Not content with my abject failure at the animal-themed Moorestown Iron Cupcake Challenge last May, I just had to one up (or down?) myself at the next competition. When they announced that the theme for July's challenge would be "candy" I immediately started brainstorming possible flavors. Trouble was, nothing struck me as being creative, fun, and tasty enough to win. Sure, I could fall back on my tried and true Reese's cupcakes with chocolate cake, peanut butter filling, and rich ganache on top, which could probably win the taste test, but since the last contest seemed to come down to appearance I couldn't think of a way to make those eye-catching and colorful enough. Already I was off to a bad start. I should have taken that as a sign.
I considered and rejected at least ten ideas before tentatively settling on cotton candy cupcakes. I had a tiny jar of cotton candy flavoring that I'd bought on a whim at a spice store in Reading Terminal Market and figured it'd fit this theme perfectly. I made a few test batches using my go-to cupcake recipe and substituted the flavoring in the cake and the frosting and even added some cotton candy to the frosting. After finding them all to be bland and lacking any discernible flavor I had the brilliant idea of letting the colors of cotton candy rather than the flavor be my guide. My end product was a combination of blueberry and strawberry cake swirled together, topped with cotton candy buttercream with actual bits of cotton candy in the mix, and Cotton Candy Pop Rocks sprinkled on top. They were supposed to look just like the masterpieces pictured above with the addition of adorable cotton candy tufts on mini lollipop sticks.
Only trouble was I made the mistake of winging it at the last minute with a new (and, I hoped, improved) frosting recipe. I didn't have the time or enough cotton candy flavoring left to do a trial batch over the weekend, or several like I usually do in my methodical German way. Also, because the competition was on a weeknight I had to bake the cupcakes the night before and use what little available time I had that day both before work and immediately after to make the frosting and decorate the cupcakes. It wasn't until one hour before the competition that I realized my mistake in using an egg yolk-based frosting. Sure, it was tastier than most buttercreams I've made, but it also made dying the frosting to that perfect cotton candy pink and blue impossible since the base was starting off with a yellow tint. I wound up with salmon-colored and teal frosting instead. :( As a result I had to scrap my cutesy cotton candy pops because the blue of the cotton candy clashed with the blue of the frosting. In addition, the stupid frosting started to sweat on the car ride over and by the time we got there it looked downright unappetizing.
I didn't expect to win so that wasn't too much of a disappointment. What really bugs me is my lack of preparation and the fact that it just wasn't my best work. I was embarrassed to present the cupcakes, in fact. I wish I'd stuck with my plan to not even enter unless I could think of a good idea for what to make. I just wasn't inspired by this theme and wasn't confident at all in my choice. It's only because the organizer sent out a desperate email a few weeks before the competition worried because only three people had registered that I felt bad for her and entered even without knowing what I'd make. I know how frustrating and stressful that can be on a smaller scale when trying to wrangle enough people together for a book club meeting so I took pity on her. Turns out it was a dumb idea since this wound up being one of the busiest competitions ever with 31 bakers competing, most of them last-minute entries. And the worst part is the third place winner was, guess what, a Reese's peanut butter cupcake. Oy!