Let The Baking Begin!
November 1st 2014, Round 2
by Helen Scott, Mango Menus
Last Saturday marked the second round of the Battle of the Bakers Hong Kong. This time, 16 contestants assembled at the expansive cooking facilities of Town Gas in Causeway Bay to learn how to make the perfect iced cookie. This was under the expert tuition of Anouska Mutreja from The Rose Petal Cakery, who shared some of her secret tips which we are excited to pass onto you! They also each brought a favourite cookie from their childhood that they had made at home to share with the group along with its, often sentimental, history. While the contestants received constructive feedback on their creations from home and in class, there were no eliminations. These will begin next week.
The class began with Anouska explaining how to make the perfect cookie dough which she always does by hand to avoid overworked and dense results. For the perfect thickness, she recommends placing your dough in between two copies of Good Food magazines and rolling on top until your pin reaches the height of the magazines. To avoid biscuits spreading once in the oven, she suggests rolling the dough into a sheet, placing it in the fridge or freezer for at least 15 minutes, then cutting it while chilled and baking immediately. The contestants then had a go at making their own cookies which all appeared to run fairly smoothly. The icing however presented a few more issues!
Anouska gave a lesson on frosting, where she mixed a royal icing from confectioner's sugar and meringue powder, rather than egg white, since this keeps for longer (up to 1 month), and stands up better to the HK humidity. She explained how to create different consistencies and shared a kitchen hack to keep your piping bag clean, by wrapping your icing first in cling-film and piping from that, within the bag. She also demonstrated how to make icing transfers by stencilling around print outs of large font letters. No one needs to be able to draw free hand when you have the internet at your fingertips!
The results of the decoration were certainly more mixed and definitely more colourful! While most contestants opted for the flavourless gels, a few chose some of the natural colourings, such as pumpkin for orange and green tea for green. These need to be used with care since each carries its own inherent flavour so affects the overall taste of the cookie.
After a productive few hours of baking and decorating, each contestant presented their best endeavour, along with a box of cookies that they had prepared at home, the brief demanding a biscuit from their childhood.
The very description in the brief was a small challenge to one contestant, Gillian, who understood the term biscuit to be a different entity to the cookie! In fact, it is just the English word for it, and she concluded by baking a well presented pinwheel cookie with a hint of salt. Onto other chocolate creations, thes'mores by Christina were a favourite from the judges who enjoyed the ginger and cinnamon flavours as well as the colour and texture variety from the marshmallows and crunch. These were a cookie that she would take on camping trips to eat around the bonfire. Another cocoa creation was the double chocolate chilli cookies from Sunshine, who used both cayenne pepper and dried chilli to flavour them. There was a sure punch to them but the judges felt chilli might have sufficed as the only spice, and chocolate chips may have added more texture to the cookie. The biscuit bear mint thins were a welcome mint choc contribution from Cora, although more of a chocolate than a biscuit which had been requested in the brief.
Peanut butter is a staple of most people's childhoods so we weren't surprised so see it surface in various forms. First, the chocolate crinkle peanut butter cookies from Jasmine were a well executed combination of chocolate and nut, that if made smaller might have a looked a little more professional. And, the Skippy-based peanut butter cookies from Jacilyne was chewy, comfort food at its finest, in spite of their fragility from undercooking
A few of the bakers also proved themselves as competent jam makers and we were thrilled to taste home-made banana, passion fruit and pineapple conserves. Chelsea, who overwhelmed in round 1 with her creativity behind the Dr Seuss inspired cupcakes, this time produced a peanut butter and jam sandwich made from shortbread and homemade fillings, also lifted from the same literary theme. In the next round the judges will look for divergence from this and concentration on her cookie and design execution. The posh Jammy Dodgers were undoubtedly a favourite amongst the judges thanks to their melt-in-the-mouth texture of the white chocolate buttercream shortbread and zing of the passion fruit jam. This is the second very strong contribution from Karina, who scored highest in the first round with her Apple and Walnut Mini Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting. Jeanne's Chinese New Year Pineapple Tart was one of the more intricately and professionally presented cookies using a homemade pineapple jam for which the effort was noted, although the biscuit was mildly overworked. The final jammy cookie was produced by Britney, in perfect bite size pieces, although would have been improved by using a homemade jam.
In terms of other fruit flavours, Veronica's Melting Moments were biscuits presented in the style of a macaroon encasing raspberry buttercream. While the bake was light and of an enviable texture, a smaller biscuit to filling ratio would have been preferred. The Orange Cream Filled Biscuits were one of the few citrus tastes, and while delicate in size and bake, may have been enhanced by using real orange juice and zest.
Vegetables will be making more of an appearance next round when Homegrown Foods donate some of their organic veggies for use in cakes, however this week saw one innovative offering, the beetroot and vanilla candy pop cookies, whose presentation was most professional and an excellent use of beetroot as natural food dye. This is another solid entry from Grace whose first round Manana Entremets were undoubtedly one of the most ornate desserts.
From vegetables to flowers, we tasted another thought provoking cookie from Paridhi, whose Pinktober Nan Khatai with Rose Pink Peppercorns tantalised our tastebuds with rose and pepper, but could have held together a little better with more ghee or butter. From Pinktober to All Hallows' Eve, we loved the topical Hallowe'en Eyes Lemon Crinkles and Hallowe'en Shaped Lemon Butter Cookies from Cicely although had been more impressed by her individual lemon cheesecake at the first encounter.
Finally we tried Luisa's Day of the Dead Vanilla Cookies, definitely one of the competition's best cookie makers and decorators. Inspired by the Mexican fiesta, Dia de Muertos, these biscuits required no less than five consistencies of royal icing as well as multiple colours, so a huge amount of effort and work involved. We will look to see how well she fares next week, outside of her cookie comfort zone.
The bakers continued to impress and show flair for their passions with another diverse set of offerings and results. They will meet again next week at Umami Concepts for another day of instruction, this time from Chef Nolan Ledarney, whose background is in French cuisine. They will also bring a decorated cookie to class using the techniques taught by Anouska. Given one the contestant's questions in the Q&A, "can it be 3D?" we know we won't be disappointed with the outcomes! Then let the eliminations will commence...