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Donna Belcher's Strawberry Treasure Ice Cream Cake won Overall Champion at the 68th Tennessee Strawberry Festival's pie and cake contest in Dayton, Tenn. The chest's raised lid revealed candy gold doubloons, strands of Mardi Gras beads and strawberries dipped in white chocolate then painted with edible gold dust.
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Dayton City Councilman Jim Lewis, left, and Richard Daugherty judge entries on appearance and ease of preparation before sampling. Not pictured is contest judge Bernie Rubin.

Contest winners

Overall Champion: Donna Belcher, Strawberry Treasure Ice Cream Cake

ADULT DIVISION
First: Amanda Westfall, Strawberry-Topped Black Bottom Cheese Cake
Second: Misty Linderfelt, Strawberries on Deck
Third: Tracy Clouse, Strawberry Pie Cake

YOUTH DIVISION
First: Elizabeth Jordan, Surfin' Strawberries at Sea Cake
Second: Joshua Fry, Strawberry Fantasy
Third: Glen family children, Berry Sweet Ships

Source: Tennessee Strawberry Festival

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Joshua Fry, 12, and sister Laura, 16, clean drips off the pedestal plate holding Joshua's Strawberry Fantasy before entering the cake. The dessert, which combined a brownie layer with cheesecake and vanilla wafer crust, took second place in the youth division. Laura entered a Strawberry Cream Torte.
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Donna Belcher's Strawberry Treasure Ice Cream Cake won Overall Champion at the 68th Tennessee Strawberry Festival's pie and cake contest in Dayton, Tenn. The chest's raised lid revealed candy gold doubloons, strands of Mardi Gras beads and strawberries dipped in white chocolate then painted with edible gold dust.

DAYTON, Tenn. -- Donna Belcher is a veteran of the Tennessee Strawberry Festival's annual pie and cake contest with several prize medals to her credit. Her entries in the annual contest for berry bragging rights have ranged from a full-face Mardi Gras mask cake to one that was a map of the United States.

Her entry this year was a pirate's treasure chest brimming with gilt-coated strawberries -- and it added yet another medal to her prize booty. On May 6, Belcher, who lives in Dayton, was named Overall Champion of the 68th Tennessee Strawberry Festival's Pie and Cake Contest for her original Strawberry Treasure Ice Cream Cake.

"It's my own little concoction," Belcher says. "I use cake mix, but I tweak it."

As pretty as it evidently was tasty, the chest's lid was open to reveal gold-foil doubloons, colorful strands of Mardi Gras beads and large strawberries that glittered in a gilt coating. The treasure chest sat on a board iced in blue-tinted waves with molded white-chocolate shells and fish scattered around it.

"The gold on the strawberries is edible gold dust that you can buy at the Sugar Shoppe in Chattanooga," she explains. "I dip the strawberries in white chocolate and let them harden. Then I mix a capful of vodka with the gold dust and brush that onto the strawberries."

The 56-year-old housewife, who worked for 20 years as a special education aide in Rhea County schools, received a $100 cash prize, a medal and a McKee Foods gift basket for the win.

Belcher's cake was one of 22 adult and youth entries in this year's cooking contest. Judges were presented with a veritable berry buffet of cakes, cupcakes, cheesecakes, pies, tarts, muffins, Danish pastry, chocolate-dipped berries and congealed concoctions.

Contest judge Richard Daugherty says he looks for a "harmony of flavors" when scoring entries.

"I like an authentic taste, strawberry flavoring does not appeal to me at all," he says. "I ask myself if this is something I would feel comfortable serving in my home."

Judge Bernie Rubin has a simple criteria for what's good.

"It's taste. You want that good, old-fashioned, down-home, homemade flavor," he says, "something Grandma could have made in your kitchen that you can brag about."

Entries are numbered for a blind judging, and dishes are scored from one to five in five categories: taste, creativity, appearance, ease of preparation and use of strawberries. First-, second- and third-place winners in adult or youth divisions receive $75, $50 or $25, respectively, as well as a keepsake medal.

Joshua Fry, 12, and his sister, Laura, 16, had their own entries in the youth category; Joshua entered a Strawberry Fantasy cake while Laura offered a Strawberry Cream Torte. Joshua's cake came in second.

The siblings say they've learned to start early and practice making their desserts before entering.

"I've made my Strawberry Cream Torte maybe five or six times," Laura says. "Good taste, pretty presentation and lots of strawberries are important."

Belcher says that, while bakers never know what will appeal to judges, there are two practices she has learned to follow. First is: Incorporate lots of strawberries. "That's a given," she says, and she uses fruit from Tidwell's Berry Farm in Spring City.

Second rule: You must stick with the year's theme, she says. This year theme, Strawberries at Sea, was the inspiration for her pirate's chest.

Contact Susan Pierce at spierce@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6284.

Strawberry Treasure Ice Cream Cake

2 boxes chocolate cake mix

2 sticks butter

1 cup oil

6 eggs

1 teaspoon strawberry candy flavoring

1 box instant chocolate pudding

2 cups, plus 5-6 tablespoons water

1 quart strawberry ice cream

2 cups fresh strawberries

1 8-ounce package cream cheese

1 teaspoon strawberry flavoring

6-8 cups powdered sugar

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Blend 1 stick of butter, oil, eggs and flavoring in mixer. Slowly add cake mix and chocolate pudding, mixing on low and slowly adding 2 cups of water. Continue to mix on low until blended, then blend on medium 2-3 minutes.

Bake in rectangular pan for 40 minutes, or until toothpick comes out cleanly and cake springs back when touched.

Let ice cream thaw until just soft. Put ice cream in mixer, cut two cups of fresh strawberries and add to ice cream. Blend until mixed well. Return ice cream to freezer.

Cut cooled cake into two layers. Soften ice cream and spread over bottom layer of cake. Top with remaining layer of cake. Place cake in freezer.

To make the icing, mix 1 stick butter, cream cheese and flavoring in mixer until well blended. Slowly add powdered sugar, one cup at a time, until reaching desired consistency. Add 5-6 tablespoons water, one tablespoon at a time, to reach proper consistency.

Remove cake from freezer. Frost and return to freezer. Remove cake from freezer about 30 minutes before serving to allow it to thaw for slicing.

To make golden strawberries, dip each berry into melted white chocolate, set aside to harden. Mix edible gold flakes with liquid (Belcher used one capful of vodka) to paint strawberries after chocolate has set.

-- Donna Belcher

Strawberry-Topped Black Bottom Cheesecake

Crust

2 cups Oreo cookies (cream centers removed, finely ground)

1/4 cup salted butter, melted

2 tablespoons sugar

Cheesecake

4 8-ounce blocks of cream cheese, room temperature

1 2/3 cups sugar

3 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1/4 teaspoon salt

4 large eggs

2 additional egg yolks

1 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1/4 cup sour cream

Strawberry glaze

1 cup frozen strawberries

1 pint fresh strawberries, washed and hulled

3 tablespoons water

2 tablespoons sugar

1 teaspoon cornstarch

Red food coloring, optional

Position oven rack in center of oven and heat to 325 degrees. Put a tea kettle of water on the stove and bring to a boil for cheesecake water bath.

To make the crust, combine ingredients in a medium bowl, then transfer into a 9-inch springform pan, pressing down to evenly distribute. Set crust aside.

In a large bowl, beat the cream cheese, sugar, flour and salt until smooth and well-blended. Add whole eggs as well as additional yolks, one at a time, beating on low speed after each addition. Add vanilla and sour cream until all is well-blended. Pour into springform pan.

Wrap aluminum foil up sides of springform pan, making sure no water can leak into the pan. Then place springform pan into large roasting pan and fill roasting pan with boiling water until it reaches halfway up the sides of the springform pan.

Bake the cheesecake until it is firm and slightly golden on top, about 70-80 minutes.

Remove cheesecake from water bath and cool to room temperature. Cover cheesecake with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least four hours, or overnight.

Slide a butter knife gently around the edge of the springform pan to loosen cheesecake, then remove it from pan. Place on a cake plate and garnish.

Begin the glaze by pureeing frozen strawberries in food processor. Pour into a small saucepan and add water.

In a small bowl, mix sugar and cornstarch. Stir into strawberry puree. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly, until glaze becomes thickened and translucent. Add food coloring, if desired. Cool to room temperature.

Arrange strawberries in a single layer, top side down, on cooled cheesecake. Drizzle cooled glaze evenly over strawberries. Eat right away or store, covered, in refrigerator.

-- Amanda Westfall

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