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I can't believe it's been a year since I entered my first ever Royal Melbourne Show! Last year was tops & I came away feeling very chuffed with myself for winning first place in the novice jam section for my rhubarb jam! I also entered some decorated cupcakes & I received a very highly commended & third place for those.
This year, the show fell during a very busy time for me as I was rather preoccupied with making my first ever wedding cakes for friends, so I deliberately kept my show entries to a minimum.
I decided to try my hand at jam again & opted for pear & vanilla jam. This turned out to be quite the experiment - not only had I only ever made jam once before (with a very good result given it was the rhubarb jam I made for the show!) I had never even tasted pear & vanilla jam! So why on earth did I chose that flavour? Just for something different. The category I entered was 'jam other than berry' so I wanted to do something outside the square (in jam speaking terms that is - nothing too outrageous!). I set about researching recipes for pear & vanilla jam & despite attempting three different recipes which all failed to set & were far too sweet, I ended up mashing together my own recipe. Literally. The end result was a jam that I was proud of because not only had I almost thrown in the towel after my failed attempts, I was happy with the flavour & the jam set like it should without the use of store bought pectin or jam setting sugar (I'll give you a clue... pears are very low in pectin & apples are very high in pectin... so throwing in an apple worked a treat to help the jam to set). As I labeled my jar of jam for the show, I said to my husband that I didn't care what the judges thought of it - that I was blimmen proud of my efforts & that's all that mattered.
So as it turned out, the judges didn't think much of my jam & I didn't win anything for it. And do I care? No! I'm still proud of that jam.
My next entry was my Nana's recipe for eggless lemon honey. Now here's where I'm a bit disappointed with myself. I wanted to stay true to my Nana's wonderful recipe & although the lemon honey tasted exactly as it should, the next day I noticed that it was a bit too runny. Given that this was the day before the show entries were due, unfortunately I ran out of time to rectify it because I was too busy baking my other entries. But... there's always next year.
So that leaves my baked entries which were fruit scones, decorated cupcakes & a selection of cooked slices.
I decided to make date & walnut scones. How hard could it be to bake some good looking & tasty scones? Well lets just say it's not the same as rustling up a batch of scones for afternoon tea. These had to be award winning scones, perfect in every way. Having baked two batches & only getting one semi decent looking scone I have absolute admiration for seasoned award winning scone makers out there! I feel that there are many secrets to making award winning scones & I have much to learn (& now a year to learn it in!). So it goes without saying, I didn't win anything for my scones but I sure did have a load of spare scones to give away to friends!
By now you might be wondering if I had any success at all with my show entries! Well now we get to the good part!
The next category of baking that I entered was 'a selection of cooked slices' which had to be two different types of slice with two pieces of each. I took a massive risk & ended up baking recipes I had never baked or even eaten before! I decided on a salted caramel slice & a lemon meringue slice. I put my own spin on the slices (as much as one can do given the small size & number!) because I wanted to show a bit more skill to the judges & not just slap four pieces of slice on a plate. For the caramel slice, I piped some chocolate ganache on the top & then I got a little bit fancy pants & tempered some chocolate which I then cut into little triangles to sit on top of the ganache. For my lemon meringue slice I made little vanilla mini meringues to sit on the top. I think these little embellishments might have paid off because I came second! So I was chuffed with that.
(The winning slices are to the right of mine with the blue sticker. And take note in the photo the tiny amount in the corner of my lemon meringue slice that the judge cut off to eat! That's will power at it's finest!).
But what I was most chuffed with...the creme de la creme... the piece de resistance... (you get my drift!) was winning first place for my decorated cupcakes!
Making pretty cupcakes is something that I really enjoy doing because I think of them as little edible works of art. If I'm being honest, large decorated cakes scare me a bit & when I look at photos of other people's amazing creations - I often feel quite intimidated! Some of the cakes I've seen seem to take on a life of their own & apart from looking like there's not an ounce of cake inside them (they're the 'I can't believe that's a cake' type of cake), there really is an architecture to them. But as for cupcakes - they're quite a nice, non-scary size to work with. Let's face it, with cupcakes there's no need to worry about portion sizes, stacking with dowels, labouring over those sharp fondant edges & coming up with grand designs. Cupcakes are just a nice little platform from which you can create beautiful little designs that in their own right could give a big cake a run for its money!
Anyway - enough of defending the cupcake.
The design I came up with for my show cupcakes was inspired by vintage colours & styles which I'm obsessed with at the moment. I also took inspiration from Pinterest & spent some time looking at pictures of vintage bouquets & arrangements of fresh flowers. I also wanted to use the little stephanotis flowers I had learnt to make from a Craftsy tutorial which was taught by the insanely talented Jacqueline Butler from Petalsweet. I also decided to use silver foil cupcake cases instead of my usual plain paper cases. I have to say, I think out of all the cupcakes I have made so far - these are my favourite.
I really enjoy entering in the Melbourne Show & I'll definitely be making a habit of it each year. Even if some years it's only a small number of entries like this year, it's just a fun thing to do & there's always that excitement of finding out how your entries have fared. It's also a great day out when you visit the show & see first hand how talented people are. I'm always astounded by the various arts & crafts that people produce & it's great to see everyone coming together to share their mutual enjoyment, whether it be baking or knitting, jam making or painting.
Check out this crochet covered car & knitted trailer covering which was on display!
I'll finish this blog post by leaving you with a few photos of some of the best 'I can't believe that's a cake' cakes. I couldn't help but think that the judges had a really tough job to single out a winner when there were so many amazing entries.
Until next year...