- 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.
SPLENDA LOW-TO-NO SUGAR SHOWDOWN
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.
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.
- Wisconsin State Fair Runs 8/3/23 – 8/13/23 Competition Info (Sunny Skies & Summer Pies Theme), Registration closes 5/31/23, Contest Day 8/4/23, Grand Champion Hall
- Indiana State Fair Runs 8/28/23 – 9/20/23 Competition Info (Cookie Theme) Registration closes 8/5/23, Contest Day 8/5/23, Indiana Arts Building
- Iowa State Fair Runs 8/10/23 – 8/20/23 Competition Info (Cookies, Cakes, Pies or Breads Theme) Registration closes 7/8/23. Contest Day 8/12/23, Elwell Family Food Center
- Minnesota State Fair Runs 8/24/23 – 9/4/23 Competition Info (Chocolate Desserts Theme) Registration closes 8/1/23, Contest Day 8/19/23 (Pre-Fair), Creative Activities Building
- State Fair of Texas Runs 9/29/23 – 10/22/23 Competition Info (Cakes & Pies Theme) Registration closes 10/10/23, Contest Day 10/10/23, Creative Arts Building
- Arkansas State Fair Runs 10/13/23 – 10/22/23 Competition Info (Citrus Sweet Treats) Registration closes 10/1/23, Contest Day 10/18/23, Arts and Crafts Building
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.
This Pineapple Coconut Cream Pie is a 1st place winning recipe from the State Fair of Texas. It’s an all-time favorite from our archives, from a 2016 pie contest. Bake like a blue ribbon winner with this recipe. You will wow your friends, family, and your taste buds.
If you have never made a pineapple coconut cream pie this is a terrific recipe to start with because it’s got a great crust recipe and straightforward instructions for the two layers.
We did a test run and absolutely loved its flavors and its texture. The crust ingredients come together nicely and nothing beats a homemade pie crust. This version uses butter flavored shortening. If you prefer a butter/lard crust, try this one here.
Tip: use a pre-made refrigerated pie crust if making your own sounds too intimidating. It’s okay if you need a time-saving shortcut.
The filling in this pineapple coconut cream pie is sweet, rich, fruity, thick, and lush. The meringue whips up in a easy breezy wonderful way. It is velvety and that’s a good thing. The toasted top gives it a picture-perfect finishing touch.
Sue Rainey: Queen of the Crust
This award-winning recipe comes from Sue Rainey, a long time baking contest participant at the State Fair of Texas. Sue’s friends call her the “queen of the crust.” Baking is an art and her talents are plentiful.
Her top tips for perfect, flaky crusts: handle the dough as little as possible and use the least amount of flour you can when rolling it out. Sue also favors the intensity of vanilla from Mexico. She goes through giant bottles of it during her busiest baking times of the year: the State Fair of Texas and the year-end holidays.
Sue originally titled her creation “Paradise in Texas Coconut Pineapple Pie.” One taste and you’ll be in paradise yourself.
These Jumbo Peanut Butter Butterfinger Cookies are a terrific twist on a traditional peanut butter cookie. You put chopped Butterfinger candy bars into the cookie itself and sprinkle them over a chocolate topping. Every bite is rich and chewy and absolutely delicious. I’ve had more than one person tell me these are the best cookies in the universe.
This recipe is the epitome of a creative cookie that can win a special recipe contest. In fact, these did and recipe credit goes to Mackenzie Nelson, an Arkansas State Fair blue ribbon baker.
Tips & Tidbits
- This recipe makes a monster-sized batch, as in 58 medium sized cookies, or almost 30 in jumbo, 3 ounce portions. It can easily be halved.
- We like the jumbo size, like a bakery-style cookie. You can also opt for a smaller size and higher quantity batch.
- If you flatten the rolled cookies into discs, you get a nice even bake.
- Notice you use egg whites and not whole eggs
- This dough works well if chilled before baking. You can even freeze in batches to pull out whenever.
- You can alter how finely you chop the candy bars to your liking.
- Change up how you top these, either by dipping or by spreading the chocolate on top.
Jumbo Peanut Butter Butterfinger Cookies: Step by Step
We walk you through the process here, starting with gathering and measuring your ingredients. We went with the big 3.7 ounce size candy bars. Once you buy them, make sure “no one lays a finger on your Butterfinger” supply.
You can alter how finely you chop the candy bars to your liking. I did a combo of bigger and smaller pieces, vs all finely chopped or all rough chopped. Any which way is delicious. It’s mostly the overall texture and look of the cookie that changes with how you chop the Butterfingers.
Then you start mixing up the dough, beginning with creaming the butter and sugars.
You’re off to a good start when the mixture looks like this.
Next, you add 3/4 of your chopped Butterfingers.
Once you mix them in…
Get your scoop! We used an ice cream scoop to get the 3 ounce portion.
Make sure you set them apart with ample room to spread out.
Once they’re baked, you microwave the chocolate and remaining butter, for dipping or spreading on top. A flat spatula works nicely to remove extra chocolate on the cookie’s bottom. Do this stage quickly and in batches so the Butterfinger crumbles stay put on the chocolate.
You could also opt to spoon the chocolate across the top for full coverage.
If you love Butterfinger candy bars, you’ll love this epic cookie. And if you’re into candy-bar-inspired sweet treats, check on this cake!
These homemade, aromatic, prize-winning parmesan & chive scones are simply the best savory scones, in more ways than one.
You will relish their phenomenal taste and tender yet firm texture. Their golden brown appearance is drool-worthy for sure. If you love savory scones like we do, be sure to bake these soon! They are perfect for weekend brunches and snacks in between meals.
This remarkable recipe comes from Amy Ellenberger.
Amy won “Best Scones” at the 2021 Minnesota State Fair with this recipe. One taste and you’ll know why this one is a winner.
We asked Amy what her secret to winning was. In her words: “Because scones are a fairly simple baked good (as in few ingredients), it is important to use the best quality ingredients, as there isn’t much to hide behind. For this recipe I like to use (Minnesota-based) Hope Creamery butter, a sour cream (like Daisy) that doesn’t contain thickeners and other artificial ingredients, garden fresh chives, and high-quality Parmesan cheese that is freshly grated.”
Step by Step Tutorial
Take Amy’s top tip and begin with the best ingredients.
You start by mixing the dry ingredients with the cheese and chives.
Next, you cut in the cold butter. By the way, Amy’s family buys Hope Creamery butter by the case.
At this stage you want to see the chilled butter in tiny clumps, roughly the size of peas.
You also use both sour cream and buttermilk in the recipe, plus an egg.
Mix the sour cream, buttermilk and egg smooth, then combine that mixture with your flour mixture.
Once everything is together, you want a shaggy look to the dough.
Be careful not to overwork the dough. Shape it into a flat circle. You want it 1 ½ inches thick.
Then cut out the scones. You should get 12 (2-inch size) rounds (or squares if you prefer that shape).
As your final step, you brush each with heavy cream, then sprinkle with parmesan, a pinch of sea salt, and fresh cracked black pepper. You also want to chill them 30 minutes at this stage.
From Amy: Don’t skip the chilling step. This ensures the butter is solid and won’t leak out of your scones during baking.
After the chill time, the only thing to do is wait for them to bake (at 350 degrees Fahrenheit) for 25-30 minutes.
Prize-Winning Parmesan & Chive Scones: every bite will be pure delight. Seriously. Hit the kitchen and bake these now!
p.s. Scones are best eaten shortly after they are baked. However, you can opt to freeze the dough to fresh bake the scones later (ideally within 2 months). Or you can freeze them after baking. Just pop a frozen one in the microwave for about 30 seconds before you nosh.
Say hello to this award winning Blue Ribbon Beer Bread. The recipe features the pilsner Wonderstuff, from Bauhaus Brew Labs in Minneapolis, along with cheddar cheese, rosemary, and honey. A thick slice of this bread solo or with a swipe of butter is pure bliss. It’s tender but hearty, and has a beautiful golden brown exterior.
The recipe comes from Cortney Carlson who won “best beer bread” with it at the 2021 Minnesota State Fair.
This was her first blue ribbon win ever! In fact, she had only competed one other time, in 2019 for a special sugar cookie competition. Cortney shared, “Nothing came of the submission, but it ignited my interest in competing.”
Her recipe is easy to follow and replicate. It also great starting point for variations. After tasting and loving Cortney’s Blue Ribbon Beer Bread, we tried a cheddar, chive, and jalapeño version. It was really good also.
We caught up with Cortney for a Q&A recently. Read on to learn about her backstory.
BRG: What can you tell us about your Blue Ribbon Beer Bread recipe and why you chose it?
Cortney: While you’d think most people just KNOW they are submitting their (insert favorite recipe here… sugar cookies, sourdough, etc.), I actually stumbled across mine. When the categories for baking categories were released, I scanned the list for something to jump out at me. I like to try new recipes, new areas of baking, new techniques… so I didn’t go into this with a plan or recipe.
Immediately beer bread jumped out at me. My experience with bread was virtually nonexistent, but all the breweries around town, especially coming from Northeast Minneapolis? Not so much a mystery to me (hehehe).
Knowing little about bread, I looked at dozens of different recipes. I looked for types of beer bread, what types of things people added to them, and then just dove in. I liked the idea of adding an herb…I tried different cheeses, different styles of beers, and went back to the drawing board the more I tried things (that’s a MN nice way of saying the first attempts were gross). Once I started researching the right things, things started clicking and here we are. I landed on the attached final recipe.
BRG: What do you think your secret to winning was?
Cortney: The only thing larger than the amount of foods on a stick at the Minnesota State Fair is the Minnesota pride that you can feel in the air the entire twelve days of the fair. My recipe included ingredients made or headquartered in Minnesota. From local beer, honey, and cheese, to Pillsbury flour and rosemary grown at home… every part of that bread was a nod to people (myself) who say “ope” several times a day.
BRG: What is the worst disaster you’ve had in the kitchen and how did you deal with it?
Cortney: I’ve experienced the most average disasters – burning things, undercooking things, messing up a recipe, missing key ingredients, etc. The thing I’ve learned about kitchen disasters is that while it’s so disappointing and frustrating that day, the greatest lessons I’ve learned in the kitchen have come from the time I did it wrong.
BRG: What advice would you give young people wanting to cook/bake more?
Cortney: Learn your staple dinners/desserts/contributions to potlucks, but don’t stay there. Try new areas of cooking. You like pie but have never made one? Try it. And know that you may not knock it out of the park the first try, but the more you try the more you will learn and can apply to the next recipe.
Great advice Cortney! Now everyone, get ready, set, and bake this bread!
If you love crunchy, flavorful, and rich-tasting sweet treats, look no further than these Cashew Cookies with Brown Butter Frosting. They were a top finalist in our Blue Ribbon Drop Cookie Contest.
Everyone who tastes these winning cookies raves about the frosting. Browning the butter was one of the winner’s secrets to success. Browned butter has a rich, nutty aroma and flavor. As a result, everything it goes into tastes divine, truly. Also, these cookies have a crispy addictive texture thanks to the whole cashews you bake in them.
Recipe credit goes to Gwen Benson who made these cookies for the 2021 Minnesota State Fair.
Gwen won the Blue Ribbon Drop Cookie Contest that we sponsored, placing third overall. She began entering her baked goods at the fair 5 years ago as something to do with her daughter Lynsay. Gwen now has four state fair award ribbons for baking and 9 for crafting. Impressive!
Gwen says this cashew cookie recipe originated with Land O Lakes, but she has seen variations on it over the years, including a version passed around in her family, which was her main inspiration.
Excellent & Effortless Recipe
With classic ingredients, these cashew cookies with brown butter frosting are a breeze to make. Seriously, you will love how easily they come together. Check it out. Follow along as we walk you through the steps. Easy peasy!
You start with brown sugar and butter, mixing until creamy, then add the egg and vanilla.
To that mixture, you add the dry ingredients (flour, baking powder, and baking soda), alternating portions with the sour cream.
You mix in the whole cashews last, by hand, reserving a portion for garnish.
We made our batch with just over a tablespoon of dough each, so small, to total 55 cookies. You bake them at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for just 10-12 minutes.
The frosting’s star is browned butter, but it also has powdered sugar, milk, and vanilla.
Once baked, you finish the cookies with frosting and a sprinkling of finely chopped cashews.
This State Fair Apple Raspberry Pie is a show stopper. It won both “best creative apple pie” and “best overall pie” at the 2021 Minnesota State Fair. Carol Marsh is the star state fair baker here. Her pie is beautifully designed and absolutely delicious. The filling tastes fantastic and has a firm yet tender texture. Fresh raspberries add a splash of color. Their sweetness pairs perfectly with tart apples.
Carol has been competing at the Minnesota State Fair since 2010 and baking since she a child. This year, 2021, was a big year, with her winning four blue ribbons. They were for a 2-layer chocolate cake, a raisin bread, a classic apple pie, and this creative apple pie, which won best overall pie also. This makes her a 6 time pie sweepstakes winner (best overall pie 6x since 2010). That brings her total to 36 Minnesota State Fair ribbons for 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place wins.
Carol, like a lot of us, finds much joy in baking. She knows the ideal texture of pie dough and how to have a thick filling. As a result, she finds baking pies a breeze. She has it down to a science.
Carol has won multiple times at the Minnesota State Fair with this recipe and slight variations on it. Carol recently baked her pie for me and we brought you along to experience the journey of making a perfect pie. Seeing her in action was so much fun!
Carol’s Pie Baking Tips – Step by Step
Chill your bowl and all your pie crust dough ingredients (dry, wet and shortening).
Dough mixture (with chilled shortening already cut in) should resemble cornmeal.
Carol strains her egg/vinegar mixture into the crust’s dry ingredients.
Allow enough time to also chill the dough, for at least an hour. Check out the beautiful texture Carol gets.
For the filling, Carol prefers using a combo of Granny Smith, Braeburn, and Pink Lady apples.
Layer the apples, butter, and raspberries. You’ll get a colorful look that doesn’t “bleed” much or look messy.
Let your artistic side out by cutting and etching the leaves for the top crust like Carol did.
Layer and distribute the leaves evenly, so the top crust will bake uniformly.
Brush with beaten egg white and sprinkle with sugar for some beautiful browning and sparkle.
The pie will be heaping with apples. While baking, the apples shrink, resulting in a full, lush-looking pie.
The pie cuts beautifully and has a firm yet tender filling.
This State Fair Apple Raspberry Pie is a classic. Put it on your holiday baking list. And if you want another 2021 Minnesota State Fair winning pie, check out this blue ribbon winner also.
These Cinnamon Cookie Butter Cookies won best sandwich cookie and best overall cookie at the 2021 Minnesota State Fair. Their creamy filling, phenomenal flavor, and utter deliciousness will wow you with every bite.
A Winning History
Joan Kinsley was the winning Minnesota State Fair baker. She adapted a Star Tribune Holiday Cookie Contest winning recipe that Annette Gustafson won with in 2020. Joan first entered the state fair baking competition in 2014, had a win, and was hooked on the annual tradition.
Joan’s version is a linzer look-alike with an opening on top so you see the inside filling inside, which is thick, creamy, rich, and absolutely divine.
We invite you to make them for the holidays and check out our step-by-step tips for reproducing these blue-ribbon-winning Cinnamon Cookie Butter Cookies. Did I mention that outstanding filling? =)
Special thanks to Joan fore re-baking her cookies for me. Same to the our friends at the Star Tribune for their recipe use permission and to Annette. We look forward to learning what more about this year’s Star Tribune Holiday Cookie Contest winners!
Secrets to Success
Joan estimates she made these cookies 5-6 times before entry drop-off at the fair. She spent hours tweaking ingredients and altering the thickness of the dough and the filling. She also adjusted baking times, temperature, and what kitchen tools she used. This seems to be a popular process among successful state fair blue ribbon baker, especially with recipes they’re new to. It pays off.
- To achieve the “perfect bake” Joan keeps the dough chilled throughout the entire prep process: before rolling it out, afterward with the scraps she re-works, and even while the cut dough waits its turn in the oven.
- Hint: Handle the dough as little as possible. It’s much easier to transfer and work with when chilled.
- Joan prefers baking them on parchment that sits on a silpat baking mat with an air bake pan underneath.
- You can opt to cut out the cookies an inch apart, directly on the parchment you’ll bake them on. This way the shapes stay fully intact because you’re not touching or moving them.
- Joan uses an adjustable rolling pin (for an exact thickness) and a Linzer tart cookie cutter.
- Joan also bakes her cookies 1 sheet at a time.
Step by Step
You make the cookies with flour, cinnamon, salt, butter, and brown sugar. Set out your butter ahead of time as you want it room temperature. Also, allow enough time to chill the dough at least 30 minutes.
When mixing the dough, it’s ready when the ingredients are just fully combined and clumps start to form. Like with pie dough, avoid over-mixing.
Pressing the dough out before chilling makes for an easier roll out. And seal it in plastic wrap. Ultimately you end up rolling it out between parchment layers.
Joan uses an adjustable rolling pin with rings to make the dough exactly 1/6th inch thick.
With the first portion of dough, you cut the cookie “bottoms.”
With the second portion of dough, you cut the cookie “tops” with the center cut out.
Tip: cut out, then chill the unbaked cookies again and they will be easy to move with an offset spatula. Bake them an inch or more apart.
You sprinkle all with a cinnamon/sugar mixture before baking, giving them some glitter and glam.
Then, simply keep a close eye on the oven. You want the bottoms to barely start to brown, which takes 12-14 minutes.
The filling features Biscoff cookie butter (available at most grocery stores in the peanut butter section), along with butter, and powdered sugar. I could eat this stuff by the spoonful.
Joan pipes hers on before spreading it even with an offset metal spatula.
All these tips and tricks were the secrets to her baking success.
The last thing you need to do is enjoy these better-than-anything blue ribbon cookies.
At the 2021 Minnesota State Fair baking competition, no one could have predicted how tasty this Coconut Curry Mango Cake was going to be, including me. With surprising ingredients and a colorful exterior, the cake stood out for its perfectly balanced flavors, rich taste, and tender yet firm texture.
Recipe credit goes to Maggie MacIntosh. She used a Cooks Illustrated coconut cake recipe as a starting point and began experimenting.
Garam masala, turmeric, mango nectar, and mango crystals are among the unique ingredients Maggie features in this award winning cake. Between that creativity, how well she combined all the ingredient amounts, and how perfectly she baked the cakes, this Coconut Curry Mango Cake really stood out. Plus Maggie nailed it with the coconut aroma, in both the cake itself and the frosting. The mango filling was a colorful element that added yet another dimension to the cake. Well done!
Maggie won 1st place in our Blue Ribbon Best Coconut Cake Contest with this cake. She wins $100 in King Arthur Baking Company gift cards. Here’s a shot of Maggie and her daughter, celebrating her win and all the fun the fair has to offer. Congratulations Maggie!
If you’re curious about the winner selection process, here’s the judging criteria.
- Unique, innovative, creative recipe……………………………………………25%
- Appearance, color, presentation………………………………………………..25%
- Texture, internal appearance…………………………………………………….25%
- Flavor, aroma…………………………………………………………………………. 25%
Coconut Curry Mango Cake – Step by Step
Want to re-create the magic of Maggie’s coconut curry cake and its mango filling? We walk you through it with a detailed overview, including photos.
Here’s everything that goes into the batter, from the cake flour and spices, to butter, sugar, and eggs.
You starting with whipping the egg and egg whites before adding cream of coconut, water, and extracts.
Next, you mix the dry ingredients: cake flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, garam masala, and turmeric.
Then you mix in the butter, 1 tablespoon at a time, until mixture resembles coarse meal.
Once you slowly combine everything together……you divide the batter between your prepped 8-inch pans. It makes a nice thick batter. Spread it around.
While those bake and cool, get your filling ingredients together. Whip that up.
Do the same with your buttercream frosting.
Whip it good. It should form stiff peaks. Here’s a shot when it’s reaching perfection.
Last, you slice each cake in half to get 4 equal layers, then assemble everything together. A great tip from Maggie was to pipe the frosting on the edge of each layer to help hold in the filling.
We didn’t get shots of this, but applying a crumb coat–thinly frosting top and sides of cake before fully frosting the cake–prevents a messy look.
To finish, sprinkle toasted coconut on top and press into sides of cake. This will give the cake a classic look, like this.
Or you can opt to dye the toasted coconut in one or more colors and decorate in circular patterns on top (as winner did).
These resemble the colors Maggie used: yellow, orange, and red.
And this is her stencil she used decorating the top of her cake.
Feel free to reach out to us direct if you want help re-creating the multi-color decor Maggie used. We have additional notes from our test runs and Maggie we can share.
If you love this cake’s concept but want a faster, easier version of the recipe, stay tuned. We are working on a sheet cake version of this magical Coconut Curry Mango Cake we will share later.
In the meantime though, this cake makes a fun fall baking experience. Fun fact: some of our tasters thought the curry/turmeric combo was a tastier, gingery pumpkin spice. Give it a try and see what you taste.