Bringing Chocolate Back to Chocolate City
Despite the chilly, rainy weather outside on a recent Saturday afternoon, the competition inside Martha's Table was heating up – literally – as people fanned themselves with paper plates during the Makes-Me-Wanna-SHOUT! Chocolate Layer Cake Semifinals. But regardless of the hot room, more than 100 people enthusiastically armed themselves with paper plates and forks to sample the 14 chocolate layer cakes entered into the competition.
The bakers were diverse, but for the most part, fairly young. They entered the spicy Dark Chocolate Chai Cake with Salted Caramel Buttercream, traditional chocolate cake with chocolate cream cheese icing, dark chocolate cake infused with cardamom, a flourless Chocolate Trio Cake that tasted more like chocolate mousse and a Malted Milk Ball Birthday Cake. They were black, white and Latino; male and female. And all stood with pride behind their creations, anxiously anticipating peoples' responses while describing ingredients, baking techniques and cake stories.
Judges, including J.C. Hayward of WUSA Channel 9; cookbook author Lisa Yockelson and Pamela Hess, editor of the foodie magazine, Flavor, secluded themselves one level up from the activity to taste, judge and finally vote on their preferred chocolate cake. The ticket holders also got a chance to cast their votes – with five blue tickets – they chose their five favorite cakes by dropping a ticket into the box at the cake stations of their choice.
Kim Bright of Brookland, showed up to support her neighbor Rodney Mason, baker of the Chocolate Layer Cake with Chocolate Cream Cheese Frosting, whose cake "initiated her into the world of chocolate." While making the rounds, Bright opted to avoid the cakes with nuts. Her favorites? "The Four-Layer Chocolate Cream Cake," she said. And of course, her neighbor's topped her list.
"A wet cake is an acquired taste," she elaborated about the four-layer cake, a rich, moist and dense dessert made by Karima Simmons. "It's not for everyone," Bright added.
"The chocolate speaks for itself," Pam Haggins of Deanwood explained. While she was there to support her kin, Simmons, she still had her strong views on other entries. "I voted for the Chai cake and the Mayonnaise cake," Haggins admitted. "My sister and I cast our votes for exactly the same cakes!"
Jennifer Donald, a police lieutenant by day, stood vigilant behind her cake with the super-long name, "Helen's Heavenly Mocha White & Milk Chocolate Glazed Mayonnaise Cake with White and Milk Chocolate Buttercream Frosting." She spent her Friday night from 9 p.m. until 4 in the morning baking the sheet cakes stacked up next to her station.
"It was my mother's recipe," she said. "She never tasted a cake that I baked, but it is a family tradition. My mother is in heaven now, so I am here representing her," the Accokeek, Md. resident added.
This is the second annual cake baking competition inspired by Michon Boston's love of church cakes. So deep was her attachment to those homemade treasures that she created the Makes-Me-Wanna-SHOUT! Cake Baking Challenge based on her own documentary project.
According to the website created for the competitions, www.shoutbakingchallenge.com, "In 2011, the Michon Boston Group Ltd's Church Lady Cake Diaries digital media project launched the Makes-Me-Wanna SHOUT! Coconut Cake Challenge, the first amateur baking contest in the Washington metro area to feature its winning cake on the menu of an acclaimed restaurant, Eatonville Restaurant [co-presenter of the challenge]."
This year's winner will also have their cake featured on Eatonville's menu, in addition to appearing on a newscast with Hayward, a $500 cash prize and a $250 gift card from King Arthur's Flour, one of the competition sponsors.
As the minutes ticked down, and the tasters were asked to cast their final tickets in preparation for the vote, bakers were instructed to "step away from their cakes." The tension in the room was palpable while bakers and tasters alike made small talk, posed for photos with their entourages and sipped lemonade, iced coffee, milk or the preferred water to wash down the lingering chocolate crumbs.
The judges descended, and the announcement that Donald's cake won the "Judges Choice," sending her into a fit of joyful squeals and jumps as she ran to claim her place, and her prizes – Lisa Yockelson's cookbook, "ChocolateChocolate," and a $25 Giant Food gift certificate, along with a chance to move on to the finals. Looking skyward, she blew a thankful kiss to her late mother.
Other winners included D.C. resident Austin Brown's Chocolate Trio Cake; Chocolate Cake with Chocolate Hazelnut Buttercream entered by Howard University student Tiffany Hall of Brentwood, Md.; "The Ora" White Chocolate Cherry Cream Cheese Red Bliss Cake by Valery Flood-Smith of Ft. Washington, Md.; and "Lucifer's Revenge" a decadent Chocolate Cake with Mandarin Oranges and Grand Marnier by Daryl Wright, an administrative assistant in Washington, D.C. The finals will be held on April 24th at Eatonville Restaurant [2121 14th Street, NW] during Happy Hour from 5 to 7 p.m.
At the end of a chocolate-laden day, some bakers raffled off their extra cakes and "open season" on cake was declared as people loaded up their plates with their favorite cakes for later snacking. But the sweetest part was the $2,000 raised for Martha's Table, a local charity in Northwest that serves the Columbia Heights community through a variety of programs that benefit some 1,100 people daily with daycare, a soup kitchen, after school programs, clothing and family services.
As Boston declared before announcing the prizes, that "everyone who entered is a winner," even those who eagerly plunked down $20 per ticket felt like winners taking the cake. "This all started from a place of love," Boston said. And one could taste the love in each and every bite of chocolate cake that day.