CLARION – Clarion’s Gail Buckley is an accomplished amateur baker, having won prizes for the cakes and cookies coming out of her kitchen.
In July, Buckley’s angel food and chocolate cakes both won first place at the Clarion County Fair, earning her entry into their respective competitions at the upcoming Pennsylvania Farm Show in Harrisburg, to be held Jan. 7-14.
“I started baking in my 20s and 30s, so it’s been almost 50 years. I love baking,” said Buckley, who has been baking for five decades. “My mother was my inspiration. She was also a good baker who entered county fairs in North Carolina [where Buckley is originally from].
“I started [entering baking contests] down there in North Carolina. Then we moved to Cooksburg, where my husband is from, and I started doing it here. I love the competition.”
Since taking up baking, Buckley has noted relatively few changes.
“I have [began with] the same recipes that I use now. There was one that was my husband’s favorite, a devil’s food cake. I don’t know what happened, whether the flour changed or what, but it’s not as moist as when I made it many years ago,” Buckley contributed.
She continued, “I use my KitchenAid to mix ingredients. I didn’t have one when I first started baking, I just mixed by hand when I made the batter. That part has changed, it’s much easier now [with the mixer].”
Buckley bakes weekly, even during the summer.
“I’ll make either a cake or cookies at least once a week,” she said. “At our church, we have a potluck every week after the service so I’m always taking something good for that.”
The Farm Show’s “Homemade Chocolate Cake Contest” is sponsored by the Pennsylvania State Association of County Fairs (PSACF) and takes place at 4 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 7.
Cakes must be layered, with all components, including frosting, made from scratch using chocolate or cocoa as the primary ingredient. Recipes must be submitted with the entry and include all ingredients, quantities and preparation instructions.
Judging is based on a variety of criteria — flavor (aroma, taste, flavorings); texture (moist and tender, not soggy or dry); inside characteristics (even grain, evenly baked, free from air pockets); outside characteristics (overall appeal, consistent shape/size/surface); and frosting (taste, texture, even color).
Describing her chocolate cake, Buckley said, “It tastes wonderful. I’m not sure what makes it special. My husband says the icing is so creamy and soft.”
Though her entry will essentially be the same chocolate cake she typically makes, Buckley plans on adding pralines on top of the frosting.
“I’m more or less doing the same thing that I did for the Clarion County Fair,” she contributed. “I will be decorating it a little more than I did for the county fair. I was looking at some pictures from the farm show online and people really had a lot of decorations on their cakes. That’s what I’m going to be working on.”
The “Incredible Angel Food Cake Contest” takes place a day later, on Sunday, Jan.. 8 at 9:30 a.m.
Cakes must again be made from scratch, using ingredients and decorations which are all edible. Because this contest is sponsored by the Pennsylvania Egg Farmers and PSACF, it is requested that the eggs used be produced in-state. Again, recipes must be submitted with the cake.
The judging criteria is somewhat similar to that for the chocolate cake contest — flavor; inside characteristics (texture and lightness); overall appearance (surface/size/color); creativity; and topping, icing or decoration.
“I make just the traditional angel food cake. I put a lemon glaze on it, that makes it really tasty,” relayed Buckley.
Prizes for each contest are $500 for first, $250 for second and $100 for third. Fourth and fifth places receive ribbons.
Contests aside, Buckley values the familial togetherness baking fosters.
“My mother was my inspiration. Now I’m following in her footsteps and hoping to pass that along to my granddaughter and grandson. It’s fun [teaching them to bake] and it’s a great thing to do together,” she said.
As for those just starting out, Buckley offers some advice, “I think you truly have to love baking. It makes people happy; food makes people happy. I’m just an amateur, I love to do it just for fun. You know, whenever I’m frazzled I just go bake something, it brightens my day.”