Battle of the Bakers 2014 Launches!
Contributed by Helen Scott, Mango Menus
Tasting dozens of cakes from HK’s budding pastry chefs is a difficult job but someone has got to do it… Luckily that person was I this weekend, as round one commenced of Battle of the Bakers Hong Kong, organised by Umami Concepts and the Rose Petal Cakery.
The competition, with some similarities to the Great British Bake Off, kicked off in the decadent kitchen space of Umami Concepts. After a rigorous application process, 16 contestants were chosen to start proceedings with a free-style bake from their home kitchen to be judged by 50 HK foodies, including media and the public. Blind scorecards were submitted with everyone’s top 3, the results of which will be announced this week. A series of rounds will follow in HK’s top kitchens, where contestants will learn a different skill each week, be tested on it, and naturally, be subject to eliminations. The final will take place on December 13th.
It’s fair to say that everyone was impressed as well as reassured by the diversity of the offerings at the first encounter. Previous rumours of a chocolate domination proved unsubstantiated as there were only a few cocoa-based goods, and we were delighted to taste desserts ranging from literature inspired cupcakes to tofu based frosting.
Like every good night out, it would appear cake tastings also need to be staggered, so in between cups of tea and gallons of water, we began the morning’s tasting in marathon mode rather than a sprint.
Cookies and cream always pleases as a theme, and two versions today did just that. First were the whoopie style Chocolate Chip Cookie Sandwiches whose filling consisted of mascarpone whipped with cream and sugar. Opposite these was a miniature version on sticks by another contestant, Cookies and Cream Pops, which from the sound of the “mmmmm” around me definitely gained some votes.
As for other biscuits, there were the intricately Decorated Vanilla Cookies, a work of art to say the least, with each portion consisting of a perfectly formed butterfly perched on a leaf, using natural colourings derived from bamboo. It will be interesting to see how this contestant fares in the next round when this skill is really put to the test.
In terms of presentation, the Apple & Walnut Mini Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting was a sure hit with its rose flower finish, and wowed further more when we bit the petals to find each was a slice of flawlessly cooked apple. While the frosting below was perhaps sweeter than needed, on the whole the cakes were clear crowd pleasers.
The Manana entremets was another show stopper in terms of aesthetics with an equally interesting story behind it. The baker informed us that some layers were inspired by her son’s breakfast smoothie, consisting of banana and mango.
More traditional but equally applauded was the Individual size lemon cheesecake with lemon curd, a fine balance of citrus with sweet and which also seemed to rank highly amongst the tasters. The Orange Sponge Cake was another classic bake with little embellishment but a simple light, fluffy sponge with marmalade undertones. The Profiteroles also erred on the conventional side but certainly didn’t disappoint with their seamless choux and definitely differentiated themselves from the competition in being not too sweet.
Chocoholics present were able to get their fix in various forms. Emma’s Cupcakes with their handmade pink flowers tasted a little like those from Sift, which is anything but a criticism. And I am still dreaming about the chocolate orange frosting on the Eggless Double Chocolate Cake. More complex were the Ginger Chocolatines, based on a Mary Berry recipe, combining ginger, buttercream and nuts with a genoise sponge, as well as the Mini Mocha Cakes, an elegantly layered coffee cake topped with slightly less sophisticated (but always appreciated!) Malteser balls. Finally, Chocolate Cheesecake Craquelin was comfort food at its purest and cuter still for having been developed by an undergrad for her room mate’s birthday.
The Vegan Pumpkin Spice Latte was by far the healthiest on the table, a delicately spiced pastry pie with the innovative touch of using tofu as a binder in the icing rather than cream cheese. This was certainly talked about.
Last but not least were the Butter Battle Cakes, inspired by Dr Seuss’ novel, where even the cupcake cases were handmade with miniature booklets attached. I’ll admit that at first sight I thought these could be more about appearance than taste, but as the butterscotch oozed through my first bite, doubt turned to humility as I gingerly asked for a second helping.
16 (or so…) cupcakes later, there was an unquestionable buzz in the room, possibly from white sugar highs as much as excitement. Chatting about food is amongst my favourite pastimes, along with cooking, eating and writing about it, so discussing cakes for 4 hours was nothing but a pleasure. From that I gathered there were clear favourites in the room, although also a few outsiders too, so it will be interesting to hear the results of the tasting.
The next meeting is in two weeks’ time when the 16 contestants learn the delicate art of decorating cookies, led by Anouska Mutreja of the Rose Petal Cakery. For this round only, there will be no eliminations; these begin the following week. We will report back in November therefore until which time the contestants should be practising madly while we try to visit the gym slightly more than usual…