My Show Debut
It’s not looking good. In the words of Ellice Schrader, the long-time Cookery Steward for The Newcastle Regional Show, my attempt at scones is ‘not great’. All the more telling when my scruffy scones are sat side by side with her perfectly symmetrical apple teacake she’s whipped up the morning of our meeting. A meeting that is my attempt at securing some tips to provide me with even the remotest chance of not looking like a complete idiot in my maiden entry into world of regional show cookery competitions. On the upside she tells me “we get a lot of scones like yours”. On the downside, “none of them get a prize”.
I’m like a foreigner in a strange land. There seems to be a lot of assumed knowledge for these regional show competitions and there is no source of definitive do’s and don’ts (at least that I can find). What is the best recipe to use? What is the criteria set out in bullet point for the best chance at a ribbon? And right there is the rub. There is no definitive recipe, unless you are entering a category where one is provided, of which scones is not. There is no published checklist for each category. To improve your chances it’s simply a matter of entering, taking on board the judge’s criticisms and studying the competition.
But I’m hoping to bypass that whole ‘waiting a whole year’ thing and show Ellice what little I have to offer in the hopes her insider knowledge saves me years of torment. At Ellice’s kitchen bench I sheepishly pull out my scones from a plastic container. Constructive criticism is straight-up, plentiful and welcome. Much of it is common sense, of which I appear to lack, but there are some nuggets of gold for any amateur cooking show entrant, especially of the scone-baking variety. Herewith a list of tips to tick:
TIP #1 KNOW YOUR RECIPE…
I’d woken bleary-eyed at 5.30am to start baking, thinking I’d be well and truly done by 6.30am for what is really a 15-minute bake job. Out comes a recipe for scones I’d long ago torn from a newspaper. I begin to question its authenticity. How can I be sure this is the best recipe? I start Googling.
TIP #2 …AND STICK WITH IT
In a mild state of panic as I discover there’s millions of scone recipes all with varying techniques, ingredients and methods. Butter or cream? Cold or room temperature? Lemonade or milk? Milk wash, egg wash or no wash? Sift six times or use a food processor? Knead, roll or pat? Head officially swimming I’ve gone back to the newspaper clipping. It’s already 6.30am and the kids are awake.
TIP #3 DON’T GET DISTRACTED
I try to mix ingredients while making everyone’s breakfast. Did I just put in two teaspoons of baking powder or one?
TIP #4 FOLLOW YOUR GUT
The recipe I’m using says to knead and then roll the dough, but my earlier Google search exposed an overwhelmingly popular school of thought against ‘working the dough too much’. Neither kneading or rolling feels right. I think I should just pat out the dough to the suggested 3cm thickness. I compromise and forgo the kneading and just roll instead. Turns out I should have just patted out the dough.
TIP #5 CUT AT 5CM DIAMETER WITH FLOURED CUTTER AND DO NOT TWIST
I remember my mum using a cup to cut out scones so I do the same. At 8cm in diameter, I know they will be too big. I have nothing smaller. I knew I should have invested in some pastry cutters. I also forget to flour the cup rim a few times and to make matters worse the circle of dough gets stuck in the vacuum of the cup so I have to prise them apart. Not only that, I’ve twisted the glass while cutting. Everything I’ve done is a textbook case of how not to cut scones. All my scones come out of the oven lopsided.
TIP #6 MILK / EGG WASH IS NOT ENTIRELY NECESSARY
I’ve been too liberal with the milk wash. It’s dripping down the sides. Ellice tells me it’s not even necessary.
TIP #7 DON’T SPRINKLE WITH SUGAR
The recipe suggests sprinkling the tops of each scone with a little caster sugar. Sounds like a nice idea, but I feel like the raspberry jam is going to provide all the sweetness these scones need, but then I’ve ignored every other gut feeling this whole process so why start listening now? Gut – 4, Brain – 0
TIP #8 PLACE CIRCLES OF DOUGH ON TRAY JUST TOUCHING EACH OTHER
I’ve spaced them out on the baking tray too much. They need to be just touching so that when they expand they are forced upwards giving at least 5cm in height.
TIP #9 COOKED SCONES MUST BE EVEN-COLOURED / KNOW YOUR OVEN
I had forgotten to remove the baking tray from the oven before I turned it on. With no time to wait for it to cool down, in they go. And out they come with dark brown bases. I fail to turn the tray around during baking. The ones up the back brown more than those up the front. And some are even browner up one side than the other. Stupid fan-forced ovens.
TIP #10 DUST OFF ANY REMAINING FLOUR / NO COOLING RACK MARKS
Flour from when I turned out the dough for rolling on a flour-dusted bench is still on the (brown) bases. If it wasn’t for all the other aesthetic downfalls of this particular batch of scones, this would mean points off. Same for cooking rack marks – place a teatowel on the rack to avoid these.
TIP #11 REMEMBER THE CREAM AND JAM
This is more a tip for scone making at home. I had no more cream left, which means I don’t even get to taste my ugly scones with raspberry jam and cream before I leave. I may or may not have cried.
Over a slice of apple cake and a cup of milky tea Ellice suggests taking a look at The Country Show Cookbook, with contributions from award-winning show entrants across New South Wales (including Ellice) for recipes and tips. Otherwise the Country Woman’s Association Cookbook or any of the old Red Cross cookbooks often found in Op Shops contain tried and true recipes perfect for regional show cooking competitions.
It is with heartfelt thanks that I depart Ellice’s house, but not before admiring her ribbon collection (the ones from last decade are still in boxes awaiting framing) and her baking drawers filled to the brim with all manner of tins in various shapes and sizes.
This is going to be a tough act to follow.Share this on: