On the Black of the Merbein Great Australian Vanilla Slice Triumph, Australian Baking Busines catches up with Michael Hudak, owner of the 66-year-old bakery that took the lion’s share of awards, including the coveted Professional Vanilla Slice title.
Michael and Melissa Hudak have reason to smile. Their bakery, Hudaks Bakery, recently took out first place in four of the five categories at the Merbein Great Australian Vanilla Slice Triumph: professional vanilla slice; professional vanilla innovative slice; professional sunmuscat; and plum pudding, with third place in the sultana muffin category.
After entering the competition on-and-off since its inception in 1998, Michael said the win could only be described as a “relief”.
“We had a pretty good idea as to exactly what the judges were looking for in each category, but it’s not until you hear your name called out you can actually relax because you realise all your hard work has paid off,” he says.
“For years now we have know our products were amongst the highest standards available in Australia and these industry awards cement that fact.”
Hudaks Bakery hasn’t always been the cream of the crop, however. It wasn’t until 2011 – the final year the competition was held at Ouyen – that Michael had his first taste of success.
“We actually tied for first place that year.However, unfortunately, there can only be one winner, so a reassessment was arranged where it was decided a half point would be deducted off our entry, thus moving us to second position,” he says.
“Nevertheless, this was the encouragement we needed and had been looking for, for some time.”
With the move to Merbein in 2012, came crowds of up to 10,000 people. As only around 4000 were expected at the competition, Michael and his team spent most of the morning making vanilla slices for sale, rather than focusing on a winning entry. Regardless, Hudaks Bakery placed second.
Not surprisingly, Michael is hesitant to share the vanilla slice recipe that has taken three years of experimentation to perfect. However, he does have advice for next year’s competitors, of which he hopes to bake alongside.
“Preparation starts by talking to the judges. You need to get a thorough idea of exactly what they are looking for in each criteria of the judging process,” he says.
“The next step is experimentation – trial and error. When you make vanilla slice every day of the year, you effectively have 365 opportunities to experiment. Each step doesn’t have to be big or radical, it just needs to move you forward.
“A small tweak here and there is all that’s needed. What we ended up with this year is a far cry from what we began with more than 14 years ago, yet the links to our original recipe are still there.
“It’s worth it though. Retail is different to what it was a decade ago and competition is fierce. Winning awards like this help improve your business in ways most owners only dream of.”
VANILLA COLA SLICE BY HUDAKS BAKERY
Hudaks Bakery head baker Paul Lagodzki came up with the unorthodox idea of a cola-flavoured vanilla slice earlier in the year. Immediately, owners Michael and Melissa knew the slice, if done properly, would demand attention from judges at the Merbein Great Australian Vanilla Slice Triumph. They were right, it won first place in the Professional Vanilla Innovative Slice category and has also become a firm favourite with customers.
“We began experimenting in earnest about two months out from the competition. The initial trials did not go so well as we had trouble with the colour – grey – and decided to go with chocolate-flavoured custard mix to get around this problem,” Michael says.
This, in turn, provided the team with another problem – the chocolate flavour.
“Paul found a solution with soda stream, which also provided fizz. It hits your tongue when you bite into the slice,” Michael says.
“We knew the judges were looking for something different and exciting, but at the same time, commercially viable. We found this out the hard way last year when we were told we didn’t win first place because we would not be able to reproduce the entry in commercial quantities.
“What must not be forgotten is this section is for professional commercial operators.More competitions should be judged in this way, as it promotes products that can be purchased over the counter at an affordable price, every day of the week.”
What you need
• 10kg pastry flour
• 5kg pastry margarine
• 5L water
• 150g salt
• Cream: 1.37kg
• Milk: 1.24kg
• Custilla custard (EOI): 1kg
• Vanilla essence: 80g
• Cream: 1.37kg
• Cola: 1.24kg
• Soda stream cola flavouring: 260g
• Bakels chocolate custard: 1kg
• 1.6kg white fondant
• 400g chocolate fondant
What to do
1. Mix all ingredients together until just combined. Do not blend pastry margarine.
2. Use the ‘book fold’ method four times with a suitable rest period in between folds. Sheet at 1.7mm and heavily dock the pastry.
3. Bake the sheets at 200°C (fan forced oven) for 24 minutes or until golden in colour.
1. Mix together on second speed using beater for five minutes;
2. Spread evenly over pastry sheet.
1. Mix together on second speed using beater for five minutes.
2. Spread evenly on top of the vanilla layer.
3. Finish with another pastry sheet and place a cutting board on top, then flip the slice.
4. Allow the custard to set for about two hours in the fridge.
1. Short bursts in a microwave is what’s required to get the best result from your icing. The judges are looking for as much shine as possible. The best way to destroy this is to over-heat the icing – 3 x 1 minute bursts (with stirring between) usually works for us.
2. Pour the fondant quickly in the middle with minimal wiping of the spatula to ensure a streak-free fondant finish. Repeat through the middle of the slice then finish through the bottom section for a total of three wipes (right to left, left to right through middle then right to left at the bottom). The more you play with it, the worse it will get.
Marking and Cutting
1. We have custom made marking wheels to ensure all slices are cut at exactly the same size. If you try to use a ruler you will most likely mark the fondant, or worse, the fondant will stick to the ruler. The size depends really on your own personal preference.
2. When cutting the slice, use a sharp serrated knife with a pointed end. Just break the pastry/fondant top with one sweep, then with the second sweep go through all layers, making sure the knife is exactly 90°C to the cutting board. Wipe the knife after each cut using a paper towel.