With 15 bread classes among the 88 classes to be decided, the judges at this year’s National Baking Exhibition in Wales lost no time in trawling the tables, knives at the ready, to reveal the inner secrets of every variety, from bloomers and tins to currant loaves and French sticks.
A strong entry in the wholemeal classes confirmed that the current market trend for low-GI products is increasing. Class three section judge Gilbert Curtis explained: “Wholemeal and Granary are becoming more popular, now that people are more aware of how their diet affects them. For the baker, it’s no more difficult to produce and it makes sense to cater to your customers’ requirements.”
He said that when comparing the loaves he looks for softness and strength, a good quality of crumb and even structure. Volume and shape are also important. “The winner had all this going for it,” he said. “It stood out from the rest and made my job a bit easier for a change.”
Heading up the confectionery judges, chairman Huw Weeks said he was disappointed with the number of entries this year, but still deemed the event a great success. “It’s always a joy and a privilege to be invited to this exhibition,” he said, “and although entries are down, it has been a great success for the Welsh Federation.”
There was a good representation of craft and quality among the cake exhibits, he added, and the floral displays were outstanding, as were the sponges and Chelsea buns.
He added: “Neath and Port Talbot College have proved their worth again, with the students excelling in producing work of the highest standards. Younger students in the schools classes also did well and should be commended for their efforts.”
Judging the Culpitt Challenge trophy for a floral spray, Barbara Grainger and Pat Bell found one exhibit they considered outstanding. “We are really pleased with the standard of the sugar flowers this year,” said Ms Bell, “particularly the winning display, which is stunning and very well put together. All the cakes are well decorated, with some good designs and ideas and very skilful workmanship. You can see the attention to detail in the finished products.”
Ms Bell also noted a decline in the number of entries. “That’s a reflection of changes in the industry,” she said. “The colleges are not getting the students in and there’s nowhere for them to go once they are trained.”
Some might get into research and development or health and safety, she said. “But students today will never know some of the things we are able to do and, when these skills are lost, they will never return.”
Housewife Saoia Iqbal of Cardiff was surprised to carry off the Culpitt Challenge Trophy and the Stuart Howells Trophy for best confectionery item in the show, as this was her first ever entry in a competition. “I am amazed to have won, especially on my first attempt. I’m delighted – it makes up for all the time I spent making my display,” said Ms Iqbal.
Neath and Port Talbot student Rachel Thomas took four of the student class trophies home but credited her win to her tutors. “We were all encouraged to enter by our tutors. They gave us a lot of help with new skills, such as modelling, for example,” she said. “Working on the exhibits was hard, but I learned a great deal and I really enjoyed it. I’d like to get a job in cake decorating when I finish college. I know there aren’t that many jobs out there, but that’s what I love doing.”
Clutching the Joe Horspool trophy, among others, for best bread in show, was seasoned competitor Roger Hants of Kathleens Kitchen, Colchester.
Exhibition veteran and joint secretary Ollie Long has been involved with the Welsh National Baking Exhibition for 41 years. “It’s a lot smaller than it was 41 years ago – back then we were talking about around 2,000 entries, while this year we are down to around 700,” he said. “In those days we had so many local entries, as well as competitors from further afield. There used to be 125 bakers in Cardiff alone and now you can’t count 10. But you can see by the entries that trade skills are surviving”
Mr Long is as enthusiastic about organising next year’s show as he was his first. “Some people say that if we can’t attract more entries, we should pack it in, but I tell them not to be so daft,” he said.
“I’ve already booked the venue for next year. I think we’ve helped people achieve higher standards and new ideas, as well as creating long-standing friendships.”