My husband's company has its annual office picnic at Sandy Point every year in September. We always look forward to the chance to visit with employees and friends who we don't often see otherwise. In addition to being a tight-knit group, the people who work for the company also tend to be a competitive group, and this is never more apparent than when it comes to the food contests that have become a traditional part of the picnic. Last year, there were two contests - best dessert and best guacamole.
For the desserts, there were two categories - clever decoration and delicious taste. I can't recall who the style winner was, but I think the chocolate cheesecake edged out the blueberry pie for taste. Here are some pictures of the standouts:
This year, the two contests are Maryland themed desserts (either by decoration or tradition), and appetizers that use Old Bay as a noticeable ingredient. I make some mean deviled eggs with lump crabmeat sprinkled with Old Bay, but I'm concerned that won't be original enough to compete with this crowd. I decided to punt on the appetizer course and put all my eggs (and flour and sugar) into the dessert basket.
So my search began for either a wonderfully clever Maryland design, or a traditional Maryland dessert. I'm a complete sucker for tradition and old-time recipes, so that was my preference. If I had a signature dessert, then I would have figured out a way to dress it up Maryland (Navy logo on a cheesecake, MD flag on a cobbler, Thomas Point Light rising from a trifle, Blue Crab atop a blueberry pie, no - I won't put a terrapin on ANYTHING), but I really don't. I've just about mastered my mother-in-law's cherry pie, but I'm not consistent enough with it for a contest.
Soooo, what exactly are some uniquely Maryland desserts? I suppose most people are aware that Smith Island Cake (that wonderful 7-layer chocolate concoction) recently became the official dessert of Maryland. I've tried to make such a cake before (my daughter requested it for her birthday last year), but it was not a terrific success. Mine turned out sky high and dry - beautiful to look at, but not as great to eat (see picture below). Also, my sources tell me that one of the winners of last year's contest is entering one, so I'm staying away from that beast of a cake.
Lady Baltimore Cake? Well, its origins are actually in Charleston, SC, so despite the uniquely Maryland name, it is not a uniquely Maryland cake. Plus, it has figs in it, and most folks these days don't love figs. The only other uniquely Maryland dessert that I could think of was maybe funnel cake, and I couldn't figure out a way to get a deep fat fryer to Sandy Point...
I finally turned to an internet search engine, and after a few keyword variations, I came across something called a Kossuth Cake on a cool recipe blog called ACCRO (I've added the link to my list of favorite websites on the sidebar - everything I see on this blog looks yummy and interesting). Anybody ever heard of one of these cakes? From the tidbits I found on the web, I learned that in 1851, a Hungarian patriot/freedom fighter, General Lajos Kossuth, visited Baltimore after being forced from office as the first President of Hungary. He was hailed as the "Washington of Hungary", and was wildly popular in American and British political circles, considered to be a "bellweather of democracy in Europe". He was the second foreign citizen ever to make a speech to a joint session of the United States Congress (Lafayette being the first), and a bust of him is housed in the United States Capitol (thank you Wikipedia).
|General Lajos Kossuth|
To honor his visit, a Baltimore confectioner created a dessert and called it "Kossuth Cake". Apparently they were individual sponge cakes filled with whipped cream and covered in chocolate sauce. From what I can tell, they sound like chocolate covered Twinkies. The recipe I came across on ACCRO was for a single large sponge cake baked in a melon-shaped pan. The cake is cooled, cut open and hollowed out, then filled with cream, reassembled, dusted with powdered sugar, and drizzled with chocolate sauce when served.
Kossuth Cake Recipe on ACCRO
THIS is the dessert that I will attempt for the company picnic contest (assuming I get the pan I ordered in time)! It is exactly what I was looking for - a tasty, simple dessert steeped in obscure Baltimore, Maryland tradition and history. The story behind the dessert probably won't win me any points, but for me, it's about originality. I'm curious to see if any of the hardcore Baltimore folks at the picnic have ever heard of it. I'm also curious to see if any of you have heard of it, or if you know of any other uniquely Maryland desserts that escaped my research. I'm thinking this may become my "signature dish" if all goes well...