PORTAGE - Matthew Fyfe's age - he's just 11 years old - is no reflection on his baking ability.
|11-year-old Matthew Fyfe with is cinnamon swirl raisin bread. (Photo: J.D. Pooley/Sentinel-Tribune)
This fifth grader has the touch.
Witness his stunning success at the just-completed Wood County Fair, where his snickerdoodle cookies won best of show for the entire baking competition, adults and all. That's the single top award for all the baking categories.
Asked how it was that his cookies so totally blew away the competition, Matthew modestly admitted he had "no idea why."
Younger sister Anna, 9, chimed in with a possible answer: "They're very yummy."
"I wanted to make sure when I was rolling them out that they were nice and neat and round so when they came out of the oven they would be round," and thus impress the judges, Matthew said.
But he figures the taste of the cookies is what the judges mostly considered.
Matthew is the fourth of the six Fyfe children, all of whom have "entered crafts and things in the fair since kindergarten," says mom Joanne.
This is maybe my third year baking," Matthew judged.
Two years ago he entered snickerdoodles in the children's class, where it was one of the allowed choices in his age group. He won first place.
Last year snickerdoodles weren't one of the children's choices, so he entered them in the open class competition, which is mostly adults, and won first place again.
And this year?
"Well, why not?" Matthew thought. "I've done well. As long as the judges keep liking them."
He also entered chocolate chip cookies, but they didn't even place.
The Bowling Green Christian Academy student, pianist and avid chess player wasn't done there. In the crafts competition he entered a Pinewood Derby car, a bracelet and a pillow he'd made. He sewed it in the shape of a dog, using a dog-print fabric. It won first place.
"I got second place on my duct tape creation," says Matthew. He'd fashioned a tiny table place setting, including dishes, cup and utensils, all out of duct tape.
Along with all those adults, Matthew had to compete against his own sister in the pinewood cars and pillows as well as cookies.
Anna opted to make a hotdog-style pinewood car, a striped pillow shaped like a wrapped hard candy, and no-bake cookies.
"I would have picked mine over his cookies; mine were bigger," she says.
The youngest Fyfe sibling, 7-year-old John, took second place for his peanut butter cookies.
To win best of show, all the different baking judges had to concur on a winner.
"And at first the cake judges argued it should be a cake, but the cookie judges insisted" the ribbon had to go to Matthew's cookies, recalls Joanne Fyfe. "They said the cake judges had to taste the cookie. As soon as they did, they folded."
The family got the recipe from a vintage version of the Better Crocker cookbook. Mom was sorry to discover it was dropped from a later edition.
For today's Cook's Corner Matthew has opted to offer up a somewhat more complicated baking project, figuring that most people already know how to make snickerdoodles.
His choice is cinnamon raisin swirl loaf, a bread much loved by the Fyfe family. They found it in the "Favorite Brand Name Cookbook" which mom got as a wedding present.
"We've been making this for years. This is one of their favorite breads."
It's also a proven Wood County Fair winner, as older brother Christopher, now 14, won first place with it about four years ago.
It's a yeast bread, so of course, some effort is involved.
"Two times it has to rise," said Matthew. He estimates the recipe takes about 15 minutes of working time, but also a two or three hours of rising and baking time.
"It depends how warm your house is, how humid it is," his mom explained.
Matthew has two pieces of advice for anyone making the loaf.
"The most important thing is beating it hard enough to release the gluten," he warned.
Also, "you might not like the icing," Matthew said. It's strictly optional.
Through trial and error, the 11-year-old has come to realize it really is possible to make food too sweet.
Take the time he made his own birthday cake.
"It was chocolate, with chocolate frosting and decorated with chocolate kisses. The icing was super sweet."
Matthew credits his mom with teaching him to bake. Yet she's unwilling to steal his moment in the sun.
"All the kids have won prizes for various baking things (but) only Matthew won best of show," she noted.
Asked how she wrangles that many kids and that many fair projects, mom pointed out that the kids are self-starters.
"Usually they practice ahead of time so when it comes to the morning of the fair they can do it themselves.
"A lot of times I'll take things out of the oven" for them, for safety's sake, "but they do the rest."
Boys and girls alike, "they all bake and they all have done some sewing."
Their father follows the same style of equal-opportunity modeling. He has all the kids do woodworking projects. Matthew says he's made bird houses, a bank, and "countless Pinewood Derby cars."
Anna's next project is wooden bunk beds for her American Girl doll.
Cinnamon Swirl Raisin Loaf
2 cups raisins
6 ½ - 7 ½ cups all-purpose flour
2 pkgs. active dry yeast
2 cups milk
¾ cup granulated sugar, divided
¼ cup butter
2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons cinnamon
In small bowl, cover raisins with hot tap water. Plump 5 minutes; drain well. In large bowl combine 2 cups flour and the yeast. Combine milk, ¼ cup sugar, butter and salt in microwave safe bowl and heat until just warm (1-2 minutes) and butter is almost melted. Add to flour mixture and beat. Add eggs and 1 more cup of flour; beat for 3-5 minutes. Stir in plumped raisins. Stir in as much flour as you can with a spoon.
Turn out onto a floured board and knead in enough flour to make a moderately stiff dough that is smooth and elastic (6-8 minutes total). Shape into a ball. Return to bowl and cover with a towel. Let rise until doubled, about 1 hour. Punch dough down and divide in half. Roll each half into a 15 x 7 inch rectangle. Brush surface with water. Combine remaining ½ cup sugar with cinnamon; sprinkle ½ the sugar mixture over each rectangle. Roll up, jelly-roll fashion, starting from a 7-inch side. Pinch edges and ends to seal. Place sealed edges down in 2 greased 9-by-5-by-3-inch loaf pans. Cover; let rise in warm place until nearly doubled, 35-45 minutes.
Bake at 375 degrees F. for 35-45 minutes or until bread sounds hollow when tapped. Remove bread from pans and cool completely on a wire rack. Drizzle with powered sugar icing.
Powdered Sugar Icing
Combine: 1 cup powdered sugar, ¼ teaspoon vanilla and enough milk (about 1 ½ tablespoons) to make it drizzling consistency.