‘The Great British Bake Off’, ‘Cupcake Wars’, ‘Cake Boss’… you can’t fail but to have noticed the plethora of delicious baking programmes that have hit our television screens over the past few years; feeding our appetite for all things sweet and spongy.
As a result, cake-making has experienced a stratospheric revival, which (expanding waistlines aside), has led to a resurgence in home-baking, a proliferation of tempting high street cupcake shops and the repositioning of the humble fairy cake as the most stylish of desserts.
Rising to the top
We’ve always baked – bread was one of the first foods that man created, but this re-imagining is said to be credited to ‘Sex & The City’s’ Carrie Bradshaw, who was depicted eating one such delicacy from the hallowed Magnolia Bakery. The shop was inundated afterwards by people that were similarly captivated by the swirls of pastel frosting and delicious flavours, packaged beautifully in a chic cupcake box.
It has become a big, valuable and credible industry, spawning ranges of bake ware, pretty cupcake sleeves, vintage cake stands and its own annual celebration, National Cupcake Week. Plus it can create intense competition between those who know their Peggy Porschens from their Lindy Smiths.
No competition is more prestigious, however, than the National Cupcake Championship.
Batter the competition
Held in association with Cake International, the National Cupcake Championship is no school f�te or WI event. Hundreds of bakers enter this competition, which pits the very best against the very best. To put this into some sort of context, one of 2013’s judges is the doyenne of baking herself, Mary Berry.
The organisers have cooked up a short list of fifteen entrants for each of the four categories, separating the professionals from the amateurs like yolks from egg whites. Entrants were asked to submit a recipe that could be classed as either ‘Classic’ – predominantly featuring a timeless flavour, such as chocolate or vanilla; ‘Free-from’, which reflects a dietary requirement, ‘Themed’ – anything from birthdays to weddings; and lastly, ‘Made with alcohol’, which is fairly self-explanatory.
No half-baked presentation
Any seasoned baker or avid cake-TV show fan will know that while the taste is of ultimate importance, presentation is key. A cupcake must appeal both to the eye and the stomach. In addition to the recipe, entrants were required to send a photo of their cakes and you can be sure that those who made the short list will have found innovative and appealing ways to display their wares. From intricate piping and hand-made sugarpaste flowers to bespoke cupcake sleeves and filigree wrappers, a well-dressed cupcake is an impressive cupcake.
The proof is in the pudding
Come the big day, finalists will bring their baked goodies to the Cake International Show at the Birmingham NEC for live judging in front of an audience. Those familiar with ‘The Great British Bake Off’ will no doubt wait eagerly for Mary Berry’s kind but constructive comments – and hopefully no ‘soggy bottoms’ will be in evidence.
The winners of each category will then be in contention for the overall ‘National Cupcake Champion’ title. Once crowned, the champion will be presented with an award. The honour and prestige associated with winning such a competition should certainly raise their profile and potentially throw some incredible opportunities into their virtual mixing bowls.
As the competition’s reputation and that of baking itself continues to grow, you can be sure that hundreds more people will enter next year; all vying for that coveted cupcake moniker.
Cupcakes to go?
Just as the whoopie pie and cake pop are seemingly distant memories, some people say that the cupcake ‘fad’ is passing, making room for macarons, cronuts and the ‘new’ éclair.
It’s an assertion that is easily and vehemently contested; the cupcake has endured for years and until another equally easy to make, fun to eat, great to share baked good is created (who’s really going to make a cronut at home?), then the cupcake is going nowhere, sprinkles and all.