CARROT whimsy took over the Sale Show in Victoria at the start of November, with the 15th anniversary of the national carrot cake competition and the new dressed carrot contest.
Cake decorations included caramelised carrot peel, dehydrated pineapple, sculptured rabbits, radishes and carrots made from cheese and fondant, a variety of nuts, grated chocolate resembling dirt and sesame seeds.
Rabbits could be seen bottom-up, burrowing into dirt while colours abounded making it a true feast for the eyes.
But the whimsy in the carrot cake competition began and ended with the decorations, which were part of the criteria to be judged.
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The national carrot cake competition, in its 15th year, is hotly contested and judged by professional patisserie chefs from William Angliss College, in Melbourne.
Taste, texture, flavour, moisture level, if the decorations matched the ingredients, was there something missing, should there be more of this or that – all this was debated between the two professional judges as they made their way through the four sections – primary school students, secondary school students, open and professional.
“The recipe must be creamed at the beginning to make it light,” judge and patisserie teacher, Paras Panayiotopoulos, said.
Ms Panayiotopoulos and her colleague, Meredith Radmanic, arrived in their William Angliss College uniforms – white coats and aprons and black hats.
Before judging began, they donned white gloves then pulled clear vinyl covers over those; then laid out their knives, cloths, cutting boards and water.
The judging of the competition is public and attracts a crowd.
There is no set recipe for this competition, unlike the Victorian Agricultural Society section.
But the entry conditions state, the cake must contain carrots. It can be cooked in a square or round tin and icing must only be applied on top of the cake.
All decorations must be hand-made and edible. Cakes needed to be set on a board slightly larger than the cake.
People entering the professional section needed to demonstrate their credentials and tended to be pastry chefs, bakers and teachers.
Across all sections, there were 130 entries.
“The judges will be expecting a cake that could be seen in an upmarket cake shop,” Mrs Mowat said.
“A proportional, well-baked, flavoursome cake should form the base and the cake is to be decorated in an interesting, neat and appropriate manner.”
Did the cake taste of carrots? It seems obvious, doesn’t it? But too often the taste fell short of expectation.
Undercooked occurred as often as overcooked cakes. This cake was too crumbly and could do with another egg yolk.
In this one, the sugar caramelised – so, put another layer of paper around the cake and on the bottom of the pan before pouring in the mixture and baking.
Neatness of cake and decorations was judged positively. A well-mixed cake was commended.
Even the icing was subject to conjecture – this cake needed the icing to go to the edges; this cake needed less icing.
“You can have too much decoration, you know,” said one judge. “Think about the weight of the cake and add the decoration accordingly.”
Bonnie Laity, of Paynesville, said before she ever entered the competition, she spent the day listening to the judges’ comments and taking copious notes.
She entered the following year and won the open section.
“I’ve won the open section twice and placed various times,” Mrs Laity said.
This year, she had an entry in the champion of champions as well as the open section.
Mrs Laity sat through the day’s judging, still taking notes, not prepared to retire yet.
Her daughter-in-law, Susan Laity, entered the competition for the first time this year, cooking her first carrot cake.
It was a similar story for other women among the scores who dropped cakes off pre-judging.
In past years, cakes have arrived from across the eastern States. This year, competitors were from within Victoria and particularly Gippsland.
Judges Paras Panayiotopoulos and Meredith Radmanic assessed the primary school, secondary school, open and professional sections throughout a long day.
“It was important to get it right, because people put so much effort in,” Ms Panayiotopoulos said.
“Tasting every cake is very important. A cake can look fantastic but if there’s no marriage, the flavours not there.
“We were looking for a basic carrot cake mix done well.”
She recommended creaming the base recipe and sifting dry ingredients twice before adding.
“It’s also important to blend the ingredients well,” Ms Panayiotopoulos said.
The open section was won by Susan Laity, of Wiseleigh; second place went to Kerry Stevens, of Longford; Bonnie Laity, of Paynesville, took home the third-place ribbon.
In the professional section, baker Jo Jeffers, of Shepparton, was awarded first place, with pastry chef and teacher, Antoinette Demaria, of Yarram, runner-up in second.
Mrs Jeffers also took out third place with another carrot cake. Both women have won this section previously.
There were also carrot jam and marmalade sections, continuing the theme.
Judging is an opinion plus criteria
THE Sale show also hosted the champion of champions national carrot cake contest, where past open and professional section winners were invited to enter a cake.
This section was judged by Kellie Fraser, of the Australian Culinary Federation Victoria.
Ms Fraser said it was important to associate this year’s competition with the significant 15th anniversary, so she was looking for that acknowledgement in the decorations.
The judge was not disappointed, with plenty on offer.
“I also wanted to see neat, clean, precise decorations and a lovely carrot distribution through the cakes,” Ms Fraser said.
Decorations included dehydrated pineapple, sugar-spun bowls, fondant formed sculptures of rabbits, carrots and baskets.
Sometimes, Ms Fraser noted, the icing was quite sugary and undissolved.
There were 13 cakes judged – all entered by people who have won the open section of the carrot cake competition.
“When I’m judging a carrot cake, it should taste like carrot,” Ms Fraser said.
Unfortunately, her taste buds were occasionally cheated of that experience.
She was also looking for even distribution of the ingredients through the cake.
Visual assessment was followed by cutting ability, texture assessment and taste. Sometimes the cake was moist, sometimes it was spicy; sometimes the nuts were obvious.
There were six cakes in the final – round two – and finally the audience was given the results.
“Judging is one person’s opinion, but I’m trying to go by the criteria set for the competition,” Ms Fraser said.
The best decorated cake was awarded to Bonnie Laity, of Paynesville. The champion of champions was declared Sandra Rech, of Sale, who won the open section last year.
“Last year I used purple carrots and cashews and I think that helped me get over the line,” Mrs Rech said.
“This year I used almonds and home-made candied orange peel in the cake. I also did some white chocolate work – I was nervous about that, especially with today being warm.”
Runner up was Kathy Rodwell, of Stradbroke and third place went to Mary Hargreaves.