Today marks a special anniversary. It was on December 5, 2003 that Woody first e-mailed me, which was the start of our special association. In these seven years, whenever summer rolled around, Woody talked about his desire to enter the Minnesota State Fair. Finally, this year, he was able to enter. Here, in his own words, is the description of his happy experience. The Minnesota State Fair is the second largest state fair in the country and receives thousands of entries in the baking competition for Creative Activities: homemade items from quilts to pickles to rocking chairs. For the last several years I have wanted to enter. However entry drop off day was always when I was away for my T'ai Chi studios annual retreat. This year the date of the retreat changed, eliminating the conflict. I had ambitious intentions for my rookie swings (as in baseball for the uninitiated) for the ribbons, about which I will elaborate below along with rules for future endeavors. I decided to do a spread pattern of six cakes (five from our Rose's Heavenly Cakes) covering six categories: from our angel food for angel foods to an unusual cheesecake to a chocolate layer cake with chocolate ganache and our lacquer glaze--my jewel of the collection. The judging breakdown is 25% for appearance, 35% for taste and smell, and the balance for texture and other facets. I ambitiously decided to go for the freshest taste by baking everything on Saturday, with the intention of dropping them all off the following Sunday morning. With all ingredients in place, the ganache made first so it could thicken during the day and lacquer glaze already made and in the refrigerator, I began baking the angel food at 8:00 am. Anticipating that there would be some set backs, I planned on being done by midnight. Well~~that did not happen.
Baking Day Saturday and Entry Day SundayRule #1: Better to bake two cakes at the same time and pick the best one OR take a core sample from the bottom of the cake to make sure you have a contender. By two o'clock I had three cakes finished when Rose anxiously called to see how I was doing. I reported that the Orange Chiffon was up to our standards, but the Angel Food! It had a hole that looked like a mouse had gotten hungry and decided to eat his way into the middle of the cake. (The 'kitchen witches' were in action!) Rule #2: Know what the contest rules mean. The Minnesota State Fair rules stated that chiffons and angel foods were to be presented with the top sides up. I have always seen the smaller side up, including our presentation in the book. When I received my scorecards I was informed that the state fair rule meant the larger side up. Thus my Angel Food cake, which I could have inverted to hide the "mouse hole" and crossed my fingers that the judges would not have chosen "its den" as the slice to test, was gladly eaten by my T'ai Chi group. With some further set backs (more 'kitchen witches') but with all the cakes made, frosted and glazed, boxed and tagged, I finally made it to bed~~at 4:30 am.
GOLDEN LEMON ALMOND
JAPANESE COTTON CHEESECAKE
CHOCOLATE CAKE WITH GANACHE AND LACQUER GLAZE
Rule #3: It is insane to bake for 20+ hours. After talking to Hanaâ when she and I were invited for a day of baking and conversation with Marie Wolf of the Heavenly Bakers on a Saturday in October, I learned her trick of sacrificing a bit on taste for baking over a few days with a short oven refresh Sunday morning before dropping them off. Entry day for dropping off my contenders went unbelievably smoothly as the Minnesota State Fair has been dealing with thousands of entries for over a hundred years. Judgment Day You can find out how well you did by either: waiting for a letter from the state fair, having someone check out your entries or attending the fair. I opted for attending the fair to see how I did and taking pictures. The Creative Activities building has a large glass display case with over 100 cakes lined up with ribbons hanging from the top five cakes in any given category. I quickly found three of my cakes, but without any ribbons. I then found the Creative Activities competitors' entries ledger that had me running back to the display case. My Orange Chiffon cake had a nice white ribbon hanging below it. Third place.
DISPLAY CASE WITH OVER 100 CAKES
THIRD PLACE WHITE RIBBON
Reflections and Hanaâ Too Hanaâ, one of our wonderful Heavenly Bakers, has entered the state fair for several years with many ribbons for her creations. This year she did well with our Lemon Poppy Seed Cake taking fifth place. Hanaâ has written about her baking for this year's fair on her blog: Welcome to Hanaâ's Kitchen.
HANAÂ'S LEMON POPPYSEED CAKE
Rule #4: Know what the judges like. She has seen over the years that the judges like sweeter and non-syruped cakes. So my Golden Lemon Almond and Chocolate Walnut Party cakes did not win. My show stopper lacquer glaze for my jewel entry was beaten by fondant-covered with cute theme decorated cakes. For my ethnic baking entry, Japanese Cotton Cheesecake did not impress the judges on its uniqueness but did have a high score. This is not surprising given that this is Minnesota, the land of Scandinavians, where the sensibility is more toward the European. I called Rose from the fair grounds to give her the rookie's good news. I was happy: a ribbon and four of five cakes getting viewed by fair goers coming to see the best of the best of home bakers in Minnesota.