Every year, I am privileged to serve as a judge of some of the culinary competitions at the Los Angeles County Fair and this year was no exception. Although I like to try to make several trips out to the fair over the course of the month that it is open, this year I was only able to make it out for the last weekend of contests. This meant that I didn’t judge quite as many contests as some years, but it also meant that I lucked out and hit the only cool weekend of the fair where temperatures stayed below 100F. In my first contest of the day, I ate my way through nearly two dozen pumpkin desserts, including pumpkin pies, cheesecakes and quick breads. The second contest of the day is where things really got interesting because the Gold Medal Flour Cookie Competition, which had more than 40 entries!
The competition simply asked for people to bring in their best cookie recipe using Gold Medal Flour. This meant that we had a few bar cookies, a few cutout cookies and lots of drop cookies. Our judging panel included my good friend Leslie Sassaman, from Claremont Chefs Academy, and local celebrity guest Elliott Rothman (pictured above, with me), the mayor of Pomona, the city where the fair is held.
With so many entries to get through, we started slow and really paced ourselves to give each cookie a very thorough taste test. We looked for overall flavor, texture and appearance. Presentation is not necessarily judged when it comes to determining the winner and we are always aware of the fact that competitors have to carry their entries through the fair grounds to get to the contest in the first place, though it is a nice touch that both onlookers and judges can appreciate! When it comes to the entries, originality is always a plus, especially when the concept is well done, however an extremely well executed classic cookie can also be competitive. Here are a few tips that I always recommend to anyone interested in entering a baking competition.
This year, first prize went to a batch of Mexican Chocolate Snickerdoodle Cookies, which demonstrated a nice twist on a classic favorite, with second place going to some Salted Caramel Oatmeal Chews, that that had an addictive combination of flavors and textures. Third place went to some zesty lemon and raspberry thumbprint cookies, which were sprinkled with white chocolate to tame their bright lemon flavor. Finally, a “best new entry” award was given to a new participant who made a Twix-inspired thumbprint cookie, featuring a homemade caramel filling-topped shortbread cookie with a milk chocolate drizzle.
We loved these cookies – and I’m sure that the winners were just as happy as we were! After chatting with a few of them after the contest, I’m also positive that they’re all all planning their entries for next year’s fair already!