Janette Chapman has been a judge at the Kentucky State Fair’s from-scratch “Your Favorite Cake” competition for years. With dozens of entries each year, she’s tasted hundreds and hundreds of cakes.
But some of those cakes stand out. Through the blind taste testing, many years she’d come across a spectacular cake and say, “That’s got to be Martha York’s cake.”
“And sure enough it would be,” Chapman said. “She must have won every year she entered. She passed away a few years back … I didn’t know her, I just knew all of her cakes.”
This year, when the blue-ribbon cake was chosen and its baker revealed, it came with a surprise: the baker of the “Chocolate Mint Cake” is Christy Cox, Martha York’s daughter.
“I tell you, that brings back a lot of memories,” Chapman said. “Oh, that was Martha York’s daughter. Oh, I’m going to cry.”
Cox’s “Chocolate Mint Cake” was the second-to-last cake the judges tried at the 2021 Kentucky State Fair and an instant favorite. They praised the cake’s moist texture, balanced flavors, clean-cut and simple appearance.
Mint and chocolate are a classic flavor combination for a reason, but it’s easy for either flavor to overpower a dish, said Judge Elizabeth Coots. That wasn’t the case with this cake.
“The chocolate mint cake was very refreshing and all went together nicely,” Coots said. “The flavors were mild enough they really blended well in your mouth, and the cake and icing separately were smooth and a wonderful texture. Sometimes when you taste a cake like that, you know it’s going to be one of the great ones.”
The third judge this year is new: Louisville Crashers drummer Max Maxwell, who has been performing at weddings for decades. Part of the band’s contract includes a slice of wedding cake, he said. When the coronavirus pandemic hit the U.S. last year and live performances stopped for a while, Maxwell started a cake-reviewing YouTube channel, Cake Take.
“This mint cake looks like something you’d get from a high-end restaurant and it tastes like that, too,” Maxwell said. “I’m not usually a mint person, but this cake was cooked the best, and the mint isn’t overpowering.”
Cox said she was absolutely “tickled to death” to win the “Your Favorite Cake” competition. While the chocolate cake was one she’s made for years, this was the first time she did the mint-chip variant of the cake, and she only made the one.
“I’ve been entering in the fair since I was 11, and I’m 59 now,” Cox said. “I’ve done it for a long time, and my mom did it and my kids do it. The cake competition is harder now, it’s competitive and there’s a lot of other great bakers in town. This is a great, great honor.”
Cox has previously won the competition three times, but not for decades: she earned the blue ribbon for a chocolate caramel cashew cake in 1988, a caramel carrot praline cake in 1991 and a maple cream cake in 2001.
York, who passed away in 2017, won ribbons for decades for her baking entries at the Kentucky State Fair, including winning the Favorite Cake category six times and twice competing in the national Crisco Pie contest.
Cox said her “Chocolate Mint Cake” takes some time, but it can be broken up over several days with the icing, pudding filling and cake layers made separately.
“I would say make your layers and freeze them to help speed the process,” Cox said. “With the fudgy filling, make sure you put saran wrap on it when it cools so you don’t get the skin on top. And for the icing, I used [premium] Callebaut chocolate to make it taste better, but you can use Nestle if you want.”
One of the close competitors was quite different from the mint winner: second place went to a “Coconut Cream” cake by Kathy Brady, followed by a “Chocolate Peanut Butter Cake” by Tonya Root and finally “Campfire Cake” by Erika Lopp.
“It was a sentimental day making the cake,” Cox said. “My mom died in 2017, it hasn’t been that long, and [the fair] was such a big part of our growing up. I know my mom is so happy. I’ll have a corn dog in her honor.”
Dahlia Ghabour: [email protected]; Twitter: @dghabour.
Christy’s Chocolate Mint Cake
Chocolate Cake Layers
- 3/4 cup cocoa
- 2 cups boiling water
- 2 3/4 cups flour
- 2 teaspoons baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup soft butter
- 4 large eggs
- 1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
- 2 1/4 cups sugar
Dissolve cocoa in boiling water and cool. Sift together flour, soda, baking powder, and salt. Set aside. Combine butter, eggs, vanilla, and sugar. Beat on high speed for 5 minutes. Add flour mixture and cocoa alternately, beginning and ending with flour mixture. Beat after each addition but do not overbeat. Divide batter between three 8-inch cake pans (grease/flour). Bake at 350 for 25 minutes or until done. Remove from pans after 5 minutes and cool on a rack. Refrigerate and freeze until ready to assemble.
Chocolate Mint Filling
- 1 cup evaporated milk
- 1 cup white sugar
- 3 large egg yolks, beaten
- 1/2 cup butter
- Scant 1/4 teaspoon peppermint oil
- 12 ounces semisweet chocolate chips
Combine milk, sugar, egg yolks and butter in a saucepan. Cook over medium heat until thickened, about 12 minutes. Remove from heat. Stir in mint oil and chocolate chips. Blend well. Allow to cool to room temperature.
Cooked Chocolate Buttercream
- 55 grams all-purpose flour
- 225 grams granulated sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 390 g whole milk
- 350 grams unsalted butter
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 300 grams Callebaut semi-sweet chocolate (melted and cooled)
- Scant 1/4 teaspoon peppermint oil
In a small saucepan, combine flour, sugar, salt and milk. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring constantly with a whisk until it thickens. This can take about 15 minutes. The moment you realize it’s thick, cook for another 3-4 minutes.
Once it’s done, strain through a fine-mesh sieve into a shallow plate to get rid of any lumps, then put plastic wrap over it, touching the surface to prevent “skin” forming and let it cool to room temperature (approximately 4 hours).
Using a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the butter for 5 minutes until it’s pale and fluffy. Stir pudding mixture. While the mixture is still running on a medium speed, add one tablespoon at the time of the pudding mixture, making sure it’s nicely incorporated with the butter before proceeding to add another one. Mix until it’s nicely incorporated and with no lumps. Once you’ve added all the pudding, stir peppermint oil into chocolate and blend. Add the cooled melted chocolate and mix until everything is combined. You might need to scrape the bowl a couple of times to ensure the chocolate is well incorporated and there are no white streaks. Beat on medium-high speed and scrape the bottom of the bowl once or twice to make sure everything is combined. Add in the vanilla and give it a mix one last time.
Cover with cling film and leave it at room temperature until assembling the cake.
Place one cake layer on a cake board or a serving plate. Using a small offset palette knife or a piping bag, spread the frosting over the cake layer and make a dam around it. Spread cooked chocolate mint filling in the middle, level it with a palette knife. Top it with the next cake layer and repeat the process.
Place the final layer on top, upside down, and do a thin crumb coat on the cake. Chill for 20-30 minutes in the fridge before the final icing coat.
Once cooled, frost and smooth the top and sides of the cake with remaining frosting.
Kentucky State Fair 2021
WHEN: Aug. 19-29. Gates open every day at 7 a.m.
- Exhibit Halls are open Monday to Thursday from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Friday and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Exhibit Halls are open from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Sunday, Aug. 22 and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Sunday, Aug 29.
- Thrill Ville opens Monday through Thursday at 3 p.m. Friday through Sunday it opens at noon. Thrill Ville closes at midnight every day.
WHERE: Kentucky Exposition Center, 937 Phillips Lane
COST: Buying your ticket online will save money: it’s $10 admission with parking included. If you buy at the gate, it’s $10 for admission and $10 for parking.
Early bird Thrill Ville ride wristbands, sold through Aug. 18, are $25 for a one-day unlimited ride wristband. Purchase at Ticketmaster with your admission ticket, at participating Kroger locations or at kisselentertainment.com/tickets.asp. Thrill Ville ride all day unlimited wristbands purchased at the fair from Aug. 19-29 are $30.
MORE INFORMATION: Kystatefair.org