(From left)  Tatum Teskey, Paige Palmieri, Monica Caparosa and Kayla Saslow took home the top prize at A.S.B.'s  Product Development Competition.

CHICAGO — Beating out four other collegiate teams, a group of students from the University of Wisconsin won the American Society of Baking’s (A.S.B.) 2018 Product Development Competition at BakingTech with Sustain-a-Bites, a freeze-dried cake bite. Ohio State University took second place with an elevated cake truffle, Purdue University received third with a Turkish-inspired sandwich cookie, and Kansas State University finished fourth with a ginger peach snack cake.

A.S.B. challenged competitors to create a futuristic sweet good that is chemically leavened or yeast-raised, includes international flavors and is shelf stable for 14 days.

The winning University of Wisconsin team included Monica Caparosa, Paige Palmieri, Kayla Saslow and Tatum Teskey, all of which have a background in food science. Their creation, Sustain-a-Bites, is a cherry and dark chocolate flavored freeze-dried cake bite that includes a layer of pectin jelly and is enrobed in chocolate. 

Cocoa shells give Sustain-a-Bites a chocolate flavor while reducing food waste.

Drawing on the competition’s futuristic theme, they decided to create a freeze-dried cake bite that’s similar to freeze-dried ice cream consumed by astronauts. The team had to test multiple cake formulations to find the right fit. They started with a pound cake but found it to be too dense.

“We wound up moving to a sponge cake, which is a lot more airy,” Ms. Palmieri said. “We still wanted to improve the recipe, so we added a whipped egg white meringue to the end of our batter development, and that allowed us to develop some really stable air cells.”

What resulted was a texture like a corn puff but in cake form.

“It has a really interesting texture, and we don’t think a lot of other cakes have this kind of crunch,” she added.

Working with the freeze-drying equipment presented another challenge for the group. However, with the help from their building and pilot plant manager Tamala Noll, they were able to address technical issues.

The team included flavors from the Black Forest Region of Germany into their product. Instead of using traditional flavoring techniques to incorporate the chocolate, they opted for environment-friendly cocoa shells.

“Cocoa shells are typically disposed of or used as mulch in gardening and landscaping applications, so we actually found a way to incorporate them into our product and create a new place for this ingredient in the food industry,” Ms. Palmieri said. 

The group aimed to minimize food waste overall by including ingredients that give the cake a 6-month shelf life and pre-portioned packaging that allows for grab-and-go convenience as well as freshness. 

“We think our product really stands out because it has a unique texture and flavor,” Ms. Teskey said. “Based off what we’ve seen here at the conference, people would want to buy it because they’re curious. They want to know what a freeze-dried cake piece tastes like and how the different components play together.”