Sadly now that I am in my thirties, have two children who are getting bigger by the minute and living in a small rural village I do not exactly get the opportunity to mosh my fishnets off as much as I would like. However I do get to cook for the Heavy Metal Minions and Hubby, which means I also get to bake!
My mum has always baked – I remember as a kid being shocked that the cake in my party bag was a sad tasteless lump of what seemed to be a kitchen sponge with icing on, as I was used to my mum’s amazing cakes. I just assumed everyone’s mum baked all the time, mum could whip a cake up from start to finish in about 25 minutes, why on earth would anyone buy one? Then I learned from her and so I too bake as much as possible.
About 3 years ago I saw a schedule for the village Horticultural show. I mainly picked it up to see if there were any categories the Heavy Metal Minions could enter (a friend’s kids entered their village show and won everything – as they were the only kids to enter!), I found 5 different categories the kids could enter – one of which was ‘decorate 4 small cakes’. As I would have to bake those anyway I had a look to see if there were any baking categories I could enter and found the ‘Victoria sponge’ category. I entered, but I didn’t really try, however I found I was more than a little miffed I wasn’t placed because my cake “did not meet size requirements”. The program stated “less than 8 inches in diameter” so I had baked a 7 inch diameter sponge. That ‘note’ was a red rag to a bull so the following year I entered the Minions (who were the only children to enter that first year so won everything) and also entered myself into the Victoria Sponge again, and a couple of other classes, but added a little note with my entry form stating I was confused about the size requirements. About 4 days later I received a phone call from the Horticultural show president (!!!) explaining the size requirements were actually EXACTLY 8 inches in diameter – which apparently is standard WI rules. So I got Googling. A WI Victoria Sponge should be “exactly 8 inches in diameter with Raspberry jam, no cream and no sugar on top”. So I dutifully bought a pair of 8 inch tins and entered my second attempt. I must admit that year I was definitely a bit more competitive. I also entered the scones, small cakes and the flapjacks classes. I was a bit gob smacked to win the Victoria Sponge and the scones categories (especially as it was my first attempt at scones!). However, just to demonstrate to you how ruthless the judges are, I was one of two people to enter the flapjack class, and as mine were very very slightly burned I did not place. Out of two people.
So that meant I was determined to go the whole hog this year. This year I entered 8 classes. Because I’m not an obsessive person. At all. Three weeks before the competition I started my product development. Like I said, not at all obsessive. I must have made 4 different batches of flapjack (FYI I really don’t like flapjack so I had to keep getting my friends and family to tell me what their thoughts were – I have no idea why anyone would eat flapjack so the perfect flapjack is an enigma to me). The technical bake was the Jaffa Drizzle loaf – I made at least 5 of them to be sure mine was perfect. It’s a bloody delicious cake, you just can’t stop eating it! I did quite a bit of research into chocolate brownies – it seems there are two camps when it comes to brownies, either cakey or gooey, and it seems to be a generational thing – if you grew up with Nigella as the goddess of baking you like gooey, if you cut your baking teeth when Nigella was still a teenager you prefer the cakey variety. I also wanted to make Choca Mocha cupcakes so had to adapt a chocolate cake recipe from my Milk Marketing Board recipe book to perfect that, as well as getting the shortbread recipe right.
So the classes I entered were:
Jaffa Drizzle loaf
4 small cakes
Oh dear the meringues. I knew they were pretty technical and to be honest I was a little afraid of them, so I made my first ever meringues at 11pm the night before the competition. And then spent 45 minutes Googling what I had done wrong. Which turned out to be: used old eggs (they should be SUPER fresh), over whisked (I was terrified they’d be underwhisked) and my oven was too hot (even though I turned it down 20 degrees lower than all the experts on YouTube said to.
And so on Sunday 19th August I got totally gothed up and submitted my 8 entries to the village hall by 10am. I was a bit disappointed with the Jaffa Drizzle – it was the worst one I had baked – I was so worried I’d burn it that I had underbaked it but there was no time to make another. And the meringues were just, well, dreadful. We returned at 3pm for the results and to see everyone else’s entries. I really like looking at all the horticultural entries (I am death to plants unless they are herbs – I have a vested interest in keeping them alive), it amazes me all the beautiful and perfect thing people can grow. And then we got to see how we had done. My kids had done fairly well, a couple of 2nds and 3rds and a few highly commendeds. Then it was my turn to see how I had faired. As my meringues were just awful they did not place (even though they were the only entry!) but they were quite terrible. My Jaffa Drizzle also didn’t place but there were 8 other entries in that category so I wasn’t disappointed. My flapjack came third (although there were only 3 entries and one didn’t place at all), my shortbread came second, and my brownies also came second (although weirdly they were the only entry in that category – the judges must prefer the cakey type), and my scones, Victoria Sponge and Choca Mocha cupcakes all placed first so I was extremely pleased with those.
Then the overall prizes for the day were handed out. My son came fifth in the kids categories and won 50p, he was thrilled! My daughter came second in the kids categories and won £2 (although I think she was a little miffed her friend got first place!), and it turned out I won the Pearce cup for cookery! I was quite shocked but glad I had put in the effort (although some of the judging is pretty harsh – I mean second place when no-one else has entered!). And the biggest bonus is to be ‘that’ crazy family in the village show!
So although I don’t exactly get to hang out at the coolest clubs, we certainly get to be the coolest family at the village show!