Every summer we gear up for great times. Lazy days filled with hikes, swims, ball games and great fun together. For many Americans, summer is also the time to indulge in the exciting experience of the county fair or local festival. It is at the fair, where we can enjoy foods and treats not enjoyed on a regular basis, play games, experience the rides, and wander through the exhibits and contests showcasing all the talent that the community has to offer.
Then, just last week, a flyer for the local Strawberry Festival came home from school with Grayson. He pointed out to me, “Mom, they’re having a cookie baking contest. Can we enter?”
I had never entered my cooking or baking into a contest, so I’m surprised that I was quick to answer, “Yes.” Then, when the idea began to sink in, a bit of worry arrived. What was I to make? Would I have the time? Would it turn out successfully?
I turned to the one woman who has been entering local baking contests for decades—my Mom– to get me through this period of uncertainty.
She has been entering local baking contests for decades. I remember as a young child, waiting in the car while she dropped off her entries at the Fourth of July festival contest in Lakewood, Ohio. Only a year or so into her foray in the competitive baking arena, Mom won the grand Prize for her Lady Locks.
Since then, she has baked up a storm for the Cuyahoga County Fair competition, entering her coffee cake with cherries and nuts, apple pie, pecan rolls with orange coconut filing, brownies with malted milk balls, and a host of other delights. Each year, her entries are awarded blue ribbons, and one year, her blue-ribbon Danish Pastries included a handwritten note explaining that she was very close to receiving Best in Show. It read, “This was the hardest decision we have had to make.”
I too, had a hard decision to make. What was I to bake? I knew Mom would certainly be able to provide me with a little guidance. So, I asked for a recipe that would be distinctive, yet not too hard to make. She offered up Meltaways. Ahh, that recipe she gave me years ago, but I just have never made. Well, she seemed assured that the recipe would fit the bill, so I took it and ran to the kitchen, but not before I had a heart to heart with her. I couldn’t move forward on this adventure without asking her for a bit of advice, which I share with you:
- Pick a recipe that will be different from what everyone else may enter. Make the chocolate chip cookies, apple pie, or brownies just a bit different from a traditional recipe.
- Choose a recipe in which every ingredient is relatively common.
- Choose a recipe that has good texture and mouthfeel.
- The recipe should be able to sit out for some time, so don’t choose a recipe with cream fillings or meringue, as they’ll not weather well during the judging process.
- Use quality ingredients, for instance a quality butter, or special high-quality chocolate, especially if chocolate is the main flavor in the recipe.
- Bake it as close to entry time as possible. It depends on the entry time, but if it is in late morning, I can make the cookies early that morning. And, if my entry includes a yeast dough, I get up early to make it to ensure the entry will be at its freshest. Some cookies and cakes can be made a day ahead.
- Make it at least once before the competition so that you can adjust baking temperature or time is need, or you decide to alter the recipe slightly to get desired results.
- Finally, and the most important: Take your time.
Happy Baking! Oh, by the way, Meltaways take home the Blue Ribbon at the Festival. Proud family.