Notes from a Former Cupcake Bake-off Winner

The only preface I’ll give is that I wrote this on my lunch break.  So excuse the wild liberties I’ve taken with grammar and pretend that I didn’t receive my college degree (which in all fairness, as Harry can attest, is round not square) in Journalism.

There are a lot of cooking contests in Brooklyn. There’s the Chili Takedown (which will be followed by the Tofu Takedown this week), the Bacon Throwdown, a Chili Cook-off, Emily Farris’ Casserole Contest…the list goes on. All are great fun, usually involve a fair amount of alcohol and beat the usual way to meet people in this city. May 11th will mark the 3rd annual Brooklyn Kitchen Cupcake Bake-off, an event which has a particularly special place in my heart.

It was the spring of 2008. I was out of college exactly one year and like most post liberal-arts expats, got really good at feeding myself for free whenever possible. Gallery openings for wine and cheese, dumpsters for bagels, bars for peanuts and best of all, cooking contests. The cupcake bake-off was being held at the bar, Union Pool. I reasoned that paying for beer would be well worth the value of the 30-some cupcake samples I could score by entering. More importantly, I remembered what the prize was for Brooklyn Kitchen’s last sponsored contest, the Casserole Cook-off. It was a Le Creuset enameled cast iron dutch oven. A retail value of around $300. I rationalized that the Cupcake prize would most likely be a KitchenAid stand mixer. It had to be.

The week prior, I drew up my entry blueprints. The rules of cooking contests generally revolve around finding a balance between good, simple flavors with a clever enough presentation. Nobody likes a pretentious cupcake. I decided to keep the recipe basic and the design, well, quirky- without letting on to the fact that I had little experience in cake decorating, or the tools for it. Dirt cupcakes were born! Dark chocolate cupcakes (recipe courtesy of Elissa Strauss at Confetti Cakes) with chocolate frosting, dipped in crushed mint oreos and an earnest sprig of mint sprouting from the center.

Three and a half vodka tonics later I had sufficiently stuffed my face to the point that all cupcakes, from vegan PB & J to Mint Julep Buttercream, all tasted the same. There’s even an embarrassing YouTube interview with the ladies from the blog ‘Cupcakes Take the Cake’ displaying my sugar and alcohol induced delirium. I remember getting lots of compliments. But I also remember being kind of drunk.


Fast-forward to the witching hour. There were four winning categories, two winners in each along with a runner-up. Plain and Simple Decoration, Exotic Decoration, Plain and Simple Flavor, and Exotic Flavor. Winners were announced. Plain/simple flavor: nope. Exotic flavor: nope. Plain/simple decoration: nope. I hadn’t seen a KitchenAid yet, and I wasn’t sure that if there was one, it would be bestowed onto the runner-up of the last category: Exotic decoration. But perhaps mint springs grown in oreo crumbs would be exotic enough to warrant some free cupcake pans? Maybe fancy flour? And wouldn’t you know it, they were! The rest of the evening is a little blurry. I remember Taylor announcing my prizes. I don’t know what my expression was. I probably had a goofy grin on my face regardless. Peering into my brown Brooklyn Kitchen paper bag were three containers of sprinkles. Dragees, rather. You know, those gold silver balls for decorating that are, in fact, edible but no one believes you that they are because on the label it states pretty clearly that they’re not approved for consumption in the state of California. There was a cupcake pan in there too. It was pink. And silicone- for baking six large rose shaped bundt cakes. Courtesy of Martha Stewart.

No matter. I haven’t won much of anything before or since. Well, that’s not entirely true. About three months later, I had an e-mail from Taylor who was looking to hire at the Brooklyn Kitchen. I had printed it out and laid it down next to my unemployment papers I was meaning to file that week. Freelance blew and I was broke. I looked from application to application. On Tayor’s I had to list three facts about myself that would deem me qualified to hawk pots and pans (and poach pods). On New York State’s, I had to list my tax information. I chose to fill out the former. I thought about it and typed out my response: I make good popcorn, I take care of my knives…and I won your cupcake contest. Sort of.

I tried to remember if I had grumbled about my prizes. I was hoping I hadn’t. I really needed a job. Making a long story short, I’m typing this, one year later, from behind the register at the Brooklyn Kitchen while folding cake boxes for this year’s cupcake bake-off.  I’ve been told what the grand prize is.  I’m not bitter.  In fact, I’ve been reminded quite a few times (especially when hauling cases of mason jars in the rain, followed by a firm pat on the back) who came out the real winner. Cheesy as it sounds, I really can’t argue.



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