Monday, March 2, 2009

Cookie Exchange Extravaganza

Excitement was in the air as contestants from five states began to arrive at Lynda Boyd's home in suburban Chicago and place their entries on the judging tables for her ninth annual Cookie Exchange. Now stop for a minute and consider the cliche "excitement was in the air." What is that really like? In this instance, something akin to waiting at the top of the stairs Christmas morning combined with having to give your first speech would about recreate the feeling. It takes a lot to win the coveted Baker of the Universe trophy; entries are judged not just on taste, but also on creativity and presentation. And this year's contestants were all seasoned Exchange veterans. This was going to be no cake walk!
Oohs and aahs were heard as the tables began to fill up, each entry more beautiful than the one before. The photos only show a sample! For 2009, cupcakes were allowed, in addition to cookies. Lynda explained that the Exchange evolved from a pre-Christmas brunch when she lived in Michigan; this is the third one to take place in Chicago. Part of the annual struggle for contestants is to actually save room for the tasting, as the evening includes cocktails, appetizers and a fabulous Mexican buffet. Lynda even brings the fajita meat all the way from a speciality grocery store in Texas. While the airport security in Houston is used to this, it's a little more challenging to explain to the guards at O'Hare why you are coming through with a cooler full of frozen meat!

After dinner, the moment of truth arrived: time for tasting and judging. This is a peer contest, so everyone votes, but as host, Lynda excludes her entry from winning in any category. Each participant presents her (or his, as Joe was made an honorary girl for the evening several years ago,) entry, along with a fictional or real-life explanation. At this point the mood was somewhere between rowdy girls' night out and a knock-down, drag-out state fair baking contest. Both hilarity and competitive spirits runs high -- it's a blast, but everyone really wants to win!!

But there can be only one! Drum roll please: the 2009 Baker of the Universe is Virginia's Meri Drake, who also swept the Best Chocolate and Best Novelty categories. Mary graciously thanked her family, the Academy and Bakerella's recipe for their parts in her success, adding that it only took eight hours of toil to make her Cupcake Pops, pictured above. We want to thank Mary for graciously taking the rhubarb reign-created trophy on her victory walk the next morning at the Kane County Flea Market! Go sista! For more on this, check out today's post from our excellent friends at

We'd also like to thank my excellent mother, Cris Causey, for baking rhubarb reign's entry, and Elizabeth Hary for proving the recipe. And to mention, ahem, with all due modesty that Team Rhubarb won the Best Improv category for the third year in a row! Go Joe!
And in all seriousness, we'd like to thank Lynda, our most excellent friend and customer, for a lovely evening. Lynda puts heart and soul into everything she does, this event being only one example among many. xoxo

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