ITHACA, N.Y. –– More than 40 contestants took to their kitchen over the past few weeks, baking cupcakes to enter into the Sophie Fund annual cupcake baking competition, benefitting the Village at Ithaca. Now, the best and the brightest cupcakes –– those that out-cupped every other cake –– have been announced.
Taking first place was Zoë Dubrow’s “Summer Garden” cupcakes. Inspired by the vibrant flowers in her own backyard garden, Dubrow’s cupcakes consisted of a chocolate and pistachio cake formed to resemble a terracotta pot topped with icing made from raspberry panna cotta, raspberry mousse, and pistachios.
“They have a lot of components and were a bit challenging to make,” said Dubrow, a doctorate student in plant science at Cornell University. “But, like growing a garden, baking them was a good reminder that dedicating time and focus to something you love can be very rewarding and, in this case, delicious!”
Also following a seasonal theme, Rachel Allison’s “Fall Foliage” cupcakes landed in second place, designed to highlight the brilliant colors of autumn and golden afternoon light. The matcha and ginger cupcakes were decorated with a walnut praline spread garnished with gold-dusted chocolate leaves, gold leaf, and gold dragées.
“This cupcake is a fusion of the all the best parts of fall,” said Allison. “The flavor is inspired by my favorite cool-weather drink, a matcha latte, blending earthy matcha with creamy ganache and buttercream.”
And in third were Candice Mahadeo’s pistachio and chocolate cupcakes, using a personal recipe 10 years in the making.
“I always had friends and family joyfully agree to be my testers all along the way,” said Mahadeo. “These cupcakes can be the crowning glory of your party contributions, as they were mine. They are the perfect decadent comfort food to satisfy your sweet tooth.”
This year’s competition, the fifth of its kind, is usually a fun in-person gathering, but was forced online in the wake of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The cupcake baking contest is organized every year by the Sophie Fund, which was established in 2016 in memory of Cornell University art student Sophie Hack MacLeod to support mental health initiatives aiding young people.
Sophie’s passion for baking cupcakes inspired the launch of the first Ithaca Cupcake Baking Contest in 2016. At the time of her death by suicide at age 23, while on a medical leave of absence from Cornell, Sophie was active in Ithaca’s vibrant culinary scene. According to her family, she hoped to open her own bakery after completing her Cornell degree.
This year, instead of having a physical space to present their decorative desserts, contestants instead shared photos, stories, and even some videos featuring their delicious creations.
And later, the winners were announced at a Facebook Live Event Saturday hosted by the Mighty Mickie Quinn and Kitschy Scofflaw.
“I am unbelievably impressed by this year’s entries,” said Quinn. “Having the contest in this format allowed us to learn more about the contestant and the love they put into their creation. And, we’re all here for the love! Thanks to all for coming together to celebrate our bakers and support The Sophie Fund.”
Besides first, second and third, other awards were given out Saturday as well.
Elanor Harris with her Cauldron Cupcakes, inspired by the year-round Halloween decorations adorning her home, won the prize for Best Video. Upon winning she said, “the story of my cupcakes is, unfortunately, not a spooky fairy tale. It is merely the story of a girl who loves both Halloween and baking and wanted to honor those two loves with the cupcakes she created.”
Tabitha Gray won the Youth Award for cupcakes inspired by an unlikely source: Twister, her pet rooster. Gray’s lemon pop cakes with lemon frosting were decorated with a rooster head and feathers made of fondant and food coloring. “A couple weeks ago, I heard a bird scream and saw all the birds were there except my rooster,” said Gray. “I went into the woods and saw a fox run away. Then I saw Twister. We didn’t think he’d make it through the night but now he’s walking again. He’s still slowly getting better.”
The Best Story Award went to Ivy Stevens-Gupta, who submitted Hidden Treasure Cupcakes in memory of her daughter, Cach’e Dallas Pelletier. The tropical-themed and rum-flavored vegan cupcakes contained a treasure inside consisting of Pop Rocks representing precious jewels. According to Stevens-Gupta, Cach’e died by suicide five years ago at age 29, having suffered from anxiety and an opioid addiction due to pain caused from a car accident.
“My goal in creating these cupcakes was two-fold: to honor the memory of my daughter, and to bring about awareness of the need for better mental healthcare, drug addiction, and suicide prevention programs,” said Stevens-Gupta. “May we all be kind to one another and to animals.”
Judging the finalists were professionals from Ithaca’s great culinary community including Yuko Jingu of Akemi Food, Ashley Case of Case Sera Sera, Racquel Riccardi of the Sinfully Delicious Baking Co. and Melissa Kenny of Sweet Melissa’s Ice Cream Shop.
“I am blown away by all of the time and love that went into all of these cupcakes,” said Kenny. Echoing the sentiment, Riccardi added, “it truly warmed my heart to hear the stories behind these inventions!”
Case added, saying she believed this year’s contestants raised the bar. “The thought, creativity, and attention to detail in each cupcake were exceptional,” she said. “The stories and videos made each submission that much better.”
The Fifth Annual Ithaca Cupcake Baking Contest was sponsored by GreenStar Food Co+op, Alternatives Federal Credit Union and Well Said Media.
Student organizations supporting the contest included Active Minds at Ithaca College, Active Minds at Ithaca High School, Cornell Minds Matter, Alpha Phi Omega Gamma Chapter, Phi Sigma Pi honor fraternity, PATCH (Pre-Professional Association Towards Careers in Health) and Building Ourselves through Sisterhood and Service (BOSS).
Find a full list of winner for the 5th annual cupcake contest below:
1st Place & Grand Prize ($250): Zoë Dubrow
2nd Place ($100): Rachel Allison
3rd Place ($50): Candice Mahadeo
Best Video Award ($250): Elanor Harris
Youth Award ($100): Tabitha Gray
Best Story Award ($100): Ivy Steven-Gupta
Active Minds at Ithaca High School
Audrey Greene and Simon LeRoux
Reflect at Cornell
Nostalgia Award: Alli Arndt
Home for the Holidays Award: Anastasia Kreisel
Four-Out-of-Five Opticians Recommend Award: Angela Li
Spirit of Fall Award: Anna Whitten
Pretty in Pink Award: Bella Nevarez
Breakfast Club Award: Brenna Hanratty
Monster Banana Split Award: Dina Shapiro
Oh Gourd, They’re Good Award: Village at Ithaca
Cupcake on a Budget Award: Emma Moulton
Best Cookies and Cream Award: Hailey Whitten
Most Intoxicating Award: Heather Williams
Somewhere Over the Rainbow Award: Henry Bowes
Mid-Autumn Festival Award: Judy Zhu
Rooted in Tradition Award: Juno Parreñas
Whoopee! It’s Pumpkin! Award: Katy Holloway
Improvisation Award: Lei Lei Wu & Sophia Zhang
Cuckoo for Coconut and Chocolate Award: Lillian Bulman
Mental Health Message Award: Mariah Meads
Ode to Applefest Award: Mary Sever-Schoonmaker
Halloween Spirit Award: Molly Smith & Tyler Rodriguez
Please Wear a Mask Award: Hudson and Patti Meyers
Doggone Cutest Award: Sam Suk
Holiday Excite-mint Award: Shayla Combs
Time Lord Award: Silas Suk
Best Co-Worker Award: Summer Saraf
Cutest Creatures Award: Natalie McCaskill-Meyers
Most Homegrown Award: Madelyne Meyers