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Posts tagged ‘#Cookery judging’

Cookery judging myths and misconceptions

Brother Howard judging the preserves section, Brookfield Show

Brother Howard judging the preserves section, Brookfield Show

At every Show we get a lot of questions about the judging process in the Cookery. So here are some commonly asked questions including myths and misconceptions, and the answers you have been seeking!

Do the judges taste everything?

It is a persistent urban myth that the judges don’t taste all of the entries, and I get asked about this many times a year. In fact, the judges taste each and every entry, unless there is some reason not to, for example, there was mould present in the jam when opened (which happens occasionally). In fact once when we opened the lid on a preserve for judging, a cockroach flew out, but that’s another story!

With the preserves, the judge takes a small amount with a spoon from the side of the jar. With the cakes, unless the cake is in the decorated cakes section (these are judged on appearance only), the cake is cut in half, and a small wedge cut off one side, including the icing (if any). With biscuits, slices, small cakes and the like, the judge takes a small piece off one item for tasting.

What are the judges looking for?

The judge looks for colour, texture, uniformity (with small cakes or slices), and a great flavour which is appropriate to the item being judged. With cakes, the texture should be even throughout with no or very few trapped air bubbles or under or overcooking evident. If for example it is an orange cake section, the judge will be looking for a strong orange flavour, and good mouthfeel. A cake should be moist, but not overly so, and how moist will depend on the variety. The judge will be able to tell straight away that it has been properly cooked, and that quality ingredients have been used.

With preserves, the judge is again looking for flavour and texture. A proper set is important for jams, marmalades and jellies, but sometimes great flavour can overcome a preserve which may not be perfectly set. Ideally jellies and marmalades should be perfectly clear and glistening. Chutneys and relishes should be perfectly cooked, reflect their variety, and be of the appropriate texture so that they can be easily spooned out and are not too runny. Any overcooked preserves will be rejected by the judges, who can tell straight away by appearance and taste. The judge can also tell straight away (by taste and texture) if you have used an artificial jam setting product, and this is frowned up in Show work.

Is judging anonymous?

Absolutely! The judge never knows whose entry they have in front of them, as all judging is done anonymously.

Why do the same people win prizes year after year?

This does happen (but not as often as you think), and is not because the judge knows who entered the exhibit. The same people win prizes because they are very experienced, and know what the judges are looking for. You can get the same results by entering, learning from your mistakes, and knowing how to win prizes. This can be a lot quicker than you think!

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Jams, jellies and marmalades

preserves jars on display

Entering the Preserves section of a Show can be one of the most daunting, frustrating and rewarding experiences you can have in cooking. But making the perfect clear glistening jelly or marmalade an is an incredibly satisfying experience. Getting it to set properly is another story, which will be the subject of another post! Ultimately, the only way to succeed in the Preserves section is practice, practice, practice, and to learn by your mistakes.
• For jam making, cut fruit evenly, don’t over boil. Use a candy thermometer (available at kitchen shops) for more accurate cooking to test for jelling point. A thermometer is much better than guesswork for Show work. Even then, you need to use your judgment
• Cut fruit for marmalade as finely as possible for Show work. Marmalade should be clear, with fruit evenly suspended. After soaking fruit overnight, cook thoroughly before adding sugar. This is absolutely critical. Most recipes specify an hour cooking before adding sugar to marmalade.
• For jelly making, after fruit has cooked, allow to drip through jelly bag overnight, without squeezing. Jelly should be completely clear and properly set.
• Ensure that jars are properly sterilized before use. Clean in dishwasher if possible, and then thoroughly sterilise before using. Use oven mits to avoid burns with hot jars and preserves.
• Put lids on jars immediately after filling with preserves to inhibit moulds. Store carefully – in the fridge if necessary.
• Make chutneys a month or two ahead of time if possible to allow flavours to develop. This is a common reason why otherwise great chutneys don’t make it to the winner’s circle. If you make it the day before the Show, unfortunately it will taste like it.
• Jam, jelly and marmalade making is often a frustrating experience. Sometimes the fruit is overripe, there was too much rain before the fruit was picked and not enough pectin in the fruit, or it just doesn’t work out. It happens to everyone, and sometimes when it doesn’t jell, it’s nothing to do with the skill of the cook. If instead of a jam you have a runny sauce, your family might appreciate a nice dessert sauce instead!

Show cooking hints and tips

fruit cakes
Here are some tips and tricks for preparing show entries in the cookery sections of a Show. Disclaimer: always read your individual Show schedule, as requirements vary from Show to Show. These tips apply for the Brookfield Show and will generally apply to others, but that may not necessarily be the case.

1. The most important tip is to read your Show schedule carefully and double-check before preparing your entry, particularly if you are a first-timer. Every year, we have to turn away entries where someone has misread dates and come the day after judging, or misread the entries and brought in something which can’t be entered. As this leads to heartbreak, particularly where there are children involved, check and double-check. If in doubt, ask the Chief Steward who will be able to give you guidance.

2. Read carefully the size of the plates allowed, and don’t exceed the size under any circumstances. Each Show has limited space available for display, and large entries can’t be accommodated. To avoid disappointment, adhere to size requirements.

3. If the Show Schedule says bring your entry on a disposable plate, please don’t bring it on your best China! Unfortunately this happens multiple times each year, and we have to either transfer the entry with possible damage, or the China plate slips through and then often can’t be reunited with its owner.

4. Judging is always anonymous at every Show. Don’t write your name on the plate.

5. Ice cakes the day before judging so that icing sets. This is important, particularly with childrens entries, as otherwise the result can be very messy!

6. Turn off your oven fan if possible when baking, to avoid dome tops on cakes and muffins. This is a common problem. If your oven fan can’t be turned off, experiment with a lower heat, but it is going to be more difficult to get a good result.

7. For general cake classes, normally ice cakes on top only (check your Show schedule for anything different, but this is a general rule), and keep decorations to a minimum. Decorations must always be appropriate to the cake. If in doubt, leave it out.

8. Don’t test with a skewer in the middle of the cake, as it will be cut there for judging, and your skewer mark will mar the appearance of the cake when cut.

9. For Show work don’t use any cream, mock cream, custard or similar icings or fillings. There is no refrigeration, and your entry will normally be unable to be accepted.

10. Slices or brownies are best cut into even sized pieces (eg, 5 cm square), with a hot knife if necessary. Check your Show schedule for any differences to this.

11. Scones should be light in texture; and shouldn’t touch each other when cooking.

12. The more traditional recipes are best for Show cooking, eg WW/ CWA cookbooks.

13. Make sure the cake tin you use is the right size for the type of cake entered. Cakes are sometimes brought in too small, and are either disqualified or ruled not competitive, as can be seen with the cake in the photo at the top of this post. This is particularly important for fruit cakes.