Saturday marked the final day of the Delaware State Fair and while many people were buying tickets for one last ride, two dozen bakers, their families and friends spent the better part of the morning in the Dover Building to see who would be named cupcake champion at this year's "Crazy Over Cupcakes" competition.
This year's contest, which allowed day-of registration, saw 24 entries as several baking veterans joined even more first-timers in an all-out battle as the champion of the sweet tooth.
Participating bakers were judged across five categories: visual appeal, appearance when served, texture, flavor and ingredient creativity.
And, while flavor is king, it has been said that appearance and visual appeal go a long way with the judges, too.
Seventeen-year-old Haley Gerardi, who presented a popular cake demonstration this year said that people often underestimate presentation.
“Even just a fancy plate takes it up a notch,” Gerardi said.
According to Delaware State Fair Culinary Department Superintendent Judi Leaming, this year’s competitors seemed to heed that advice, making noticeable improvements in both taste and presentation.
“It’s interesting to watch returning contestants grow,” Leaming said. “They’ve raised their levels and the competition gets better and better as the ingredients get more exotic.”
The “made from scratch” rule means that most entries featured the usual cake components like flour, sugar, butter and salt but this year’s recipes also included items that aren’t the usual go-to choices for cupcakes. From zucchini, pumpkin and sage to coffee, cloves and cherry juice, contestants were thinking way outside the boxed mixes found in most pantries.
First-time contestant Danielle Moore, of Seaford, was one of those reaching beyond the normal. Her “strawberry zucchini burger” entry placed in the top eight. Moore presented her cupcake entry in a red-and-white checkered paper bowl, reminiscent of the way burgers are often served at greasy spoons.
“I've only been baking about six months,” Moore said. “So, I'm really pleased with everything.”
New contestants like Moore also found themselves in the company of a growing tight-knit group who enjoy the camaraderie of the competition as much as the contest itself.
Former Delaware State Fair Board of Directors member Chuck Ivins found himself in a unique position as both a first-time entrant who also has solid relationships with the other returning contestants.
“I used to be superintendent but this is so much more fun,” Ivins said. “Everybody just likes seeing everybody and what they're bringing to the table. We root everybody on.”
Leaming works hard at expansion and would like to see the contest grow even more. She’s constantly talking to people and encouraging them to give it a try.
“I talked to one woman who had never even been to the fair before and after encouraging her, she placed in the top six in another contest we do,” Leaming said.
That encouragement may be the reason that more than half of the top eight of the cupcake contest were newbies. Two of those first-timers even placed in the top three: Ivins, of Harrington, won third place and Rachel Bowman, of Magnolia, came in second.
First place, however, went to the veteran, Darla Koff. who defied the advice on presentation, simply putting her finished product right on the table and reminding everyone that in the end, it's ultimately about taste.
“It was very hard for the judges this year,” Leaming said. “They had their work cut out for them.”