Out-for-blood corporate softball teams may have given the idea of inter-company competitions a bad name, but a skinned knee has nothing on 10 stitches in your finger after testing recipes for the company bake-off.
That’s right: Dutton assistant editor Jessica Horvath was trying out desserts for the 8th Annual Gotham/Avery/Dutton Bake-Off when she sliced her hand on the blade of an immersion blender, wound up in the emergency room and walked out with 10 stitches. When she was crowned the winner of the contest for her Finger-Lickin’ Good Strawberry Shortcake on December 15, she accepted the Golden Fork trophy with a heavily bandaged index finger. She said the win helped dull the injury’s pain.
Since 2002, the editorial and publicity/marketing staffs of Penguin’s Gotham, Avery and Dutton imprints have participated in the baking competition. They take turns baking and judging; this year, editorial baked and publicity/marketing judged. Entries must be homemade, from scratch (no mixes, no buying from a bakery), and are anonymous, and key lime-flavored desserts are not allowed (after key lime desserts won two years in a row, people feared future competitions would be weighted too heavily toward key lime).
Other than that, anything goes, although most competitors know to avoid chocolate, since it historically doesn’t win. This year’s trends included crystallized ginger (seen in Petite Pumpkin Tarts with Crystallized Ginger, Eat Your Heart Out, Martha: Molasses Ginger Cakes with Chocolate Ganache Glaze and Candied Ginger, and Spiced Cookies with Crystallized Ginger) and pumpkin (in addition to the tarts there were Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Mini Muffins and Pumpkin Cheesecake Pie). As the tasting began, publicists and marketing people circled the table, tasting bites of all 18 desserts. Editors sat nervously along the perimeter of the room until all the judges had their fill, then they were allowed to dig in.
After a half hour of tasting, Gotham publicist Beth Parker, who organizes the contest, collected the ballots and went to tabulate the results. She admitted competition can get fierce, but said, “It is an honor to carry on the tradition,” and that she loves “how excited all of the participants become as the day approaches, and the real effort and intensity our departments take in both baking and judging.”
A tie for second and third place meant yours truly had to determine which was better: Patrick Mulligan’s “‘Chips’ & ‘Guacamole’ & ‘Salsa’” (corn cookies with avocado-cilantro ice cream and roasted tomato-habanero ice cream) or Rachel Holzman’s “Brown-Butter Blondies with Homemade Toffee” (I went with the blondies; they were rich and delicious).
Holzman and Mulligan won penguin magnets and a blow-up penguin, respectively, and Horvath took home a penguin lamp (in addition to the trophy, which she gets to keep for a year) for her cake (she found the recipe on the Pioneer Woman Cooks). Reflecting on her win, Horvath said, “It’s a pretty big deal this year, because of my sacrifice.”
This story originally appeared in Cooking the Books, PW's e-newsletter for cookbooks.