It was a simple-looking cake from the outside, a round two-layered confection with a smooth coating of plain chocolate icing.
But a closer look at the case enclosing it as it sat at the Carroll County 4-H & FFA Fair on Wednesday afternoon gave clues to the surprise that lay beneath that icing shell — a blue ribbon, a purple “class champion” ribbon and a green ribbon reading, “Grand Champion.”
“This one is the winner, chocolate bacon cake, so there is bacon in the cake. It’s really good," Amy Petkovsek said. “It went against not just all the cakes and pies, but also against all the cookies, all the rolls.”
The official title, she said, is “Overall Champion Baked Item.”
Petkovsek is the cake auction superintendent for the fair, organizing the auction of the topped baked goods that raises thousands of dollars for the fair. But before there can be an auction, there has to be a contest to pick the best of the cakes, and to have a contest, there have to be 4-H children willing to bake them.
“The kids came this morning and they entered them, and they got blue, red, white,” Petkovsek said. "Then the kids leave and then they look at all the blues and they pick these class champions, and then they take all the class champions and pick the big winners from them.
Big winners like Joseph Battaglia, 11, of Westminster. He baked the chocolate bacon cake that beat out hundreds of other cakes, pies, cookies and rolls for that green ribbon.
“I am very, very excited,” he said. “My mom, she works at Hahn’s Pork and Beans, which is a big coffee bean and bacon store, and she makes chocolate chip bacon cookies there. So she inspired me to make a cake out of it.”
Joseph and his mother were up late Tuesday night baking the cake, with just the narrowest chance to sample it for themselves before it went before the judges at the fair.
“A little bit of the crumbs fell off, so we swept them up and ate them a little bit,” he said. "It was good."
A member of the Pleasant Valley 4-H Club for two years, Joseph also shows Jacob sheep, and this year marks his first entry in the cake baking contest and auction, though there is a bit of a family tradition.
“Two years ago, my sister, she did a cake, and it was a gluten-free cake and she actually got Reserve Champion on it,” he said. “It means second place out of it all.”
In many ways the fair itself is supported by the cake auction, where local businesses bid on the cakes Joseph and others have made, according to Petkovsek.
“It’s an incredibly important event for the fair because it raises enough money to keep the fair free for the public and the 4-H program going for the youth of Carroll County,” she said. “Kids don’t just work on projects for the fair, they don’t just bake a cake one time, they don’t just step into a ring with a pig. They work on these projects throughout the entire year.”
In 2018, the cake auction raised $70,000, Petkovsek said — a record amount.
“The hope is we get close to $70,000,” she said of this year’s auction. “A lot of it depends on the weather and how businesses are doing, but we really hope we make somewhere close to that so we can give the fair a good start toward next year.”
Joseph, for one, is already looking forward to next year, and he had some advice for those looking to try that hands at a 4-H & FFA Fair bake-off.
“Always make something different. Anything that’s different a lot, judges will love it,” he said, and then added with a laugh, “Mostly bacon is a good thing to add.”