Designer choc chip cookies

The privilege of behind-the-scene experiences is one of my job perks and I cannot forget the opportunity to observe Teochew opera artistes putting on their dramatic make-up, wearing headdresses and glittering costumes before the performance.

All decked up in gloves and caps, Peggy, Florence and Tony
[L to R]; photo bombed by DTH JB Director of Operations,
Freddie Coleman!  What is he doing there?
This time, I’m in DoubleTree by Hilton Johor Baru (DTH JB) again but in the hotel’s back-of-the-house to observe participants for the Pastry Cup and Culinary Cup challenges in the qualifying rounds of the Hilton South East Asia Food & Beverage Masters.  The selected participants will go on to the national level challenge that will culminate in the regional finals in February 2016.

The 2-day programme kicked off with the Barista Cup and Bar Cup challenges, followed by the Pastry Cup and Culinary Cup challenges.  On the first morning at the Food Store, I join a group of bloggers from Singapore, on a stay-cation experience and to watch these Cup challenges, and I’m delighted to meet my friend, Tony of Johor Kaki fame, among them!

Florence and Tony working hard at designing their cookies
As the staff leads us into the back-of-the-house, unlocking door after door with her security card in a maze of corridors, I recall walking through similar corridors in a pre-opening tour of the hotel one and a half years ago, escorted by hotel general manager, Simon McGrath. 

Suddenly we are in a brightly lit space set up with kitchen equipment and told that it’s the hotel’s banquet kitchen.  Participants for the Pastry Cup challenge are already into the first few minutes of their preparation and should serve their creations of one plated baked dessert and one plated frozen dessert in two hours.

That's Tony and I posing with the poster!
While Tony and I go around the workstations to observe the participants and snap some candid shots, Florence Liew, a friend who accompanied me at this event, makes herself comfortable at the counter set up for us.

Back at the counter, I learn that the hotel is giving us a hands-on experience to design our very own cookies using the prepared dough for their signature chocolate chip cookies, while we are waiting for the pastries to be ready later.

Trays of prepared dough and three items that we may use to decorate our cookies – raisins, chopped cherry cubes and multi-colour chocolate rice – are on the counter and the staff gives us pairs of gloves to wear.  Then she demonstrates how we should put on a cap to cover our hair for hygiene reasons.  As I snap on my gloves, I’m thinking that it’s been such a long time since I last handled any dough that I cannot even remember when it was!

Tray with our cookie designs before baking
I tuck my hair into the cap and cannot resist checking in the mirror to see how I look and Florence is laughing and telling me that I remind her of female characters in some 50’s product advertisements.  I just thought I looked like a hardworking charwoman!

I quickly put vanity aside to dig my hands into the prepared dough and follow the staff’s demo to roll it into a patty before decorating it in my very own designs.  Then we are told that the best decorated cookie will win a surprise prize!

Florence is in her element, putting creativity into action by shaping the dough into a doughnut, a star, a duck, a gingerbread man, a girl’s face with braided hair and even a tic-tac-toe frame!

Meanwhile Tony is sculpturing a shape that I think, resembles a swimming goldfish, complete with upright fins, among other interesting shapes, on the baking tray.

Our cookies after they are baked!
I, however, played it safe and kept my dough shapes in standard round patties.  Then I hear the staff advising us to keep the cookie shapes within a size that would fit comfortably into the cookie tin and decide that I’m better off not being too creative with my cookie shapes!

While I keep one eye on the participants in the Pastry Cup challenge, working hard to complete their tasks, I’m decorating my cookies with happy faces, complete with raisin eyes and chopped cherries for smiley lips, one with hair and another without hair but a mustache made of chocolate rice!

The pace in the challenge is picking up and getting rather exciting so I decide that five cookies with smiley faces is enough and put aside my gloves to join the judges who are observing the participants at the various workstations.

The panel of judges is made up of DTH JB Executive Chef Jaffery Othman, Executive Pastry Chef, Chef Ong Eng Kok and guest judge Chef Aziz Othman, who heads the Western kitchen in Istana Bukit Serene and prepares food for His Royal Highness, the Sultan of Johor.

The judges admiring our designer choc chip cookies!
But before the pastries are ready for judging, my nostrils are assailed by the fragrance of freshly baked chocolate chip cookies and I follow my nose to a staff who is wheeling in the baking trays with our baked cookies!

No, the judges do not pick mine as the best decorated ones but I cannot help overhearing them discuss among themselves and pointing to the wild creations, saying they’ve found their favourite.

When our designer cookies are sufficiently cooled, they are packed into cookie tins for us to take home to savour later.  Mmm… cookies!

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