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Judging Apple Cakes

Monday, April 7th, 2008

I want to warn you that should someone ask you one day to judge an apple cake recipe, you would be wise to think it over before saying yes. Because while visions of fluffy sponges and caramelized apples and layered cakes dusted with powdered sugar might tease your taste buds, the reality is something else. 

I was asked if I would be available to judge an apple cake competition on the final day of the Girls Day Out event held in Auckland recently. I replied nonchalantly ‘sure’, as you do, and didn’t think any more about it until the day of judging.

This is how we get ourselves into trouble. Saying ‘yes’ to things we haven’t fully listened to or investigated.

A dozen or so apple cakes appeared in my peripheral vision some time in the afternoon. Mmmm. I remembered I had something to do with them. I did my demonstration, cleaned up, then the cakes were brought up onto the demonstration bench. Now this is tricky. Judging in the back kitchen where you can poke and prod proffered specimens unseen, where you can say what you truly feel, and even spit out anything revolting (and, there’s always one!), is different to being on stage with the cameras rolling and everyone hanging on your every word!

Picture this: There was a kind of hush as I cut into my first cake. My stomach threatened a revolt when I realised that I would have to eat a little of each one. That’s when I regreted agreeing to do the judging. The cake-makers were in the audience, too, and I could hear little intakes of breath, and feel their eyes boring into me as they awaited my pronouncements. You could hear a pin drop. The first cake looked attractive and was nicely cooked – a shallowish sort of sponge covered with sliced Granny Smith apples, which have just come into season, and dusted with icing sugar. Looks can be deceiving, but not this time, the cake was quite delicious. What a relief. An assortment of cakes followed, some not so successful and others good family standbys, and one or two more exceptional cakes. It probably took me about 15 minutes to judge a dozen cakes. The judging was compered by the event’s MC, and every so often I made a comment, trying not to spit bits of cake over everyone (well, you try and talk with your mouth full of cake!) and for the entire 15 minutes, I kept a smile on my face, in order not to offend anyone or to give anything away.

Luckily, this time there were three good cakes, and a clear winner, though none of them hit the highs of my German sister-in-law Dolores’ apple cake, a soft pillowy sponge with apples embedded throughout in layers, and a sprinkling of cinnamon sugar on the top. Perfection.  Anyone want the recipe?