by Sharon Davis, Home Baking Association
Like Aunt Bea and her pies, many bakers love a good competition to win the purple ribbon or “first-of-class” status at their county or state fair. You can’t beat the advice of a veteran fair baking judge! Linda Beech, county extension family & consumer sciences, 4-H and youth baking educator and test kitchen baker shares some of her tips for top success.
Success starts with a solid recipe from a test kitchen or baker you know. Then get started with Linda’s steps:
1. Get it together or mis en place. Choose a well-tested recipe and read the recipe. Go through the ingredient list and direction. Be sure you have all the needed ingredients and equipment on hand. Be sure you understand the methods or baking procedure.
Get help with terms from the HBA’s Baking Glossary
Next, prepare ingredients (chop, dice, peel, grate…) if needed. Pre-measure ingredients and arrange them in the order they are used in the recipe before beginning. This will ensure you don’t leave anything out or lose count of the number of cups of flour or other baking mix-up’s.
3.Take temperatures- ingredients and before done baking- Heat is an ingredient. Quality and repeatable success depend on the right temperatures- both for processes like yeast fermentation and creaming or cutting in fats- and to product doneness.
“Nothing is harder for a judge or young person than having a beautiful loaf of bread sliced into for tasting only to have it raw at the center.”
Learn more from Chef Martin Earl’s video, Quality Temperatures.
4.Make the freezer your friend- County fair season can be a busy time in kitchens. Baking fair foods several days or weeks ahead and freezing can give high quality exhibits without the last-minute frenzy. Some A-B-C’s in freezing baked goods:
(A) After temping for doneness, cool the product on a cooling rack. Don’t wrap until the center is 100 degrees F. or less.– cool the products completely.
(B) Wrap or cover well with freezer wrap, freezer bags or freezer containers with an air-tight seal. (C) Arrange carefully in the freezer to prevent crushing,
The day/night before the fair, remove products from the freezer and leave in their unopened freezer packaging until completely thawed before preparing the fair exhibit. Never shake out ice crystals from the bag.
5. Ready, set, show- For competition in a fair, baking beautiful foods exhibits is the first part of the process. Preparing the fair exhibit properly are equally essential details. .
- Read and follow the contest or fair rules. The rules vary from fair to fair or even year to year so your beautiful entry isn’t disqualified or lowered a ribbon rating for a violations such as entering the wrong number of individual items like cookies or muffins, entering the wrong class (such as perishable vs. non-perishable categories), using inappropriate packaging or display materials, or entering products which may not be safe for display without refrigeration.
- For more showmanship tips for entering a prize-winning fair foods exhibit, we recorded some in Ellis County, Kansas.
Several tips are specific to that local fair, with general tips that apply to many fairs.
“When baking for a contest, attention to detail is important. Take your time, follow the steps above, and have fun! Baking can become a lifelong hobby which will give years of enjoyment to your family, friends and any recipients of your prize-winning baked goods.” Linda Beech