2015 Holiday Guide: Sugar and spice — highlighting this year’s Holiday Bake-Off winners | SteamboatToday.com
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2015 Holiday Guide: Sugar and spice — highlighting this year’s Holiday Bake-Off winners

Lily Wingard won the Best Presentation category at the 2015 Holiday Bake-Off with her Chocolate Candy Cane Cake.
John F. Russell

Best Miscellaneous Dessert: Gabe’s Fave Mini Dulce de Leche Pumpkin Cheesecake — Catherine Kurtz

Before Catherine Kurtz attempted to create Gabe’s Fave Mini Dulce de Leche Pumpkin Cheesecake, the word — dulce de leche — was a foreign term in her cooking repertoire. 

But, after discovering the recipe in a close friend’s blog, “My Front Burner,” Kurtz turned this mystery of cheesecake richness into the Best Miscellaneous Dessert at the 2015 Holiday Bake-Off. 



“I was shocked that I won,” Kurtz says. “It’s the first time I’ve won something like this. I’m not a chef or anything. I just wanted to try it, and I like to bake.” 

The name for the recipe was inspired by her friend’s son, Gabe, and Kurtz says she often consults the blog as a source of inspiration. Her friend in Boston who writes the blog formerly worked for America’s Test Kitchen and has a variety of recipes and new ideas to try. 



A key ingredient in the winning recipe was the caramel-like dulce de leche Kurtz found at the local City Market.

With the holidays quickly approaching, Kurtz says sharing recipes is something that goes along with the season’s spirit of giving. 

“I think people like to try something different sometimes and maybe go off their diets,” she says. ”It’s fun to try something new and just share this with others.”

— Audrey Dwyer

Best Pie: Dutch Apple Pie — Steven Spalty

There’s something special about the taste of a homemade pie derived from a traditional family recipe. 

It’s what Steven Spalty attributes his success to after winning the Best Pie category in this year’s Holiday Bake-Off for his Dutch Apple Pie.  

“I grew up with this recipe,” says Spalty, who also has a background at the New Hampshire Balsam’s culinary apprenticeship program. “I always remember helping my mom make it when I was growing up for special occasions like Thanksgiving and Christmas. It was always known as the best apple pie anyone has ever had.” 

Made from scratch with simple ingredients, the recipe is one handed down to Spalty by his grandfather from Holland. Cinnamon, sugar and a light, flaky crust are a few of the keys to making this winning apple pie, Spalty confides. 

“I always liked more simple food that you don’t have to overcomplicate because that can be too busy with too many flavors that conflict with each other,” Spalty says. 

Even though Spalty only started making the pie again six months ago when he was visiting family with his wife, it didn’t take him long to recall childhood memories of making the pie with his loved ones. 

“It feels incredible to win this because it’s really nice to know the things that I’ve been loving my whole life, everyone else loves just as much as I do,” Spalty says. 

— Audrey Dwyer

Best Cake: Dutch Almond Cake — Sue Alexander

For her first time entering the Holiday Bake-off, Sue Alexander came out swinging, winning top honors for her Dutch Almond Cake.

“I’ve watched the contest every year I’ve been here,” she says. “Every time I make it and share it with people, they want the recipe. So I figured I might as well enter this year.”

That “every time” is far more than a baker’s dozen. Alexander, who moved to Steamboat Springs from Denver in 2003, has been making her winning concoction for more than 20 years, for family and as gifts for friends at Christmas. She estimates she’s made hundreds of them so far, including 30 this year alone as gifts.

“I learned to make it back home in Michigan,” she says. “The Dutch there are very big on it.”

Its homespun proliferation in the Yampa Valley owes itself to a starter she makes from lemon, almond and vanilla extract, as well as almond paste, bread crumbs, sugar and eggs. She keeps the mix in her fridge for up to six months, allowing her to make the cake anytime she pleases, which might be more now that she recently retired from her position as head of women’s ministries at the Steamboat Christian Center.

“I’ll certainly have more time to bake now,” she says, adding that a key to making it is lining your cake pan with parchment paper so it doesn’t stick. “It’s kind of my signature recipe — it’s a bit unusual and is different from your typical brownie or other cake.”

This year’s wowed-over judges are quick to agree.

“It wasn’t your traditional cake,” says judge Marilyn Jardon. “It was different, more like hard and crunchy. But it had a great flavor, a blend of sweet and tart. It was close between that and the Tall Chocolate entry.”

While reluctant to part with her secret, now that it’s out, Alexander is more than happy with the result.

“For a long time I didn’t want to give the recipe away,” she says, adding that her winning Dutch Almond Cake doubles as a great breakfast coffee cake. “It was a big deal for me to finally get it out there.”

— Eugene Buchanan

Community Choice: Delectaballs — Chris and Cathy Johnson

After standing on the sidelines and sampling the treats prepared for previous Holiday Bake-offs, Steamboat Springs sisters Cathy and Chris Johnson decided this was the year to enter the baking contest, and at the end of the day, the duo walked away with the Community Choice award.

Their “Delectaballs” were the crowd’s favorite, winning the event’s popularity contest by a wide margin.

“We love to bake and decided to enter this year,” says Cathy. “It was a variation of a recipe of a friend of my sister’s.”

Cathy says she is the kind of baker who follows recipes while her sister is more daring.

“I always mess around with ingredients a little,” admits Chris, whose idea it was to substitute pretzels for rice krispies in the middle of their confection.

“I thought what if we used pretzels to give it a salty/sweet flavor and a little bit of a crunch,” Chris explains. “We made a batch of each, and some family members did a taste test and the pretzels won out.”

The savvy sisters used a little strategy when picking their recipe with an eye toward winning the Community Choice award.

Chris says they knew from past bake-offs that they needed to create an entry that would stand up to 50 or more people taking a little taste. In the end, they settled on an individual morsel of deliciousness they dubbed a “Delectaball.”

“It was something that was individual for each person and festive looking,” Chris says.

When asked about their baking habits, Chris says she has always liked to bake but doesn’t always have the time. She did say that she and her sister often bake together during the holidays.

Cathy says she especially enjoys baking cakes and pies. Her favorite recipes include a banana cake she makes for birthdays and a “chocolatey cake” she saves for Christmas. When asked if she makes her own pie crusts, Cathy says “Oh, yeah.”

— Lisa Schlichtman

Best Cookies: Toffee Bars — Delaney Parker

Delaney Parker’s winning cookie recipe was a throwback. She recreated one of the recipes in her great-great grandmother’s cookbook, “Freida’s Favorite Recipes.”

The toffee bars that Delaney entered in the 2015 Holiday Bake-Off won Best Cookie and have become a Christmas tradition for the 11-year-old baker.

For the bake-off, Delaney modified the family recipe, using almonds on the top of the bars instead of walnuts.

“I doubled the recipe and messed up the first time,” Delaney shares. “I didn’t put in enough flour, and I had to make them again.”

According to Delaney’s dad, Scott, his oldest daughter is a very creative baker.

“She adds secret ingredients and makes us guess what they are,” Scott says. “When she was 6 and we were living in New York, she made blueberry, lemon zest buttermilk pancakes.”

Scott also remembers a birthday cake Delaney baked for her grandmother’s 88th birthday when Delaney was only 7. It was a spice cake made in the shape of bear.

Delaney explains that she covered the cake in chocolate frosting and then used Oreo cookies for the bear’s eyes and bubble gum tape to create a pink bow tie under the bear’s chin.

“I’m pretty messy, and I like doing my own thing,” Delaney says.

Delaney, who loves to cook with her mom, Shannon, says her favorite recipe to bake are butter horns with cream cheese filling. But don’t expect her to make those for the bake-off next year.

“We won’t enter that because we don’t want to the recipe to be shared,” Scott says.

“It’s a family secret,” Delaney adds.

Delaney said she is already making plans to enter the 2016 contest but she won’t share the specifics. All she’ll divulge is that next year her ingredients will include peanut butter and jelly, and she’ll be using a recipe from her dad’s side of the family.

When Delaney isn’t in the kitchen, she’s probably practicing dance or the cello. She is also a yellow belt in karate and recently performed in the “Best Christmas Pageant Ever” at the Chief Theater, where her dad serves as executive director.

— Lisa Schlichtman

Best Presentation: Chocolate Candy Cane Cake — Lily Wingard

You’d better plan to join Manic Training if you live in the Wingard household. You’ll need some way to burn off the calories concocted by 6-year-old cake-maker Lily Wingard, who, for the second year in a row, stole the Best Presentation award at this year’s Holiday Bake-off.

One look at her Chocolate Candy Cane Cake shows why. Its top is adorned with an ornamented, edible Christmas tree, surrounded by multi-colored, ribboned presents made of edible and moldable fondant. Even brighter presents — fondant rolled out with a rolling pin and cut into shape with a knife — are plastered onto the cake’s base, making the creation as Christmasy as the households in Whoville.

In all, young Lily spent two and a half hours on the decoration, says mother Leneh Wingard.

The creation is as edible as it is eye-pleasing — a chocolate cake with vanilla butter cream frosting with crushed-up candy canes.

“She likes to search Pinterest for ideas and keeps a running tally of all the cakes she loves,” Leneh says. “Then she adds her own touches; she came up with the candy cane idea herself.”

All this earned her instant, mouth-watering accolades from this year’s judges.

“For a 6-year-old, it was awesome,” says judge Marilyn Jardon. “She’s very artsy and pretty much ran away with it. It was an over-the-top presentation.”

Leneh adds that Lily’s been helping her bake since Lily was just 2 years old, before blossoming as a first rate, first-grade chef on her own.

“She just loves it, especially cake decorating,” Leneh says. “And she looks forward to the Holiday Bake-off all year. Some kids look forward to their birthdays, but Lily looks forward to the cake contest.”

Lily makes about one cake per month, usually centered around such design themes as the Superbowl, St. Patrick’s Day and Thanksgiving. All this cake could affect the Wingards’ waistlines, but they’re wary.

“We try to only let her bake when there’s a way to get rid of it afterward, like taking it to a party,” Leneh says. “We just can’t have that much cake laying around the house all the time.”

Alas, they’re soon to get even more, and Lily is soon to get some friendly family competition. At age 3, Lily’s little sister, Emma, is now also helping mom bake, with plans to enter next year’s contest as well.

— Eugene Buchanan

Want to try one of these recipes? Click here.


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