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Excuse the screaming but…

I WON! I WON! I WON! I won the King Arthur Flour Banana Bread Competition at the Kansas State Fair!

I think after six years and over fifty different banana bread recipes tried, I’ve earned the right to yell a little about FINALLY WINNING A BLUE RIBBON!!! The curse has been lifted! LOL!

I know the photo is horrible and you can’t even see my name, but I will have better photos (from a friend who’s going to the fair tomorrow, I forgot my camera and had to use my horrible camera phone) and a recipe for you next week!! In the mean time, I’m going to spend the weekend doing a celebratory dance on the rooftop. Ha!


Award-Winning Pumpkin Bread

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I baked this bread for the first time in 2010 to enter into the state fair pumpkin bread competition.  I’d never tested it out first, I just decided I’d bake it and enter it, and it won a third place ribbon so I figured it must be good.  I never baked it again until last week so I just now, over three years later, got to taste the bread I’d won a ribbon for.  Yes, I know, I’m a wild and crazy kind of gal. :)

And it’s SO GOOD!  Sorry for yelling, but I CAN’T CONTROL THE VOLUME OF MY VOICE WHEN SOMETHING IS THIS GOOD!  It’s really good.  The flavor is great–sweet, pumpkin-y, and perfectly spiced so that it’s not overly spicy, but just enough to compliment the pumpkin flavor without overwhelming it.  But it’s more the texture that captivates me.  It’s incredibly tender and almost delicate, but not enough so that you’d mistake it for a cake.  So crazy moist!  I just am in love with the texture of this bread and wish I could replicate it in every sweet bread and muffin possible.  WHY DID THE JUDGES ONLY GIVE ME THIRD PLACE?  Because they are even more wild and crazy than I am, obviously.

Pumpkin Spice Bread

Printable recipe
Printable recipe with picture

1 cup (8 1/4 oz) canned pumpkin*
1 1/2 cups (10 1/2 oz) granulated sugar
1/2 cup (4 1/8 oz) vegetable oil
1/2 cup (4 oz) water
2 large eggs
1 3/4 cups (7 1/2 oz) all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

Preheat oven to 350F. In a large mixing bowl, combine pumpkin, sugar, vegetable oil, water, and eggs. Whisk until well mixed. Measure the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, salt, baking powder, nutmeg, and cloves into a separate bowl and stir until combined. Slowly add the dry ingredients to the pumpkin mixture, beating until smooth. Spray a 9×5* loaf pan and pour batter in, smoothing the top flat. Bake for 60-70 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Immediately remove from pan, cool completely on a wire rack, and wrap in plastic wrap. The bread gets better after a day so wait till the next day to cut it if you can stand it. :)

*If you’re doubling the recipe, you can use a 15 oz can of pumpkin – there’s no need to open a second can just to make up for the tiny bit it’s lacking for this recipe. It is just as good with the 15 oz can as it is with a full 2 cups or 16 1/2 oz.

**This makes a lot of batter so if you use a smaller pan, you’ll likely have to increase the baking time.

Looking for more award-winning recipes? I gotcha covered! Here are a few of my blue ribbon winners, and you can check out the rest here.

Almond Fudge Cookies (multiple blue ribbons)

Fresh Apple Cake

Red Velvet Cake

Kansas State Fair 2012 part 2: How I fared at the fair

First off, let me come right out with it and tell you that despite my quest to beat my baking nemesis in the banana bread competition this  year, my banana bread did not place at all.  Aw, don’t cry for me, Argentina, I promise it’s all good. :)  I’ll share more about that later, in part 5 of this State Fair series.  (I have so much to share about this experience that there will be a post every day this week for a change!)

I also did not place for the pies, which was no surprise.  I was reading the judges lips as well as I could and for the cherry, I saw the word “burnt.” LOL!  They only took a teensy bite of my burnt up cherry pie, but they really took a lot of bites of the triple berry and did a lot of head-nodding.  I think it might have been a contender if it hadn’t been for the fallen-off crust.  So I still have yet to place at all with pie, but maybe next year will be my year.

So let’s get to the winning entries, shall we?

Blue Ribbons:

My Sugarless Sugar Cookies (AKA “Snot Sauce Cookies”) may not have placed, but my regular Vanilla Bean Sugar Cookies got a blue ribbon!  And it was my own recipe, yo!  I have to say this was fairly shocking.  I really didn’t expect this blue, or that I’d place at all.  This is a different recipe than I won 2nd with two years ago, and I never did get around to sharing that one, so I’ll probably just share this one instead since it ranked higher! Exciting!

The Kansas Honey Producers have their own set of baking contests for honey-sweetened baked goods.  There are two cool things about winning these contests: the ribbons are prettier, and they pay more! :)  I won a blue ribbon for Honey-Coconut Macaroons.  I was really hopeful for these because most honey cookies have a cloying honey taste, but these were very nice and delicate in flavor.  I was very happy that they did so well.

I was so excited to see I got a blue for my Raspberry Almond Fudge Cookies in the “Extra-Special Chocolate Cookies” category that I couldn’t internalize it.  I started jumping up and down and jabbing at the glass and saying, “Dennis!  Dennis!  Dennis!”  I couldn’t even formulate the words to express that I’d won and for what, he had to come over to figure it out for himself.  haha!  The coolest thing about winning this is that I beat another big-time contestant, a lady I’ll call DP.  To give you an idea of her baking prowess, several years ago she not only won the Pillsbury Pie Contest in KS, but also won nationwide out of all state fair entries that year!  You can see her chocolate whoopie pie behind my cookie.  When I saw those after entering my goodies, I just knew they were going to win, and that was before I even knew that DP made them.  Well, I’m glad I was wrong! :)

You guys!!!  I’m sorry for all the exclamation points but in this case, any I use are still inadequate to express my excitement.  <hyperventilating> OK, not only did I win first place for my carrot cake this year (a new recipe, which means I’ll have a third carrot cake recipe to share on my blog! But you can never have enough carrot cake, right?), but I also won Sweepstakes!! Sweepstakes!!  *breathe, just breathe* That means that not only did the judges think my cake was the best carrot cake, but the best of all the cakes entered at the fair this year.  Just look at that beautiful purple ribbon.  I could die.  You guys know that cake is my biggest passion and what I like baking most, so it was so gratifying to get this award.  I’m in shock.  I’ve never gotten this award before, I’m just so thrilled!

Red Ribbons

My Chai Snickerdoodles!  I have to admit, I was hopeful for a blue with these since they’re just so cool (I can say that because I didn’t think of the idea-lol), but 2nd place ain’t too shabby.  I have reader Amber S. to thank for this idea–she sent me some Chai Snickerdoodles for last year’s cookie swap, and while I used my own recipe based off the idea, I wouldn’t have thought of it without her help!

Hey Joanne, do these look familiar?  I won second for my version of your Snickerdoodle Biscoff Sandwich Cookies in the “Extra Special Non-Chocolate Cookies” contest!  Thank you for the wonderful idea!

They had a new category for cakes this year-chocolate sponge cake.  There usually isn’t a chocolate category because they reserve that for the King Arthur Chocolate Cake Contest, which is a special contest that is turned in and judged on the same day during the fair.  But I bet the judges were really wanting something new after so many years of the same cakes, and I’m glad they decided on a chocolate cake because I have never been able to go on the day they have the KA chocolate cake contest and I have wanted to so badly the last three years.  Anyway, I made a chocolate version of a Victoria sponge cake, which has added fat in it–butter in this case (but of course).  The cake I trimmed off the top tasted a little funny, probably because I used some really old self-rising flour for the recipe (I was in one of those desperate states where I ran out of ingredients but didn’t want to go to the store) but I guess my frosting saved it from being awful. Yay for 2nd place!

I tried a new Pineapple Upside Down Cake recipe this year but my rank stayed the same.  But that’s OK because guess who got 3rd? My banana bread nemesis! Bwahaha! ;)  Last year she got first, so I gloated a little but am trying to keep the gloating to a minimum so I don’t jinx myself for next year.

White ribbons:

My sour cream pound cake just goes to show you can’t always judge a book by its cover.  Trust me, this ugly pound cake is some velvety soft, delicious lovliness.  If I’d baked it in a bundt pan like the recipe says, it would have been a lot prettier.  But for some reason I thought it wasn’t allowed.  Well, as you can see by the bundt-shaped pound cake to the left, apparently it is allowed. Good to know for next year!

Nope, that isn’t my peanut butter cookie but I had to share this with Amanda, who won third place for it.  (She found my blog yesterday while trying to find the state fair results!  I thought that was so cool.)  I met her in line while we were waiting to submit our entries, and got to chatting.  I was so rooting for her because this was her very first year entering the fair contests, so I searched for her cookies as soon as I was done searching for my own and did another squeal when I saw her name with a ribbon.  Amanda, my first year I entered three things too and only got a single 3rd place ribbon as well, and it was for a cookie too, so I really hope this makes you excited enough to enter for next year!!  Congrats, girl, I’m just thrilled for you!

Remember my embarrassingly short loaf of bread machine bread? Well, there you go.  I’m so glad I didn’t just throw it out!  I guess you never know, right?  The recipe I used was Honey Oatmeal Bread, adapted for the bread machine.  We did keep the first one and it is very delicious, just a lot more dense than it should be.  Maybe next year I’ll get it to rise properly…and then it won’t place at all! haha

The Gluten-Free Cookies contestants have stepped up their game and I’m going to have to step up my own next year! I placed first with these Almond Fudge Cookies in this category for the last two years, but only got third this year.  That’s one cool thing about the fair competitions, they make me always try to do better.

Now what about that oatmeal candy, you may ask?  Well, I have a whole post about that one.  Hope you aren’t fair-ed out and will come back tomorrow to check out that story!

2012 Kansas State Fair Part 1: Murphy’s Law

*This was drafted before I found out if I won anything.  Check back tomorrow to hear how I did!

Entering the fair contests was quite the experience this year, to say the least!  Murphy’s Law reigned supreme over my kitchen, for sure.

*I made a honey chocolate cake and didn’t put the right amount of butter OR honey in the cake so it was dry and not sweet.  EW.  Baked it again–wowza, that batter was good!  I couldn’t even tell it was honey-sweetened.  I’m very hopeful for this, but since Murphy’s Law is prevailing over everything fair-related right now, I likely will not place because of something like it was supposed to be a layer cake, not a bundt cake.

*I made a bread machine bread which did not rise well.  So I made a second loaf.  Same results.  I turned it in anyway, but feel sorry for the judges who will have to choke it down.  Hey, if I had to suffer to enter the bread, someone else is going to suffer with me. hehe.  BTW, I looked at all the other bread machine breads that were entered and I’m proud to say mine was the shortest one of them all.  I should win an award for worst bread.  Maybe they’ll invent that award this year, just for me.

My sad loaf is right in front–mine has a vertical pan and it’s barely as high as those baked in a horizontal bread machine pan!

*For some reason, I thought sugar cookies would be a good recipe to make to enter into the sugar-free cookies category.  Um, what was I thinking?  The cookies I made were actually pretty good since I used NuNaturals MoreFiber baking blend, which bakes well and doesn’t seem to have a funky aftertaste, but I couldn’t just turn in plain unglazed sugar cookies.  But how do you make a glaze without powdered sugar?  What I ended up doing was cooking milk and cornstarch and stevia together and ended up with sweet & milky snot sauce to put on top of my cookies.  And yes, I entered those too.  Snot sauce cookies!  :/

This is the only photo I have where you can halfway see the snot sauce cookies–upper right on the cart, on top of a cake.

*When I put my pies in the oven, the edge of the crust on one of the pies fell off.  Just bam–melted right off.  And burned to a crisp on the bottom of my oven.  What in the world?!  In what universe does this ever happen?  Apparently mine!  And then I forgot to tent the other one with foil (it had to bake a long time) and it got way over-browned and ugly.  :(  And yes, I still submitted them for judging–I’m cruisin’ for an ego bruisin’.  I present to you, my crispy pies.

On a happy side note, I did get to take advantage of the gift I got from Kerry.  The pie carrier was perfect for transporting my crispy pie!

*Baby decided she was going to bite down on the key in the ignition so it could not be removed or turned, rendering the flaky car totally unusable until we get the key out.  And I wasn’t going to throw all my baked goods in the back of the truck and hope they didn’t fly out during the 45+ minute drive to Hutchinson.  Thankfully, we were able to borrow my Dad’s Suburban to drive all my fair entries out there, which meant a lot more gas money, but on the bright side, everything fit with room to spare.  What a nice break!

*They made a special rule just for me this year: NO VEGETABLE BAGS WILL BE ALLOWED.  (Yes, they even put it in caps to get it through my thick skull.)  The last two years I  have put my breads on cardboard and then put them in produce bags I nabbed from the grocery store b/c I couldn’t figure out what other “food grade bags” (what the rules state we have to put our entries in) could be big enough to fit my entries.  I seriously never thought of turkey roaster bags, dude.  Obliviox, much?  So despite the rules saying it had to be in bags, I covered my entries with plastic wrap (you can see most in the photo below) and hoped for the best.  It was a no go.

*I had six of my entries covered with plastic wrap, and thought I’d have to return home with them, but they actually were selling turkey roaster bags for $1 each to raise money for the food department. Phew!  Except that meant we needed cash.  I sent Dennis off, God bless him, to get cash and an hour later, he arrived with cash in hand.  Since we were there so late, all the gates closed while we were inside and he had to go through hell to get out and back in.  Thankfully, it took all that time for me to get my entries in, plus more, so it worked out fine from my end, just very frustrating for the Haus.

Poor Haus ran into this at every turn.

*The contest that I was most excited to enter was the Heritage Recipes contest.  But I didn’t read the information and rules very closely.  All I gathered was that they wanted recipes that have been passed down in families from at least 1950 or before.  Well, Grandma Joy gave me an oatmeal candy recipe that’s been in the family since at least 1890!!  And it’s good!  I was super excited and had visions of presenting Grandma with a ribbon for the recipe.  Well, after making the candy and then reading the rules, I saw that they were wanting “recipes suitable for a family or community dinner.”  Ummm, is candy ever served at a dinner?  I nearly decided not to enter but as with the short bread, crispy pies, and snot cookies, I forged ahead and hoped for the best.

To be continued…

Red Velvet Cake

This is the red velvet cake I was telling you about that I won a blue ribbon for at this year’s state fair.  It not only won a blue ribbon for the red velvet cake class, but won second best of all cakes turned in for judging from all classes!  So I guess you could say this one is a winner.  :)

I get 95% of the recipes I use from the web, mainly from other food blogs, but when I saw the recipe for this red velvet cake in Dam Good Sweet, I knew it was the one I had to use for the state fair competition.  I could tell by reading the ingredients that it was going to be killer, and I was right!

Most recipes use white vinegar in addition to the buttermilk, which can cause the crumb to be coarse because there is too much acidity for the baking soda to neutralize.  I learned this from Rose Levy Beranbaum, who has a red velvet cake recipe in Rose’s Heavenly Cakes that I almost used, but decided not to since the amount of cocoa she used was the usual paltry two tablespoons.  After learning about the vinegar, however, I knew what to look for in a red velvet recipe and this one passed the test: buttermilk only.

**Update: upon re-reading Rose’s explanation of why she used buttermilk only, I see I was wrong about the vinegar.  She said that baking soda neutralizes the acidity of the buttermilk which makes a coarser crumb on the cake.  She uses only baking powder to keep the acidity in the cake high, thus making the vinegar unneccessary.  So it’s not the acid that makes the crumb coarse, it’s the lack of it caused by the soda neutralizing the acid.  So this cake DOESN’T pass her test, but now I’m thinking of making it again with baking powder only and seeing if it makes the color brighter and the crumb finer.**

This recipe has a whopping half-cup of Dutch-processed cocoa, which is more than any other red velvet recipe I’ve found, and it gives the cake a nice devil’s food flavor, far superior to the other from-scratch red velvet cakes I’ve made, where the frosting was the best part about them.  With this one, the cake itself is just as good as the creamy frosting.  In fact, the flavor is very similar to the Duncan Hines red velvet cake mix.  This is the only cake I’ve ever made that came as close to a cake-mix taste.  (Some might see this as not ideal, but cake mix cakes are my standard for the best cakes.)  It is not as moist or light as the Duncan Hines red velvet, but it is still very, very good.

Dutch process cocoa has a smoother and deeper chocolate flavor than regular cocoa powder, which means while it makes the cake taste incredible, it also affects the color, making it a deep red.  (I was racing against the sunset to shoot these pictures and due to the low light (and my lack of a good camera & photo editing program), the color of the cake appears darker in the first photos than it really is. The actual color is closer to these last couple photos).  The deeper color doesn’t bother me, but if it bothers you, you might want to go with Rose’s recipe, which is a very bright red.

Red Velvet Cake

Printable recipe
Printable recipe with picture

For the cake:
3 cups all-purpose flour
½ cup Dutch-processed cocoa powder
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
1 ½ teaspoons baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
2 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
1 (1 lb) box light brown sugar (about 2 ¼ cups)
3 tablespoons red food coloring (about 1.5 oz)
2 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract
3 large eggs, room temperature
1 ¾ cups buttermilk, room temperature

For the frosting:
1 ¼ pounds (2 ½ packages) cream cheese, room temperature
1 ¼ cups (2 ½ sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 (2 lb) bag confectioners’ sugar (about 7 ¼ cups)

To make the cake: Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour two 9-inch cake pans; set aside. Sift flour with the cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, and salt, and set aside.

With an electric mixer, cream the butter with the brown sugar, food coloring, and vanilla on low to combine. Increase the mixer speed to medium-high and beat until aerated and pale, about 2 minutes. Reduce the speed to medium and add the eggs, one at a time, beating thoroughly between each addition and using a rubber spatula to scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl as necessary. Reduce the speed to low and add one-third of the dry ingredients followed by half of the buttermilk. Repeat, finishing with the final third of the dry mix. Scrape down the bottom and sides of the bowl and divide the batter between the two prepared cake pans, spreading it out as evenly as possible.

Bake until tester inserted in center comes out clean and center of cake resists slight pressure, about 40 minutes. Cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes, then run a paring knife around the edges of each pan to release the cake from the sides; invert the cakes onto the cooling rack. Cool for 1 hour, then wrap each cake in plastic wrap for at least a few hours.

To make the frosting: Beat the cream cheese, butter, and vanilla together with an electric mixer on low speed to combine. Increase speed to medium-high and beat  until aerated and light, about two minutes. Stop the mixer and add a few cups of the confectioners’ sugar, incorporating it into the cream cheese mixture on low speed until combined. Repeat with the remaining sugar, adding it to the mixer in two additions. Once all of the sugar is added, increase the speed to medium-high and beat until fluffy, about 1 minute.

To assemble the cake: Unwrap and cut the dome of the tops off the cakes. Break up the cake domes into a food processor fitted with blade attachment and process to crumbs; set aside. Slice each cake in half horizontally to make four layers. Ice between layers of the cakes then over the top and sides. Press the crumbs into the sides of the cake. Refrigerate at least two hours before serving.

Veronica’s notes: 1) I omitted the vanilla from the frosting because I’m  used to working with much thicker frosting and didn’t want to thin this recipe any more than it already was.  This kept the color lighter and the flavor didn’t seem to suffer for the omission.  If I’d added it, I’m afraid it would have squooshed out between the layers as I added them, making the appearance of the finished frosted cake not as pretty.  The icing did squoosh out a bit even without the vanilla, but would have been worse with it.  2) I had trouble with the cake crumbs because they were very moist and stuck together pretty badly once I processed them.  I had to add a couple tablespoons of flour and process until incorporated to get them to turn into smaller crumbs.  3) I left this cake in it’s original two layers for the fair, and it made things a lot simpler.  If you don’t have a lot of experience with layer cakes, I’d suggest making it two layers instead of four.  4) I had about a cup of leftover frosting after making this cake.  If you like to make cake pops like I do, freeze the extra in a tub for your next cake pop/ball project.  I use 1/3 cup of frosting per batch, so this will make three batches of cake pops for me.

Recipe source: Dam Good Sweet

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