The Great ENGO Holiday Bake-Off – so good my stomach still hurts!

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Last week I had the opportunity to be a judge at the first, and hopefully annual “Great ENGO (Environmental Non-Governmental Organization) Holiday Bake-Off”. Let me begin by saying that these groups – including Environmental Defence, David Suzuki Foundation, and Ecojustice – approach baking with the same determination, integrity, and enthusiasm as they do towards their respective causes. These groups were going face-to-face with the title of “Bake-Off Champ” at stake, it was intense. You can imagine the pressure of judging the work – in this case the baked goods – of these organizations. Thankfully I didn’t have to go it alone, as Pheonix Plessas and Meredith Hayes were my co-judges.

Pheonix Plessas, also know Penelope is probably Ontario’s youngest (8 years old), most influential politician. Pheonix (Penelope) was at the centre of Environmental Defence’s provincial-election publicity campaign this past year, ensuring Ontarians knew about environmental issues leading up to the 2011 election. 

Meredith Hayes works at FoodShare. She’s also a bit of a celebrity around these parts, especially in her work to include food literacy as an essential piece in Ontario’s curriculum. You probably recognize her from Eat-In Ontario, the Great Big Crunch or other fantastic initiatives led by FoodShare. With a team of judges like this I knew we were up to the challenge, and was confident we could make the right choice. But geeeeze it sure wasn’t easy.

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We were faced with eleven holiday goodies with all the usual suspects present, including cheesecakes, brownies, cupcakes, whoopie pies, cakes and tarts. To be honest I tend to be biased towards cookies and squares, but there were certainly a few items on the table that made me questions my ‘standard’ desert choices. We slowly made our way down the table, critically reviewing each bake good based on its appearance, festiveness, creativity and yumminess. Once we tested each item at least once – we came back to a few of them for seconds, perhaps not the best idea – we deliberated to the board room to decide our top three. 

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To make sure our selection process was transparent and fair, we enlisted the help of our advisory committee Owain and Zachary Smith. As you can see from their faces, they are both experienced champion desert eaters. They helped us narrow down our top 4 choices, the Lindser Torte (a timeless classic), the Red Velvet Whoopie Pies (messy yet amazing), the chocolate Ganache Cake (blue icing with snowflakes – so beautiful), and the cream cheese filled cupcakes with orange cream cheese icing topped with oil-soaked Peter Kent gingerbread man (a true masterpiece of creativity and deliciousness.) The decision was excruciating, but in the end only one came out with a perfect score. 

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Employees of all three organizations gathered around as we were about to announce the winner. Teeth were grinding, nails had been bitten down to their cuticles, and the tension in the room was palpable. We announced 3rd and 2ndplace, the Lindser Torte and the Red Velvet Whoopie Pies. We left Pheonix to announce the winner of the bake-off (this was somewhat strategic – you can’t get mad at a sweet, 8-year old). Pheonix could not leave the crowd in suspense any longer and announced that the winner of the first Great ENGO Holiday Bake-Off was the Peter Kent Cupcake created by Aviva Friedman of Environmental Defence. Not only did Aviva and Environmental Defence walk away with the one-of-a-kind, gold-studded apron, but they gained some sweet bragging rights for at least another year.

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It was a great evening to be a part of. Despite being a group of fierce competitors there was lots of festive cheer in the air, including a DIY eggnog booth. Thanks to Shiloh Bouvette of Environmental Defence for asking me to help judge the competition. I certainly had enough sugar in me to bike home in record time. 

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