My jaw dropped.  Then my hands flew to my mouth in surprise.  I was stunned.  Almost immediately I broke out into a childish grin, clapping my hands in glee.  I quickly turned around to search out my mother.  She was there with me.  I quickly located her.  Now, almost jumping up and down like a five year old, I thrust out my arm, pointed proudly and declared, “I won a place….I came third….my little fruit buns came third!”

I could not believe it.  One of my entries into the Queensland Royal Show cooking competition won a place!

Ekka AnimalsImages from Animal Boulevard @ The Ekka 2009

It all began a few months back when I entered into five categories.

:: Date Loaf
:: Chocolate Loaf
:: Scones
:: Small Cakes
:: Fruit Buns

Immediately, I started collating recipes to commence my trial runs straight away.  Admittedly, I was not sure what the judges were looking for (as the instructions were extremely limited), but nonetheless, I figured I would just give it my best shot.  As this was my first ever baking competition, however, I was actually a little nervous.

Fortuitously, I started my practise early.  Very fortunate indeed because all of a sudden, seemingly out of nowhere, the time had come to bake and submit my entries! 

Ekka CookingImages from the Cooking Display @ The Ekka 2009 :: Top left image: Julia’s Entry

On entry day, I carefully took my baked treats to the RNA showgrounds.  There were some serious contenders dropping off tray upon tray of entries.  I handed over my five little items, and headed to work.   Judging was happening that day.  I did not expect to hear anything.

The following week I went to The Ekka with my mother.  We had not been in about 15 years, but decided this year was a good time to go.  Go explore the exhibition and displays – and, of course, the cooking entries!

I had resigned myself to the fact that it was a long shot to win a place in the Queensland Royal Show cooking competition.  For me, just entering my very first baking competition, and the whole experience, was rewarding enough.  But I wanted to see all the winning entries, not expecting mine to be among them.

I was slowly wandering around all the winning entries on display.  My eyes naturally darting to the categories I had entered.  I was calmly taking notes in my head, observing some uncanny similarities between the winning entries.  Detail that was not at all included in the original instruction.  And it was then, in the display, when I noticed I had won. 

Ekka DogsImages from the Royal Championship Dog Show @ The Ekka 2009

After the excitement had died down (I was pretty excited!), I noticed how irregular my fruit buns were compared with the other winning entries.  Soon after, I was speaking with one of the stewards.  I pointed out my ‘non-standard’ fruit buns.  Based on appearance, she seemed surprised they won a place, but offered “the judges must have been very impressed with the texture and taste”.  With a coy smile, she then said, “next year, make sure you change the size and you could be looking at 1st place”.

We will see.

So until (perhaps!??) next year, I leave you with a sprinkling of photographs from the Queensland Royal Show 2009.

Ekka CraftsImages from the Craft and Quilting Displays @ The Ekka 2009


Date loaf single

My mum dropped in over the weekend as she was passing by my area.  I was (surprise, surprise), flicking through some recipe books.  I was actually researching for an upcoming local baking competition that I signed up for.  (More on that later!)

One of the cookbooks I was looking at was published in the 1950s.  This is easily the oldest cookbook that I own.  It was given to me by my mother.  The book contains, in many sections, a Julia Child-esque level of detail; particularly for meat preparation.  But my interest is in the back half of the book where finely chopping, simmering and glazing is replaced with mixing, kneading and baking.

Mum and I were looking through the book and amongst the 600+ pages came across some old handwritten notes.  One, written by my mum, listed a range of desserts and cakes.  We laughed about the sweet tooth I have obviously inherited from her.

The book is certainly the most precious I own.  And needless to say, I am extremely careful with it.  There is something to be said for good old fashioned classics.  Fads and trends come and go but these solid little performers continue to shine and delight.

One item that indeed falls into that category is date loaf.

Admittedly, I have never made date loaf.  Sticky date pudding (yum!), yes.  Many times.  Date loaf, no.  With an extensive list (read: categorised and colour coded spreadsheet) of well over 100 baking items to tackle, date loaf was probably not going to climb the order of priority without intervention.  That being, a local baking competition.

I have never entered a competition before.  When I lived in the US, I used to see many local and national cooking competitions around (The Pillsbury Bakeoff and Better Homes and Garden competitions, etc.).  Back in Australia (well, in Brisbane anyway), the opportunities are limited.  To my knowledge I have only one option available.  The annual Royal Queensland Show – affectionately known as The Ekka, by locals.  Originally an agricultural show over 100 years ago, it has expanded to now include fairground rides, sideshow alley, animal parades, wood chopping competitions, agricultural displays and … cooking competitions

I have entered into five categories of the cooking competition.  All old fashioned baked favourites.  Date loaf, chocolate loaf, scones, yeasted fruit buns and small cakes.  With veteran bakers entering year after year, I hope I am not completely disappointed in my outcome.  Regardless, it will be a great experience and I will have fun trialling different recipes over the next couple of months (along with my macarons for my wedding!).

If anyone has any tried and tested recipes for date loaf, chocolate loaf, scones, yeasted fruit buns and small cakes (oh, and not obviously entering the RNA competition!), please let me know.

In the meantime, here is my first trial.  Date loaf.  Overall, it was packed full of the requisite yummy date-y goodness, but could probably have been a little more moist.  Next time!

{ Old Fashioned Date Loaf }

* Ingredients *

1 cup pitted dates, roughly chopped
1 cup boiling water
1 teaspoon bi-carb soda
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon grated lemon rind
100g / 3 oz unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 egg
2 cups of all purpose / plain flour
3 teaspoons of baking powder

* Directions *

Preheat oven to 180°C or 350F. Grease and line the base of a 10cm x 20cm (or 4 x 8 inch) loaf tin.  Place dates, water and baking powder into a bowl. Set aside for 10 minutes.  Beat together sugar, butter and lemon rind. Beat in egg. Fold through sifted flour.  Fold through date mixture.  Pour into the prepared pan. Bake for 1 hour or until the loaf is cooked.