As a judge at the county fair, I am ineligible from entering any category that I judge, for obvious reasons. Therefore, I'm always on the lookout for interesting categories to enter that are outside my official areas of expertise. So when I saw a fair contest called 'Follow That Recipe' I was totally onboard.
The concept is that everyone follows the same recipe for bar cookies, exactly as it is printed. You cannot alter the proportions or the cooking time, nor can you add or subtract ingredients. You do, however, get to select the specific items for your recipe. For example, the recipe calls for 1 c. chopped nuts, but it is up to each contestant to choose what type of nuts to use and how finely to chop them. There are four items in the recipe like that. In addition to nuts, each contestant can select what cookie or cracker crumb crust to make, what dried fruit(s) to add, and what type and format of chocolate to add.
I had some ideas. To confirm that I was on the right track, I polled my Facebook friends. Based on their input, I decided to create two test batches.
Sample A: Shortbread cookies, dried cherries, extra dark chocolate chips and pecans
Sample B: Vanilla wafers, dried cranberries, large milk chocolate chips, and walnuts
I made a quick judging form and asked friends to vote between the two cookie samples, without telling them what was in each.
The results were interesting, but not very helpful! By the way, not everyone voted in every category.
Cherries (4 votes) vs. cranberries (5 votes)
Dark chocolate (5 votes) vs. milk chocolate (5 votes)
Pecans (4 votes) vs. walnuts (4 votes)
Shortbread crust (5 votes) vs. vanilla wafers (4 votes)
cherries, dark chocolate, pecans and shortbread (5 votes) vs. cranberries, milk chocolate, walnuts and vanilla wafers (5 votes)
Now I'm more unsure than ever! I did hear from my tasters that both versions were really good, so maybe I can't go wrong. There's no way to know what the judges' personal tastes will be, nor whether they're looking for something traditional and delicious or totally out of the box.