Evil Cakes Win Big: UF/FSHN Baking Team Awarded First Place in 2023 ASBE Product Development Competition

Members of the team sits outside in blue shirts holding a sign that reads Baking Rock Stars, product development team | Food Science and Human Nutrition UF/IFASDeliciously indulgent, deceptively nutritious. How evil! -Evil Cakes slogan, UF/FSHN Product Development Team

“Guys, I think I might pass out.”

When UF/FSHN Product Development Team member Jon Lee glanced out over the crowd, he was not expecting to see so many people looking back at him. Nearly a thousand audience members at the American Society of Baking (ASB) BakingTECH conference, held in Chicago from February 28 to March 2, 2023, waited to hear what he and his three teammates had to say about Evil Cakes, the gluten-free, high-protein chocolate cake bites they had developed for the 2023 ASB Product Development Competition.

Chocolate cake balls on a white plate with one ball cut in half to show the white cream center, product development team | Food Science and Human Nutrition UF/IFAS
The team’s product: a gluten-free chocolate cake with a creamy filling.

“I thought there would be twenty people listening to our presentation,” said Jon, a food science master’s degree student. “Instead, my teammates and I presented to an audience that packed the largest room at the conference.”

Their courage and hard work paid off. After months of brainstorming, baking, writing, and presenting, the team was awarded first place in the competition, beating out fellow finalists from Washington State University and Purdue University. The team members–Jon, Sharon Chuah (food science doctoral student), Evelyn Neilson (food science undergraduate student), and Santiago Cardenas Pinto (food science master’s degree student)–flew home from Chicago with a winning trophy.

From Idea to Indulgence: Developing Evil Cakes

The FSHN product development team won last year’s competition and was a finalist the prior year, so this year’s team had impressive shoes to fill. Under the experienced mentorship of Dr. Andrew MacIntosh, the students worked to create a new bakery food product. This year’s ASB competition theme was ‘Indulgence’ and required competitors to incorporate two plant-based or alternative ingredients from a list of five options.

“At first, we attempted to showcase all five attributes in our product but found ourselves struggling to effectively highlight its value,” Sharon said. “That’s when Dr. MacIntosh advised us to focus on what truly matters. Since then, our product research and development process has been yielding amazing ideas and inspiration. The advice serves as a constant reminder that simplicity is often the key to success.”

Headshots for the team members in a row
The UF/FSHN Product Development Team. L to R: Santiago Cardenas Pinto, Sharon Chuah, Jon Lee, Evelyn Neilson. Header caption: The team is awarded first place at the BakingTech Conference in Chicago.

Ultimately, the FSHN team chose to design their product around plant-based protein and alternative flour.

The words "Evil Cakes" are written in a lavender script over a picture of a spoon drizzing chocolate onto a ball of chocolate cake. The background is white.
The Evil Cakes logo.

Plant-based protein: Pea and brown rice protein blend.

Alternative flour: Rice and arrowroot flour.

The first few attempts to create a product fell flat. An alternative-flour croissant turned out the opposite of flaky, and a high-protein angel cake fell short of expectations. The team discovered that incorporating a chocolate flavor reduced the grassy taste of the plant-based protein. Not only did the chocolate add an indulgent flavor, but it also helped maintain the structure of the cake through its chocolate shell.

While describing Evil Cakes, Jon spoke about the ironic origins of the name. “We decided to call them ‘Evil Cakes’ because they’re marketed as a classic indulgent product, but they actually provide lots of benefits such as heart health, reduced environmental impact, and an enhanced nutritional profile typically deficient in other gluten-free products. And they’re the total opposite of our angel cakes!”

Testing Evil Cakes Highlights Team Members’ Strengths

The process of developing Evil Cakes and analyzing their market potential brought out the team members’ strengths. For example, Jon praised teammate Evelyn’s exceptional baking skills, while Santiago provided his vital chocolate-making experience. Sharon created a novel gelatinized arrowroot emulsifier that was key to the final structure of the cream–one of the many research-based contributions she made.

“And I was there to wash dishes,” Jon said, laughing. He also wrote much of the project’s materials and helped guide the team. “In reality, the team had four leaders. We worked long days, but it was so rewarding because everyone went into this project with the mindset of how we can make the product better, and at the same time, how we could improve. Working together was a lot of fun because it’s great to hear everyone’s ideas.”

Three panels showing batter in a cupcake-style pan, a melon baller scooping chocolate out of the center of a cake, and a chocolate mold filled with chocolate, product development team | Food Science and Human Nutrition UF/IFAS
In the first part of the cakes’ manufacturing process, the cake balls are baked, then the center is removed to make room for the chocolate-covered center. The shell is made from tempered chocolate poured into molds.

Other team members also praised the process.

“It was an incredible feeling to see research actually work, and really well too!” Sharon said. “Developing the arrowroot emulsifier was the first time I felt a lot of confidence in my future career, particularly in pursuing a path in research and development.”

Santiago highlighted the benefits of teamwork. “Learning how to utilize everyone’s strengths and support each other in overcoming our weaknesses really set us up for success. Being such a diverse group of people resulted in exciting conversation, and our combined dynamic really contributed to our success.”

Finally, Evelyn added, “I will say, I was pretty sick of tasting chocolate cake by the end!”

Three panels showing white creme being piped into chocolate shells, the chocolate shelling being placed into chocolate cake balls with blue-gloved hands, and the final cake split in half, product development team | Food Science and Human Nutrition UF/IFAS
In the second part of the manufacturing process, the creamy filling is piped into the chocolate shells, which are then paired to make balls. These balls are placed inside the hollowed-out chocolate cake, creating an indulgent, multi-layered chocolate experience.
The Final Ingredient? “Polish”
Two cake balls in transparent cellophane packaging printed with the Evil Cakes logo.
The finished cakes in their packaging.

When describing their presentation of Evil Cakes in the ASB Product Development Competition, Jon said, “The word that comes to mind is ‘polished.'” The team paid a lot of attention to details while polishing their presentation, poster, and written materials as much as possible, taking several days to edit their proposal and make their final presentation engaging. In the end, that final effort helped the team win first place in the competition.

In their award acceptance speech, the team reflected on the process. “Receiving this award was a mix of emotions for us. While we’re honored to have been recognized, a part of us wished the project never ended–just because it’s been so much fun.”

What’s next for Evil Cakes and the award-winning UF team? Currently, the team’s cakes are a finalist in the IFTSA and MARS Product Development Competition. Over the next few months, the team will further improve their product in the run-up to the competition’s conclusion.

One thing is certain–the next time the team faces a packed auditorium, they will walk out on the stage with confidence.

Learn more about the team’s product development process in their competition video:

Check out the team’s poster about Evil Cakes:

The poster that the team developed for Evil Cakes, product development team | Food Science and Human Nutrition UF/IFAS


Jessie Erwin, Nutrition Communications Consultant for the UF/IFAS FSHN department.
Posted: April 13, 2023

Category: Food Science & Human Nutrition, Health & Nutrition, Work & Life
Tags: American Society Of Baking, American Society Of Baking Product Development Competition, Dr. Andrew MacIntosh, Evelyn Neilson, Evil Cakes, Jon Lee, Product Development, Product Development Competition, Research And Development, Santiago Cardenas, Sharon Chuah

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