Blue Ribbon Baking: Sift Magazine goes to the fair

The new Fall issue of Sift magazine opens with a collection of prizewinning flavors. We’ve collected some of the best state fair recipes we’ve ever tasted from all the fairs and contests we’ve sponsored over many years. Read on for our story, and for some of the winning entries.



blue ribbon baking via @kingarthurflour

Fair food isn’t all cotton candy and fried dough. Beyond the Midway, competition tables groan with canned goods, fresh fruits and vegetables, and almost every conceivable type of baked good, from pies to pierogi, cakes to kolache, and breads to bar cookies. At stake is a chance for blue-ribbon glory, and the satisfaction of having one’s efforts held up as exemplary.

Submitting your homemade entry in a fair is a cherished tradition: a way for one generation to pass down skills to the next. Entrants circle the fair date months ahead on the kitchen calendar. They research and practice for weeks until the day they’ll get up extra early, bake or finish their creations, and carefully transport them to the judging table at the local fair.

blue ribbon baking via @kingarthurflourIn the early days of our country, state fairs were a welcome break from the day-to-day grind of running a farm. Food competitions at the fairgrounds are a way of sharing skills with the wider world, and contributing to the vitality of a community.

King Arthur Flour has been sponsoring baking contests for many years, and has collected hundreds of entrants’ recipes through those decades. We’ve combed through the pile to bring you some of the best of the best: a small taste of state fair recipes that captured the blue ribbon for baking across the country. Now it’s your chance to make these winners at home.

blue ribbon baking via @kingarthurflourDried Fruit Focaccia

A lovely bread for breakfast, as a snack with a slice of cheese, or even under ice cream for dessert. Simple to make and wonderful to eat, this vegan masterpiece took the blue ribbon at the Iowa State Fair.

blue ribbon baking via @kingarthurflour

Whole Wheat Carrot Bread

Terry Magestro’s Carrot Bread is one of our favorite state fair recipes.  It’s moist and tasty, born of Midwestern thrift (it was a winner at the Wisconsin State Fair). Her bread carries on her mother’s tradition of baking leftover vegetables of all kinds into breads. The dough makes a very nice dinner roll, too.

blue ribbon baking via @kingarthurflour

Vanilla Trifle Cake

From Massachusetts’ Topsfield Fair in 2011, Misti Gerrity’s tasty, towering white cake, filled with sparkling bright, fresh berries, took the top prize. Bake one up to wow the judges around your table, while you celebrate the crowning glory of summer’s fresh fruit.

blue ribbon baking via @kingarthurflourMacadamia Bars

These luxurious treats are pretty and easy. A shortbread-style base is topped with macadamia nuts and a boiled candy-like topping; a quick dip in good chocolate completes this Cincinnati Chocolate Festival hero.

blue ribbon baking via @kingarthurflour

Pineapple Upside Down Rolls

Lana Ros of Indianola brought these tasty, tender tropical rolls to the Iowa State Fair judging table, and wowed them all. Us too.

Not that we doubted, but it’s pretty apparent from the wealth of great recipes we had to choose from that bakers all across this country are inventive, generous, brave, creative, and talented. We’re lucky to get to know them, and grateful they’re willing to share their creations with the wider world. Congratulations to the champions, and we hope you’ll be inspired to bake their recipes from the Fall issue of Sift. It’s the best compliment we know how to pay.

Our thanks to Julia A. Reed, who traveled to the Topsfield Fair in Massachusetts to get these lovely photos, and Mark Weinberg for his studio photography.

Susan Reid

Chef Susan Reid grew up in New Jersey, graduated from Bates College and the Culinary Institute of America, and is presently the Food Editor of Sift magazine. She does demos, appearances, and answers food (and baking) questions from all quarters.


  1. Angus Gannon

    Dear King Arthur Flour, thanks for the nice words about our family’s annual baking contest at the Iowa State Fair. And thanks to King Arthur Flour for being a great patron of the fair. This year, you sponsored 3 events, with the name King Arthur Flour in the title: Bread, Yeast Rolls and Kids & Bar Cookies. My sisters are always entering your contests. The year King Arthur Flour sponsored cakes, one of my sisters won a KitchenAid Mixer. They know which contests to enter! Ha ha ha. My 6 sisters have baked many recipes over many years, including many chocolate chip cookie recipes. But I’ve never heard them praise a chocolate chip cookie recipe as much as the King Arthur Flour Chocolate Chip Cookie Recipe. The 7 of us are on a group text, but they don’t know how lucky they are, to have a brother like me. King Arthur Flour is not that much older than our family farm. Officially recognized by the State of Iowa, as being 154 years old this year. Our Great-Great-Great Grandpa who settled our farm, was born in Ireland in 1784, that means he’s 6 years older than King Arthur Flour, founded in 1790. Let us know if you ever get to Des Moines, we’d be happy to give yall a tour of our 800 acre farm, 30 mins from the fair grounds. We have one of the oldest and largest family-owned purebred black Angus herds in Iowa. Sincerely: Angus Gannon #7 of 14 kids.

  2. Angus Gannon

    2017 Iowa State Fair. My 6 Sisters and I held the 5th Annual Helen Gannon Baking Competition at the Iowa State Fair on Aug 12 in Des Moines. We award prize money to the top 3 winners. This year was Chocolate Chip Cookies. The winner was just about the biggest cookie there. Chock-full of chips. My Sisters judged 49 cookies and swear the King Arthur Flour Chocolate Chip recipe is the best. As Master of Ceremonies, I gave my Johnny Carson monologue for an hour, while the judging went on. It was so much fun. We started this contest in honor of our Mom in 2013, the same year our family farm won the 150-year award from the State of Iowa. Settled in 1863 by our great-great-great Grandparents from Ireland. Our Mom entered food contests at the fair for 40 years and my Sisters followed suit. Sincerely: Angus Gannon #7 of 14 kids.

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Thanks for sharing this heart-warming story, Angus. It reminds us why we love baking contests so very much: it’s a joyful tradition that families and communities can participate in together. We’re honored that your sisters’ well seasoned taste buds still chose our recipe as #1. There’s no higher praise. Thanks for baking and sharing with us! Kye@KAF

  3. Sharon

    I am trying the dried fruit focaccia again. i normally don’t make focaccia. I was wondering why this one with the dried fruit has only one rise. All of the other focaccia recipes I’ve seen have 2 rises. What is accomplished by only having one rise? I had problems with the rise when I made this and now I’m wondering, what would happen if I did a second rise like all the other focaccia recipes. Any ideas?

    1. Susan Reid, post author

      Sharon, a second rise certainly won’t hurt; just be aware the second rise will go faster than the first. This is a simple flatbread that’s achievable in an after-work sort of time frame, but if you want to give it more time by all means do so! Susan

  4. Jennine Quiring

    Thank you for the article on state fairs. I have been entering the California State fair for over 25 years. I appreciate KAF sponsoring special contests at our fair every year. Our fair does not give prize money for usual first place winners, so the gift certificate to KAF for winning your contests at the fair is great. Last year I won the gluten free contest you sponsored at our fair. The prize was a $250 gift certificate to KAF. Since I am thrifty I waited until you had a 20% off ,free shipping sale. I got $300 worth of your wonderful products. I look forward to your products and expertize to help me win more ribbons

    1. PJ Hamel

      Jennine, congratulations — clearly you’re a talented baker! And a savvy shopper, too… 🙂 PJH

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Jan, yes, there are always some gluten-free recipes in Sift, and the recipe index in the back of the magazine clearly marks all gluten-free, whole grain, and vegan recipes. Barb@KAF

  5. Sharon

    I have a question about the dried fruit focaccia. It says to put the 13×9 right on the stone. I’m assuming you mean a metal 13×9, not glass. My question is why do I put the pan right on the stone? Baking the focaccia on the stone in the pan for 25 minutes at 425 seems like a lot of time. I make dinner rolls at 425 and they bake in the pan for 16 minutes. I am concerned that the bottom might burn with the pan right on the stone. Was this recipe tested in your kitchen or is it the original recipe that was submitted by the fair winner? I’m just wondering if the 425 on the stone was tested.
    I love this post about the fair. I am excited to try the recipes. I bought everything to make the focaccia, just hoping i don’t burn it. I really enjoy this blog and learn a lot from it.

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Sharon, we promise this recipe really is a winner! You’re baking instincts are right: no glass pans. We recommend almost always baking in medium colored metal pans for best results. The focaccia is a wet dough with a relatively short baking time, thus the high temperature. Additionally, the stone helps heat transfer directly to the bottom, ensuring a pleasant crisp crust. If you’d know your oven runs hot, you can turn the temperature down to 400°F but it may take longer to bake all the way through. Let us know how you like the results. Happy baking! Kye@KAF

    2. Sharon

      I did turn down the oven because I know mine is too hot for 425. As for this recipe, I just reviewed it and gave it 5 stars. Really glad I tried it. This focaccia had great flavor and the texture from the olive oil in the pans and then the pans being on the stone was great. I liked the cherries and golden raisins. I think any number of dried fruits could work in this. Very glad I made this recipe. I will be making it over and over. Easy to see how it was a winner at the fair.

      also, thank you for mentioning in the comments when to look for the holiday edition of Sift. It was nice to have a heads up and glad it is coming out about a month before Thanksgiving.

  6. Arlice Gallagher

    I thought I subscribed to a years subscription to Sift last year sometime. I received one issue and then no more. I kept forgetting to write or call. What is the deal. Is it a yearly subscription thing or what.

    1. Susan Reid, post author

      Alice, Sift is a single-purchase per issue item. As a special interest publication, we don’t have subscriptions at this time. We publish, currently, 3 times per year: Spring, Fall, and Holiday. The next issue, Holiday 2016, is going to be available on October 25th. Susan

  7. AnneMarie

    Took home a fistful of blues this summer too! The fair is the best break in the summertime work load and a great wind up to harvest!


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