Seniors taste sweet success

Cake: Everyone's a winner - and a taster - at the North Carroll Senior Center's annual bake-off.

August 22, 2004|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

A heady, fresh-from-the-oven aroma filled the North Carroll Senior Center as final preparations were under way for the farm-fresh luncheon that was topped off with entries in the annual bake-off contest.

A table brimmed with varieties of fruit, nut, red velvet and fudge cakes, stirring comments, reminiscences and a few comparisons. While crab cakes sizzled and freshly shucked corn steamed on the stove, a group gathered around the piano to sing familiar tunes and a team engaged in a lively game of billiards. Many drifted by to watch judges rate the cakes.

"Who has been sampling already?" said Ed Tiell, 87, of Hampstead, who had his eye on Betty Dinterman's red velvet cake.

"I am going for the red velvet," he said. "I have tasted Betty's cakes before. Everybody here knows how great they are."

Dinterman's expertise is not limited to baking, although her red velvet cake with butter cream icing is a center favorite. She was leading the kitchen crew Friday in mixing about 25 pounds of crabmeat into her own recipe for crab cakes. She shared her secret ingredient for holding the crabmeat together - a touch of buttermilk pancake mix.

"It smells delicious in here," said Monzie Yingling, 84, of Hampstead, surveying the cakes. "We are lucky that there really are some good cooks in this group."

With an oven on the fritz at her home in Manchester, Anita Healy, 73, could not bake this year, but she could critique.

"Mine is thicker and I put a glaze on it," Healy said of a peach cake baked by Pauline Brown. "But this one looks really good."

Brown, 67, of Hampstead had set her alarm for 4 a.m. to give herself enough time for the yeast to rise for her cake dough. Following a recipe she found in The Sun years ago, she topped the dough with sliced ripe peaches and brown sugar. While baking, the juice spills over the batter and bubbles around the edges of the dough.

"I call it my Baltimore peach cake," she said. "It's a real treat because nobody bothers with yeast bread today."

Brown's entry briefly confounded the two judges, Pauline Folk and Maggie Warner, who were responsible for the missing slices.

"It is not really a cake, but it's a great dessert," Folk said.

Warner said, "The flavor is very good and the cake is really attractive. Keeping the skin on the peaches helps them keep their shape and adds color. This is an unusual dessert that would really serve a large group."

In addition to crab cakes, the center's luncheon included fresh green beans, corn on the cob and more juicy peaches - a table of four women peeled and sliced a container full shortly before lunch.

Elizabeth Robbins, 81, of Westminster brought in her pistachio nut sheet cake on ice to preserve the pudding and cream frosting. Carrot cake with vinegar sauce that adds "a tart twang" is her favorite, but she opted for a larger cake.

"I figured with more than 90 people coming to lunch today, they would need a lot of cake," she said.

Sampling a dozen entries was a piece of cake for the judges, seasoned veterans of the cake auction at the Carroll County fair. A few weeks ago, more than 200 young bakers tested the judges' mettle. No cake can go to the fair auction - whose top entry this year drew a $2,500 bid - without a judge's approval.

"At 4-H, we have lots of kids and we go over their recipes with them," Warner said.

Folk said: "Here we have seasoned cooks."

The judges sampled thin slices, clearing their palates with water between entries. They rated the cakes for appearance, texture and taste, and left helpful hints for the bakers alongside the entries.

"It's really hard to do, tasting one thing and then the next," said Jo Liggett, who took time out from peach peeling to review the judges' comments on her upside down and orange cakes.

"How about a beer in between?" she said. The judges declined that offer, but really took to Liggett's orange juice cake, a new recipe the Millers resident had only tried twice. The first one flopped the day before, but Liggett, 74, got up at dawn Friday to re-bake.

"I brought it in still warm," she said. "I know that it tastes good, because I have pieces of the first one at home."

Folk called the entry "so light with a good flavor, but the orange is not predominant."

Liggett took the grand prize for her cake's tangy flavor, golden look and tasty lightness. A seasoned champion whose cherry delight took first place last year, Liggett still was surprised.

"I love to bake, but I don't have anyone to bake for anymore," she said. "I guess I am not out of shape. This contest got me going."

But all the seniors were winners. The judges placed blue ribbons beside each entry.

"Baking from scratch is becoming a lost art," Warner said. "But, today, it was really hard to pick a champion."

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