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Finding the perfect loaf of bread at the Sydney Royal Fine Food Show

Loaves of bread entered for competition
Bakers across Australia enter their finest biscuits, cakes, bread and pastries in 59 categories.

Supplied: RAS NSW

For Roger Haden, there is nothing more delicious than the smell of a perfectly baked loaf of sourdough bread.

"When you cut into that crust and open it up ... you get that wonderful nutty, earthy, very wholesome smell with a sourness," he said.

The former restaurant baker and chair of judges at the Sydney Royal Fine Food Show has this week been smelling, tasting and studying breads, cakes, biscuits and pastries.

The 28 judges have blind tasted nearly 300 entries, with each judge limited to 65 tastings a day to avoid "tasting fatigue".

The annual competition, being held at Sydney Olympic Park, has seen the industry's best professional bakers submit their creations across 59 categories.

The bread classes include artisan bread for plain vienna or cob loaf, speciality flavoured loaf, specialty grain, fruit loaf, Italian and French bread and sourdough.

There are also separate categories for gluten-free bread, white bread, wholemeal, rye and hot cross buns.

"We had a medal-winning olive bread yesterday with rosemary that was fantastic," Mr Haden said.

"Consumers are being presented with much more choices.

"I call it the MasterChef phenomenon ... there's a whole wave of food connected with celebrity and sourcing enjoyment and pleasure.

"With bread and other products, there's increasing interest in healthier alternatives and gourmet alternatives ... driven by interest in the general public by quality food."

Cakes presented for judging
The cake competition has classes for muffins, fruit flavoured cakes, mousse, Christmas pudding and brownies.

Supplied: RAS NSW

The bread entries are judged by the following criteria:

  • Volume and general appearance
  • Bloom
  • Crust colour
  • Crumb — brightness
  • Texture
  • Aroma
  • Flavour

What's in that sourdough?

Mr Haden's favourite category is the sourdough breads — a traditional style made completely from scratch using a base of flour and water fermented with natural bacteria from the air.

"What sourdough gives you is an incredible moist flavoursome interior to the bread, with quite a large porous texture with lots of 'holes' in the bread," he said.

"We look for the bloom on the crust which is that varnished look, which can be extraordinary in some places."

Bread making tips for first-timers

  • Don't do it unless you're really inspired to make a good loaf, Mr Haden advises.
  • Get 200g of good quality flour or organic flour.
  • Add same quantity of water.
  • Put the mixture on the bench and leave it for 24 hours. Bubbles should form.
  • Build it up with more flour and water to create the dough. Repeat this process.
  • Retain some of the culture and "keep feeding it" to use next time.
  • Keep the yeast starter in the fridge.

It can take up to three days to build up the initial sourdough starter and several hours to shape then bake the dough.

Mr Haden said judges found one baker this year had added vinegar into their bread to achieve the "sour taste" recognisable in sourdough loaves.

"The aroma gave it away," he said.

"There are bakers out there who cut corners with making that style of bread.

"If you want to speed [up the process] you add in a bit of commercial yeast ... and then to compensate for not having that longer development, which gives you that authentic taste, you add some vinegar to make it taste like sourdough."

The winner of each class and overall champion bread will be announced on February 14.

The Sydney Royal has competitions for a number of other food types including coffee, olive oil, chocolate, pasta, beer and cider and aquaculture.