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A bake-off is an event in which people compete by baking foods such as cookies, breads and pies, and are evaluated by a team of judges based on the quality of the resulting product. The best-known public bake-off is the Pillsbury Bake-off, which began in 1949 and awards massive cash prizes to winners. Informal bake-off parties are an opportunity for friends to compete amiably while preparing food everyone will enjoy.
Organizing the Bake-off
Mail or e-mail invitations to selected competitors, keeping the number at 10 or less to avoid the risk of overeating or dulling the taste buds of the judges. In the week leading up to the party, make sure the kitchen being used is equipped with the necessary baking equipment, including baking sheets, cake tins, cupcake trays, spatulas and rolling pins. If key items are missing, create an online spreadsheet and ask each guest to bring one or more things. Select a team of impartial judges and prepare enough ballots for each of them to have one on the day of the bake-off. Establish rules and a time limit, and determine the grading criteria by which the contestants are to be judged.
Host a regionally themed bake-off in which contestants bake foods beloved in a particular country such as Britain or Germany, or desserts featured in a favorite book series such as “Game of Thrones” or "Harry Potter." Have a competition to bake foods sculpted to resemble a thing or event, with judges awarding points for the most creative designs and the best execution of those designs. For example, a camping-themed bake-off may inspire trees made out of frosting and bonfires made out of pretzels, while a King Arthur-themed bake-off might have castles made of cakes and knights of chocolate chips.
Recipes and Cooking
Decide with your guests beforehand whether you all want to bake a variety of different food or food from the same category. Possible categories include cakes, cookies, puddings, breads, pies and cupcakes, with each category offering a wide range of options. Clean out the refrigerator before the competition begins to provide room for any foods that might need to be stored, thoroughly wipe down the table and countertops, and go over health and safety precautions with all competitors.
During and After the Baking
Encourage competitors to remember the bake-off is as much about sharing food and recipes as it is about competing, even if prizes are awarded. Create a music playlist with a pastry theme to reinforce the sense of camaraderie, including novelty pop hits such as “Get Your Biscuits in the Oven” by Kinky Friedman and “Sugar Pie Honey Bunch” by the Four Tops. Provide enough tins for everyone present to take home a sampling of the food baked to enjoy after the party.
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- Pillsbury: Bake-off History
- The Great British Bake Off -- Big Book of Baking; Linda Collister
- Frisco Kids: Cub Scout Bake-off Cake Ideas
- Pinch of Yum: How to Host a Holiday Cooking Baking Party
- The Daily Meal: Best Songs to Bake To
Boze Herrington is a writer and blogger who lives in Kansas City, Mo. His work has been featured in Cracked and "The Atlantic."
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