Irish Soda Bread Judging
Judging any competition involves being subjective in one way or another. No matter what you do there is no perfect way to compare competitors unless a clock or distance is involved.
With a reputation for promoting baking traditional soda bread, I have, on occasion been asked to judge a soda bread baking competition. The challenge was to find a way to judge soda bread bakers in such a way as to make it as fair as possible and rewarding those who actually know how to make soda bread.
As a regular attendee of Irish Dance Competitions over the past ten years I have observed numerous "Traditional Soda Bread" competitions that were anything but that. Breads containing whiskey-soaked raisins, chocolate chips, or any other item you can think of were as likely to win the competition with the whiskey bread being the favorite. A traditional soda bread didn't stand a chance against sugar laden cakes.
In searching for a "standard" for judging soda bread I found that, if there is one, it is well hidden. And my search continues!! In the mean while, I analyzed baking competition score sheets and came up with my own Judging sheet.
Basically, a soda bread is judged based on its shape, the traditional cross in the crust, ingredients, color, and "crumb." My judging sheet covers all that by awarding points for the various characteristics of a traditional soda bread. It still remains subjective, but with guidelines.
If you wish to use my judging sheet, you have my permission as long as my copyright remains on it and you give me some feedback on how it worked so that I may improve it over time.
If you are given the task of judging a "Traditional Soda Bread" competition at a Feis or Irish event, I would recommend that you ask whoever is in charge to have three competition categories:
Soda Bread (White)
That will help to avoid the most common problem with soda bread competitions: very few people seem to know what ingredients AREN'T in "soda bread."
One competition I judged for "Traditional Soda Bread" had 12 entries. None of them qualified as either Soda bread (white) or Brown Bread. They were all Desserts. So, we changed the name of the competition to come up with a winner.
And there you have the problem with Soda Bread. It has been transformed from being a basic bread from Ireland served with meals into a special dessert made only around St. Patrick's Day each year.
You might also divide the competition into adult and non-adult to give the kids a chance against the more experienced bakers.
Good luck if you are judging a competition and please let me know how it goes.