Purely in the interests of scientific flavour investigation, you must understand, this week I agreed to co-judge a hoedown, a showdown, a throwdown - ladies and gentlemen - it's Pie Vs Cake - Lord, the sacrifices I make so that you may all remain lithe, slim and athletic...
To celebrate a couple of my favourite local craft brewery's new brews - namely their champion Ziggy's Carrot Cake and their new Pecan Pie Ale, The Garage Project set up for a bake off at The Southern Cross- carrot cakes, versus pecan pies, obviously. With a few wild cards thrown in.
And also - it's Halloween.
Joining me on the judging panel are Chef Jacob Brown of The Larder and Beth Brash from excellent new food website Eat And Greet. This is good - as I learned on my burger odyssey - if you are facing up to a mountain, and that mountain is made of food, it's best you bring a couple of hungry compadres. And the esteemed Ms Rachel Taulelei of Yellow Brick Road, and The City Market joins us, by way of instilling some order into proceedings.
Now, cakes and (sweet) pies are not necessarily the first things you might think of as an accompaniment to beer swilling, but I am really interested in the concept of food and drink matching, and food and beer as opposed to food and wine just seems to be kinda modern, so sweet pies and cakes? Why the hell not?!
Can I also stress to just what degree this accolade emphasizes my exponential development as a non-denominational eater - from garden variety, run of the mill fat bloke to pie/cake judge in just over a year? Aim high people - livin' the dream...
There are 19 pies and cakes to be worked through and judged. 19. This is a smaller number that the 25 burgers I ate for Burger Wellington, and I don't have to eat them all, but it isn't spread over 15 days. We start with the cakes.
Jacob reckons that carrot cake is one of the most frequently requested when he has been asked to make a cake for an event, so he ought to know his oats from his onions here, figuratively speaking (you'd hope). Certainly some of these cakes have had a lot of trouble gone to with them - one features a decorative faux-bottle-cap. And pop-rocks. It's a bit weird.
One is served with warm bananas - ditto.
One is a vegan effort that tastes unpleasantly chemically - I do pick the strawberries off the top, though.
Ten points each are allocated for taste, texture, appearance and how well it matches with the beer - I go as high as 35, and as low as 8.
We move on to the pies, and start with a pecan pie that is chocka with nuts and bears the unmistakable taste of bourbon in its' delicious, gooey caramel - regrettably, we have started at the top of the heap, and it is, pretty much, downhill from there. A couple have bacon in them; one of those tastes as though it also includes refried beans...
In the "wildcard" category there is a slice with chocolate and pretzels that is a good idea, but doesn't quite match up to its' premise. There is also a freshly baked banana bread topped with a blue cheese spread and crushed pecans - sounds awful, tasted great.
It's actually pretty interesting what happens when you start matching the pies and cakes with the beers - some really make the beer sing, while others crush it, mercilessly, with their overwhelming sweetness. Some that you don't think are all that great really come alive with a swill of beer (not the one that tastes like it has refried beans in it - that stays pretty well revolting with or without beer).
I start out making elaborate notes like "really accentuates the hoppiness of the beer" or "delicate citrusy notes", and then, after a dozen or so tastes, degenerate into things like "nice" and "um" and "no". I am awfully pleased and relieved when I see Jacob and Beth have done the same.
When it comes to the final countdown, the best looking pie and cake are also, actually, the best tasting - the apricot swirled carrot cake, with its' delicate cream cheese icing and thin layers of said icing through the cake is moist, flavourful and delicious, while the bourbon-laced pecan pie, while seeming almost too sweet, is actually incredibly more-ish. The wildcard goes to the banana bread with blue cheese.
Turns out the winning cake and pie belong to the same contestant - congratulations Brandie Stephens - she wins some Garage Project Red Rocks beer, bar credit at the cross - and dinner for two at The Larder with matched GP beers - a cracking prize.
The leftover baking is then consumed, pretty much, in return for a koha that goes to charity (apart from the bacon/bean monstrosity, which goes pretty much untouched...) As for the beers - voted for by the beer swillin' punters - carrot cake edges pecan pie - just...
So a big thanks to everyone involved - my co-judges Beth and Jacob, the good people of The Garage Project, tasting systems guru Rachel, and our hosts The Southern Cross. A terrific event and knees-up, great fun, and liberating me from the responsibility of breaking little hearts by telling them I have no candy for their trick or treating...
So - Pie or Cake? Which would you rather? And would you match it with beer? Or were you there? How did your entry fare?
Judges photos by Gabrielle McKone, shoddy food photos are my fault.
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