are very distinct disciplines and as such should be judged and presented separately. They have also separated cupcakes into “decorated” and “iced”, all of which is open to interpretation because the CWA does not give detailed guidelines to help you prepare your entries. I asked for feed back last year about my entries or at least the criteria by which items are judged and I got no feedback about my entries but received a generic print out that gave some indication about the judging, but notes like “not burnt” and “even colouring” were not helpful. This year I made a point of looking at the list of names per section to see whether it would be an onerous task to write down feedback and for it to be sent to the entrant upon request and the most number of entries were about 8 or dozen, so I kind of think this is do-able.
Back to that article in The Age, it was centred on the sponge section of the cookery competition and more particularly around Angela Fleay (a consistent winner in many categories) and her sponge recipe that has been passed down to her children, such an impressive recipe that her son won first prize with it this year. Whilst it’s mildly charming that a singular family has seemingly prodigious talents in the kitchen that they take out section upon section, the question I have is for the judges. Ms Flaey expouses the virtue of using supermarket bought eggs as the yolk is pale and the judges prefer a “pale” sponge, god forbid we use free range or organic yellow eggs! Frankly if the palate of the judges is something that prefers rancid butter from the supermarket shelf or baking that has been frozen in advance and thawed or not even trying to use local made or sourced ingredients then what’s the point?
The question for the judges and judging was no more evident that in the decorated cupcake section. Firstly NONE of the cakes were cut, so why even bake! Silly me, when I’ve entered previously I assumed the entire cake would be tasted and that the decoration flavour and texture would be as much a part of the eating experience as well as the tastefulness of the decoration visually. I ask you reader to look at the photos of the cupcakes that won a prize in decoration and tell me your thoughts I personally don’t think they meet today’s aesthetics and this is partly the space in which the judges heads need to get.
The cupcakes pictured above came second, they are by Anne-Marie Primmer, another person that has seemingly cornered the “competitive cookery” market. I’ll get to the point judges, these are NOT decorated they are novelty plain and simple – decorated means edible and tasteful and frankly these are neither. Who would want to eat all that fondant on top, ah yes, a 4 year old and even then they would struggle. If the category is decorated to me that doesn’t mean novelty, the instructions say “tasteful”. Ok, now I’m getting a little ranty. On to biscuits, the section I covet a prize in.
The article in The Age also claimed that the judges felt this year’s entries were low in quality, I tend to agree judging by the very poorly, store bought, decorations on the cupcakes as pictured above.
Ok, so above we have first prize in plain sweet biscuits. The biscuit to the left is a passionfruit butter based biscuit, whilst the colouring looks even the mixture is too soft and I can tell that because it’s been piped but spread as the piped shape has not been held in the oven. Also, the texture of that biscuit looks uneven for a butter based biscuit, but perhaps it’s a few days old and the changed since judges tasted it. The biscuit to the left is a chocolate chip biscuit that makes me feel very sad. Just look at that haphazard chocolate drizzle, boy it must have been mindblowing or the rest of the entries dire.
Primmer – you entered the same biscuits last year!
Oh look, Anne Marie Primmer again in the almond cresents. I think that once you’ve won a certain number of times in a category it’s time to hang up the whisk.
Look at all those carrot cakes, oh wait, Primmer again. C’mon judges this is a farce, the same person can’t possibly win year after year after year.
I love entering this competition, don’t get me wrong and I’m already looking forward to next year. I just think it needs to be slightly modernised and it needs to be about produce and taste. The rules by which the entries are judged should be clear and specific and it should be about modern aesthetics, just a little. My sponge should be deemed worthy if yellow with the rich fresh eggs I choose to use and my entire cupcake eaten cause it beggars belief a cookery competition means not tasting.
People should be encouraged to express themselves using both old and new techniques and whilst I love not losing time old recipes and tradition, I think the Fleay’s and the Primmer’s need to start making way for a new bunch of cooks.
I would love to be privy to the judging and think more should be done openly or at least feedback given if requested.
Next year I’m entering a sponge not because I think I’ll win but in protest against custard powder and one family having a monoply on show baking.