How to Win a Baking Contest
I judged a pudding contest yesterday. I am still full – but such is the plight of the judge. What I wanted to do here was write about how you, as a contestant, can have a better chance at winning. Of course many contests are for fun and/or charity, but who doesn’t like the bragging rights? There are some simple things to follow that all judges appreciate.
Make it Look Good – Different contests have different rules. Some say evaluate on taste only; most say taste is paramount but consider creativity and presentation. Even if the rules say judge on taste only, we see your dessert before we eat it and even on a subliminal level it can affect how we feel about it. Fancy dishware can add, but I am most interested in the actual food looking good, even if it is in something disposable. (Of course if your contest has a focus on presentation, follow the rules!)
Make the Presentation Clear – If your dish goes with a sauce or whipped cream, have the extra presented in such a way that we can’t make a mistake. Have clear labels. We want to taste your dish the way you intended it. Yesterday there was one dish where the pudding was in a soufflé dish set in a basket. Also in the basket was a small pitcher of sauce. It was obvious that they went together and made for not only a pleasing presentation, but it also helped the judges taste the dessert as intended.
Temperature Counts – If it is meant to be cold, make sure we get it cold. If it is meant to be warm, it better be. Also, if it is meant to be room temperature, don’t make it the day before, refrigerate it and bring it to us expecting that it will be at its best. Yesterday I had one pudding in particular that was obviously made that morning and brought to the judges table without stopping by way of the fridge and I not only appreciated the better texture, but also the effort that went into it. It made a huge difference.
Creativity Can Backfire – Read the rules. Stay within them. Pushing the edges of the boundaries are fine but judges want something that tastes great! A simple double-crust apple pie can win a pie contest. A stellar, creamy stove-top chocolate pudding could sweep the others at a pudding contest. It’s a funny a balance but you have to find it. Creativity is great if you can execute it. Otherwise, make a classic and make it perfect.
Taste Your Dish! – When we cook and bake one needs to taste, taste, taste as we go along. Of course there are variations in palates but every now and then I taste something that seems so unbalanced that I wonder if the creators tasted it themselves? Now before you think I am being judgey let me tell you that I once went to a book signing and presented chocolate shortbread cookies from the book I was selling and no one was eating them, which was odd. I finally tasted a piece near the end of the signing and realized that I had used salt instead of sugar – I kid you not! I had made them so many times that I hadn’t tasted this batch as I went along. Lesson learned.
Ask Questions – After – Some contests reveal judge’s comments post judging, others don’t. If you want to improve, go ask the judges! I love to talk about what I just ate and would love to answer any questions you might have. Curiosity is a great trait in a baker; ask away! I also love to hear about your creative process. This is all about baking and dessert making and…
Have Fun! – Yes it is a contest, but this is all about sugar and flour, butter, chocolate and eggs and creativity! Nothing is more fun than that. Thank you to all of you who enter contests and make the world a sweeter place.
The images are all from yesterday’s Pudding Hollow contest, which you can read more about. It all began in the 1700s in a little town called Hawley, Massachusetts…Thank you to Tinky Weisblat and all of the volunteers. This was a perfect slice (or scoop) of Americana and it was a pleasure to be involved. The winner was the Luscious Coconut Cream Custard Pudding in the top image. There was a caramelized, crunchy, candied coconut topping, a rich, smooth, creamy coconut filling and a bit of a caramelized sauce way deep down at the bottom. Also pictured a highly ranked corn pudding in a basket – warm and so delectably rich; a very creative pearl barley, portabella mushroom pudding, a Mexican flan (loved the shape), and the most creatively named dish, Frost on the Pumpkin, a pumpkin based pudding served in a pumpkin ceramic bowl, sprinkled with confectioners’ sugar “frost”. Kudos to all the contestants!