I entered the baking contest at the Portland Farmer’s Market Summer Loaf Festival today. I feel like I completely wasted my time in entering. Not because I lost (I am a good baker, but I can understand if someone else created a loaf with better texture or more interesting flavor, as partial as I am to my own product), but because I think amateur competitions should not favor those who can get their hands on professional-grade equipment.
The thing to understand about those beautiful crusty artisan loaves that have become so popular is that they require a special oven. Ideally, a professional steam-injection oven. You can fake it with special baking inserts or clay stones, pans of water or sprayers, but I’ve never gotten the steam trick to work right in my ordinary home oven, so I don’t bother. I like the middle of the loaf better anyhow.
When I got a look at the other entries post-judging, I knew I didn’t have a chance, because there was a row of these steam-baked artisan loaves on the table. It really angers me that in an amateur competition, one that explicitly bars anyone who has worked as a baker or chef, I’m competing against a product that requires special, expensive equipment. There’s more to bread than European hearth baked artisan styles, right? Shouldn’t an amateur competition encourage a certain level of accessibility, reward people for working within the confines of an ordinary home kitchen? I’m not saying it needs to be dumbed down, but I wish I’d seen more things that looked like they really could be made at home, not just in the kitchens of those who can afford the pro equipment.
I admit, I’m a little sad I didn’t win anything just in general. I like my bread. Everyone who tries it gobbles it down. It would’ve been nice to have some food critic or professional baker say, “Hey, I like her bread too. Nice balance of flavors between the rosemary, olive oil, and salt. This soft texture is great.” Maybe it’s too amateur for their tastes, though.