With their own category in the Royal Adelaide Show cookery competition, Adelaide’s blokes put their best oven mitts forward and get competitive. We caught up with cake master Jeff Lang – and convinced him to share his cake recipes too.
We’re long past the stereotype of blokes chucking on a novelty apron to cook the yearly prawns on the barbie. These days, gents have their cake and bake it, too. Competition is rising. The Royal Adelaide Show added a men’s-only chocolate cake competition in 2011 and men are donning aprons for all sorts of cooking. When the flour settled on the Show cook-off, we caught up with two repeat competitors to talk about about their passion for all things sweet and what it’s like to buck the trend.
Jeff Lang – Cake Master
It wasn’t until Jeff got married that he discovered his love of baking. His first project was his own wedding cake. Ambitious? Maybe, but Jeff nailed it, a cost saving exercise that sparked a new passion.
“The wedding cake was the talk of the day because back then all the cooking shows weren’t around. For a guy to bake was very unusual, even though a lot of the world’s famous pastry chefs are men.”
After leaving school to study a trade, Jeff worked his way up in the police force. “I had never really baked, other than doing something like a packet cake, which I am now totally anti!” he says. “My mum used to do my birthday cakes and it was always a supermarket sponge. She’d put cream on it, roll the edges in toasted coconut or something, but that was pretty much my experience of cakes.”
When Jeff and his wife had their daughter Inara, he created an impressive birthday cake each year. “The cakes got more and more extreme as the years went on, and friends started asking if I could make birthday cakes for them, too.”
Jeff began entering the Royal Adelaide Show in 2011, intrigued at what the competition was like. He got third place. “I loved going to the show and looking at all the cakes as a kid, so now I put so much love and time and passion into it.”
He’s entered every year since and snapped up an impressive stack of prizes. Now a detective sergeant, Jeff says people are still surprised when they discover his baking prowess. “When I started taking my things to the show, it was quite interesting. I’m a fairly effeminate kind of guy already – I perform, I’m an actor, I can sing, and I’m not afraid to wear a pink tie so there’s a lot of mocking that goes on.” He laughs.
He encourages others in the detective’s department and his family to enter. It’s been tricky to convince some. “You go to work, you come home and you mow the lawn. You don’t go home and bake a cake.” But his brother is hooked and the pair compete against each other in the annual men’s chocolate cake competition. It’s competitive. Jeff purchased a new state-of-the-art oven to ensure consistent temperature. After years of entering, he knows all the tricks – how to get the perfect ‘crumb’, the flattest base, the right amount of chocolate…the list goes on.
His daughter also enters (a ribbon winner this year). It is the ideal father-daughter activity. “We live in a ready-made society now, and there are so many great things you can buy off the shelf but I want my daughter to learn some of those old recipes.”
Having won the chocolate cake competition, Jeff is hoping to take out the prize for Anzac biscuits. “It’s one of the simplest things, but it’s the holy grail of the whole show. That classic Aussie thing you really want to nail.”
Jeff’s Chocolate Cake
2 cups water
2 cups caster sugar
250g unsalted butter, chopped
½ cup cocoa powder
1 tsp bicarb soda
4 eggs, lightly beaten
2 tsp vanilla extract
3 cups self-raising flour
Preheat oven to 180°C.
Line a 20cm round tin with baking paper.
Put water, sugar and butter in a heavy-based saucepan and stir over medium to low heat until the butter is melted and smooth. Sift the cocoa and bicarb into butter mixture and whisk until combined. Bring to a gentle simmer and cook for five minutes. Set aside and cool slightly.
Add eggs, vanilla and flour to the pan and beat until smooth.
Pour into the prepared tin and bake until a skewer comes out clean. This takes approximately 45 minutes, depending on your cake tin size and oven settings. Jeff’s top tip? “When you can start to smell a cake cooking there is usually another ten mins approx until it is ready to test. The skewer should be in the dead centre when tested. If any mix on the skewer, leave it a little longer. Better a little more that not enough.”
Cool in tin for about 15 minutes.
1 cup plain flour
1 cup rolled oats (see Notes)
1 cup desiccated coconut
½ cup (firmly packed) brown sugar
¼ cup caster sugar
2 tbsp golden syrup
2 tbsp water
½ teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
Preheat oven to 160°C.
Line two baking trays with baking paper.
Combine flour, oats, coconut and combined sugar in a large bowl and set aside.
In a small saucepan, stir the butter, golden syrup and water over medium heat until the butter melts and the mixture is smooth. Stir in the bicarbonate of soda.
Add butter mixture to the oat mixture and stir until well combined and completely dissolved.
Roll level tablespoons of mixture into balls and place on the trays (five centimetres apart, allowing them to spread). Flatten until about one-centimetre thick.
Bake for 15 minutes or until light golden.
Set aside for 10 minutes to cool slightly before transferring to wire racks to cool completely. Biscuits should snap when cool.