Tuesday, July 20, 2010

State Fair Time in California

It is fair time in California and that means baking for me. I have a passion for entering baked goods at the CA fair. My love of the fair started about 20 years ago. I was wandering around a building and got tired. I saw some seats and sat down. At the California fair the judging is open judging. I guess that is what they call it. Anyway you sit in the audience and the judges taste your product and tell you what they think.They are not supposed to know who baked what, and if you do something to call attention to yourself they can disqualify you/

I got really excited watching the judging. I found out that in order to enter a baked item in the California State fair you first type in "bigfun.org" into your computer, click on competition and and handbook and you can get all the information about how to enter.. You must submit your entries (paper work) about 3 months before fair time. This is sort of tricky because after the deadline you cannot change your mind and enter any more items. Like I forgot to enter cupcakes before it was too late. I had an excuse, besides having a senior moment. I had just returned from Florida were I was a volunteer at the National Pie contest in Celebration Florida. You do not have to specify the actual name of the cookie when you enter "drop" cookie, and you do not have to submit your recipes for the general contests, just the special big money contests. That makes it good because a lot of times when doing a new recipe the night before the fair if it does not turn out you just do another kind.
If I have a really good chocolate chip cookie and get a blue ribbon, and you have a really good chocolate chip cookie, you can get a blue ribbon also. Up to that point only one judge has tasted our cookies. The judges then taste all the blue ribbon chocolate chip cookies and get the "best of class", meaning the best cookie and that part of the cookie contest. After all the cookies are tasted, and the best of the classes are determined, usually, chocolate chip, drop, bar "other"; the judges confer as to which of the"best of class" is deemed the best cookie. That cookie is then called the "best of division" That is a really big deal, that means it is the best cookie of the day, actually the best cookie of the fair in the regular cookie contest. If there are any other contests that day, the best of division compete for the "best of show" Last Friday cookies and confections were judged. That meant that the best of show was going to be either a cookie or confection. Confections are fudge, truffles, brittle, or "any other.

I really get excited about fair time. I was talking to my daughter the other day and I said something about forgetting something and I said I am just getting confused lately. She said,"No mom, It is just fair time. All of us kids know not to ask you anything important during fair time.

I live in an older home with not much air conditioning. It gets really hot in my part of the state. One year I could not even whip whip cream, and had to take everything out of my freezer, put my Kitchenaid in there and whip away. Of course that was before I learned that whip cream is a tricky thing to enter into competition. It was a great cake though. I called it a banana split cake. It was full of all the things a banana split has in it. The story of that fair cake of mine is one of my daughter's favorite fair story of mine. She was driving me to the fair. I think it was the first time we were transporting anything less fragile then a cookie. You are given a pass to put on your car so you can deliver your items. You have to have everything there before 9 a.m. Back then only cakes were done on that day, and I think I probably had two. I was carrying the beautiful high fluffy banana split cake in my lap. We went over a bump we did not know was there and down went the cake on my feet. I was so upset. Well my daughter took it home to her husband. He really like it. The next year I tried it again. We were driving really carefully, and up came that bump again. I again had whip cream up to my ankles. The next year my son-in -law said to my daughter,"Is your mom going to try that banana split cake again? I am really looking forward to it!

For the past three years I finally decided I am tired of fighting the heat. I rent a room at a motel 2 miles from the fair. They have a full refrigerator, and a electric stove. I am used to gas, but I take a oven thermometer and check their oven when I get in. I take my Kitchen aid, my food processor, my zestier, my favorite cookie scoop, and everything I need. I do not drive any more so my sweet daughter takes me and all my stuff, and picks me up to go to the fair, We live about 20 minutes away so I really have to remember to take everything. I go there and it is quiet and all I have to do is concentrate on baking.

I got the idea from a lady that used to drive from San Diego, spend 2 weeks just baking for the fair. Her name is Alberta Dunbar and I first met her about 20 years ago. She used to win all the big contest, the special chocolate $500 contest. I was really sorry she stopped coming because I wanted a chance to beat her! I was really in awe of her. I was too shy in those days to talk to her. I was brand new and she was a legend at the California fair, and the one in San Diego. People would ask her things, and I would listen in. I remember she once used a very expensive liquor in one her cakes. Some one said,"Why would you use that in just a cake. She said something about if you want something good you have to use something good. I have remembered that ever since. I remembered it when I bought the $12 a pound bacon for my bacon brittle this year, but more about that later.

I was really excited to be able to see Alberta this spring in Florida. She was there competing at the National Pie Contest sponsored by Crisco. She had driven from San Diego with her sister and baked 10 pies, one in each category the night before the contest. I think she one two categories. She is in her eighties!

Well, I got situated in my motel room and started to bake. The first thing I had to do was start my liquor candies. They take 24 hours to make.The first step is to spread cornstarch into a pan and put it on 200 degrees for 6 hours. It has to be free of moisture. Then you use something to make a mold out of. I had intended to use a heart candy mold to make the impressions. I had forgotten it. I knew it would not do any good to call my daughter I did not know where I left it. I tried to use a small little bottle to make the impression, but it was not working and I had really pictured heart shaped candies. So I grabbed my purse and took off for the mall. It was only about a 15 minute walk to Kohls and I found what I wanted, a heart shaped necklace. I took it back to the motel and after the required time, I wrapped the necklace in saran wrap and made the heart impressions. It did not work as well as the candy molds had, but it was all I had. I boiled the sugar and water to the correct temperature and then took it off the stove and poured in the vanilla vodka. I then covered the liquid with more cornstarch and let it sit for 12 hours without moving the pan. I did peek a couple of times. After the 12 hours I gently turned them over and covered them for another 6 hours. I carefully dusted them off. That sugar, water, vodka mixture was now a darling little sugar heart filled with the vanilla. I let them dry out and then dipped them in tempered chocolate. The judge did not know how I did it. I had written on card that it was attached to that you should put the whole thing in you mouth and bite into it. I loved her description,"You put it into your mouth an the chocolate starts melting, and then you get the crunch of the sugar shell, and then you get the sensation of the liquor. When the judging was over I went up and talked to her. She was surprised about how long it took. Another cookie that impressed them was one that when you bit into it there was a center of Dulce de leche caramel. I told them how I did that one also. All in all I took 6 cookies and 2 candies. I had signed up to do 2 more candies that day but did not get them done. My daughter took pictures of them and I will post them when I post what I got for each one. I did not have my hearing aid on so I could not hear what I got. You do not get your ribbons until about 3 weeks after the fair in the mail. The color of the ribbon does not matter that much to me, I just love it when they appear to like what I do. One of the judges is my instructor at the community college where I am completing my AA in Restaurant and Hospitality management. I am 50 years older then most of my fellow students. I quit college to marry my sailor and move to Hawaii in 1956. I am finally going to complete my AA. She teaches advanced baking. I try not to bake anything that she has taught me because I do not want her to have to judge anything I make. When she walks in we do not even say hi to each other.

I am practicing my coffee cake tonight Wednesday.. I will bake it for the fair on Sunday and take it Monday. I am excited because two of my club members might be there to watch the judging. They have never watched it before. I belong to Powertalk International which used to be Toastmistress, like Toastmasters. I used to be really shy and that organization really helped me to become who I am today. I can go up and talk to any one. The only time I am shy is with men. I have a darling service dog Farli who is a sable Shetland Sheepdog. I am planning to take her to the next senior citizen dance I am trying to get courage enough to go to. I know men like dogs.

Well it is back to the oven. I will try to post the pictures tomorrow

Thursday, March 25, 2010

State fair sushi cupcakes

Here I go with another post. I still have not learned to spell check, so I will have to be careful. I am in the writing mood so just have to get started.
I practice baking for the fair all year long. Before I practice I dream up things I want to do. Years ago we could have our plates returned after our entries were judged, but they do not do that any more. I love presentation and during the year I would find cute dishes in thrift stores to put my food on.
One year I was inspired by Clare Crespo's book, The Life of Food. It is full of creative fun food. I decided to make the sushi cupcakes. I searched to find cute little black plates about 3 inches across and a bamboo tray to put them on. At our fair if you do individual things you have to do 8 of them. Since the cakes were an oriental theme I decided to buy matcha a powdered tea used for tea ceromonies. I had to look all over this town to find some. Clare's recipe calls for fruit roll ups to wrap around the cupcakes. I bought one to try out before baking day. I did not want really big cakes so I bought 10 cans of tomato paste, emptied them froze the paste for later, and baked my cakes in them.
It was late at night, as usual when I was baking. I took the cooled cakes and started to roll out the fruit roll ups like I had done before. They would not roll. I evedently had bought another brand, and they were too thick. I decided to coat the cakes with dark green frosting instead of the fruit roll ups. I was not into fondant then or I might have tried that.

I finished all 8 cakes, I had made 10 and practiced with one before deciding on the 8 I was going to present. I took one of the cakes into the living room in order to be able to see it in a brighter light.
To my horror the dark green cake was dark navy blue. I must have put the wrong lid on the paste food coloring the last time I had used it, and used blue instead of green. I was out of powdered sugar to make more frosting. It was about 3 AM and no stores were open. Frantically I remembered from grade school that if you added yellow to blue it will make green. It worked.
The next morning I loaded up all my entries, about 8 of them that day and was on my way to the fair. I started smelling this really powerful scent of the matrcha. The further I drove it seemed stronger and stronger. I thought I could not enter that. It did not smell good to me. It was surly not the sweet scent of vanila, or the perky smell of lemon.

I entered them in anyway, really nervous about the judging. I did not want to sit in my chair when they came before the judge. I wanted to move away as far as I could from the stage, AS I explained before, the judges are up on a stage and you are in the audience.

I saw the assistant put the tray beforre the judge. I could not watch. There was a lady with big, big hair right in front of me. I scrunched down so all I could see was the judge picking up the fork and get a bite of the cupcake, tht terrible pungent matcha tea cupcake. I waited for the fork to go down, and to be able to see from behind the big, big hair the judge pick up the micophone and tell me my fate. I could see him pick up the fork again, I sneeked a peek from around the curly processed blonde head. He was not frowning. He was almost smiling, and he took a third bite. Well, I can realize a judge taking a second small bite to make sure he tasted what he thought he did in order to chose the right negative words to describe the item, but 3 bites do not add up to negative. I straightened up, put on my poker face and faced the judge with a different attitude. He picked up the microphone then, and with a smile,said, "What I have here is a beautiful inovative sushi cupcake. It gets a 98, a blue ribbon! "

Thanks to Clare and her book, another great day at the fair.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Fairs are coming up

The county and state fair hand books are on the internet now. It is almost like opening a Christmas present when I click on bigfun.org to see what is going to happen at the state fair and sacfair.com to see what I am going to to at the county fair.

The county fair used to be the weedkend of mothers' day but it has changed to be memorial day weekend. In the past I have baked with a teenager who is like a grand daughter to me, but she is in college now so may not have time. I have only been doing the county fair for about five years. I find it is a good way to practice what I am going to do at the state fair.

They do not have refrieration at the county fair so I can not do my favorite thing, the refrigerated pastries. I love to do fancy things with chocolate. The 2nd year I was to do the couonty fair my oven control broke and I could not turn it on. I looked on the internet and found things I could bake in my microwave. What an adventure.

I have a of printing my state fair entries, filling them out and taking them to the fair office a couple of days before they are do. I do not like doing it by computer, and I do not trust the mail. I like to know rthat they are there.

I will say I enjoy the look of the clerk when I turn in 20 or so entries. I really do not know what I am going to do this year because I am saving all my money for my trip to Florida. The deadline is May 7th the day before I get back.

Because of budget problems they are having fewer days to present our food. The cakes, bread, pies and pastries are all due on the same day. Confections and cookes are on one day. Special things like the $500 Chocolate Passion are on separate days.

I live in an older home that does not have very good air conditioning. It is hard to do chocolate and cream pies etc when it is 110 degrees out side. Once I emptied the top of my freezer and put my mixer in there to do whipped cream.

Two years ago I started renting a motel 2 miles from the fair that has a full kitchen. I got that idea from remembering a lady named Alberta Dunbar who used to travel from southern California and stay 2 weeks and bake for the fair. She used to win a lot of ribbons. I was sorry when she stopped coming because was an inspiration.
Every year I google her name to see what she is up to. She is still baking and was on Jay Leno because she won the Spam contest. She made a spam cheesecake.

I e-mailed my grand kids in Florida to tell them I have a blog. It will be a way to let them know a little bit about what goes on in my life. I really miss them and will be glad to see them when I get to Florida.

Well, this is my second blog. In thinking about doing a blog I was reminded of whn I was a young girl and I wrote in a green diary with a key. It was really exciting. Well things have changed. Now I am writing for the whole world to see. I hope I did not make too many spelling errors. I cannot see how to do spell check. I tried something and this diappeared, can not take a chance on doing that and have this disappear for good. So I am just going to push publish and hope for the best.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Learning to blog.

Well, here I go my first blog. I have been wanting to start one for a long time. Actually I have been encouraged to start a blog. I do not know if the people I e-mail really like my writing, or think I write e-mails that are too long!

Why the name Blue Ribbons and Chocolate Ganache? My passions are entering baked goods in the California State fair and volunteering at pastry competitions. I wake up thinking of chocolate creations to make. I would start talking about them at my work and I would see me co-workers rolling their eyes as if to say, "There she goes again." So I would tell them I did not have a significant other or prince charming to dream about, I dream about chocolate ganache.

I have been entering baked goods in the state and county fairs for about 20 years. I try to find blogs of other people who like to enter things in the fairs and have not been able to find one. So maybe this blog will put me in touch with some people who like to do that also.

I have been a volunteer twice at chocolate competitions put on by Michael Schneider of Chocolatier Magazine. I first saw the contest on tv and then went to see it in Las Vegas. It is thrilling to be with people who have the same passions that I do..
When I was there I saw lots of people in white chefs coats. I learned that some of them were students at a 5 day forum held before the contest. The others were volunteers helping set up the contest and assisting the instructors for the classes. Two years later I was helping at the forum and contest in Phoenix. I had never driven that far befoe by my self and I was really proud of myself.

Then two years later I volunteered again. This time they moved to Nashville Tennessee. I drove there also. That was quite an achevement for me since I did it alone and I am in my seventies.

I hope to share my thoughts about doing things at the fair, and my upcoming train trip to Florida to help out at the National Pie Contest. I intend to write while I am on the way. It will take me 5 days to get to Florida from California.

I am also a student in the pastry program at my local community college. I hope to post about that also. If anyone reading this would like to comment on their experiences in baking please comment. Jennine