I have a terrible competitive streak. I think I got it from my dad. I have participated in a lot of competitions, some successful, some not so successful. I have competed as a classical guitarist, a Renaissance lute player, a double bass player, in all kinds of musical ensembles. I have competed as a sailor, single handed, double handed and fully crewed and with too many crew. I have competed with sugar, chocolate, cake and all sorts of ingredients.
This past week I participated in The Escoffier Society's Culinary Salon. This was my third time. I decided, since I make cakes that people pay for I should go in the Professional Division for wedding cakes. I like competitions of this sort because the judges will take the time to discuss your work with you face to face. I like to hear what's wrong and why and how to make it work, what skills I need to improve, how to train my eye. This year's cake was a real challenge.
The chocolate work on the sides of the cake have to be shiny, perfect and elegant. All the decorations are piped by hand after hand tempering the chocolate. The topper on the cake was my first attempt at designing and executing a showpiece after returning from Chicago. I should have spent more than 1 day on decorating the cake but only had a week to do the showpiece and decorate the cake. The best in show, which was a bread piece, took the guy 3 months to make.
When designing a cake, you have to take into account the time of year, the heat, humidity, cold and quality of the products you are using. If it's too hot out, forget the chocolate, you have to use a little less buttercream, the fondant will get really soft, really quickly. In the winter, the dry air will cause the fondant to crack, the chocolate will set before you want it to, the buttercream won't be as soft as you would like. Although I would rather work with cakes and chocolate in the winter, it has its challenges. Fondant work is harder than most people think. There can't be any air bubbles, no tears, no shiny surfaces.
After talking with the judges, I got two thumbs up for the mini chocolate showpiece, they even went so far as to say it was perfect and gave me some tips to do the chocolate showpiece competition next year. The judges wanted to see more piping skills, a more traditional design. I was happy with my bronze medal because the comments were worth all the effort and anxiety. I personally loved the design of the cake and have added it to my portfolio.
I have already started designing my chocolate showpiece for the March 2012 competition. Yes it will be a love/hate affair with my design for a year, but I hope to not only learn new skills, but also snag maybe that elusive gold medal!