Ladies and gentlemen, it’s game time. That’s right, my inner competitor has come out in full force, and I’ve decided to enter a baking competition!
Now, I’ve never been to much of a public competitor. I mean, as a kid, when I played soccer, I would apologize players on the other team when I got in their way. Even nowadays, I’m a runner. My biggest competition is…myself. That’s why I’ve decided to put myself (and my cake) out there, and see what happens!
The specific competition I’m entering is the Adult Baking Contest with the Association of Connecticut Fairs. Essentially, there is a smaller-scale contest at each local fair throughout the Summer and Fall, and then one winner per fair goes to the final state contest. Seeing how it was closest to me, and a childhood favorite, I decided to join bakers competing at the Wolcott Country Fair.
Here’s how the competition works. There is one recipe that every baker needs to follow. To. The. T. Judges evaluate entries based on taste, appearance, texture, aroma, and how closely you adhere to the directions. As much as I can’t wait to show off my own recipe in a competition one day, I’m pretty happy with this structure for my first one. I’m a teacher for goodness sake. Following (and giving) directions is basically the bread and butter of my career. Part of me wonders how judges decide between entries of people who follow the same directions perfectly…but that’s why I’m a novice competitor, and not one of them. For 2016, adult bakers are being tasked with baking a Six-Layer Chocolate Cake with Toasted Marshmallow Filling and Malted Chocolate Frosting.
So, without further ado, let me show you how I made this monster, and tried to get a leg up with some simple tricks of the trade.
The first piece I tackled was the cake. It would take the longest to cool, and I was going to be baking in two batches. This chocolate cake recipe in particular, contains two ingredients that contribute to a really flavorful and moist cake: buttermilk and coffee. While you can’t really taste the buttermilk, it’s tangy nature adds to the complexity of the flavor and it’s acidity tenderizes the gluten to make for a fluffier cake. The coffee is also an ingredient that you can necessarily taste, but it intensifies the chocolate big time.
While making the batter required nothing more than following the directions, there were a few key moves I tried to make during the baking process, which would hopefully make it clear that I was adhering to the recipe. First, I weighed just about everything. I really wanted to make sure that the cake layers would be even, not just so that they’d look uniform, but so they’d bake evenly as well. Speaking of baking evenly, I decided to finally wimp out and buy some bake-even strips. Basically, you put these damp strips around the outside of the pan so that the outside doesn’t cook faster than the inside. It helps the cake stay level and moist throughout.
Up next, the fillings. For this decadent treat, there are two: a toasted marshmallow cream, and a malted chocolate frosting. Both fillings call for a few ingredients that, again, really make the flavors of this cake multi-dimensional. For example, the marshmallow filling required bakers to use real toasted marshmallows in addition to fluff. And, the chocolate frosting is comprised of ingredients like Ovaltine and real melted chocolate, instead of a more basic additive such as cocoa.
Other than simply following the recipe, I tried to use one more trick when making the fillings, or more specifically, the toasted marshmallow filling. When I read that the recipe asked bakers to flip the marshmallows to broil the other side, I imagined a gooey mess. To avoid this and get an even color on both sides, I used another pan prepared with foil to flip marshmallows onto, instead of just using a spatula and trying to get the whole layer to flip at once, like a pancake.
Last, but certainly not least, the most nerve-wracking part: assembly and decoration. After using my cake leveler to cut each cake into two even layers, I set forth spreading on alternate layers of marshmallow filling and chocolate frosting. Again, I used my scale to ensure equal amounts in each layer.
Frosting time. Oh God, I can only imagine the amount of grey hair that began growing at this point in the day. Now, you’ll notice that the recipe only says to frost the outside of the cake, which actually gives bakers a little bit of creative license to choose just how they do it. I decided to go simple, but add just a little flair with a fluted side. To do this, start with an even layer of frosting.
Then, run an offset spatula around the exterior, slowly pulling up as your turntable rotates.
Well, there she is, ready for competition.
Keep your fingers crossed for me…I hope to find out the results in the next day or so. Until then, stay tuned and stay hungry!