I love judging baking and cooking contests. I’ve judged everything from the LA County Fair to the Pillsbury Bake-Off. Large or small, cooking contests are always exciting events, because everyone who attends is psyched up for the competition. Most contests don’t have MasterChef-style elimination rounds built into them, so the competitors tend to be friendly and supportive of one another, even if they all think that their recipe is the best.
But I do see some of the same things over and over again, so I put together a list of a few quick tips that might help you the next time you’re thinking of entering a baking contest to show off your skills in the kitchen.
- Don’t be afraid to enter the contest! I talk to lots of people who are intimidated, thinking that their goodies aren’t good enough to compete. Entering a contest can give you the motivation to bake something different from what you normally do, and you can always ask the judges for feedback on what you can improve.
- Keep an eye on trends. Are whoopie pies big on food blogs at the moment? Is every restaurant you’re in serving up dishes with salted caramel? Knowing what is trendy can inspire your dishes and give your entry a fresh, modern feel. For instance, you can turn your famous cookies into a decadent ice cream sandwich or whoopie pie, adding more flavors and textures for a more unique treat.
- Look for places where you can add more flavor to your dish. Do you top your pie off with whipped cream? Try adding cinnamon or other spices to the whipped cream to make it stand out. Judges always want originality and that is just one more opportunity to show how creative you can be.
- Don’t make a chocolate and raspberry dessert. Chocolate and raspberry are a great combination, but the combination has been done dozens of times and shows up often at chocolate-based events. Many of them are delicious, but it is much harder to stand out from the crowd if you are using a flavor combination that is common or extremely popular that turns up in multiple entries. Opting for a less common flavor combination can potentially give you an edge.
- Read the contest rules carefully. If you need to bring in the packaging from the product you used or write the recipe down in a certain way, make sure to do it. If you need to use a certain ingredient, make sure to do it. You don’t want to put a lot of hard work into your dessert and get disqualified (or knocked down a spot or two) just because you missed a minor detail on your paperwork.
Baking contests are a lot of fun, even if you don’t win. You’ll meet some great people and will probably get to try some delicious dishes. But it doesn’t hurt to fine tune your entry so that you have the best shot of winning. And if you don’t place that first year, be sure to take a look at the winning entries to see what they did so that you can pick up even more tips for the next contest you enter!