We arrived at Cake HQ to find a staggering twenty-seven entries awaiting consumption – from cakes and tarts to flans, shortcakes, cheesecakes, friands, cupcakes, meringues, quiches, biscuits, strudels… in three categories – Savoury, Chocolate and General.
The task was almost overwhelming, but like the truly professional gutses we are – and despite the growing threat of sliding into diabetic coma – the Empress and I made our way through the blind tasting, separately keeping our scores out of 10 each for presentation and texture, and out of 20 for flavour.
Working diligently through the morning with valiant A&U staffers slicing off slenderer and slenderer slivers – and fending off contestants desperate for their morning tea outside the door – the Empress and I were gratified to discover, when comparing scores, that for each category we had picked the same winner, and our scores were within one point of each other’s.
The standard, it must be said, was exceptional. It’s our first year of judging, but the bakeoff has been an A&U fixture for some time apparently, and competition is fierce. The winning entries were within one point of each other on the scale, and then from the three we had to choose one overall 2009 Bakeoff Champion.
And the winners were …
By a whisker, the three winners were:
Savoury – Lou Blue’s Quiche Lorraine with Pancetta
Chocolate – Anthony Bryant’s Triple Chocolate Praline Tart
General – Catherine Milne’s Clementine & Almond Syrup Cake with Chocolate Ganache
The overall champion, by the slenderest sliver of a hair’s breadth, was Catherine’s clementine cake. (And it turns out this was something of an upset win – apparently for the past several years Anthony, who also entered an incredible chocolate and cherry cake and a divine rhubarb and amaretti tart, has been the unstoppable reigning champ. Next year’s bakeoff should be very interesting as he attempts to wrest the crown back!)
Once the presentations were made and the hordes descended on the entries for morning tea, the Empress and I prised a few recipes out of the contestants, some of which happily are available online.
Turns out that Catherine’s unbelievably moist and complex clementine cake is an Ottolenghi recipe, and can be found here; and Anthony’s incredible praline tart (the silkiest, most satiny smooth filling ever) is from Gourmet Traveller a couple of months ago and is available here.
All in all, it was an astonishing display of skill, nerve and flair. The Empress and I have begged to return and offer our greedy evaluative skills for the A&U staff club’s Great Curry Contest – can’t wait!
Oh, and in case you think all this gustatory grandeur might be a little decadent, it also has a higher purpose: everyone who joined the morning tea festivities gave a donation to Sydney PEN, and every one of the many A&U staff club activities for 2009 raises some moola which will go to Sydney PEN at the end of the year.
Hey, I sense the opportunity for a Sydney PEN fundraising challenge! Any other Sydney publishers willing to take on the A&U master chefs in a publishing industry bakeoff? Let me know – Steph & I are more than willing to go the extra mile and extend our judging skills across the land!