But with 32 entries and a rainbow of decorations, colors and flavors, judges spent a challenging two hours tasting and debating before selecting a winner — the chocolate coconut cupcake submitted by Carla Cardello of McConnellsburg, Pa.
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Cardello, 24, moved to McConnellsburg a year-and-a-half ago from the Pittsburgh area. By day, she works as a videographer for JLG Industries Inc. in McConnellsburg. But after hours, Cardello puts on her baker's apron and whips up dishes in the kitchen.
Cardello is a food blogger.
"I have a food blog I bake for called Chocolate Moosey — it's at ChocolateMoosey.com," she said. "I try to post at least once a week, sometimes twice. Once in a while, I'll have savory foods, but it's 95-percent baking."
Cardello cooks mostly from scratch and has plenty of baking experience to draw from, but she had never entered a cooking contest until now.
"This is my first competition ever. I was definitely surprised to hear I'd won, especially with 32 entries," she said.
Her chocolate coconut cupcake was visually impressive, with coconut-flavored icing sprinkled with toasted coconut topping a chocolate cupcake. The judges liked the taste and texture; they recorded comments on their judging forms.
"The filling was delightful and reminded me of a German chocolate cake," wrote MaryStewart Seifarth, a home cook and dessert aficionado living in Hagerstown.
"Very moist. The filling is the best part," wrote Sarah Ardinger, owner of The Plum cafe in downtown Hagerstown.
Nine judges —professional bakers and chefs, home cooks and dessert lovers — worked together to select a winner in the contest. Judges were divided into three groups and each group tasted about one-third of the cupcake entries. Entries were awarded points on appearance, taste, originality and quality. Points were tallied, and each group of judges advanced three entries to the final round. All judges tasted all top finalists, awarded points, and a winner was selected with five runners-up.
Cardello said her cupcake is an adaptation of a friend's recipe she tasted recently.
"Around Easter time, one of my friends had a recipe for carrot cake with coconut milk icing," Cardello said. "I wanted to make the icing with coconut milk. I thought, ‘What goes with coconut?' I thought of chocolate and almond."
The flavor profile reminded her of an Almond Joy chocolate bar, with the add crunch of toasted coconut. She experimented by using coconut milk in the frosting and in the filling.
Cardello said she is mostly self-taught in the kitchen.
"I cooked a little bit when I was young, but I didn't learn much from my family," she said. "When I went off to college, I had to learn to cook by myself."
Cardello knows what she'll do with her $50 contest prize winnings.
"Believe it or not, as much as I love to bake, I don't have a stand mixer. So this will help pay for that," she said.
Judging a confectionery contest is not as easy as you might think...