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Beating the Bakers

April 4, 2010

My father is a very competitive person.  When I was younger, we would be out sailing in Biscayne Bay, and he would choose a boat off in the distance to race.  Perhaps some of this comes from being a litigator.  Maybe it is just his personality.

But you can’t grow up around that without at least a little bit wearing off.

So when the San Francisco outpost of Foote Cone & Belding (now unthinkably called Draft FCB) announced there would be a bake-off when it moved into its fancy new office, I started thinking about how to win.  There was some stiff competition, especially from within my department.  They were the bakers – let’s call them junior and senior.

The junior baker made the best snickerdoodles I have ever tasted.  To call them cookies does them an injustice.  Somehow I managed to get the recipe out of her, but only if I swore never to reveal it.  So the only way to experience these cookies is to compel me to make up a batch.

The senior baker was crazy about pies and took classes on cake making.  She once made this cake that was decorated with a beautiful lattice of icing, which looked like it was painstakingly hard to execute.

And then there was me, who made desserts but didn’t bake at all.

As you now may know, I made the butter fried cookies, which are indeed more commonly known as Florentines.  Given the initial interest in the very mention of fried cookies, I do have to say that I was disappointed by the dearth of comments attached to the post that revealed the recipe.  C’est la vie.

What you do not know is how I made them extra special.

The recipe was for almond orange lace cookies.  Almond and orange are a classic flavor combination, much like blueberry and lemon, or pear and rosemary.  But almond and orange also go brilliantly with chocolate.  One of my favorite treats is a good dark chocolate covered orange peel.

So I whipped up a dark chocolate and orange ganache.  (It’s really the easiest thing in the world, and just so good—a recipe and dedicated post on the subject will appear in the weeks to come.)  This made my lacey almond orange cookies into decadent lacey almond-orange chocolate sandwich cookies.

Each of these little bundles of butter, sugar, nuts, orange zest, chocolate, cream, and orange brandy were tucked into individual hand-folded parchment-paper envelopes.  They were really quite precious, with their lacy edges peeking up from within.  With a carefully worded description, they proved to be very popular at the bakeoff.

Here is how the bakeoff was judged.  Everyone was given three gold stars, and was told to put them beside their favorite desserts.

The senior baker, the overachiever, actually had multiple entries.  One completely pandered to the crowd with Foote Cone & Belding themed cookies.  But those cookies were more about style than substance.  If I recall correctly, her other entry was a more seriously crafted cake.  But she may have inadvertently split the vote, as neither entry could compete with my star totals.

The junior baker also did very well.  I think she came in just beneath me.  You have to remember this was about eight years ago, and the memory fades.  What does not fade was that despite beating the two most accomplished bakers at the agency I still came in second place.

How can I forget when it still gets me so worked up?

First prize went to someone’s Snickers trifle.  No joke.  They got a beautiful trifle dish, and filled it with store bought crap.  Snickers bars, pound cake, Cool Whip, Hershey’s syrup, etc.  It was a sweet and sticky mess that required no baking or any sort of culinary talent.  It looked handsome all layered in its bowl, but how it won is still beyond me.

While I may not have won, I still did what I set out to do. I beat the bakers.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. April 4, 2010 10:33 am

    Sometimes the crowd just loves the crap dishes. The dishes you know are absolutely terrible for your body, but somehow childishly satisfying.

    The senior baker crippled herself by doing 2 – splitting the vote, never a good thing.

  2. Sister of the fusspot permalink
    April 4, 2010 8:35 pm

    Is there a competitive gene? Is that where it comes from? Funny timing for this post, as I just submitted a video for fun to a competition insisting that it wasn’t about winning, but…. now that it is online, I am becoming overly obsessed with it’s number of votes and that of the current contender for first place! (mine, in case you care to vote , or are curious at the current count: http://genero.tv/watch-video/4898/) warning: contains no food, wine, or even references to food.
    Now, I’ll abandon the video counter and try to bake these dreamy Florentines! Thank you for the recipe. Curious that you’re counting comments and views, huh? That competitive gene strikes again!

  3. Senior Baker permalink
    April 4, 2010 11:53 pm

    Ah, I still the remember the day as if it happened yesterday. For all the competitive bakers out there, consider this a cautionary tale. There were three things I learned from the experience:

    1. As Daniel and Albany Jane pointed out, never compete against yourself. I made the cake only after I was displeased with the results of the (yes, pandering) FCB cookies. I should have saved myself the time and effort and stood behind my cookies.

    2. Never underestimate the love of uber-sugary desserts — even when they are made from store bought crap. A subsequent bake-off had the same results. The winner bought the ready-made Toll House cookies — the ones that were even already cut up into pieces — and put each cookie square in a mini-muffin tin. After baking at the temp. and time that the package directed, a mini Reese’s Peanut Butter cup was pushed it in the middle of the warm cookie, melting the candy. When that dessert won first place, I quit baking at the “bake”-offs.

    3. You eat with your eyes first. Daniel’s description of how he individually wrapped each cookie doesn’t do it justice. His parchment-paper-Snuggies seduced the judges — and earned him an extra star or two.

  4. Junior Baker permalink
    April 5, 2010 6:53 pm

    I, too, remember that day very well. That’s when I started billing my Snickerdoodles as “Award-winning Snickerdoodles”.
    I agree with Senior Baker, the trifle was trifling and an affront to all bakers and bake-offs out there.
    At the time I was a little disappointed in 3rd place. I really wanted to beat Daniel because I believed a simply delicious but uncomplicated cookie could win. A Snickerdoodle doesn’t have chips or nuts or frosting. It’s flavor stems from using exceptional ingredients in the right amounts and baking it at just the right amount of time. My Snickerdoodles are more cake-like and you can definitely taste the cream of tartar, which gives it that distinctly snickerdoodle flavor.
    I also didn’t have an amazing presentation, like Daniel. I figured it would come down to taste. I didn’t know that most of the people at FCB had juvenile taste buds.

  5. November 26, 2012 12:48 pm

    This makes me feel better about losing the office cookie contest every year. Last year, I lost to an ice-cream sandwich — it’s a COOKIE contest, not a good-ice-cream-with-packaged-cookies-stuck-on contest!

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