Taking the cake: Food science students place first in BakingTech competition

Snack cakes aren’t always the first choice for “healthy” food options, but don’t count them out just yet. A group of students working in food science from the University of Florida College of Agricultural and Life Sciences have recently developed an award-winning recipe for Bundt cakes that is both delicious and nutritious.

the four team members doing the gator chomp.
Members of the 2022 BakingTech team. From left: Sharyn Passeretti, Skylar Moreno, Devanshu Mehta, Taylor Washington

As part of the 2022 BakingTECH product development competition, Devanshu Mehta, Sharyn Passeretti, Taylor Washington and Skylar Moreno developed a high fiber, low sodium, snack-sized cake they deemed “Hullo Cakes.”

The competition was part of the American Society of Baking’s annual conference, held in Chicago, March 1-3, 2022. Competing against University of California – Davis and California State Polytechnic University, the University of Florida was awarded first for their innovative take on the Bundt cakes.

Confronting the Challenge

UF students have competed in this contest for the past several years, but this marks the first year they came out on top. The guidelines were released in August, naming the challenge the participants must face. Since the preliminary proposal was due in November, the team started brainstorming and creating a prototype. This year, participants were tasked with using novel functional fibers to create a product with positive health impacts.

The quartet sought to develop a product, but first needed to consider the functional fibers that might propel them to the front of the competition. They chose to use pea hull fiber, oat hull fiber and citrus fiber, which have positive health impacts.

Two Hullo Cakes in the packaging which has a design on the left that reads Hullo Cakes
Hullo Cakes, a high fiber, low sodium, snack-sized cake developed by CALS food science students.

In the initial creation phases, the team started with eight or nine possible fibers, but ultimately chose three due to supply chain challenges they faced with many of their other options.

“We had a lot of other ideas to like, for example, Bamboo fiber or even sugar cane fiber, but it was very difficult to get those,” said Devanshu Mehta, team leader and food science doctoral student. “The pea hull, oat and citrus fibers were the most easily available in the market.”

Developing the Product

The team evaluated what was currently trending in the market and what consumers were buying. They considered the changing conditions and scenarios associated with the food system and COVID-19. “As we came down to [deciding] sweet or savory, since we were targeting American consumers, you know sweet is what always wins,” Mehta said.

Their preliminary product ideas consisted of fortune cookies, coffee cakes or scones, but then they thought about something like tea cakes. Inspired by Twinkies, the team added a cream-filled center to a cylindrical cake to develop their Hullo Cake.

Since one of the key purposes to the competition is to develop unique products, the students chose a horchata-flavored Holland cream and a rum-flavored icing. The combination of flavors represents a fusion between the American Bundt cake and Latin flavors, Mehta said.

3 hullo cakes showing the hole in the top where the team placed the icing.
Hullo Cakes with the horchata-flavored Holland cream and a rum-flavored icing.

“Since we are from Florida and there’s a major Hispanic community here, [those flavors] would appeal to them,” Mehta said. He acknowledged the flavor combination is not common in many other products, which would make it more unique to consumers.

After the first prototype was created, the team conducted a sensory panel assessment to see what consumers thought about the product. They found consumers enjoyed the taste, but wanted a better appearance. The team also knew, from past competitions, that it was important to balance a sweet taste and a nice texture of the product. Therefore, one team member suggested using a Bundt-shaped mold for the cakes.

“The mini ones [Bundt cake molds] are very cute and simple and it would appeal to anyone who looks at it, so we went ahead and made some cakes using those Bundt shaped molds and they came out to be very good,” Mehta said.

Creating the final product did not come without challenges. The students found piping cream into the center of the cake was causing it to crumble. The team realized the functional fibers, rather than all-purpose flour, were causing the texture to be too weak to hold the cream filling.

Instead of piping the cream into the cake, the students discovered a hole on top of the cakes. They decided to fill the hole, which they called a “hollow,” and thus created the name, “Hullo cake.”

Taking the Cake

For the past two years, the UF teams had placed second in the BakingTech competition and Mehta said they felt the pressure to create a winning product.

the four team members holding the winning check of $10,000
The winning team members with their award of $10,000.

“It is like all the hard work from the last three years and being back in person and interacting with everyone and showcasing our product was the best thing that could have happened,” Mehta said.

From the development stages to marketing the product, the competition provides students a holistic view of the food science industry. Mehta has previous industry experience and said developing a prototype and measuring the need for the product are most important when creating a product.

“We made a complete product, all the way from scratch, to the end,” Mehta said. “Packaging a product, showcasing it with the right nutrition facts, marketing strategies, shelf life — we did all of it to make the final product.”

Each team member also brought in different skills from previous experience they had from classes or internships. Moreno had a background in graphic design, so she was able to design the packaging and team logo. Washington had previously worked in a lab with functional ingredients and was able to provide greater insight to that aspect of the product.

“We all are food scientists, after all, so you know all those years of taking courses and all that knowledge we had added to this one winning product,” Mehta said.


Posted: April 11, 2022

Category: UF/IFAS Teaching
Tags: Award, Baking, Bakingtech, Food Science, Food System

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