Ithaca’s Best Cupcakes 2021

Rachel Allison won 1st Place with her Finger Lakes Picnic Cupcakes in the 6th Annual Ithaca Cupcake Baking Contest organized by The Sophie Fund. Her intricately designed cupcakes, in the shape of a picnic basket packed with wine, cheese, salami, fruit, and a baguette, were inspired by her love of sharing charcuterie boards and local vintages with friends.

Rachel Allison with her Grand Prize-winning Cupcakes

“One of my best memories from this year was when a friend and mentor came to town, and we spent the day visiting different wineries on Keuka and Seneca Lake,” said Allison, who won 2nd Place and Honorable Mention in the 2020 and 2019 contests, respectively. “I baked a fresh loaf of bread that morning, and we had a picnic lunch, pairing different cheeses and charcuterie with the wines we picked up along the way!”

Allison’s chocolate coffee cupcakes were filled with salted caramel ganache, brown butter almond cake, and mascarpone mousse. The food products in the basket were made with white chocolate truffles (bread and cheese), cake balls/truffles (salami), vanilla candy (wine bottle), and caramelized white chocolate (cheese). The chocolate almond shortbread lid and cupcake basket are covered with chocolate buttercream basket weaving. The napkin and grapes are piped vanilla buttercream.

Rachel Allison’s Finger Lakes Picnic Cupcakes

May Cayzer won 2nd Place with her maple cupcakes affectionately inspired by, and designed to represent, her dog, Kiwi. The cupcakes depict Kiwi’s adorable face, but one of them shows her paw prints. “Any time she sees me, she starts jumping over a foot in the air,” Cayzer explained. “Her excitement never fails to put a smile on her face. Her two little paws jumping around waiting for me to come in and play with her are symbolic of the emotional support she provides.”

Cayzer used real maple syrup to magnify the cupcake flavor, and stuffed them with homemade “moist and decadent” maple filling. She topped the cupcakes with Swiss meringue buttercream frosting. She then used fondant to create Kiwi’s nose, eyes, ears, tongue, and paw prints.

May Cayzer’s Maple Cupcakes

The judges awarded Mary Sever-Schoonmaker 3rd Place with her “I Got My Fill on Blueberry Hill” Cupcakes. The two-in-one treats consisted of lemon cupcakes with fresh blueberry compote filling and fresh blueberry buttercream frosting, topped with miniature blueberry pies. “I was inspired to present this cupcake after reading that Sophie was active in Ithaca’s vibrant culinary scene,” Sever-Schoonmaker said. “The flavors of blueberry and lemon, coupled with the natural, bold color of the buttercream, seemed to fit that description to a tee.”

Mary Sever-Schoonmaker’s “I Got My Fill on Blueberry Hill” Cupcakes

Katy Holloway received the Youth Award for her Adventures in Candy Land Cupcakes. The judges were impressed with Holloway’s gluten-free red velvet cupcakes frosted with vanilla buttercream and topped with an array of candy decorations highlighted by a forest of Dum Dum lollipops. But they were also touched by the story behind her cupcakes, about how she and an elementary school friend used a second-hand Candy Land game to invent their own fairytales to make memories she treasures.

Katy Holloway’s Adventures in Candy Land Cupcakes

Best Story Award went to Milo Bakum, whose Pusheen Cupcakes were accompanied by an adventure story about Pusheen Cupcake, “the bravest in Cupcake Village.” With the help of a wizard, a blacksmith, and Pusheen Kit Kat, Pusheen Cupcake succeeded in defeating the Broccoli Army and conquering Brussels Sprout Castle. “And everybody lived happily ever after.”

Dina S. won the Best Video Award with her Ocean Cupcakes, which featured dazzling decorations of the deep blue sea in various stages from a hurricane to waves lapping on the beach. “Ever thought that it would be hard to turn something as beautiful as the ocean into food?” Dina asked. “Here in front of you have exactly that!”

Dina S.’s Ocean Cupcakes

This year’s contest, moved online due to continuing concerns about the Covid-19 coronavirus, drew cupcakes with diverse themes ranging from Upstate apple picking, Ithaca waterfalls, Finger Lakes wine country, fall harvest, sharks, Frodo and Bilbo, Tim Burton’s filmmaking, tropical Taiwan, Parisian desserts, and a certain pet snail named “Pippi Long-Stalking.” The spectrum of cupcake flavors included thyme, mango, coconut, almond, maple, pumpkin, carrot, lavender, honey, strawberry, peanut butter, Earl Grey tea, salted caramel, marshmallow, and Crème Brûlée, among others.

The event celebrated the 24 contestants who baked cupcakes and then shared photos, stories, and even some videos of their creations. The winners were announced at an online ceremony on October 23 hosted by The Mighty Mickie Quinn and featuring musical performances by Kenneth McLaurin & SingTrece, Nellia Mattson & Savannah Loiacono, and the Mozart Group Class at Ithaca Talent Education.

Kenneth McLaurin & SingTrece

Nellia Mattson & Savannah Loiacono

Mozart Group Class at Ithaca Talent Education

Judging the finalists were professionals from Ithaca’s great culinary community:

Yuko Jingu of Akemi Food

Ashley Case of Case Sera Sera

Racquel Riccardi of the Sinfully Delicious Baking Co

Melissa Kenny of Sweet Melissa’s Ice Cream Shop

Ashley Case, Yuko Jingu, Racquel Riccardi, and Melissa Kenny (clockwise from top left)

Cupcake Contest Host The Mighty Mickie Quinn

The 6th Annual Ithaca Cupcake Baking Contest was sponsored by GreenStar Food Co+op, Alternatives Federal Credit Union, and Well Said Media.

The contest is organized every year by The Sophie Fund, which was established in 2016 in memory of Cornell University art student Sophie Hack MacLeod to support mental health initiatives aiding young people. Sophie’s passion for baking cupcakes inspired the launch of the first Ithaca Cupcake Baking Contest in 2016. At the time of her death by suicide at age 23, Sophie was on a medical leave of absence from Cornell and active in Ithaca’s culinary scene.

Top Winners (receiving Downtown Ithaca Alliance gift cards accepted by more than 100 local shops and restaurants):

1st Place & Grand Prize ($250): Rachel Allison

2nd Place ($100+Gift Card from Rasa Spa): May Cayzer

3rd Place ($50): Mary Sever-Schoonmaker

Best Video Award ($100): Dina S.

Youth Award ($100): Katy Holloway

Best Story Award ($100): Milo Bakum

(The list of Honorable Mention and Special Award recipients will be posted soon!)