How to have a successful cookie (and bar) competition!

Happy New Year Reader(s)! Now that we've been through the worst of the snowfall this winter let's look on to happier times. Late last year I got to thinking... what with the worsening recession and the rise of unemployment I was wondering how, in times of financial constraints, one can have a fun and successful party where no one will think about the dire straits of our country? Something that has united me and those around me has always been the effect of good food, particularly yummy baked goods. So, it only made sense to have a cookie (and bar) competition to celebrate my birthday, the beginning of a new year, hopefully the end of the recession, and above all sugar-infused treats!

I have to tip my hat to Jason Lam, the man behind MeSoHungry, who hosts an annual cookie competition before the Christmas holiday. And hearing how successful his parties had been I thought "Hot damn it's solidified!" I'd have a cookie (and bar) competition and hope my friends would be kind enough to participate. The bars came into play when a friend of mine mentioned a preference for making them. Plus, I didn't want to be prejudice against bars because they're so damn delicious.

Once the plan was set I got to thinking how this could all work out...

Step 1) The Contestants! Luckily I have many baking inclined friends or those who are just into trying new things. Some are into cooking/baking to wow the masses, like my husband, while others were happy to do me a solid and get some accolades in the process.  If you're throwing a competition and don't have enough entries then there may be trouble afoot and you may have  lie and say Paula Deen is going to be there and give out heaping amounts of deep-fried goods to all who attend. I won't say I didn't politely urge some people into baking, especially if I knew they could bring it and bring it hard.  There were about a dozen or so contestants resulting in a might fine spread. And all were more than happy to partake.

Why let the cookies have all the fun in the competition?

Step 2) Location, Location: I've had my birthday party at Stone Creek Bar & Lounge for the past few years because the service is phenomenal and the back room is spacey. I reserve ahead of time and usually get the room on the date I request. With no time constraints, a private room and bar the party can go all night long! You should look into where you can have said competition ahead of time and hope it can hold all the aspiring bakers and empty bellies. Also try to negotiate pricing or learn of fees beforehand.

And do I spy some brownies in the back?

Step 3) Advertise! I made sure to contact people ahead of time and let them know this was a "COOKIE PARTY." Of course this doesn't stop people from looking at you with raised eyebrows wondering how they'll get "real food." I couldn't help but stare at some people as I emphasized the words "Baking party!" as they headed out to try and find protein and vegetables or whatever leaving perfectly good sugary goods behind.

If you're really nice have some finger foods available for consumption before everyone digs into the sugary pile. (I'd also recommend asking or strongly urging people who don't enter the competition to make donations to help pay for healthy spreads like crudite, chicken fingers, or cheese and crackers for people to nosh on before the competition begins or even to help cover costs for the room/space if there's a set fee.)

One of the winners and a low-cal brownie treat!

Step 4) Prizes! What good is a competition if you just get glory "in name"? Yes, we compete for the accolades but dang it if I weren't also in it for prizes. The Olympians of yester-year used to get a simple olive branch wreath. Now they get medals that they can show off and pimp themselves regularly for endorsements of various foods and athletic apparel. Prizes are the way to go so try to find some that will make your guests happy or at least smile. In my case I offered different tiers of movie passes for 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place, which really made people excited about entering. Even those that didn't rank for the top prizes got a cute lil' button proclaiming their badassness in the kitchen. Or as my friend BLee says "official cookie aficionado, JBH approved." Heck yeah!

Gimme some sugar, lemon sugar cookies that is. Te he.

Step 5) Democracy! This is America dammit (the U. S. of A.) and as such the competition was a democracy. Just because it was my birthday party doesn't mean I was fit to judge. My husband entered for crying out loud how am I expected to be impartial? So I made ballots AND labels so people could be voted on appropriately. We wouldn't want any Indecision 2000 stuff going on at a cookie party as things could get dangerous with a few dozen people on a sugar high.

And those are my steps to having an awesome and democratic cookie/bar competition. Follow said steps, allow the masses to enjoy the spread, stand back and watch the good times roll, then repeat as necessary.

As you can see from the pictures the entries were vast and awfully tasty. There were vegan options and none, many bar entries, and things I'd never think would taste good in a cookie like cardamom. Who knew?

The winners of my inaugural 2010 competition were as follows and you can get the recipes for these tasty treats online by clicking on their respective links:

1st place: Key Lime Coconut Bars made by the lovely mistress behind Dessert Landscape!

2nd place: Orange Citrus Bars made by my hubby!

3rd place: Vegan Mint Chocolate Chip Cookies made by my co-worker KP!

Other entries included Amaretto Bars, Good ole Chocolate Chip Cookies, Vegan Peanut Butter Oatmeal "amazingness" Cookies, Vegan Cardamom Pistachio Cookies, Lemon Bars, Sugar Lemon Cookies, Cream Cheese Swirl Brownies, Banana Tart, Cookie Concoction (a colored sugar cookie with a spice-laden surprise), and so on and so forth.  Some were family recipes others were open to the public but all and I mean all were good.

Sorta reminds you of The Last Supper, no?

Thanks again to everyone who participated and came out for a successful birthday celebration and competition! See you next year!