Tag: Minnesota State Fair

Best Chocolate Orange Cupcakes

For holiday baking – or any time of year – these “Best Chocolate Orange Cupcakes” are a sure-fire favorite. Seriously. Total crowd pleaser!
8 plated Best Chocolate Orange Cupcakes
The batter has vegetable oil and buttermilk in it, creating a rich, fudgy cupcake that practically glows.
Batter in cupcake pan
Best Chocolate Orange Cupcakes - Mid Frosting
With a thick citrus buttercream frosting and festive chocolate orange section on top, you get an eye-catching dessert everyone will love.
Decorated Best Chocolate Orange Cupcakes
Baker Tips:
  • Use a high-quality cocoa powder for a rich chocolate flavor to the cupcake. We used a combo of Dutch cocoa powder and black cocoa and loved the results.
  • Stock up on Terry’s Chocolate Oranges when you find them. They’re seasonal and can be hard to find
  • Because the orange extract goes in both the batter and the frosting, use a high-quality brand for a natural tasting citrus flavor. We like these citrus oils from the King Arthur Baking Company. Fresh juice and zest is key also.


Winner at Minnesota State Fair

These best chocolate orange cupcakes are an award-winning creation from Colleen Jensen.
She had a big win with them at the 2022 Minnesota State Fair. Out of 75 entries, these placed third, bested only by this show-stopper winning cake (1st Place) and a Mexican Hot Chocolate Cake (2nd place) we hope to make at some point. That’s essentially a second runner up or a “bronze medal” Olympic win. =)
Colleen titled her contest entry “Merry’s Chocolate Orange Cupcakes.” The name is a play on the “merry” holidays and the popular Terry’s brand that makes the festive candy that the cupcakes feature.
Terry's Chocolate Orange Popping Candy
Terry’s Chocolate Oranges are quite an experience. Gifting them to family and friends is a long-time tradition in the U.K. The whack/crack way of opening the candy is delightful.
Chocolate Orange Candy
If you don’t have first-hand knowledge of the “tap it and unwrap it” process, be sure try it out soon.
These Chocolate Orange Cupcakes are a “must-bake” for anyone who loves chocolate or citrus sweet treats. Enjoy!

Splenda Raspberry Chocolate Cheesecake Pie

This Splenda Raspberry Chocolate Cheesecake Pie won first place in the Splenda Magic Baker “Low-To-No Sugar Showdown” at the 2023 Minnesota State Fair. The recipe comes from Barb Lutz.
To get started, decide if you’ll make your own crust or buy a premade one. You’ll want a 9-inch round pie plate or slightly larger. You do two bakes. The first one is the raspberry/crust layer. The second layer – for which you lower the heat – is the chocolate cheesecake layer made with cream cheese, eggs, Splenda Magic Baker, dark chocolate baking bar, and sour cream. Once that’s baked, while the Splenda Raspberry Chocolate Cheesecake Pie is still hot, you spread a sour cream layer/sweetener layer that soaks into the chocolate layer. After it’s chilled, you finish it with fresh raspberries and a chocolate drizzle.
2023 Splenda MN 1st Pl from above EM
You are going to delight in making and eating this award-winning chocolate dessert. Enjoy!

Healthy Power Bars

These Healthy Power Bars come from Amy Ellenberger, who won the new UnitedHealthcare “Healthy Cookie Contest” at the 2023 Minnesota State Fair.

Amy’s Healthy Power Bars are made with raw whole cashews, oats, almonds, sunflower seeds, and chia seeds. She sweetens them with maple syrup, raisins, and Medjool dates. They have a chewy, crunchy texture you are absolutely going to love.

Good-For-You Ingredients

Healthy Power Bars

Congratulations to Amy!

Healthy Power Bars

Learn more about Amy in this Star Tribune feature story. If you want another healthy cookie option, try these!


Gluten-Free Fig Newtons

Gluten-Free Fig Newtons: Joan Kinsley won “best gluten-free cookie” at the Minnesota State Fair with this recipe.

They have very few ingredients but still taste complex. They truly pack a lot of flavor in every bite.

Ingredients for Gluten-Free Fig Newtons

The natural sweetness of the figs, augmented by maple syrup, bake for a sweet, but not overly so, treat. Joan’s Gluten-Free Fig Newtons taste best made the day prior to eating them. When doing so, they soften perfectly.

Gluten-Free Fig Newtons = Overhead

The recipe makes 16 cookies. You are going to want a double batch of these!

Joan Kinsley, Home Baker, Gluten-Free Fig Newtons

Joan has won multiple ribbons, including a blue ribbon for best sandwich cookie in the same year. It also went on to win best overall cookie, aka “sweepstakes” winner.

Yay Joan! Yay Everyone! Get baking and make these!




Cha Cha Chai Energy Balls

These Cha Cha Chai Energy Balls are essentially “healthy no-bake cookie bites.” They come together easily – as in minutes – and have a rich, complex and completely satisfying taste.

With vanilla protein powder, chia seeds, and peanut butter, you have key ingredients that help you power through the day.

They make a both a great daytime snack or a bite-sized after-dinner dessert.

These chai energy balls were inspired by a 2022 Minnesota State Fair blue ribbon winning recipe by Amy Ellenberger, so recipe credit goes to her. 

Chai Spice Blend

To make these chai energy balls, you start with a chai spice blend. I make it in bulk with this combination of ingredients and amounts.

  • 4 tablespoons cinnamon
  • 4 teaspoons cardamom
  • 2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 2 teaspoons ground cloves
  • 2 teaspoons allspice
  • 2 teaspoons freshly ground nutmeg
If you make it in bulk, you’ll have the chai spice blend any time you want to make these. And believe me, you’re going to want to make these chai energy balls again and again. You can make them ahead of time and freeze the “dough.” Just bring it to room temperature before rolling them into balls. With the extra chai spice blend, you can use it for an additional batch or put it your coffee. I make a chai iced coffee with it by adding the blend to leftover coffee, and adding half and half or cream, plus some ice. Delish!
Cha Cha Chai Energy Balls Plated
What’s also great about this recipe is you can make it as spicy or mild as you like by increasing or eliminating the cayenne in them. If you wanted to “skip the rolling into balls” step,  you can instead press it into a wax-paper-lined 9″x13″ inch pan. You can easily cut them into whatever size you like.


2023 “Top 30 State Fairs” List

2023 “Top 30 State Fairs” List  

As long-time state fair baking/cooking contest managers, the Blue Ribbon Group is excited to share, for the first time publicly, our 2023 “Top 30 State Fairs” list. With this list we offer our answer to the often-asked question: What are the best state fairs in the United States?

This new compilation is based exclusively on two factors: per day attendance numbers (total 2022 attendance divided by total days open) and their baking competitions (history of past Blue Ribbon Group special contests).  All 30 fairs have higher per day attendance than any other U.S. state fairs happening July to October each year.

2023 "Top 30 State Fairs" List

Top 10

Topping this 2023 “Top 30 State Fairs” list is the Minnesota State Fair, followed by the Tulsa State Fair, State Fair of Texas, Iowa State Fair, and Wisconsin State Fair. Here are the top 10, listed in order, followed by the complete list noting each fairs’ dates and attendance numbers. 

  1. Minnesota State Fair
  2. Tulsa State Fair
  3. State Fair of Texas
  4. Iowa State Fair
  5. Wisconsin State Fair
  6. North Carolina State Fair
  7. Oklahoma State Fair
  8. Ohio State Fair
  9. New York State Fair
  10. Illinois State Fair

Best State Fairs w/ Blue Ribbon Baking Contests

Awesome Attendance Numbers

  • Attendance numbers in 2022, ranged from 26,224 to 153,519 for per day averages, and 287,367 to 2,500,000 for overall total attendances.
  • All take place between July and November, with the majority happening in August, September and October. 
  • All are official state fairs with two caveats. The Tennessee State Fair and Wilson County Fair essentially merged in 2021, with the Wilson County Fairgrounds location becoming it’s home. The Salem Fair is the largest in Virginia with a 350,000 attendance in 2022.  

Since 2006, Blue Ribbon Group has managed special recipe contests at large state, county and regional fairs. Find a collection of winning recipes at BlueRibbonGroup.net and featured on BlueRibbonFoodies on Instagram and Facebook

2023 Minnesota State Fair Special Baking Contests

2023 Minnesota State Fair Special Baking Contests Celebrate Healthy Cookies, Low-Sugar Chocolate Desserts, Citrus Cakes & More

Minneapolis-St Paul, MN – June 20, 2023 – Minnesota hobby bakers and home cooks are hitting their kitchens to vie for big blue ribbon bragging rights and prizes in our special contest series at the 2023 Minnesota State Fair.

Register by Tue Aug 1, 2023, 4:30pm, All Baking Contests Sat Aug 19, 2023

At the Minnesota State Fair, our hometown fair, look for these new special contests, each with $100 to $200 for first place, plus runner-up prizes. Registration is now open. It closes Tue Aug 1, 2023, 4:30pm CT. All contests happen Sat Aug 19, 2023, drop off 9:30am to 1pm, Creative Activities Building. Winners announced Thu Aug 24, 2023. Having trouble finding what you need? Drop us a line here.

Kowalski’s Markets “Citrus Cake Contest”

Bring sunshine to the table with your best and brightest, citrus-flavored cakes. Feature lemon, lime, orange, or other tangy citrus ingredients in your cake, solo or with any complimentary flavors. Wow the judges and our taste buds. Entries can be any size or shape: layer, sheet, tube, cupcake or bite-sized. Prizes: $100 1st, $50 2nd, $25 3rd (gift cards).

Join Kowalski’s Markets in celebrating opening day of the fair Thursday August 24th, with their Cambria Kitchen “takeover,” an event, not to be missed They’ll feature local growers with demos and off complimentary samples and other giveaways throughout the day.

Splenda Magic Baker “Low-To-No Sugar Showdown” Theme: Chocolate Desserts

Make your favorite chocolate sweet treats for this Low-To-No Sugar Showdown. Use little to no added sugar. Think pies, pastries, puddings, custards, cakes, cookies, or cheesecakes. Sweeten your entry with 1/4 cup or more of any Splenda product, such as Splenda Magic Baker, a new plant-based, zero-calorie sweetener. It measures and tastes like sugar. Use it 1 to 1 for replacing sugar. Prizes: $200 1st, $100 2nd, $50 3rd (gift cards).

UnitedHealthcare “Healthy Cookie Contest”

Make energy bars, on-the-go sweet treats or any cookie that has a health-minded twist or theme. Use “good-for-you” ingredients that help you power through the day, have nutritional value, or are a fit for special diets. Think protein powders, nuts, nut butters, fruits, and seeds. You can even simply “healthify” your favorite cookie to have less sugar, fat or calories. Your entry can be baked or no-bake style. The term “cookie” is open to interpretation and that’s intentional. Prizes: $200 1st, $100 2nd, $50 3rd.

Blue Ribbon Baker Awards

In addition to the Minnesota State Fair Special Baking Contests 2023, we also organized Minnesota State Fair Blue ribbon baker awards for anyone winning 1st place for any cookie and cake classes in general baking. Each will receive a $25 gift card.


Key Dates to Remember

  • Competitors Register by Tue Aug 1, 2023, 4:30pm
  • Drop Off Day Sat Aug 19, 2022, 9:30am to 1pm
  • View Winner Displays & Recipe Demos Aug 24 to Sep 4 in Creative Activities Building

First Time Participant or Need a Refresher?

All registration goes through the Minnesota State Fair competition department. Registration is free! Once you’re signed up, there is no obligation if you later can’t participate. Go to the Competitions/Creative Activities/Baked Products section at MNStateFair.org to sign up (under the Participants tab).

Quick-start tips:

  1. Find all baking rules, regs, open classes, and cool special contests here and be sure to download the Creative Activities/Baked Goods Premium Book Section. Jump to pages 12-14 for the special contests, page by page.
  2. Sign up for the Competition Department email list here and be sure to choose “Creative Activities” as your email list.
  3. Create your online account here (then be sure your registration clears and is confirmed).
  4. For step-by-step guidance, go here.

Lime Pistachio Bundt Cake

Lime Pistachio Bundt Cake: this cake, with it’s bright tangy flavor and distinct nutty taste is a sure-fire crowd pleaser.

Overhead shot of Lime & Pistachio Bundt Cake

If you’re a fan of citrus, this is the cake for you. We also invite you to compete at the 2023 Minnesota State Fair, in the new Kowalski’s Markets Citrus Cake Contest. Learn more about the 2023 special contests here.

Minnesota State Fair Mojito Lime Cookies

These Minnesota State Fair Mojito Lime Cookies are THE citrus sweet treat you need this summer. Have you ever had a Mojito? That delightful Cuban drink with crushed mint and fresh lime? I hope you have. It is one of my favorite cocktails to have on vacation and in warmer temps. The cocktail also served as direct inspiration for these award-winning Minnesota State Fair Mojito Lime Cookies.

Created by hobby baker Greg Boe, these cookies won second place at the 2013 Minnesota State Fair. He cleverly titled them “Incognito Mojitos.”

Stack of Minnesota State Fair Mojito Lime Cookies

My cohort Crystal was the lucky one to remake Greg’s recipe. Find her step-by-step tips below that walk you through baking process. Or if you’re already ready to bake them, hit the “jump to recipe” button.

Every bite of these winning cookies will make you think of sunshine. The texture is light and chewy. Their aroma is magical. The lush lime flavor will transport you to the tropics. Enjoy!


Step by Step: Minnesota State Fair Mojito Lime Cookies

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F, with the rack in the middle of the oven. Next, zest your lime and set aside.

Mix together flour, salt, baking soda, and baking powder. Melt your butter in the microwave. In another bowl, put in the sugar and cream cheese, and pour the warmed, melted butter on top. Whisk to combine, making sure there are no clumps of cream cheese visible.

To this mixture, add the oil, egg, lime zest, lime juice, and vanilla extract. Whisk everything smooth. Gently fold in the flour mixture until a consistent dough is formed. Roll the dough in balls of approximately 2-3 tablespoons. Place on a parchment lined cookie sheet.

Bake 10-12 minutes, or until the edges just begin to brown.

Icing Adds a Sweet Minty Finish

Finely chop the mint for the icing and set aside. Mix the milk and confectioners’ sugar until smooth.  Then add/blend in the corn syrup, vanilla extract and chopped mint. Mix until icing is shiny and smooth. Make sure you let the cookies completely cool before applying icing.

Spread the icing onto the cooled cookies. You may want to let the iced cookies sit before serving to give the icing a chance to harden. The hardened icing is like a candy shell on top of the chewy cookie! Yum! Enjoy!





Baking Contest Seeks Best Low-To-No Sugar Pies, Cookies, Cakes, Breads, Chocolate Desserts, Citrus Sweet Treats

Minneapolis-St Paul, MN – June 20, 2023 – Watch for the Splenda Magic Baker “Low-To-No-Sugar Showdown” 2023 state fair recipe contest series this summer in 6 different cities in the Midwest and two southern states. If you love cakes, cookies, pies, and other sweet treats but prefer them with little to now sugar, this competition is for you!

$350 in Prizes at Each of 6 Fairs

Six prominent state fairs will host the contest, including Indiana, Iowa, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Texas, and Arkansas. Prizes are $200 for 1st place, $100 for 2nd place, and $50 for 3rd place. Judges choose winners for the best flavor combinations, taste and aroma, among other criteria.

Splenda Magic Baker Low to No Sugar Showdown

The pop-up events will feature giveaways of Splenda Magic Baker, the brand’s new zero-calories, zero-sugar sweetener, while supplies last. Splenda Magic Baker comes in 16 ounce bags. It measures and tastes like sugar. Use it 1 to 1 for replacing sugar. You can find recipes and baking tips at Splenda.com.


Six Fairs – Six Sets of Prizes

Here’s a quick run-down of when each fair is, a link to their competition department, their contest theme, register by date, contest date, and location at the fairgrounds. Most fair’s require advance registration, which bakers do, directly with each fair’s competition department.

For questions about competing, contact the fair’s entry office or the Blue Ribbon Group here.  If you can’t compete at any of the above 6 fairs, don’t fret. Read below about our bonus prizes for low to no sugar state fair winning recipes.

Want to Win Year’s Supply of Splenda Magic Baker Sweetener?

Bonus Prizes for Sugar-Free Winning Bakers at ANY Blue Ribbon Group Top 30 Fair

We invite you to compete in any general baking class/category at ANY of our top 30 fairs for a shot at winning a year’s supply of Splenda Magic Baker ($96 value). To qualify, use any Splenda product and place 1st, 2nd or 3rd at your fair, in any general baking class/category. Then submit your details, winning recipe, and photo here by 11:59pm on October 13, 2023. We will choose up to 6 winners: 1 for each of 6 U.S. regions, if applicable: Midwest, Southwest, Southeast, Northeast, Pacific, or Rocky Mountain regions. Winners will be chosen and contacted by year-end, by 11:59pm on December 31, 2023.

Good luck to all the participants!

This post was originally published June 20, 2023 and was updated July 13, 2023.