Help me win the office dessert bake-off
December 2, 2013 1:31 PM   Subscribe

Our office is having a dessert bake-off on the 17th. I need to supply a baked good that will allow 20-30 people to taste it (sample sizes, not necessarily full servings). Have you won an office bake-off? What did you make? Please supply your BEST winningest recipes.

Note, please don't just link me to a recipe online that looks/sounds good. I'm specifically looking for something with a history of winning. Any other tips regarding this sort of thing would be appreciated. Assume access to all ingredients at the local grocery store and Amazon, all major baking supplies except a stand mixer and ice cream maker. If I make your recipe, I will of course credit you!
posted by juniperesque to Food & Drink (28 answers total) 79 users marked this as a favorite
My sister just won Thanksgiving dessert with these brownies. I will admit they did not actually win an office bake-off, but I assure you they could have. They were incredible. My husband doesn't even like dessert and he made me get the recipe. Bonus: super easy to divide into sample size pieces.
posted by town of cats at 1:41 PM on December 2, 2013 [7 favorites]

I invented a Monet Cake.

½ cup of butter or 1 stick of butter
¾ cup of sugar
3 eggs
2 tsp Vanilla
1 cup whole milk
3 tsp baking powder
2 cups flour
1 tsp salt
1 bag of mixed berries, separated and pureed.

Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray mini cupcake tins with Bakers Secret (or line with cute papers)

Next take a medium size bowl and shift together the flour, baking powder, and salt.

In a large mixing bowl. Combine butter and sugar and cream them together than beat for 3 minutes. Add the eggs one at a time and than the vanilla. Beat for 2 minutes and than add the milk. Finally beat for 1 more minute until all ingredients are combined.

Add the dry ingredients in fourths until they are well incorporated.

Separate the batter into 4 bowls. Add ¼ cup of puree to the individual batters. They should now be 4 shades. Strawberry will be light pink, raspberry will be dark pink, boysenberry will be purple and blueberry will be blue.

Drop the batter by spoonfuls into the the cupcake papers, alternating the colors. The cakes will cook with each color distinct. It's really beautiful when you cut into it.

I do mine in a springform pan or a loaf pan, to get really perfect slabs of cake. I then put the puree in squirt bottles and make designs on the plate.

Serve with fresh whipped cream and fresh berries.

Bask in the glory of it.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:43 PM on December 2, 2013 [6 favorites]

Espresso cupcakes. They sound exciting, which is half the battle, look pretty if you have a small amount of patience and a piping tip, and taste really punchy and incredible.

-Dark chocolate mini cupcakes...use this recipe and just adjust for mini cupcake bake times.

-Super duper coffee buttercream. Dissolve like 3 cups of coffee worth of instant coffee (or instant espresso) into a few tablespoons of milk. Use that as the liquid in a basic buttercream frosting recipe with some vanilla flavoring.

Alternatively, these brownies are just amazing. I like to sub the mascarpone for goat cheese. It gives them a really deep, what-is-this-interesting-thing!??! flavor.
posted by phunniemee at 1:45 PM on December 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

Key lime fudge is always a huge hit when I make it and it has the added bonus of being relatively unique.
posted by whoaali at 1:46 PM on December 2, 2013

I made brownies (Alton's recipe) in mini ice cream cones, topped with homemade raspberry marshmallows. They were very popular.
posted by Marky at 1:53 PM on December 2, 2013

If your definition of office bake-off includes "a collective of graduate students who are weirdly over-competitive about baking", then I have a very winning recipe for bite-size pies.

You will need:

1) Pumpkin pie filling as detailed in this Smitten Kitchen recipe. I double the spices in this filling; it's pretty mild otherwise, and I like the bite-size pies to have more of a punch.

2) The pie dough of your choice. I use the America's Test Kitchen recipe - all I can find in a quick Googling is their "Foolproof Pie Dough", but the recipe in my ATK cookbook is exactly the same except it uses 1/2 cup water instead of 1/4 cup water and 1/4 cup vodka. Either one works.

3) A muffin tin.

Cut rounds of the pie dough to fit in the muffin tin, and fill with the pie filling. I don't bother par-baking the pie crust - I find it doesn't get soggy at this size.

Bake at 300 degrees until set!
posted by pemberkins at 1:54 PM on December 2, 2013

I have won a bake-off with Hershey's "Especially Dark" Chocolate cupcakes. You can do them as mini-cupcakes, just reduce the time a bit. I found that putting a slice of strawberry or a single raspberry on the cupcake helped cut the excessiveness of chocolate and put the cupcake into the really awesome realm.
posted by teleri025 at 1:56 PM on December 2, 2013

Best answer: In my experience of office bake-offs, things with booze in them out-compete their boozeless competitors.
posted by yarrow at 2:00 PM on December 2, 2013 [2 favorites]

I recently made Smitten Kitchen's almond raspberry layer cake for a baby shower. It wasn't a bake off and I wasn't competing against anybody, but I received several rounds of applause and a lot of compliments, even days later. I think this could be a winner for you.

I made some key changes to the recipe that I think pushed it over the top:

(1) I divided the batter and used almond flavoring for half and raspberry flavoring for the other half (along with a touch of red food coloring, though I think you could add some berry puree if you prefer)
(2) I used cream cheese frosting instead of the chocolate pictured in the recipe, just flavored with a teaspoon of vanilla
(3) I bumped it up by using a checkerboard cake pan (something like this one might make things easier for sharing slices neatly) so I got a lovely white/pink and almond/raspberry checkerboard color/flavor pattern
(4) Decorated the top with fresh raspberries

It's not too sweet, especially with the cream cheese frosting balancing things out. And the almond/raspberry combination is unbeatable.
posted by stripesandplaid at 2:06 PM on December 2, 2013

I don't think I used a recipe when I won, but it was something very much like this -- a fudge brownie with a white layer on top and sprinkled with crushed candy canes. I think I put some peppermint extract in the brownie itself, and cut them up small. (You want them small so that people will feel ok about tasting one even when they feel guilty about calories and all that; and of course they are rich tasting and you don't want anyone to put it down unfinished. And, presentation is important too -- I suggest little triangles.)

Now that I think of it I think i used cream cheese frosting instead of white chocolate! And I think that's better because the taste is more complex and it won't shatter.
posted by fingersandtoes at 2:06 PM on December 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

My mother won with this apple gingerbread upside-down cake. It is so good.
posted by ostro at 2:14 PM on December 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

I won (kicked serious ass) with smitten kitchen'a spicy brownies. Freaking awesome. Google it. On phone sorry.
posted by atomicstone at 2:16 PM on December 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

Something else about presentation: you need something nice to serve it in, and, depending on what it is, you might need something nice to serve it with.

Save that dishwasher-battered disposable-fake-Tupperware for packing your lunch.
posted by box at 2:23 PM on December 2, 2013

Best answer: I won a baking competition a few years ago with chocolate margarita cupcakes. (We had an odd ingredient grab bag to work with for it.) Recipe sources: chocolate cake was from the Baked cookbook (sweet & salty cake but made the cake only), frosting was from Vegan Cupcakes Take Over The World, plus lime curd filling from someplace on the internet.

I really think that standing out from the crowd is key to a competition like this. Uniqueness (but tasty of course) will capture more votes than the world's best classic brownie/chocolate chip cookie/etc. I don't think it was my particular recipe that was the winner, per se, but these traits made it stand out:

1) Salty-sweet
2) Chocolate + citrus/tartness
3) Booze
4) Good/flashy appearance

Also, if you make something involving cocoa powder: use the Hershey's Special Dark cocoa powder. It's my secret weapon. It makes cakes & brownies impressively dark, and I always get compliments when I use it. I think Cooks Illustrated also rated it unexpectedly high too. I generally order it from Amazon, but I think it's not too hard to find at regular grocery stores.
posted by soleiluna at 2:39 PM on December 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

My team won an office bake-off last year with a croquembouche.

Yes, they are overachievers who want to win at all costs.
posted by girlgenius at 2:56 PM on December 2, 2013 [2 favorites]

I will share my multi-prize winning cheesecake cookie recipe with you. My cheesecake cookies have been banned from the annual dessert contest at work having won the top award for 3 years in a row. It is from the cookbook Jambalaya - A Collection of Cajun & Creole Favorites from The Junior League of New Orleans.

Cheesecake cookies
yields 4 dozen cookies

1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1 cup finely chopped pecans
1 stick butter, melted

2 (8-oz) packages cream cheese
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 eggs

2 cups sour cream
6 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla

In a small bowl, mix together all crust ingredients. Press into a 9x13 inch baking dish. Bake at 350 degrees for 10 to 15 minutes or until browned. To prepare filling, beat cream cheese, sugar, and vanilla in a bowl. Add eggs and beat well. Pour over baked crust. Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes. While baking, combine all glaze ingredients in a small bowl. Pour over baked filling. Bake 3 to 5 minutes longer. Cool and refrigerate before cutting into squares. Garnish each cookie with 1/2 maraschino cherry that has been drained and patted dry. Alternate fruit garnish: raspberry, blueberry, strawberry
posted by JujuB at 3:25 PM on December 2, 2013 [13 favorites]

One of my coworkers has won at least two office bake-offs with Paula Deen's Is It Really Better Than Sex Cake. I disagree with Ms. Deen on many issues, including this cake's goodness relative to sexual intercourse, but it's tasty and people go nuts for it.
posted by Metroid Baby at 3:56 PM on December 2, 2013

I won an office bake-off (much to my mother's amazement and amusement, might I add) with this orange chocolate cake. I stole the recipe from the Avoca cookbook. It's very tasty but tricky to make look "pretty". Anyway, it beat some stiff competition and tastes good whether you win or have to take it home.
posted by jamesonandwater at 5:10 PM on December 2, 2013

I came in second with these Salty Caramel Crunch Bars two years ago (and the contest was rigged, everyone said I should have won.) I triumphed the next year with these Caramel and Chocolate Kettle Corn Crispie Bars (sans ice cream).
posted by kimdog at 5:39 PM on December 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

Flourless chocolate cake. Serve it with a drizzle of caramel sauce and some not too sweet whipped cream.

It has won more than one award [an Economics Graduate Studies Potluck Bake-Off, a contest during a neighborhood picnic, and the utmost devotion of several family members]. It is super rich, so serving sizes are typically quite thin slices. You can get maybe 14 servings out of one cake.
posted by Ink-stained wretch at 6:21 PM on December 2, 2013

Must you actually bake? Because this Lemon Crepe Cake from Jamie Oliver just wowed at Thanksgiving, possibly because it was unexpected among the pumpkin pie, apple pie, flourless chocolate cake, and ice creams.

My suggestions for making it even better? Make the crepes yourself if you've got it in you. Use high-quality lemon curd. And possibly replace a layer or three with fresh whipped cream, with a hint of fresh mint leaves.
posted by cocoagirl at 6:31 PM on December 2, 2013 [2 favorites]

My very large office had a bake off, I was frantically busy at the time but my team was required to submit something. There was a $3000 prize to be awarded to whomevers entry got cheered the loudest by the crowd and competition was stiff. I mean, people made amazing stuff. The MD came down to tell us off 'the so called creative group' and remind us we had to enter.

I sent my partner down to the store for 20 packs of chunky kit kats and we built a Jenga tower out of them and turned it into a game. When the time came to vote, our taking-the-piss time poor dessert won over incredible stuff that looked like it came out of those cake wars tv shows. The crowd went nuts. The MD refused to award us the $3000 because he said it wasn't in the spirit of the competition.

So am I saying make a Jenga kitkat tower? No. I'm saying don't just bake something that tastes great, have an idea behind it. Is there an office in joke? Can you build a cake where each layer is a floor of your building and represents it, eg one for the finance dept etc maybe put a doll on it that looks like the CEO. Make a cake that looks like an inbox. The list is endless. I can tell you the cakes that get the most praise aren't just stock standard cakes that look good, there is deeper thought that goes into it. Have some fun with it.
posted by Jubey at 8:52 PM on December 2, 2013 [2 favorites]

The Triple Chocolate Mousse Cake from Cook's Illustrated is a show stopper but takes a bit of work. If you could make individual ones in glass oven proof containers or a lot of tiny spring form pans you would be a huge hit. It is important to show off the layers to get the full wow effect.
posted by saradarlin at 11:58 PM on December 2, 2013

My boss (the boss!) won our multi-category office cookoff in the dessert division with one of those icebox cakes made of layers of whipped cream and some kind of wafer or cookie, which you make ahead of time and then leave in the fridge overnight so that the crisp wafers can absorb moisture from the cream and turn into soft cakey goodness. (Something like this, although it was just thrown in a pan. You'll probably get more votes with a pretty design like Smitten Kitchen's and garnishes. Espresso beans might be nice. Chocolate curls in both colors. Flakes of edible gold leaf?)

We all gave him a hard time because not only did it kind of seem like cheating, his wife (his wife!) actually was the one who made it. But it really was the tastiest of the desserts and he won by popular vote, including mine. (I'm not bitter, really! I didn't enter a dessert and won the main dish category, so I was happy.) If you do it, make sure you don't get disqualified for not actually baking anything.

I haven't actually had another opportunity to enter a bake-off, but I have to say, my coworkers practically worshipped me after bringing in these raspberry lemonade bars (use extra lemon zest in the recipe, and garnish with more lemon zest and a perfect raspberry on each piece) and especially making this incredibly gorgeous rainbow cake for my birthday. I garnished the rainbow cake (make sure you get to slice it) with adorable mini bunting on sticks. Another birthday I brought in storebought cakes, but put LED throwies minus the magnets (so, LEDs and watch batteries, arranged in a pretty star design) on the cake as a fire-code friendly geek alternative to candles. Totally impressive to geek coworkers.

Remember, people are impressed by taste, looks, perceived decadence/expense/fanciness, perception of effort. Always garnish and make it pretty! Individual wee servings are also good.
posted by spelunkingplato at 10:33 AM on December 3, 2013

I won first place in my office's holiday bake off with these Thin, Crispy Salty Oatmeal Cookies from America's Test Kitchen. I think I really won because all the other entries were big, sweet, chewy and chocolatey cookies. And I'll give in to stereotypes and say that it didn't hurt that all the judges happened to be men that year.

The next year I won second place in the bake off with an America's Test Kitchen's pumpkin cheesecake. It's a really fantastic recipe; I've made it a couple times. But I ended up losing to chocolate cupcakes that someone made from a box mix (complete with neon green frosting from a tube), so if you really want to win, I say cater to your audience.
posted by dede at 4:56 PM on December 3, 2013

I've never entered these in a competition, but Chocolate Sparkle Cookies are impossibly good. They're a little expensive (you'll need to use the best-quality chocolate you can find), and they take two days to make, but they're seriously the best cookie I've ever tasted. They're like chocolate truffles in cookie form. I follow the recipe exactly as written, except that I don't dust them with powdered sugar at the end (they don't need it, and they're prettier without it).
posted by laurasbadideas at 2:12 AM on December 4, 2013

Response by poster: Guys, I won! I totally freaking won. I ended up making chocolate margarita bars, using a good fudgy brownie recipe swirled with key lime pie filling, and topped with tequila glaze.
posted by juniperesque at 1:56 PM on December 17, 2013 [12 favorites]

Congrats, juniperesque!

I came in third today with the peppermint brownie recipe from fingersandtoes. (I was beaten out by a bowl of death-by-chocolate and scotcharoos.) I love AskMe. :)
posted by kimberussell at 12:03 PM on December 18, 2013 [3 favorites]

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