I didn’t want you to have to wait until the end of the post to find out. But please, keep reading.
Let me tell you honestly, I was surprised. Once they had started announcing the winners, I started to get a sinking feeling that my three entries might have been out of place in the competition. And with close to forty entries, my odds of winning were diminished as well. But competition is competition, and I did indeed win.
I know this post is going to at times sound cocky and arrogant. I apologize. It’s really not meant to be. Obviously if I had clean-swept all three entries and said well, it wasn’t really a fair fight, that would be cocky and arrogant, and I would deserve a smacking in the comments. The truth is it’s very hard to compete against friends and neighbors and their children. Everybody who entered wanted to win, and I am grateful that at least one of my entries was chosen.
The hamentaschen contest was a blind competition, meaning that while I knew the judges and they knew me, they didn’t know which of the entries were mine. Now that I think about it, compared to the other entries, they may have been able to figure it out. But then again, that might just be me Monday morning quarterbacking.
So why was I surprised that I won? The competition stated that the entries could win in any category, but when we registered, we were asked to supply three entry categories. I was told it was just to “guide the judges,” but I think it may have predisposed them to select within those categories. I entered them all in as Most Gourmet, but I would have much less surprised to see my winning entry take the “Turned Around (Original Idea)” category versus my Almond Tuile Chocolate Amaretto Mousse Hamentaschen, which is infinitely more “gourmet” than jelly-filled cookies. So my first-strongest entry won in what I would call its runner-up category. And my second-strongest entry didn’t win.
Here were my entries:
Hot Pepper Jelly Tomato Hamentaschen When initially discussing entering the competition, my close friend Mordecai had immediately validated my first thought, which was to make one out of my hot pepper jelly. I added the tomato both to make the color stand out and to add another “savory” element to the entry. Neither the dough nor the filling were savory in the true sense, but neither chiles nor tomato fruits are normally included in sweet profile foods. Thanks, Mord!
Candied Clementime-Orange-Cardamom Flax Seed Hamentaschen This was a striking-looking cookie, with seeds that resemble sesame seeds but aren’t. The filling I admit wasn’t much, even though I doubt any other entry had a homemade preserves in it (aside from my hot pepper jelly). [Does that sound cocky? What I really mean is, were the marshmallows that won homemade? Marshmallows are a pain in the butt to make; did those who entered them actually make the marshmallows?] I registered it as having cardamom, which didn’t come through in the tasting. These were the weakest of my entries.
Almond Tuille Chocolate Amaretto Mousse Hamentaschen These were pretty cool, if I may say so myself. (I’ll let you in on a little secret: if I don’t have a real, plastic-coated canvas pastry bag, I completely suck at piping. Not that I don’t have enough practice or know what I’m doing, but ziptop bags leak, one-off bags burst, I cut the holes for the tips too big… it’s just one of those things. But when I do have one, I could do a wedding cake.) I think the almond in the tuile and the amaretto in the mousse complimented each other, I think there was enough mousse in the cookies, I think the tuile was different enough than the other entries. I really thought I nailed it with this one.
Where were my other screw-ups? Well, even though I knew that dumped two teaspoons of cardamom into the candied Clementine orange jelly, the flavor faded. I should have put it in the dough with the seeds. I should have added twice as many flax seeds to the dough to make the ratio higher. I should have gone with a different flavor than Amaretto. The tomato flavor was only discernible when eaten alone and chewed thoroughly, so there should have been more of that.
How could the competition have been improved? Random numbered entries, not letters. Specific category entries with posted judging criteria. After a while I’m sure they all started to taste the same which means the later entries were at the mercy of the judges’ apathy. More judges. I think the entrants should have been allowed to present their entries. True the judges might have been biased by it, but it’s sort of traditional, and if it would compromise the judges’ impartiality by it, they shouldn’t be judging. Announcing the runners-up in each category would have been nice, especially for the people who didn’t win anything. It would have given them a sense of how close they came to winning. The registrars needed to be older to be more familiar with cooking terms and ingredients. The last thing, which is what irked me the most, is that one of the winning entries came with a printed sign explaining the entry. This simply wasn’t fair, since I would have been more than delighted to print up explanations of all of my entries, describing the cholesterol-lowering health benefits of flax seed, or the fact that all of the fillings were really homemade, not out of a jar. Competition is competition, so stick to the rules.
One final note regarding the recipes: you can’t have them. Not that they’re secretive, but they were created somewhat in the moment, using my cooking instincts more than following a recipe. That being said, the base dough for the hamentaschen came from the Spice and Spirit Cookbook, substituting margarine for oil. I divided the recipe, using half for the tomato and half for the flax seed. I added enough seeds until I got the ratio of seeds to dough “right.” I added enough tomato paste until I got the color “right,” then added more flour in to reestablish the consistency I needed for cutting cookies. The tuile cookies came straight from the CIA Professional Chef cookbook, substituting crushed walnuts for hazelnuts. The hot pepper jelly and candied Clementine jelly were simple preserves, and the mousse was half real/half mock.
I encourage you to enter cooking competitions if you’re serious about cooking. Winning ₪100 to spend locally is a nice affirmation/prize, but it gives you a real sense of pride in your creative work to have it be considered and validated by a panel of judges, even if it isn’t chosen as a winner. You won’t win every contest, but you won’t start winning until you believe that it’s a competition you’re entering.
I already know two of my entries for next year. Unless they tap me to be a judge.