Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Cracker Jacktastic Baking Contest 2011

Some of you may recall my post from last year about our company picnic baking contest. I was in search of a winning recipe that would meet the year's theme requirements. Last year the theme was Maryland. I went with a Baltimore Bomb pie made with Berger's cookies that earned the last part of its name in my rendition.

My attempt was not particularly good, although I loved the idea of using yummy Berger's chocolate cookies as an ingredient. It was actually not what I initially planned to bake. You can read about my search for a recipe and the cake I expected to make in this previous post. The recipe did not work for me as a single cake, but I went back later and tried it as individual cakes, and they were divine.

Anyway, as it turns out, my blog post about my choice of recipe backfired on me when it caught the attention of another company employee. She was searching for a recipe idea as well, and thanks to a Google search, stumbled upon the detailed description of my contest entry. D'oh! Company intelligence had found me out!

Well, this year, I would not fall into the same trap. The picnic was this past weekend, and I kept my baking plans close to the vest as the date approached. Our picnic theme this year was baseball, and desserts for the contest had to contain Cracker Jacks and peanuts as ingredients.

This turned out to be somewhat tricky as Cracker Jacks tend to have a stale texture to begin with and when combined with standard dessert ingredients, the popcorn loses any crunch it might have once had. The caramel coating and peanuts were my main inspiration, and I decided to go with some sort of apple recipe with a Cracker Jack/peanut streusel topping.

After a few iffy test runs, I settled on a Paula Deen recipe for Caramel Apple Cheesecake Bars. I am not a tremendous Paula Deen fan. I find both her and her mamma's-coat-tail-riding sons in particular to be a bit annoying and her recipes to be too rich and heavy. The woman can cook, though, and when I encountered this recipe, I was not above jumping on Paula's coat-tails right along with the Deen boys. It appeared to be the perfect one to adapt for the baking contest. I named my variation Cracker Jacktastic Caramel Apple Cheesecake Bars.

Thanks to my son's soccer game, we were late for the picnic and arrived just in time to slide our dessert into home plate. The umps were on the fence about whether I was SAFE! or OUT!, but my entry was ultimately accepted. Here are pictures of this year's competition:

1st Place winner - big presentation points for
 creating the giant Cracker Jack box and prizes.

Going with the Nationals over the Orioles -
risky, but  more color coordinated.

Entry by the intelligence agent who found
me out last year. These were VERY good.
A variation on buckeyes.

My (Paula's) Cracker Jacktastic
Caramel Apple Cheesecake Bars

Another variation on the cheesecake idea

2nd Place winner - baseball cake-pops

Ooey gooey Cracker Jack confection

Cracker Jack Fudge!

Cakes encased in marshmallow pillows
with crushed peanut coating. These were my
kids' favorites. Also VERY good!

In the end, my Cracker Jacktastic bars placed 3rd despite the near disqualification. Personally, on taste, I am confident that mine was better than either the 1st or 2nd place finishers. They clearly had me on creative presentation, though. You need the whole package to compete with this crowd.

Ah well, there's always next year, and I will once again be gunning for the 1st place trophy. I am not above dirty tactics either. I just might have to put out some misleading advance blog posts with false information to throw off those nosy Information Services folks... www.tips-fb.com

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