It was a sweet day in Southern California — and a not a bad day to be a food judge.
Hundreds of people clutching "tasting tickets" lined up Saturday for Cupcake Camp L.A. at the Music Box Theater in Hollywood, a fundraiser that also served as a celebration of that childhood favorite. Meanwhile, across town, staff and students at the Pasadena Le Cordon Bleu cooking school tested dozens upon dozens of holiday cookies entered in the inaugural L.A. Times Holiday Cookie Bake-Off.
Both events pitted amateur bakers against professionals, and if that sounds like an unfair match-up, Jackie Brubaker's table didn't show it. A music writer and producer, she was one of the first bakers to run out of her confections at Cupcake Camp L.A., which was produced by Bakespace.com founder Babette Pepaj. . Brubaker served up Jack & Coke cupcakes — chocolate cupcakes with a simple vanilla frosting that packed a potent Jack Daniel's whiskey wallop.
"I love baking," Brubaker said. "For me, it's just Zen."
Likewise, the more than 79,000 votes cast online in the holiday cookie bake-off did not favor the more experienced bakers or food bloggers. In fact, some of the top vote-getters didn't even submit photos with their recipes.
Norwegian crowns, bourbon balls, "never say oops" lemon cookies, Grandma's carrot cookies, peppermint pinwheels — these were among the 50 kinds of cookies that Times Food section staff members and Cordon Bleu chefs tasted to determine the top 10.
Six judges, including Times Food editor Russ Parsons and test kitchen manager Noelle Carter, assessed each cookie based on texture, flavor, richness, appearance and holiday spirit. It took nearly two hours to taste and tally — just short of collective sugar overdose.
The top 10 cookies will be announced Monday on The Times' Food blog, Daily Dish.