Meet State Fair’s competitive bakers, recipe makers

old-fashionedIn the world of competitive cooking, baking and recipe making, Patti Flaker of Wausau is a bit atypical.

She had never attended the Wisconsin State Fair until this year, when she made the drive to enter the fair’s first-time Old Fashioned cocktail recipe contest.

Then she didn’t simply make the recipe. She added accessories – a thick coaster, blinking ice cube, classy garnish spears in a converted salt shaker – and served the icy drink in a square glass.

Taste, appearance, creativity and originality were the criteria for a quartet of judges to narrow the brandy-spiked sea of 38 entries to 28, then 14, then seven. More than one hour after the work of sipping, sniffing, lip smacking and note taking began, they had a big winner – and it was Patti.

“I had never competed in any contests,” says the manager of a contact center in the banking industry, who has no bartending in her background. Top prize was a $150 gift certificate to The Packing House, a Milwaukee supper club that sponsored the contest.

“I love to cook and entertain when I have time, especially with my family,” explains the champ, who calls the Old Fashioned her drink of choice. And, “when I go to a party, I always make sure I have the ingredients along to make an Old Fashioned for others.”

Patti believes her still-secret simple syrup recipe, which includes cinnamon, is what gave her a competitive edge – and she calls her first State Fair visit “an awesome experience.”

Some State Fair entrants are food contest veterans who win, place or show in multiple ways each year. Lois Trongard, Pewaukee, says she has crates full of ribbons, including a blue worth $500 in 2015 for her Hula Pie, entered in a dessert category sponsored by Dole Food Company.

“I love to cook and bake – and I’m pretty competitive,” says the market business office director for Bryant and Stratton College. Recipe development is a way to de-stress from work. The hobby began 30 years ago; one year she won two KitchenAid mixers.

Lois invested $400 in ingredients for 35 categories – the maximum allowed – at this year’s State Fair. Her blues included $50 and a slow cooker from the Wisconsin Pork Association for a burger with shredded apple, pineapple and soy sauce, topped with smoked cheddar and beer-braised onions.

Daughter Rebecca Scray also enters and places in State Fair culinary competitions, as did grandchildren Landon, 9, and Elena, 5, in contests for children this year.

It’s not the only multi-generational effort. Winning a $250 certificate from King Arthur Flour in a lemon bars contest for bakers age 18 or younger was 7-year-old Katie Tipton of Sheboygan. Coconut in the crust and filling made the difference, she believes.

Katie is daughter of Lisa Dziadulewicz, the newest national Spam recipe contest champ. “That recipe was German-inspired,” she says. “I breaded and fried it like schnitzel,” then added appropriate accoutrements.

Jill Albanese, director of competitive exhibits for 19 years, says 95 percent of the State Fair’s culinary categories were new this year. The deadline for entering is roughly two months before the fair opens; categories are revealed in spring.

Stay tuned to wistatefair.com, where categories and results are posted.

When a State Fair recipe contest has a sponsor, prize money can be substantial. Here are 2016 examples and recipes.

Elaine Mason of Oconomowoc entered 15 recipe categories and won two of them within two hours.

The State Fair’s Dairy Promotion Board awarded her $100 in a grilled cheese contest that encouraged the use of Wisconsin products. Between buttered slices of an organic, whole grain bread from a farmers’ market were sauteed mushrooms and green peppers, homemade corn relish and five kinds of cheese (vegetable cheddar from Brunkow Cheese Co-op, cheddar with green olives from Beechwood Cheese, co-jack from Carr Valley Cheese, Havarti and Havarti dill crumbles from JS Brands of Wisconsin).

“You clearly searched the corners of the state for ingredients,” judge Kristi Williams of Madison observed, appreciatively.

Elaine also won the Jumping and Jiving Java Cupcake competition sponsored by Berres Brothers Coffee Roasters, Watertown, which produces more than 100 flavors of coffee. Top prize was a gift basket of products worth more than $100.

The company’s Highlander Grogg is the star in Elaine’s winning entry. Coffee sneaks into the batter, filling and frosting. Note: If you can’t find mascarpone cheese flavored with coffee, buy plain mascarpone and add coffee extract to it.

HIGHLANDER GROGG FILLED CUPCAKES
(Makes 2 dozen)

For batter:
2 1/2 cups flour
2 cups sugar
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup vegetable oil
1 cup brewed Highlander Grogg coffee, cooled
3 eggs
8 ounces sour cream
1 teaspoon coffee extract
1/2 cup chopped hazelnuts

For filling:
12 ounces caramel sauce
16 ounces coffee-flavored mascarpone cheese

For frosting:
1 stick butter, softened
3 cups powdered sugar
1/2 cup brewed Highlander Grogg coffee

For topping:
Reserved caramel sauce
1/4 cup chopped hazelnuts

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line muffin pan with paper liners.

Mix flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda and baking powder in large mixing bowl. Add oil, cooled coffee and eggs. Mix thoroughly.

Fold in sour cream, coffee extract and hazelnuts. Spoon batter into muffin cups, filling halfway. Bake 16-18 minutes, or until toothpick comes out clean. Cool.

Set aside 2 tablespoons of caramel sauce. Mix the rest with mascarpone cheese. Fill pastry bag with mixture and squeeze filling into each cupcake.

Beat together frosting ingredients . Frost each cupcake. Sprinkle tops with hazelnuts. Drizzle with reserved caramel sauce. Refrigerate.

The second annual Bloody Mary contest was the second consecutive win for Bob Smith of Oak Creek, worth $200 from sponsor Forest Floor Foods, Eden. Greg Floyd says one ton of button, cremini, brown and portobello are harvested daily. The business that he owns with wife Peggy has grown to include pickled vegetables, cocktail mixers and more.

BOB’S BLOODY MARY
(Makes 1 quart)

4 ounces horseradish-infused vodka
1 ounce Forest Floor Foods Dirty Martini Mix
4 dashes Worcestershire sauce
Clamato Picante Juice, to fill
Squeeze of lemon
Squeeze of lime
2 dashes celery salt

Mix well and serve over ice.

Bob’s preferred garnish skewers this year included cooked prawns, Forest Floor Foods pickled mushrooms and the cook’s homemade beef jerky, olives with stuffed blue cheese and pickles dilled with garlic and onions.

To make 2 cups of infused vodka, enough for four servings, add to the liquor a two-inch piece of horseradish root that is peeled and cut into slivers. Let it steep three days before using.

And if alcohol isn’t your thing, here is the top Honey of a Lemonade entry, from Lisa Dickson of Milwaukee, worth $50 from the Wisconsin Honey Producers Association.

SPARKLING ROSEMARY HONEY LEMONADE

6 sprigs rosemary
1 vanilla bean
1 cup boiling water
1 1/2 cups honey
2 cups freshly squeezed lemon juice (seeds, pulp strained out)
3 to 4 cups seltzer

Steep rosemary and vanilla bean in boiling water for one hour. Strain rosemary and bean out of water and add honey. Mix lemon juice and seltzer water with honey mixture. Serve cold.