Pros and home cooks showed their best bakes at Leon & Lulu's annual competition
A cinnamon bagel took the cake.
Among the sweet cookies, cakes, biscotti and tarts, a crispy, chewy cinnamon bagel with "boozy" cherry cream cheese and salted pistachios was one of the big winners at Sunday's Let them Eat Cake event and competition at Leon & Lulu home decor and gift shop in Clawson.
Made by Erin McClaine of Ferndale, the bagel was the winner of the amateur category of the annual baking competition, which is also a celebration of the store's 13th birthday.
"I love, love, love baking," she said, adding that while she loves sweet things, she really prefers a combination of sweet and salty. "I wanted to come up with something that would hit those notes and I wanted to do something to showcase Michigan ingredients and it's made with five or six different Michigan ingredients and to me, I just thought I want to focus on cherries because cherries are such a Michigan thing, then either a cinnamon roll or a bagel seemed like a no-brainer, and I just love making bagels."
McClaine's locally-sourced entry was the highest-scoring of the more than two dozen entries, which were separated in to amateur, professional and student categories.
The baked goods were judged on appearance, taste and originality. The panel included this reporter along with former Detroit News food writer Kate Lawson and chef Matt Prentice, who has teamed up with Leon & Lulu to revamp their cafe next door. It will open as Three Cats and a Cook later this spring.
The student category saw three cakes including a colorful Lucky Charms rainbow cake, and one with an Oreo theme.
The winner, though, was an ice cream sundae cake from Emma Van Laan, 7, of New Haven. She made strawberry, chocolate and banana cake, and used those same flavors in the frosting. She topped it with rainbow sprinkles and chocolate-covered strawberries. Emma's mom Michele Van Laan competed in the amateur competition with a tray of s'more macarons.
Alena Alter of Lulu Cakes took top prize in the professional category for her citrus mousse cake which was visually stunning, moist, interesting and precise. The 27-year-old professional pastry chef said she wanted to enter the competition with something she had never made before. She joked that her mother's lack of cooking skills was what drove her to learn her way around the kitchen at a young age.
This year the Let Them Eat Cake competition was a fundraiser for Variety - the Children's Charity of Detroit. It was free to attend, and guests and shoppers could sample all the entries.
“It just keeps growing,” said Mary Liz Curtin of Leon & Lulu. “It just keeps rising like dough, but we don’t punch it down, we let it grow.”
"Of all of our events, this is by far the prettiest,” she said, adding that the store also hosts a Made to Eat in Michigan market, an artist market and a literary event, Books & Authors.
Other stand-outs in the competition were two cakes made by Zoey Werme of Saugatuck. Known as the "Cake Chick," she presented beautiful chocolate and lemon bakes that tasted as good as they looked. Not only did she bake well, but she painted two large, impressive pictures of her cakes and displayed them behind the confections with a poem about each that included the ingredients. Her mother made the tiered, ceramic dishes holding her samples.