Some of you may know that for the last three years I’ve entered into the baking competition of the Royal Melbourne Show. To be honest, I’m not entirely sure what prompted me to enter, but gaining a “commendation” for my sponge sandwich entry in my first year, with the third sponge I’d ever baked, was a lovely confidence builder, more so than the third I received for my eclairs.
I quite liked researching recipes and techniques to make my baking the best it could be, with lovely ingredients grown with love and care.
Last year I was bemused by the second prize winner for eclairs (I received third again) seemed to be burned (DonisBaked blogged about it over here) and so I wrote to the coordinator asking for the judges notes or feed back on my baking as I wanted to improve. What I received back was a few generic comments that was of practically no use at all with the exception of one comment which said “Most almond crescent entries where smothered in too much icing sugar which dulls the taste”. Well, actually, I’ve never seen a recipe for almond crescents that doesn’t ask for them to be dredged in icing sugar – but .. whatever. The criteria obviously must be deeply secret.
So this year, I entered sponge cake, carrot cake, almond crescents and eclairs again, and scones for something new. The results were out this week and I received nothing … no prizes, no commendations, nothing. Poo.
Although I’ve only been competing for a few years even I had noticed the predominance of two names in the results, those of Fleay and Primmer. Richard watched on as Angela Fleay and her son and daughter, who won first, second and third prize in the sponge sandwich competition this year, made their sponges for this year’s show.
Fleay cooks from memory and has a few tips. ”Use the best-possible ingredients you can afford, except use supermarket eggs, as they don’t have as much colour as the free-range ones – some judges don’t like yellow sponges.”
Really? Don’t use free range eggs because the judges don’t like naturally coloured sponges? What? This incensed me. Yes, lets use cruelly raised eggs cause they LOOK better? (And don’t get me started on how she’s not in it for the competition – If you don’t want to win Angela, how about retiring now that you’ve got layers of dusty blue ribbons, faded rosettes and engraved silver spoons”.)
But perhaps even sadder are the comments from one of the judges, Ann Marston. “She points to flecks of custard powder. ”The better brands of custard powder don’t do this.’
Custard Powder? Caged hen eggs?
You know what Royal Melbourne Show – if that’s what it takes to win your sponge sandwich competition I don’t think I WANT to win anymore. I don’t think I even want to compete.
You’re supposed to be about promoting the best produce Victoria has to offer, and that’s NOT caged hen eggs and custard powder flavouring. It’s time to step up and move with the times.
Judge Marston was also quoted as saying:
The standard of sponges at this year’s show is poor, as it is in some of the other categories. Marston judged the fruit cakes before the sponges and when asked to comment she shakes her head. ”It is so good to have the young people, inspired by cooking shows, come into the competition,” she says. ”But learning to bake doesn’t come from watching telly. It comes from standing next to your mother, grandmother or whoever, and watching them cook and learning from them. With a few notable exceptions, after today, I really feel like I need to start teaching sponge-baking classes.’
I can’t help but feel that’s a wee bit patronising and again out of touch. What of those who don’t have generations of family bakers to stand next to you and show you how to bake? And instead of teaching classes that bake sponges to fit the caged egg & custard powder ideal, how about providing some realistic feedback to those who ask for it, and updating your palate and knowledge to the new world order. The order of free range eggs, pure fresh butter (not frozen for months), milk from a single herd of cows, organic carrots, australian grown and dried sultanas oh I could go on.
Needless to say I am very disappointed in the attitudes expressed by these two influential people, and by the Royal Melbourne Show who advocates them.
We are not amused.